How to Upgrade a Rental- Cheap and Temporary Tips for Renters

Being a stay-at-home-mom is incredible…but that means that I have a lot of time to stare at the house around me…which isn’t always a pretty site. We relocated from a big beautiful house in one city to a smaller, and more dated home in another.  I could spend a crap-ton of money making this rental house a little more “me” but that would mean that our one income family would be throwing out more cash than necessary.

Here is where creativity and a little thought come into play.  I absolutely love a good makeover story.  If there is a show that goes through a process and has a total upgrade at the end compared to the  beginning I get excited. Hoarders is interesting and cool to see the progress of the house, home makeover shows (wow, how do they think of these upgrades?), diy shows (again with the creativity and money saving ideas, so awesome), fitness journeys, makeover stories…you name it, I’m all about making what is already available even better.

Being a renter though, is different.  There are projects that I love doing to make this home feel…well, more like HOME without spending a ton and creating changes that are temporary.  I am compiling a list of my favorite upgrades and DIY projects for renters. Good luck, feel free to comment if you have questions.  

DIY Upgrades on a Dime for Renters:

1. Mantle-  Our house has a very dated rock fireplace, with no mantle…ugh! Such a wasted focal point.  For years it bothered me because there was nothing to hang stockings on, or to display vases or candles, and mostly there was floor to ceiling rock scaling the wall with nothing to break up the monotony of it all.  Sooo, I had a 6 foot piece of wood in the garage from a trailer project we were working on and some trim boards.  We had this amazing electric saw that let me cut the board to size and face it out with trim boards.  I nailed the trim around the wood plank, wiped some chestnut stain on the whole thing, drove to Lowe’s and grabbed 3 really cheap “L brackets” for around $2 each, came home and screwed the new mantle to the walls on either side of the rock.  I love this project.  I feel like for less than $10 our living room has a focal point.  Since the fireplace is the first thing visitors see when they enter our house it makes a much better first impression.  And the most awesome thing is that we had a place to hang our stockings at Christmas. Ahhh, it’s the little things.

Magnificent Mantle

I freakin’ love this mantle. You see what I mean about all the rock…its sooo much but the mantle breaks it up visually and it is perfect for hanging decorations. I love that I didn’t need to drill in to the rocks, the brackets are only on the walls.

2. Paint- I love touching up paint.  I know a lot of renters ask permission to paint rooms unique colors and it is almost always agreed that they will paint them back before they leave the premises…yeah, ain’t nobody got time for dat! Ok, I’m lazy.  There’s no way I would paint to only have to repaint, so…I am a fan of paint-matching.  If the landlord is kind enough to leave behind the extra paint from the house, even better.  Touched up walls instantly brighten a room and make it look cleaner with little time, or money.  I was scrubbing walls this morning and decided that I will paint soon especially around baseboards, corners and pretty much anywhere my little people can touch.

3. Back Yard Ambiance- There are many ways to make a back yard special.  Fountains, ponds, lighting, gazebos are all amazing, although not always renter-friendly.  However creating fun spaces is key!  My favorite area of our back yard is a seating area on our patio.  I purchased some very expensive outdoor couches on Craigslist a few years ago for a bargain with comfortable cushions that have withheld the test of time.  I really wanted some type of awning so that I could sit shaded and read a book or company could visit without being pounded by the sun.  Awnings can be expensive and hard to take down if we moved so I came up with a super cheap alternative that has now lasted almost 3 years with no sign of wear and tear.  I purchased (2) 72” Wood Landscape Stakes hammered them into the grass on both sides of the patio and purchased this awning.  Once it was all in place and shady we hung some pretty string lights to make the patio extra inviting at night. We love the space and it draws us outside. Create spaces!


Conversation Area

Hammering in the posts helped give us a spot to hang lights. They also define the space better than furniture alone without restricting views.


Canopy Under $40

I’m all about a budget option. I love sun sails for shade. They offer UV protection and aren’t super obtrusive. Plus they come in different colors and shapes so you are bound to find one that works for your space.

4. Bark/Mulch-We have planted seed several times and sometimes it takes and sometimes it has been less successful, however it looks like an improvement over when we moved in.  Our back yard is on a slope away from the fence down to our patio, which makes runoff and water an issue because the seed slides down and one corner of our yard wouldn’t grow grass no matter what we’ve tried.  So, mulch to the rescue.  We were having a party and I was ashamed of our hideous corner where grass and dreams went to die.  So I floored it to the store, bought about 10 bags of mulch and completely covered the dirt beneath.  I hung another sun sail, twice the size of our patio awning and put the kids’ sandbox, toy bbq and kitchen under it.  Now the space looks intentional, well it was, but a little desperation and about $75 in mulch, the shade sail and a cement pier with a 4x4 went a long way.  Now there is a space for the kids to play in the shade.


Kids Zone

It’s fun to make zones in spaces, especially yards.

So that pic was one I took right after I set up the kids area. Now it has a huge sun sail over top to shade them while they play. It has direct sunlight much of the day so I needed them to be protected too.

5. Window Seats- There are two window seats in our house and I have painted and spackled and I’m embarrassed to say they look like they’ve taken a beating.  I’m gonna cut some wood to place over-top of them once the freshest layer of paint has dried and it will make for a much more durable and beautiful surface for the kids to sit and build Legos on. Plus the wood can be removed when we leave or left in place when we move.  Easy, cheap and an immediate upgrade.

6. Seed- We had some promises made to us when we began renting our house that weren’t exactly met…many of those being for the back yard.  Fruit trees and grass were promised by our landlord…well, it never happened.  We have planted seed several times in the years that we’ve lived here. It is still patchy and the lack of a sprinkler system don’t make it easy to maintain with 4 kids and a golden retriever running on it, but it is an upgrade from how it looked when we moved in so I can only be happy about that.  

7. Front Door-  When we moved in our front door seemed fine.  It was more of a rust orange and looked ok, but with the brown trim on this older house it looked dated to me.  The inside of our house would come as a surprise to our first-time guests because it was neutral and inviting and not so old fashioned with all of our furniture and decor. So I called the landlord and asked if I could paint the door with no expectation that I would paint it back the rust color…like, ever! She said yes, that would be fine so I grabbed a leftover can of grey semi-gloss from the garage (why we have so much paint is beyond me?!) and I went to town bringing that door into the 21st century.  



Front door- It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen although even the concrete and rug look uninviting. Yuck!



I like the mini-makeover that the porch got. It looks more inviting, I pressure washed the porch stains, so forgive the wet appearance…but I was impatient when I took the photo.

P.S. the plants in the ceramic planters were FREE on a Craigslist curb alert.

 Renting is tough, being a landlord is tough.  I am both, lol, so I understand both worlds, so to speak.  I try and find ways to upgrade this temporary dwelling without spending much, but also by doing things that my landlord can appreciate when we are gone.

I hope you enjoy these top 7 ways to make being a rental house feel more like home.