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The Best Affordable, Renter-Friendly Home Upgrades I’ve Ever Made

Top Pick: Waterpik VFC-133T Rainfall Shower Head | $23 | Amazon

The year after college, I moved into an apartment that had the worst shower head in the world. No amount of adjustments could cure the razor blade feeling of water stabbing my skin, so I replaced it with one of those cool-looking rain showerheads. A friend of mine came over, noticed the showerhead, and thought I was living like a sultan.

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I’m pretty sure I got it for $20 at Target.

I’m not a renter anymore, but in the years since college, I’ve found countless ways to improve a living space—any living space—with inexpensive, temporary upgrades. That means whether you own your home or live in an apartment with no permanent changes allowed, you can take advantage. (I’m talking practical upgrades, too—not just cute wallpaper stickers and fake plants, although those things are great too.) And thanks to a certain global quarantine, you might as well make your apartment as pleasant to live in as possible.

A Decent Shower Head

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Image: Amazon

Back at 22, I wasn’t as DIY inclined as I am now. However, replacing my rental’s old showerhead started it all. Before I knew it, I was a regular at Home Depot.

If it happens to be a tight fit, I recommend trying a crescent wrench with a soft cloth (to prevent scratches to your new showerhead). The world is your oyster in terms of hardware—you can get high-pressure showerheads, and hand-held showerheads, and magnetic detachable shower heads (though then you start to get a bit higher in price). Browse around Amazon and Home Depot and you’re sure to find something inexpensive that fits your style—just remember to put the old shower head in your bathroom cabinet for replacing before you move out.

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An Inexpensive Bidet

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Image: KK.org
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Look, my colleagues have extolled the virtues of bidets time and time again on this blog, so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice to say if you haven’t upgraded yet, it’s time to hop on the bandwagon.

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The bidet can be a real lifesaver for those who have just had surgery, given birth, or experience IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Washing with water is so much more gentle on your skin than toilet paper. And as a bonus, you can do without all of the chemicals that toilet paper is manufactured with, save money, and keep your hands a whole lot cleaner.

Here a couple of non-electric options from Amazon, guaranteed to transform your bathroom experience.

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Ethernet ... Ethernet Everywhere

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Photo: Legrand
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This isn’t an upgrade everyone needs, but tech nerds like me know how useful Ethernet is—back in my apartment days, it felt like it took forever to back my computer up to my NAS across the room, and online gaming suffered from annoying latency and dropouts. Instead of spending a ton of money to upgrade your router—which will always be imperfect—run some damn Ethernet through your apartment and get right to the source.

You don’t need to open the walls or trip over cables, just grab some Cat 8 Ethernet Cable and some cable management sleeves to make some clean runs along the baseboards or ceiling. (I used Command strips with the cable raceways to make sure I didn’t pull off any paint with included too-strong adhesive.) I’ve also used powerline adapters in the past, but they can be more finicky in some apartments than others—so the longer Ethernet runs are well worth the extra work. Your internet will be faster and more reliable than ever, and you won’t have to futz with the Wi-Fi to keep your Zoom calls stable.

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A Few Cheap Smart Bulbs

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Image: Gosund
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Don’t you hate when you’re waking up in the morning, and you have to get up to turn on the overhead light? Ugh, the worst! Well, that means that it’s time to upgrade your current light bulbs to Alexa Smart light bulbs from Gosund.

Compatible with Google Home and an Amazon Echo, these bulbs can be controlled by your voice or app, so you can turn on the light whether you are in another room or traveling abroad.

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These bulbs have a dimming range from 1% to 100% and have 16 million colors to choose from. As a bonus, the LED technology will reduce your energy consumption without forcing you to forgo quality or brightness. It’s one of the best smart home upgrades out there, so honestly, what are the downsides?

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Magnetic Screen Doors, Privacy Clings, and Other Window Coverings

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Photo: Amazon
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When my wife and I first moved to San Diego, we rented an apartment that was well within our budget but was really outdated. With a little bit of research, we discovered that there’s a lot of changes you can do to your home that won’t be permanent. So, we put our toolbelts on and got into the fixer-upper spirit.

To start, our bathroom was seriously lacking wall tile. As a solution, we started shopping for self-adhesive wall wallpaper. We recommend hitting the Smart Tiles store on Amazon. The brand has a host of options from square to rectangular tiles and in a wide variety of colors. You can even use them for a backsplash behind your stovetop.

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A second issue was that our backdoors didn’t have privacy window films and the wall between our backyard and the street was incredibly short. So, we decided to apply those films ourselves. This option will easily frost your glass in your bathroom, kitchen, or back entryway. It even has heat control and glare blocking functions.

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Next, my wife loves keeping the door open while she’s cooking, but she doesn’t love the bugs that can come inside in the process. So, we opted for a magnetic screen door, so we can filter the hot air out and keep the bugs out at the same time.

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Lastly, my biggest pet peeve are white blinds against white walls. Not only does a ton of sunlight leak through the windows, but it really drains your space’s color palette. However, we discovered that you can easily put up a spring tension curtain rod and decorate it with your curtain of choice. You can even use blackout curtains that block sunlight and insulate your bedroom against summer heat and winter chill.

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This story was originally published by Whitson Gordon on 01/29/2021 and updated with new information by Juliana Clark on 05/05/2021.


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Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and all-around tech nerd. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn't get grease on his mechanical keyboard.