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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 shower heads. A friend of mine came over, noticed the shower head, and thought I was living like a sultan.

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

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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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Photo: Waterpik

Ah, the purchase that started it all. I wasn’t nearly as DIY-inclined at 22 as I am now, so once I realized you could replace a shower head by merely unscrewing it, I was off to the races. I’m not sure I even needed any tools, though if it’s a tight fit, you might want to use a crescent wrench and a soft cloth (to prevent scratches that reveal your treachery). The world is your oyster in terms of hardware—you can get large shower heads, shower heads with flexible necks, 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

Illustration for article titled The Best Affordable, Renter-Friendly Home Upgrades I’ve Ever Made
Photo: Amazon
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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, what are you doing with your life?

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I waited far too long to get on this train, thinking only expensive $300+ models are worth buying—and while they are incredible, an inexpensive model like this one from Brondell will get you 80% of the utility a tenth of the price. It won’t heat the water or dry your bum with a fan, but I found it was more than pleasant to use. It’s also extremely easy to install—just turn the water off at the toilet, unscrew the hose, and connect the bidet’s hose using the included T-adapter. I promise, it’s even simpler than that sentence made it sound, and your tush will thank you.

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Ethernet ... Ethernet Everywhere

Illustration for article titled The Best Affordable, Renter-Friendly Home Upgrades I’ve Ever Made
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. You don’t need to open the walls or trip over cables, just grab some long Cat6 cables and some cable raceways 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

Illustration for article titled The Best Affordable, Renter-Friendly Home Upgrades I’ve Ever Made
Photo: Wyze
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You don’t have to outfit the entire apartment with smart lights to reap the benefits—and you don’t have to spend a ton, either. A few Wyze bulbs at $15 each can change your regular lights to dimmable ones, give you remote control, and customize the color temperatures. I absolutely love this feature in the bedroom—I can get whiter light in the morning to mimic sunlight and wake me up, and redder lights at night when I’m reading in bed. And thanks to the app (or voice control through Alexa), I can turn the lights off when I’m done reading without having to get out of bed.

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Magnetic Screen Doors, Privacy Clings, and Other Window Coverings

Illustration for article titled The Best Affordable, Renter-Friendly Home Upgrades I’ve Ever Made
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 is white blinds. 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 03/01/2021.

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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.

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