5 Everyday Items That Can Upgrade Your Rental

Growing up, we moved frequently, and the only thing I hated more than the constant packing and unpacking was the design delirium that followed. For months, my mom would install curtain tracks, sew drapes, and repurpose old furniture, and I hated it — until, years later, I found myself in a generic dorm room with a nonexistent decor budget. That’s when I realized I’d been sleeping on my mom’s genius. That desk she‘d made out of milk crates (still don’t know where those came from, we drank soy milk!) and one of the hundreds of doors in our South Side greystone was looking less like abstract art and more like innovation; amazing how a tight budget can bring newfound clarity, huh!

So, because I’m still living on a budget (thanks, Sallie Mae) and we (almost) all eventually become our mothers, I’m showing you how to use everyday items for home decor realness. From my first studio in NYC to a DC garden unit to an LA 1-bed, these items have never failed me!

 

1. Thumbtacks 

If you’ve ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you remember Toula’s dad’s Windex obsession. Well, thumbtacks are to me what Windex was to Gus. They’re super cheap and can do everything from holding back window curtains (almost invisibly if you use clear ones) to keeping lightweight picture frames nice and snug on your wall (definitely use double-sided tape for some extra security though). Bonus: they’re perfect for jewelry storage. When I dreamt of a jewelry tree (and, ironically, only had dream money), I pushed a few clear thumbtacks into a wall above my dresser and suspended my necklaces from them — pretty, easy, and (practically) free.

 

2. Sharpies 

When I was a little girl, my mom called me a magpie because I loved anything shiny. Well, some things never change. Enter: the gold Sharpie. Use one to make an abstract pattern (think: dots or dashes) on a plain lampshade to add some visual interest to any room. Try fine- and broad-tip ones to vary your pattern. Or, get creative and next time you Netflix and chill, grab some cardstock to write out your favorite movie lines or personal mantras, and frame (or thumbtack) them for some quick wall art.

 

3. Calendars 

As you probably know by now, we’re just a couple of months away from a new decade. So, when you’re looking for your next calendar, think of yourself as an art buyer. Consider the 30 or so days you’ll be staring at each image a trial run for whether you want the piece to have a permanent home on your wall. A calendar with interesting, quirky prints on heavyweight paper costs about $30 and you’re getting 12 prints for that price — that’s less than $3 per print. Trust me, it’s worth it! I bought the Garance Doré calendar a few years ago and those prints are still going strong, even after a couple of cross country moves! In the words of Edith Piaf, I regret nothing.  

 

4. Photos 

So I realize that a lot of people don’t print photos anymore, but shout out to you if you still remember the excitement of getting an envelope of freshly-developed prints from your nearest drugstore. I’m pleading with you: pull out those old photos, or (finally!) print all those shots you’ve been hoarding on your phone or laptop (100 percent talking to myself here). Personalize your space by framing them, or go for a more minimalist look and thumbtack them to your walls. Just make sure you put them up in odd numbers and find something that pulls them all together. Use the same color frames or thumbtacks for all of your prints. 

 

5. Wrapping paper

Consider this a dupe for wallpaper. I know it sounds like a stretch, but wrapping paper is the answer. I bought two rolls of paper years ago and they served me so well. During law school, I used some tape and a roll of gold floral wrapping paper to customize a white bookcase — take it from me, nothing makes a casebook pop more than a statement background! But heavyweight wrapping paper can do a lot more than that! Use some tape (or clear thumbtacks — I’m trying to put you all on to this magic!) to tack up three strips of paper to make a feature wall or easy headboard alternative. And, with the holiday season upon us, now’s the perfect time to purchase some gorgeous paper!