I haven’t lived in a house since I left my parents’ home for college fifteen years ago. I’ve lived in a lot of apartments, and I’ve learned that you don’t need a mortgage to feel like you really have a home.
Apartments do tend to feel more temporary. You can’t do whatever you want to them. You have to put up with behemoth brass chandeliers and old kitchen cabinets. You’ve got space issues. You can’t always paint. You’re probably going to move soon.
Anyone moving into a new home, whether an apartment or a house, faces challenges: budget constraints, trying to get everything unpacked, and figuring out where things should go are tricky.
Apartment dwellers need to factor in time constraints and versatility too. If you’re going to move in a year, you don’t want it to take ten months to finally feel like you’ve settled down. You need your stuff to be versatile too, so that you don’t have to swap your stuff every time you move.
Here are a few tips to make your apartment feel like home and avoid that temporary feeling:
Oh wait, you did unpack first, right? That’s step one: unpack. If you must leave a few things in boxes, then stack them in a far corner behind a curtain or in a closet. Don’t leave boxes in the living room.
Put things on your walls, quick!
People tend to hang things on the walls last, after everything else has been put in place. Stuff hanging on the walls is the number one sign that someone lives there. I know you’ll want to wait to find just the right spot to hang something up, so you can avoid putting too many holes in the walls, but if you wait too long, you’ll move first. Spackle and touch-up paint are there if you need them.
Hang up an oversized painting, or group a collection of smaller things. I would rather hang small photos on a wall than leave them taking up space on a table top.
(I’m glad I didn’t follow the trend to paint all my picture frames the same matching color. I think the different warm tones add interest.)
Anything can go on the walls. If it’s pretty, hang it up; don’t let it take up your limited storage space.
Choose furniture that is comfortable, not space-saving.
I know that sounds obvious to say “choose comfortable furniture,” but so often people who live in apartments choose furniture by price or by size. It’s no use having a tiny dining table that is so small you can’t scoot your chair up because you’ll hit your knees. (Oh yes, trading that tiny table for a regular-size farmhouse table was first on my list.)
If you live in a small apartment, you don’t have to have tiny furniture. Choose comfortable furniture pieces, but fewer of them. For example, you might have a nice couch to take naps on, but forgo the coffee table. Add a soft quilt.
Do keep size in mind, not just for your current place but for future homes as well. A king-size canopy bed just won’t work. An upright dresser or small armoire is more versatile than a low, wide dresser that requires an entire wall. Couches with narrow armrests give more seating than couches with large rolled armrests.
When you’re choosing fewer pieces of furniture, you can afford to spend a little more to get the right one, and you’ll be able to take it with you when you move.
Avoid the Container Store “Back to School” August sales.
Look, we all love storage, but plastic storage containers are a slippery slope. Small apartments risk looking like dorm rooms when they have too many small plastic storage bins and organizers. Not everything needs to be “contained.”
Use bins if you need them (do what you’ve gotta do), but also look for more natural materials that bring texture and a sense of age to your home. Try baskets, linen bags, or wood crates. Shelves are easier to retrieve items from than stacked bins with lids.
Add green living plants.
Most people feel more like plant killers than green-thumb gardeners, but plants bring life to your home. Herbs in a pot or violets in a windowsill make your home feel lived-in.
It’s okay if your potted plants don’t live forever. You can use this gardening tip I learned from my mother: when your plant dies, you can get another one. A few dollars for a plant that lives a few months sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
Love your decorative stuff, in all seasons.
Your decorative things should be your favorite things, not seasonal or trendy items. It’s frequent advice for house-owners to “shop the house,” rotate items, and change things out for something new, but I don’t have closet space to store decorative items I’m not using. That’s where my clothes go.
In an apartment, I’d rather use extra space for a kitchen pantry than for seasonal decorations (though I do own a box of Christmas decorations.) It’s so helpful when your things are attractive and useful. White cake pedestals, vases, and wooden bowls serve as a good backdrop for any season.