Why I Bother Decorating A Rental Home

Today’s post is for my friends who live in rentals. For those mil spouses who aren’t crazy about that hideous carpet in their base house. I’m sharing my story of frustration, and how I came to accept our situation. I’m sharing why I bother decorating a rental home.

*After publishing this I realized that it’s not just the mil spouses that can feel frustrated by rentals. It’s other renters, it’s homeowners who might be moving soon, it’s all of us. So if you are feeling trapped and are just waiting for that next house to decorate. Read on.why I bother

DIY Oversized Wall Art

1. Because It Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive

I remember our first house after we got married. Matt was already living in Hawaii and I moved to be with him just two days after our wedding (we still joke that it was our three year long honeymoon). We waited four months on the “wait list” for a house on base. Living out in town was nearly impossible on the salary of an E-2. When our name finally came up on the list we felt like we pretty much hit the jack pot because not only was it finally time to have our own home but it was also brand spanking new. And for military housing, that was a big ol’ deal! I had big dreams of decorating that house. I remember saving every extra penny then spending it on “stuff” for the new house. I loved the process of making the house feel like “us” but in reality I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had no idea what my style was. I thought I had to buy everything new. Now I don’t have a lot of regrets but if I could go back in time, I would have a nice long talk with myself and together, we would have returned every single thing I purchased. Since that’s not possible, I just learn and move on.

Now that I’ve discovered my style, I know that I like a collected over time look. Shiny showroom is just not “us.” I’m not sure if this taste has developed because I am cheap or if I became cheap because of my taste but it works out perfectly. I have found some of my favorite things in my home from thrift stores or craigslist. Other favorites are things that I’ve made like this DIY wall art.

2. Because Home is Where Ever We Make It

After our time was up in Hawaii we traded our brand new three bedroom house for a one bedroom apartment in Northern Virginia. Now I had too much stuff (because remember I went wild and bought everything you could imagine to perfect furnish my Hawaii home) and I didn’t even like most of it anymore. I felt frustrated. I felt like giving up. Why bother decorating rental after rental. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized that Home can be where ever we make it. The house itself is just a few walls in reality. Sure sometimes they come in the version of a brand new duplex or a stand alone bungalow but at the end of the day it’s not the structure that makes the home it’s the people who live in it. It sounds super cliche but seriously, I decorate my home for my family not for the house itself.

Pulling Together A New Space-8

3. Because I’ve Waited Long Enough

After that first house, where I spent too much money, and too much time, I thought, you can never make it feel like home, no matter how much you spend. I thought, just wait until you can BUY your own house, that will be home. Our fifth house changed everything. We moved into our house right after Christmas. It was a cute little bungalow on base and it wasn’t like anything we had ever lived in before. It was a single family home (very rare in the world of base housing – they are typically town house style with at least one other home attached to yours), that was built in the 1930s. It had original hardwood floors and brass hardware but the kitchen and bathroom had been renovated. I fell in love the moment I stepped in the door. It figured that we would only live there for six months. This home had so much built in character. I’m not sure if it was that the house was my taste or if I just finally got it but I finally felt the desire to just stop waiting. Decorating your home to reflect the people who live in it can change the way you feel. It did for me. And now,  almost eight years later (and two more houses later), this (rental) is home. I made the decision to stop waiting for better and realized that I didn’t want to look back five years from now wishing I would have just lived and enjoyed.

How to Build A Gallery Wall Around The TV

4. Because I’ll be Waiting Forever

The reality is my husband plans to be in them military for 20+ years. That’s at least 11 more years of moving every few years and I don’t know what the future holds. If I wait for perfect, I will be waiting forever. Perhaps, one day we’ll finally settle somewhere but that place won’t be just perfect either. We have to make where we are home.

Christmas family photos

5. Because The People I Love Live Here

I mentioned that our fifth house was the one that changed everything. In the six months we lived there we experienced so much joy. We brought Peighton home from the hospital to that house. We became a family in that house. And I finally knew, all of these places – they are just the shell. What really makes the home is US, the family inside. Home is where we make it. Home is where my people are. I want my home to be beautiful for my family – that’s why I decorate. I want us to enjoy this place and it to be a reflection of us whether it’s a rental or not.

Nothing about this house is perfect but the beautiful thing about this house is that a family who loves lives here. And that’s just the beginning…

Where to go from here?

Check out 10 tips to spruce up your rental. Or My Favorite picks for Affordable Area Rugs. You might also want to check out my ABOUT page to learn more about our military life.

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37 Comments

  1. Holy whoa, I wrote a post along the same lines last week-ish (or the one before?) about making a rental house a home. And just yesterday I posted about my fave types of DIY home projects — I call ’em The DIY Golden Trifecta projects.

    It has taken me FO’ EVA to figure out my style (thank you, Pinterest) but I’ve finally nailed it *almost* all the way down and I’m feeling really good about it.

    And you are so right — it doesn’t have to be expensive, and the space you share with the people you love should make you feel good.

  2. I’m not a military wife, but I can SO relate to this post! Over the past 5 years, my hubby and I have lived in 4 different homes and so far, our 900 square foot rental has felt most like home! I think it’s because I finally figured out what “my style” really is. It’s tiny, and most days I do wish for 2 bathrooms, but I still love it! xo, amy

  3. I can definitely relate to this and especially struggle now knowing that we will be moving across country in a year. I want our house to feel like home, yet don’t know what we will do with our stuff when we move, bring it or sell it? There are some projects I have decided to move down on our priority list for now, but it’s still important to have a personal space that feels like us 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    1. It’s always tough. I call it “living in the in between” and that’s always the worst spot. Knowing you will be moving but it’s not time yet. You don’t want to keep putting energy and money into your current place when you don’t know what will work with the new one. It hard! Where are you moving to?

  4. I LOVE this post!! We’re not renting, but we plan to rent out our townhouse when we move, so for the longest time, I felt like all of the decisions I was making were for our future renters! I finally got over that and started decorating for “us” and it feels so much more like home! Thanks so much for sharing, Chelsea!

    ~Abby =)

  5. What a great post!!! So true for many many people regardless of if you live in a house or an apartment or a condo. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Awesome post! I’m a renter as well, and after owning a house for several years, I thought it would be difficult to go back to renting. My husband at first complained about hanging up curtains and putting our pictures on the walls, but after all, those are the things that make it start to change from being a house to a home. Thanks for posting!

    1. Thanks for coming over and sharing! We also own a home that has tenants in it and I find that cruelly ironic. Oh well, we love where we live!

  7. Amen! I’ve rented all my life and I am 33. My dad was in the Air Force until I was 22 and we always had a rental. Now, my husband and I still rent, which is “weird” according to society’s expectations, but boy am I glad that when something breaks, it’s not me who has to fix it. It doesn’t feel like home if it isn’t decorated!

  8. Your blog about rental decorating deeply touched me. I am a retired older lady, and I wish I would have had your incite when I was your age. You have a great argument with the evidence to support your stand. In fact it is an important happiness attribute. I know your future will reflect this truth. Thank you for the reminder, and I hope to continue reading and enjoying your Blog. Sincerely, Linda B.

    1. Hi Linda! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It’s always hard to “start over” but it’s totally worth it to have a beautiful home that we love! Happy day to you!

  9. As you know, my fiancé is military… so I can completely relate to this post. We lived in military housing (duplex) for roughly a year before we bought our first home that we now live in. There are *so* many things I could go on about with the struggles of military housing (and I’m sure you are the same!). I am so impressed with the way you’ve personalized your home & I bet you have the prettiest place on base. 😉 Also so many of your beautiful items can be taken with you now which makes it simpler if you ever need to move again!

  10. Great post! I’m a renter, too, and I always try to make our apartments as homey as possible. I never paint though, but now I’m thinking I should. Maybe I’ll start small with the bathroom;)

    1. Painting totally changed the feel of my whole house! So glad I did it!! I think starting small is a great idea!

  11. Thanks for sharing this inspiring post at The Makers, it’s one of the features this week, woo-hoo! I can’t wait to see what you share this week!

    Have a beautiful day!
    ~Katie

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  14. Great post Chelsea. I agree so strongly with you! My husband is RCMP and we lived in force housing for three years before we moved into our current home. I totally decorated it like home because it WAS home for three years. My oldest, Leif’s, FIRST three years. Those are pretty important years of your life…and you should feel ‘home’ or as close to it, anywhere you are with those you love.

  15. You will find that when you retire, you get itchy to move after about 3 years. A chance to clean out the junk, start a new project, decorate another home. I miss moving around!! Now I have to settle for just redoing a room occasionally! After 20 years married to the Air Force via my husband, im bouy ready to move again.

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  17. This is such a great post! I whole-heartedly believe in making wherever you live a place to call home – there is no place like home! We’ve been both home owners and renters – we are currently in the renters category and are in no rush to take on a mortgage again anytime soon! We are happy to call this rental our home!

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  20. This is perfect. I’ve been married to my Marine almost seven years and we’ve only lived a home we’ve owned for three years of it. We’ll be renting or living in base housing for at least 10 more years. That’s too long for me to be in waiting mode. I’m making home wherever we go!

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  22. Thank you so much for this!! Just what I needed! Although I am not a military wife, my husband does contract work and has taken him/us all over the U.S. and overseas and we seem to move every year since he has been out of college and with four kids! I get rather depressed trying to decide if I should wait or just do it and decorate!! This move (last month) just took us from the west coast to the east and I have boxes everywhere!! Thanks again.. Onto decorating!!

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  24. I am a single mom and have been a renter of different places for 13yrs. Decorating my current rental pulled me out of Depression after a broken engagement and job lay off. Believe it or not, it also helped my children as well. Having a place to come to at the end of long day of classwork, taking tests, and after school sports, gives children the security they need and the confidence that everything is going to be okay.
    Thank you for sharing simple and budget friendly ways to decorate temporary homes!

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