How to Make a Rental Feel Like Home

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Global | 1 comment

A Rental Nomad for Some Time

Space is important to me. In order for me to feel motivated, creative, and relaxed, I need my home to feel inspiring and comfortable. During my first two years in Panama, I bopped around host family homes, volunteers’ temporary housing, and my boyfriend’s bachelor pad.

Looking back, I can see why it was difficult to find consistent motivation in my work because I didn’t have a space that was conducive to productivity or downtime. I survived off pure bursts of excited energy and intriguing opportunities between long hours riding public buses from one activity to another.

I learned many beautiful lessons during my time as a nomad, but when my partner and I moved into a new home together in December, I knew it was time to take advantage and make a space that felt like home, not just a temporary rental.

The Unfurnished Rental Opportunity

From Common Space to Bedroom - by Megan Thompson
From Common Space to Bedroom by Megan Thompson

Since the house was unfurnished, I had a blank canvas to work with, but that it was a rental also limited me.

I didn’t want to put a ton of money into permanent changes, since we only planned to stay for a few years.

I wanted to design a space that we could take with us to our next home if we choose, and do it on a budget.

Neither of us had much stuff, so we got creative with what we did have, took to Facebook marketplace for what we didn’t, and spent hours on YouTube and Pinterest for DIY inspiration.

When the Price Is Right

The priciest item we had to splurge on was a decent sofa. I started looking online, in stores, and at used items, but I didn’t like anything (or what I did like was at least $1,000 and upwards… out of our budget). At the same time, we had two extra twin mattresses, and we wanted extra sleeping space for guests.

So I created day beds. I bought two cheap wood bed frames, threw the mattresses on top, screwed some plywood to the backs, upholstered the plywood, and tossed some pillows and blankets on them… voilà. Cozy loungey living room that can convert to a bedroom for guests.

Personalize Your Rental the Smart Way

I also tried to take advantage of everything we had to fill our space. I made some artwork with friends and bought some local plants. I added special touches that mean something to us, such as a teapot that belonged to my grandmother, and some of our favorite books in the common space. I ordered framed pictures from Mixtiles for my partner for Christmas.

Decorating our home on a budget - by Megan Thompson
Decorating our home on a budget by Megan Thompson

I immediately loved Mixtiles because the pictures stick to almost any surface and they can be moved around dozens of times without losing their stick…perfect for someone who likes to redecorate every few months, like me.

I had a lot of fun decorating and coming up with design ideas in my new rental.

Even just a few fresh coats of paint and some new curtains made the previous tenant, a friend of ours, think he had walked into a new house.

Simple things, like moving the desk into a place where I am more likely to use it, made all the difference in motivating me.

Also, adding little reminders of family and friends, my favorite places in the world, or special moments, make me smile each time I walk in the door.

Special memories give a super personal touch - - by Megan Thompson
Special memories give a super personal touch  by Megan Thompson

Think about the way you live, your personal style, how you plan to use your space, and start brainstorming from there.

It often takes time for a new house, or town, or country to feel like “home,” but a little innovation, love, and personal touch can make all the difference.

In the end, the feeling of putting down roots in Panama and merging lives with my partner was hugely satisfying, and seeing our new home filled with friends made it feel not so temporary after all.

Do you have any tips on how to make an expat rental home, how to personalize the experience? Share your secrets with our community; many of us are renters. Sign up for free to join the conversation.

by: Megan Thompson