Decorate Your Rental Without Losing Your Deposit

modern living room with blue sofa and curtains

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Military members are all too familiar with the BAH crunch when searching for rental homes off base. Unfortunately, the hunt often leads to signing a lease for an affordable but not so updated house. Making a rental house feel like a home with limited means or within the confines of a lease agreement is challenging, especially if you’d like your full security deposit back when the lease is over. 


Military on-base housing is an option, of course, but long waitlists, maintenance issues, and lack of desirable public education are common pitfalls, in addition to the property management’s potentially strict policies about decorating your home. 


But here’s the silver lining around decorating rental housing: The exploding rental scene has businesses scrambling to accommodate tenants with more inventive and fashion-forward but temporary decorating and furnishing options than ever before. For inspiration, check out the imaginative ideas and creativity on home-style blogs or Pinterest, especially those created by military spouses. They’re a force to be reckoned with when it comes time to dominate an ugly wall of paneling. 


A lot is going on with base housing. Read What's the Future of Military Housing? before you sign a lease.  

Prepare for Rental Updates

If your rental or military housing has got you down, don’t worry, there’s at least one project on this list that will boost your decorating spirits, even for those who don’t have a design-friendly bone in their body. 

First, the legal portion of preparing to decorate a rental—you must familiarize yourself with your military housing agreement regarding alterations to the house and understand what is required of you to receive your deposit in full.


The same is true for a traditional landlord. Don’t try to hide any changes, even if they are improvements. Be prepared to pay for any decorating upgrades out of your pocket, but refer to MilitaryByOwner’s blog 3 Ways to Convince Your Landlord to Let You Upgrade for tips on working with the homeowner to get some improvements made.


Labeled So Simple, Very Easy, and Easy, these projects will add comfort and personality to your rental home. 


using mirrors in home decorating

Image from Canva

So Simple Decorating Ideas

These projects can’t get any simpler or less expensive, so incorporate them all into the rental!

Tension Rods

These handy tools have so many uses, and they’re cost-effective, so buy multiple sizes and styles. Then, when it’s time to PCS, don’t hesitate to pack them because they’re transferable and lightweight.


  • Without using a drill, hang curtains inside window frames.
  • Add a fabric curtain across an awkward space like a closet-turned-home-office or disguise storage space under a cabinet.
  • A strong rod across a window will hold small potted plants with hooks.
  • Organizational uses are endless: playrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms.

Switch Electrical Plates

Simply remove the existing pieces and store them for later. Antique plates are plentiful, and spray-painted plates are quick upgrades.


Hang Mirrors


Everyone wants more light in their home, so use strategic placement of large and small mirrors. They’ll bounce light and trick the eye into seeing the space as larger than it is. Start with a sizable framed mirror near a doorway to make the best use of natural light. 


Privacy Film


This bit of plastic sheeting is a huge bang for your buck. The updated patterns are adorable, and they alleviate the need for heavy and expensive window coverings. 


Seasonal Decorating


Rentals often have dull paint colors and carpeting because it’s affordable for owners. Add colorful vignettes of seasonal decorating items. They add character and interest to every corner of the room. A mantel is a great place to decorate for the season, but bookshelves and large furniture like sideboards substitute easily if you don’t have a fireplace. 


white bedding open window and sheer curtains

Image from Canva

Living in an older rental? Try the tips in Vintage or Outdated? Make Your Older Home's Features Work for You!

Very Easy Decorating Ideas

Just a little more effort reveals big decorating results!

Slipcovers and Rugs

Both provide a significant impact in a room, especially if you choose a color scheme. But if you find a great deal on a neutral color, grab more than one because you can reuse them in future homes. 

Collection Arrangement

As a military family, you’ve had to be picky on what home accessories and important mementos travel with you each move. Don’t keep those boxed away—display collectibles such as pottery, linens, or photography. Artfully displayed, they show personality and interest on a bookcase, coffee table, and stairwell walls.


Adhesive Hooks


These are possibly the best invention for renters hoping to have their full deposit returned! Originally used to hang simple items and wall pictures, their uses have morphed into more sophisticated projects.


  • Window coverings
  • Storage and organizational uses for closets and pantries
  • Party and seasonal decorating

Paint or Wallpaper Something Small

Painting a room is a lot of work and often not allowed in rentals. Instead, cover the inside of your bookshelves or the backside of an interior door to add color and a bit of style. 


Recessed Lighting Covers


Look for the gorgeous shade covers for the old and ugly recessed lighting pots regularly found in military housing. They’re magnetic and dress up the space. Affordable and transferable, the investment pays off for years to come. 


stick and peel backsplash tiles


Image from Canva

Easy Decorating Ideas


Take your style to the next level with these easy decorating tips. 


  • Temporary wallpaper. Reputable companies like Benjamin Moore have engineered removable wallpaper in desirable patterns. The hard part is to choose the design you like the most. 
  • Wallpaper lining. Because it’s removable, think of this as a protector of the original surface, with your choice of wallpaper on top. 
  • Faux tile. Peel and stick tile is all the rage because bathrooms and kitchens become outdated faster than other rooms. You can shop from several versions, and they’re cleanable and simple to remove. 

See? Simple, easy, and geared toward getting your deposit back in full!


If you still feel you could use more help after attempting several of these rental home projects, consider hiring a military spouse who has interior decorating or design experience. They’ll have pro tips for making the most of your rental property with furniture placement and color schemes suggestions. 

By Dawn M. Smith




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