Libby McMillan Henson
Apartment Upgrades for Under $100

Whether you live in student apartments, senior apartments, or something in between, it’s important to feel good about your place when you come home. There are several ways to brighten your living space, boost your morale, and make your place more inviting – both for yourself or friends – without breaking the budget. Here are a few of the best apartment upgrades, all for under $100.

Tricking Out Your Closet

Wouldn’t it feel great to have your shoes in cubbies? What about having all your clothes on nonslip velvet hangers? Better still: change that single rod to a double. Find a helpful hardware guy (or a friendly sales associate at IKEA) and tell them what your closet problems are, or what you’d most like to change. It might be that a good, bright light bulb and an upper shelf could change your world!

Tip: Add up the linear feet of short-hang (pants, shirts, short skirts) and long-hang items you have, then count the pairs of shoes you own. You’ll need this info when you go shopping.

Near You


Lamps add warmth, coziness, and encourage you to curl up and relax over a good book or a fun magazine. Having a nice reading lamp by your bed is a must-do. Also important: flipping on a switch when you come home and being greeted by pleasing lamp-light. Look for the outlet which ties to the light switch near your front door. Then put a lamp on the accent table or sofa table which is nearest it, or set up a nice floor lamp. Buy an inexpensive extension cord if necessary, matching its color to your walls or flooring. Don’t forget that thrift stores can have good lamps.

Tip: Senior apartments can rarely have too many lamps if you’re helping mom or dad outfit their new place.


Nothing gives life to an apartment like plants (literally!). They will cheer you up in winter, and bring the outdoors in, no matter the season. If you have a balcony, you can move your plants outside part of the year. Not sure you have a green thumb? Start with easy houseplants for apartment upgrades: succulents (placing them in a dish or saucer you add water to daily); spider plants; peperomia; philodendrons; pothos (devil’s ivy); and peace lilies. Be sure not to place your plants over a heat vent or in the scorching sun.

Tip: If a plant isn’t doing well, try moving it to a new location. Sometimes it takes a few tried to find the spot they like.

Luxury Towels

Think about it: you shower or bathe every day, so “luxury” towels aren’t really a luxury. They’re just a way to love your body and love your private bathroom time. For the largest size, look for “bath sheets” and splurge a little on price, so you get quality towels. Get matching hand towels and washcloths. You won’t regret it!

Paint an Accent Wall

If your lease allows it (and very many don't), add real drama for the price of a little paint and some elbow grease. Think about which wall would make a real impact: it might be the one opposite your front door, or a fireplace wall, or the space behind your headboard. Then choose a color which is complementary with your skin tone, as well as to your décor, and go for it.  Just be sure to protect the ceiling and carpet or flooring with painters’ tape and a tarp or newspapers before your start.  And you may want to avoid darker colors because you’ll have to paint the wall its original color when you move.

Tip: Look for weekend paint sales, and try small samples if you’re unsure of your color choice.

Extra bed pillows

Sleep is important: it impacts your physical health, your mental health, your productivity and your attitude (which affects your social life!). So do yourself a favor. Get a wonderful sleeping pillow, an extra for reading, and a third for under or between your knees (critical for side sleepers). Pillowcases can be a complementary color to your sheets. The extra pillows might also encourage a little more reading in bed, which relaxes you for sleep far more than playing around on your phone. Be good to yourself.

A Kitchen Splurge

There are many kitchen splurges which will occasionally cheer you up, and a few that will change your life daily. One of our favorites is the electric tea kettle, which shuts off automatically. (Handy for all of us; perfect for senior apartments) Another is a Keurig® coffee machine, a real plus when guests come by, because no one wants you to make a whole pot of coffee just for them. Other get-happy options might include a knife set, a blender, glass storage containers or some pretty new dishware or glasses.

Tip: For healthy BPA-free storage containers, stick to resin codes 1, 2, 4 and 5. You’ll find them on the bottom of the glassware.


Do you have a full-length mirror? If not, you need one. Mirrors can also be used to visually add space, tricking the eye. Hang one opposite a window to throw extra light and make your apartment seem larger. Brighten up a dark hallway or space in the same manner. A handheld mirror or the type that sits in a stand comes in really handy in the bathroom; use it to see the back of your hair before you walk out the door.


Art is extremely personal; that’s what’s great about it. If a piece makes you smile, that’s a good reason to buy it. If it makes you ponder, or remember, or feel emotions, then it might belong in your space. Pick up one large piece, or a few smaller ones for a grouping on a blank or important wall. If you have a niche or empty shelves, smaller artful objects or sculpture will add visual interest to your home. Many home décor stores now sell really affordable art that’s also appealing; personalize your space with something that speaks to you. No one else has to understand.


Most rugs cost over $100, but you can certainly spice up your kitchen (and make your legs happy) with a cushioned, pretty rug in front of the sink.  Several big box stores offer colorful outdoor rugs for spaces like balconies and patios. Another cheery option is a “welcome” rug outside your door, which does double-duty to keep your carpets and floors clean.

Related: How to decorate your balcony for fall

Remember, affordable apartments for rent do NOT have to be plain or boring after move-in, just because you’re on a budget. There are many ways you can spruce up your apartment for less than $100. Which way will make you happiest? Go for it!



About The Author

A contributing editor and video producer at ApartmentGuide and, Libby McMillan Henson has created award-winning content for radio, tv, print and digital for over two decades. Libby recently authored a book about her home base of Greenville, SC, and has also lived in Austin, San Francisco, Nashville, Boston and Sanibel/Captiva Islands. A lifelong traveler and photographer, Libby loves exploring new places and sharing her finds.