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7 home improv solutions for cluttered, dingy apartments

Joan Fieldstone

February 2, 2015

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: Interior Home ImprovementCountertopsInterior Design

My adult son rents an apartment, and until a few months ago he had someone to help share the expenses. Finding himself now in need of a roommate, he had to take a long, hard look at what changes he must make in his apartment to attract someone who, besides sharing the rent, will also take pride in helping maintain a pleasant living environment. He had accumulated a lot of stuff over the past few years, and he was faced with performing a major declutter before anything else could be done. I volunteered to help while still on my own New Year's decluttering high.

Conquering clutter and planning beyond

We were dealing with a sea of boxes randomly packed -- many full of papers at the bottom -- spreading from one end of the apartment to the other. To save precious time we separated out the papers into a giant, impossible-to-ignore pile for filing or shredding after the major sorting was done. Because he lives in a coastal area, my son kept finding pockets of mold behind the furniture, and every spot had to be treated with fungicide before moving on. As we worked side by side, we tossed ideas back and forth about what he might want and need from his living space once it was cleaned and purged. He began to formulate a plan to spruce it up once the mess is under control.

The Problem: Beautifying an apartment has its challenges - you usually can't make permanent changes. For example, his place was built in the '50s and there are hardwood floors under the ugly carpeting that he would love to pull up, but that probably won't be an option because his lease won't allow it. The kitchen still has the original cabinetry -- painted a yellowing, flaking white, which the management won't repaint. The kitchen counters are partly tile with decades-old, dirty grout, and partly butcher block laminate with stains that no amount of scrubbing can clean. The circular fluorescent lighting is an energy-saver, but makes the kitchen about as cheerful as an autopsy room.

The Solutions: It turns out that my son's mind works a lot like mine, and he quickly assessed the situation, making some astute suggestions for apartment home improv. We did some further research, and all of these ideas are very doable:

  1. Open shelving units in the living room, so light can reach behind the furniture to deter mold
  2. A new fluorescent bulb in a more pleasant color temperature for the kitchen
  3. Snazzy contact paper on the cabinet door fronts and in the cabinets to control peeling paint
  4. Instant granite film to cover the countertops -- it can be peeled off if he moves out
  5. Floating, interlocking vinyl floor tiles to hide the hideous kitchen floor
  6. To save counter space, a collapsible dish drainer that can be stored flat and out of sight when not in use
  7. Sactionals by LoveSac, a modular sofa/seating/sleeping system with washable covers that are as easy as Legos to reconfigure endless ways

For now, he has a perfectly nice IKEA sofa and ottoman that was hidden behind the mountain of clutter and unused because the mess made the living room off-limits. We moved it in front of the flat screen, and he bought a lacquer tray so he could enjoy dinner or a snack while propping his feet up on the ottoman and watching Netflix or playing video games after long hours at work.

He still has plenty of decluttering to do before he starts to decorate, and the budget will only allow one or two improvements at a time, but my son has renewed determination. I can't wait to watch him grow into this next phase of his life and to develop a sense of decorating style all his own, based on a fluid lifestyle open to fresh possibilities.

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