No matter if you’re renting or buying, day-to-day life in your own home requires some maintenance and occasional futzing around. Even when you’re renting and your landlord or property manager is technically responsible for certain tasks, it’s often easier and faster to just tackle them yourself, if you have the know-how and the tools.
You also probably want to make your rental unit cozy, comfortable, and personal, as well, and that mission often requires some tools to pull off. Hanging artwork, prints, or new blinds is not complex, but does require the right tools for the job. These days, a lot of us buy furniture that we assemble ourselves as well, and these tools will come in handy then, too.
So what are those tools that make up a solid toolkit that you can depend on? Here’s a list of items I think every renter should own. It may be a stretch to call some of these items – for example, zip ties – tools. But they’re definitely useful and when you’re thinking ahead you can clearly foresee a need someday.
I would also say to buy brand-name tools whenever possible. The cheap Chinese-made versions may be just fine, but I’ve often gotten burned going cheap. It’s your choice, of course.
Some items are just mandatory. If you don’t have a plunger when you need one, for example, you’re in for a mess, and maybe an embarrassing phone call or two. So don’t do that. Stock up on stuff before there’s trouble. This list could also serve to generate ideas for a great house warming gift for a young person living on their own for the first time.
5 gallon bucket: A place to store everything below, turn it over to stand on, or use to catch water in an emergency. This is a must have!
Utility Knife: This tool is often the most-used item in the tool box, or in the junk drawer. You might have your own preference, but I like a folding knife like this one. You can change blades without a screwdriver, and it folds up to half-size.
Flashlight: You know you should stock up on flashlights and batteries for home and for the car. Sure, I know we have flashlights built into our phones, but when the power is out and your phone’s battery is dying rapidly you’ll wish you had a real flashlight, good for 10+ hours of use. For household chores, a flashlight is much better, as well, as you can focus the light just where you need it.
Headlamp: You might think it’s either/or for a flashlight and headlamp, but I like to have both. When the power goes out I am ready with my trusty headlamp that lives in one of my backpacks. With a headlamp I can operate hands-free.
Duct Tape: Of course! When you need this type of fix, only duct tape will do. It’s usually not a permanent fix, but a “good enough for now” sort of fix.
Zip Ties: These are good to have at home and in the car. I also keep some in my bike kit. This kit has 400 of different sizes for $6! Total bargain.
Screwdriver Set: I like to have a full set of screwdrivers like this one, in addition to a screwdriver with multiple bits like this one. They’re both useful in different circumstances. You often need screwdrivers of different lengths. Sometimes you need the shorty, and sometimes you need the extra-long model, so just having the multi-tip won’t always get the job done.
Pliers: While I haven’t tested Amazon’s tools myself, they do have good reviews. It’s a good idea to get the set, as you definitely want the standard slip-joint pliers and the needle-nosed pliers.
Adjustable Wrench: These wrenches are made just for tightening and loosening nuts and bolts without rounding them off, which pliers will do. This one has a coated handle, which is a nice touch. Don’t bother with cheap versions, as I’ve tried those and they get so you can hardly move the adjustable part after a while.
Cable management: Even a cheap set like this goes a long way towards hiding and holding in place the various wires you have in place around your home to keep things looking nice.
Hammer: A good hammer will last forever, literally. This one has a fiberglass handle and is high-visibility red. When you are assembling furniture, hanging pictures or plant hangers, and so on, you’ll be glad you have the right tool.
Mallet: A mallet comes in handy for so many tasks and is better than a hammer for many, as the rubber face doesn’t slide off slippery surfaces. I have this model in my camping kit for pounding in tent stakes. The hook on the end is for pulling out the tent stakes.
Tape Measure: Most of us will do just fine with a 25-foot tape measure, but go for the 50-footer if you like. I’ve used “lever-lock” tape measures plenty, and I still prefer a separate locking button like the one I’ve linked to. It’s surprising how often you use a tape measure in one year.
Level: These levels have come a long way in the last few years. This model has several tools built into one handy unit for under $15, and it includes a small tripod so you can set it up on uneven surfaces. It includes bubble levels for horizontal and vertical, as well as for 45°. You can shoot horizontal and vertical laser lines, and it has an 8-foot tape measure.
Work Gloves: A good pair of work gloves is going to come in handy if you ever need to do house repairs, or just when you're moving furniture around! They also double as gardening gloves! A good pair is just $10.
Step Ladder: You’ll have many choices, from simple one-step models to 3-and 4-step models. I have used this 2-step type for many years and feel it’s a good compromise. I can paint a standard wall all the way up to 8 feet while standing on the top step, and it has the hoop for extra security while working. Plus, it’s small enough to store in a closet, under a bed, or even behind the couch.
Drain Snake: For many simple drain clogs, you don't need to call a plumber or your landlord, you just need a simple drain snake. It will be gross, but especially if anyone in your home has longer hair, this will be a worthwhile (and cheap!) purchase. Use on sinks and shower drains.
Extension Cords: These are a basic commodity, but it’s a good idea to get a grounded cord with three prongs. This one is 25 feet for $17. For a less obtrusive look indoors, this white cord is wonderful. It also has USB and USB C ports so you can charge smaller devices directly from it.
Caulk/Sealant: You’ll find dozens of different variations on caulk, so you may want to ask for some help at the hardware store when you have a project. For example, you can’t paint 100% silicone, so don’t use that where you’re planning some touch-up painting after caulking.
Goo Gone: Remove sticky messes and adhesive from stickers on your home items. Citrus scented!
Plunger: Yep, super gross and annoying, but there’s no other way. Just accept reality and get a good plunger asap.
Cordless Drill/Driver: You can do so much with a kit like this one, and it’s from a good brand. The drill/driver is just one part, though. You need drill bits and driver bits to actually do any work, and this kit has them. With a kit like this, you can drill holes and drive screws, which you could do by hand, but you’ll do them 50 times faster.
Stud Finder: When you’re hanging prints or mounting shelves, you need to know where the studs are located. A basic stud finder will do the job. Sure, there are super-fancy electronic gizmos out now, but when you’re just using this tool occasionally, do you need that?
Fire Extinguisher: This is a little off topic, but it speaks to being prepared. Most home fires start in the kitchen, and having a small spray model like this is a no-brainer to me. I have one in my Jeep too. You can do a quick Google to learn about the laws around this in your area, but it’s likely that your landlord is legally required to provide one of these as well. If they haven’t and should have, it’s ok to request one as a renter.
With a kit like this, you are ready to tackle some fun improvement projects. I hope you enjoy every minute of it!
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