Cheer up my bathroom!
December 22, 2011 12:27 AM   Subscribe

My bathroom is sad and it's making me sad.

My bathroom is depressing. Unfortunately, we're in a rental so renovations are out of the question. The problem is it's small and dark and there's no bathtub. Worse, it's the only reasonable place in the house to keep the litter box.

Let's just say ambiance is lacking.

I'm looking for small, inexpensive things I can do to make it more cheerful and welcoming. What are your recommendations for happy making soaps, shampoos, fluffy towels, etc.? Anything and everything* you can think of that would make jumping in the shower more appealing would be great.

*The shower barely fits one person at a time. Lord knows I've tried.
posted by Space Kitty to Home & Garden (36 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
A wall mirror works wonders
posted by ptm at 12:32 AM on December 22, 2011

A wall mirror with the added bonus of a googly eyes frame would make me laugh my ass off. (To be fair, almost anything with googly eyes makes me laugh/smile.)

Do you have room to hang a ruler or yardstick horizontally and use it as a shelf for small plastic creatures or push puppets? A ruler or yardstick is not heavy and could be hung using ribbon and thumbtacks.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:40 AM on December 22, 2011

A Hair-Do Harriet or Wooly Willy might be fun. Maybe get some bath markers, bath crayons, or bath paints to use in the shower. Top secret messages!
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:49 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could try changing the lighting? A full-spectrum lightbulb supposedly "improves your sense of well-being". Or you could go the opposite route and go for a really low wattage lightbulb and create a more romantic atmosphere?

Philosophy makes this soap that smells like cinnamon buns. Or, treat yourself to the shower gel of your favorite perfume.

Also, have you thought of getting a "hidden litter box".

Oh, and I find that having a plain, white, terry-cloth bathmat under your feet makes a big difference when you get out of the shower. Sure there are fluffy ones, and fun colorful ones, and maybe that's more your thing, but there's something so refreshing and clean about simple white. Get a few so they stay in great shape and alternate them often.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 12:59 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: It's hilarious you should mention that, fluffy battle kitten, my daughter moved out some time ago and I'm still finding random creatures, googly eyes and glitter.

For purposes of this thread, I'm shooting more for indulgent, spa-day style fun.

I do like the trick of making a room look bigger with mirrors, but the landlord installed them on either side of toilet. Not sure how to describe it, but if you pee standing, you can check out your reflection by looking either to the left or the right. o_O

While I'm at it, we've got a glass shower door, so fun shower curtains are out too. Sigh.

On preview: Thank all the various gods for the covered litter box!! What we really need is something that keeps him from tracking litter. Big fluffy feet, you know.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:05 AM on December 22, 2011

My mom's bathroom is done in bright blue and yellow, which is kinda the most cheerful combination I could think of. Aim for towels in those colors and it's much harder for it to feel dark.

You don't have a bathtub, but do you have a shower stall? One of the quirkier things included when we rented our house were some goofy cartoon sea creature stickers on the shower doors. I'm pretty sure they're intended for children but whatever, any sort of goofy stickers on your shower stall will do the trick.

If you have a stall-with-curtain set-up, an another AskMe thread today (can't find the link, hrm) about household items that teach things included links to a shower curtain with the periodic table, and another with a world map. So consider non-traditional shower curtains. Even like, I dunno, Spiderman would make me LOL personally. Same for any small windows you might have.

I'm not a big fan of LUSH since I'm weird about chemicals, but if you're not the type to stop and read toiletry ingredients (they don't have anything super weird, typical commercial soap/shampoo stuff) they sell something called "shower jellies" which are like... firm gelatin-consistency soaps. You can freeze them or just use them as-is, very squishy, some like to use them as shampoo. Also, LUSH or many other handmade soap company (some with less harsh ingredients) tend to sell soaps that have all sorts of marbling of colors, mixed-in herbs or sparkles or whatever, attractive chunky rock-looking presentations, etc.

I have also seen "shower fizzies" which are similar to bathbombs, except usually puck-shaped instead of round, densely compacted, and last longer. I don't think LUSH sells these, I've found them at health food stores and the like. You throw them at your feet in the shower, and they're colorful and fizz and give off a scent. I got a three pack for five dollars or something. I used a lavender one a few times and the scent was very strong, which may be a plus or minus depending on your taste; my hair would smell like the fizzie for a full day.

What's your lightning situation in there -- by which I mean, it's dark yes, but where is the light supposed to come from? If you've got a plug in a lamp, get the strangest lamp you can. If you have an overhead light, you might have some options for fixtures though I don't know much about this off the top of my head; just something to consider.

For hand-soap my husband and I use this lemongrass Dr. Bronner's handsoap because it comes out LOOKING LIKE SOY SAUCE and for some reason that is funny to us. We call it "soy soap" although real soy soap is an actual thing, but anyway. Also, reading a Dr. Bronner's label is funny in a timecube sort of way (which also means it's concerning in a timecube sort of way). We also use Dr. Bronner's shower gel, which is great, and which provides ample reading, but if it's dark in your shower that might be a no go. Sometimes my husband reads the label aloud in some old time-y snake oil salesman voice, which you can totally do by yourself in the bathroom, don't listen to anyone who says you can't.

I just stayed with a friend who blasted goofy music over some portable speaker in her bathroom while she showered the other day. One of the songs was Erasure's "Always." I think it's maybe medically impossible to be sad when that song comes on. Anyway, play audio while showering is my point, whether music or audiobooks or podcasts or news or whatever.

If you are allowed to paint or wallpaper the walls, that's another option. Failing that, you could get a big whiteboard and draw whatever amuses you. You can draw IN THE SHOWER if you get bath crayons, but test them on a small, out of the way place in the shower to make sure they play nice with your particular shower surface; you'd be surprised by the stuff that looks like normal tile and is just weird plastic-y stuff that stains or whatever. And if you have a door, also test on the door.

Get a big slipguard rug thing in the shape of a cartoon animal's head or something. Or something classier in blue or yellow. I think my definition of happy sorta overlaps with "batshit absurd" so, yanno, take that into account.
posted by Nattie at 1:05 AM on December 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Clear shower curtains can make the space feel bigger.

Mibo makes some really cute tile tattoos that can non-permanently give your tiles a facelift.

Although some say they're over, I still think vinyl decals (like at Blik) can really add some non-permanent whimsy to your walls also.

And, I'm a big fan of urban outfitters for cute bathroom accessories. I got a really bright shower curtain for our front bathroom, and it has made all the difference! (check the sale section too!)
posted by Kronur at 1:11 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Maybe get some glass paint or frosted paint action going on the shower door? That doesn't help with the lighting at all but might cheer up the place in other ways. (Check labels on paints...some of them remove pretty easily using nail polish remover and won't damage the glass.)

Could you string some christmas lights up around the ceiling? (Make sure bathroom is vented/fanned properly.)

You could hang a shower curtain in front of the glass door to get some color in there, as well. I know that seems impractical (because it kind of is) but it might be an easy way to add a block of print or color.

Is there room to hang a towel warmer? Warm towels are the best.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:13 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Really bright lights usually help.
posted by beerbajay at 1:52 AM on December 22, 2011

Response by poster: Hanging towel warmer! Hell yeah.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:55 AM on December 22, 2011

A towel warmer will keep a small-ish bathroom slightly warm, too. I know my bathroom (large-ish, stupidly arranged) feels worse when it is cold, damp, dim and smells. So I think making your bathroom the opposite of those things will make it nicer to be in. Better overhead lamp, plus small attractive lamp, something smelly, the towel warmer and ornamental stuff, that seems like it should make it nicer. New, matching towels? A plant?
posted by thylacinthine at 2:29 AM on December 22, 2011

I would add some low-light plants, and make sure the lighting is warm instead of cold, either by switching out bulbs or adding additional lighting, via either the Christmas lights idea, or possibly a couple of wireless, battery-operated sconces and/or scented candles (pricey but uplifting), or even LED candles, plus a nice, large, fluffy luxurious bath rug; or maybe something non-traditional for the floor. This site has some interesting options, though spendy.

My last bathroom was small, though bright... and all white tile, everywhere. It felt very, very, cold and clinical; not dingy-depressing, but sort of visit-to-the-ObGyn depressing. I removed the bathroom mirror and put up a lovely art mirror with a very wide multi-colored mosaic border (before I found that, I put up a wood-framed antique mirror which was also nice), put a big zebra-print rug on the floor, and bought beautiful deep jewel-colored towels. It was pretty fantastic after that.

(also, every single speck of dirt showed on that floor; it was a Sisyphean task to keep it clean; the faux zebra skin rug took care of that nicely, whereas an all-light or all-dark rug would have also showed any contrasting speck or bit of dust.)
posted by taz at 2:46 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Clear shower curtains embiggen the space. We mounted a little shelf up high that had a basis clock radio and cd player and next to it a clip-on goose neck lap (cordes or un) to bring in some directabl light.

There are anti-litter mats available.

White board markers will write on many bathroom components and erase off ... Mirrors, tiles, molded tub surrounds, etc. I used to make colorful scenes to help me study vocabulary in foreign tongues, which my housemates found both cheerfuller and amusing. And sometimes they'd add superman rescuing thingsor give my shepherdess ghosts to hers or whatever.

Friend of mine used to switch out her towels seasonally to cheer herself up. Yellow for spring, Orange for fall, deep cranberry for winter, etc. Larger upfront investment but the towels lasted longer and made her very happy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:36 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I immediately thought of plants - something like an aloe or spider plant that would live pretty much off the steam from the shower. Since you probably have seriously limited counter space try to get some height on the surfaces you do have with something like a tiered server for displaying and organizing; you could use the top layer for rings and watches, the middle for soap, the bottom for tea lights and potpourri maybe?

I find that something soft and comfy to sink my toes into when I'm using the toilet makes a huge difference. Find something with enough floof to be toe-friendly but be sure you can toss it in a washing machine and dryer. I actually found mine just at target - it wasn't any sort of brand name but it remains really soft and nice after four years of regular use & wash.
posted by Mizu at 3:37 AM on December 22, 2011

You know what really works well? House plants in the bathroom.
I saw this once at a friend's place - her bathroom was tiny and cramped but she added a few ferns on the shelves and ledges, and I swear, the bathroom felt like a zen-like tropical forest. Try it out!
posted by ruelle at 4:39 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time Charles Mingus, the jazz musician, toilet trained his cat Nightlife and wrote a booklet about it.

No litter box and the awesome sight of a cat using a toilet properly sure would cheer a bathroom up!
posted by Tom-B at 4:52 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

* If you've got two mirrors on either side of the toilet, turn one into a quote board and start writing silly messages to yourself on it, something easily cleaned off. (Not got ideas -- anyone?)

* Get a big huge bowl, put it on the back of the toilet, and keep it full of lemons. Lemons just plain LOOK pretty (come on, that bright sunny yellow?), they smell pretty, and you can grab one and juice it for a hair rinse now and then. Or you could mix it up and have it be a bowl of mixed citrus fruit.

* Look into different types of mud or clay masks; you can get them pre-mixed, sure, but you can also get them just in powdered-clay form, and you're supposed to be the one to mix it up with water or whatever. Start keeping a few of the different powdered ones on hand, and then every so often mix it up and slather it on yourself. You've got to wait 15 minutes or so before washing it off, so you can spend that time pretending you're a cavewoman or clown or something equally silly before hitting the shower.

* Other all-over body masks: yogurt and turmeric (mix a big tub of yogurt with enough turmeric to make it a pretty yellow, add some perfume if you want just for fun, slather it on yourself, wait 15 minutes, wash it off in the shower) or pureed papaya (that's it -- papaya in the food processor, slather it on yourself, sit VERY still for 15 minutes because otherwise you're going to drip all over the damn place, wash off).

* Lighting. There are ways to get desk lamps or clip lamps that will improve the lighting. The ThinkGeek catalog has a whole section of funky lighting items -- and one is even designed to go in a showerhead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:37 AM on December 22, 2011

If you've got two mirrors on either side of the toilet, turn one into a quote board and start writing silly messages to yourself on it, something easily cleaned off. (Not got ideas -- anyone?)

At the very least, please mark out a horizontal ruler for your male pee-ers' measuring convenience. (For added fun, lengthen the inches by a third.) Vinyl or other temporary stick-ons for the mirrors might lessen the discomfort of peeing in an endless mirror tunnel without darkening the room.

And I know that it has been suggested above, but my first move would be to spend some money on the lighting. No matter what kind of fixture you have now (regular bulbs, fluorescent, etc), it will be possible to buy fancier bulbs with much nicer tones. I like the daylight ones, but that just depends on your tastes and the colors in the room.

How old are your towels and shower stuff (loufa, etc)? New ones are super cheap, and the newness alone adds comfort and luxury.
posted by Forktine at 5:55 AM on December 22, 2011

DustBuster. We have our litterbox in the bathroom too. You can't stop the litter being tracked around; you can only stay on top of the cleanup.
posted by kestrel251 at 5:57 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use regular dry-erase markers on mirrors to make notes for myself. Or maybe those car window markers?
posted by brilliantine at 6:37 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

We need pictures.

More light. Is there anyplace you can safely put a lamp? Some cfl bulbs have a plastic cover, so would be safer. Overhead light isn't always flattering. At the very least, make sure the bulbs are color-corrected to be warmer. I love party string lights over mirrors.

It doesn't have to be funny to be nice. Party lights could be flamingos, or just warm white twinkle lights. Glass door - make or buy some cool, pretty or goofy decals.

Have a theme. Coordinated color towels and a decorative item on top of the toilet tank, or a basket on the vanity, and coordinated decals on the shower door. It doesn't have to be super-matchy. In my old house, the bathroom was all neutrals, and the theme was 'serene.' Plant on the toilet tank, and calm, pale colors. It was really pleasant.

I use washable markers to write notes on the mirror. Really worked when my son was at home, as it was 1 place I know he'd be.

Scent. Buy some soaps based on aroma, maybe some potpurri, or those oil bottles with sticks. Don't be too cheap, some of these smell really industrial after more than 10 seconds.
posted by theora55 at 7:04 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Check out ideas from Manhattan Nest. Repaint what you can and replace the fixtures. You can also replace the toilet seat (not as expensive as it sounds) or the showerhead. Make a really nice cork bathmat. Get a cute litter box (or this cool but expensive one).
posted by hooray at 7:14 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

A chandelier. I did this in my bathroom and the way the light plays on the wall really gives a pleasant spa vibe.
posted by *s at 7:19 AM on December 22, 2011

More light. Try to de-clutter your bathroom as much as possible. Put all the toiletries in some kind of cabinet, or in baskets, so they're out of sight. Make sure your towels/colors in the bathroom match.

A small vase with something colorful in it - not plastic fake flowers, but maybe spray paint (with glitter spray paint!) some interesting shaped sticks? Something like this to put in the vase?

Or a tall bamboo in the corner - something like this uses up very little floor space but makes a small room look nicer.

Or an air plant? If you look around etsy, they have ones that are attached to a tile you can hang on the wall, and it doesn't take up a lot of space. Or you can get one in a tiny vase.
posted by at 7:31 AM on December 22, 2011

If you don't want to put permanent stickers on your shower stall (if you do in fact have one, rather than a curtain), you can buy one of these activity books and make your own window clings (these are also good for mirrors and, well, windows, as well as the stall). You don't have to use the patterns that come with the book, although some of those are cute--you can do whatever you think is appropriate and cheery, as long as you can get a pattern with a good thick black outline. Clip art on the web is great for this.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:45 AM on December 22, 2011

If you can't paint the walls, buy some blank canvases or cut foamcore the same size as the spaces on the walls, and go to town. Those can be mounted on two finishing nails or push pins. Easy to change designs or color as well, since you can do so without any preparation or clean up.

Even though you have a glass shower door, you can still mount a tension rod at ceiling height and run it through the open hems of two twin flat sheets or a full or queen size sheet and get the design you want in there. Pop these in the washer when you do your other sheets.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:55 AM on December 22, 2011

You can probably change the light fixtures with brighter or more effective ones and replace them when you leave.
posted by chazlarson at 8:25 AM on December 22, 2011

He's your only friend ...
posted by Bookhouse at 11:14 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I didn't expect so many answers - thank you! Here's what's working for me so far:

full spectrum lightbulb
philosophy soaps
blue/yellow color scheme
towel warmer
anti litter mat (any good ones out there?)
colorful towels

If you have more recommendations for good shower products I'd love to hear them.

The cat may find plants and things on shelves entirely too entertaining for his own good so I'll be looking into those sparingly.

Thanks again, it already feels more cheerful around here.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:34 AM on December 22, 2011

Battery operated LED nightlights?
posted by kamikazegopher at 11:45 AM on December 22, 2011

Like so.
posted by kamikazegopher at 11:46 AM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: I'm so sad, my browser just quit and I lost a long post for you :-( I'll try to quickly recreate a few points.

1) Storage: what kind of storage is in there now? Vanity? If you can install a medicine cabinet with mirrors, your storage will improve dramatically and get stuff off of your countertops. What is underneath your sink? Make it organized. What is in your drawers? Make it organized. The point is, remove all clutter from the bathroom. This doesn't mean remove all VISIBLE clutter. Remove it all. Even if you can't see that clutter, you still know it's there, and it'll silently annoy you every time you try to open a drawer or knock something off your sink. Clean everything out. It might mean setting up another area in your bedroom or a nearby room for you to do hair/makeup type stuff.

2) Colors. Pick one neutral (wood, glass, bamboo, white melamine, charcoal grey slate, etc.) and one bright pop of color (turquoise, royal blue, yellow, etc.) and one minor color (eg. mostly turquoise with a few hits of coral.) Look in your closet to see which colors speak to you. Look through magazines and flickr to see which bathrooms speak to you. I like white, wood, blue with a few hits of grey but that might not work in your lighting situation. This bathroom from ikea is white, red, with a few hits of black and natural wood. Think about textures: some things should be smooth and glossy, while others should have some roughness - one example would be clean white melamine toothbrush/paste holder, with matching canisters with glass tops, combined with some lidded baskets for towels and other products. Look what Anna (from Door Sixteen) was able to do with her apartment bathroom - Ikea wood shelf and matching picture frame, white walls and tile, grey and black accents.

3) Lighting: There are battery operated LED lights that don't have a horrible hue. You can get motion detector spotlights, and put one somewhere up high, reflecting on the ceiling. It will give another source of indirect light. What kind of fixture is there now? Can you take a photo? I've taken down rental fixtures, purchased my own, and when I moved out, I just asked the landlord if I should leave the new one or replace it with the original. You can get much stronger light fixtures for better lighting and I guarantee that the $100 investment now will be cheaper than buying 15 different kinds of stick-on lights that don't really work all that well. Ask if you can hire an electrician to put lighting above the vanity. It will help soooo much.

4. Hardware: Start by changing out your shower head. It makes a huge difference. Not stepping into a dripping, misting, weak stream of water is awesome.

If it's anything like my former rentals, the hardware is mismatching, outdated, and kind of gross. I once lived with a semi-broken toilet paper holder that was spotted with paint and weirdly off-white. Replacing it took about 15 minutes, $20, and it improved the bathroom about 20x more than I expected. Get a matching set of TP holder, towel hooks, towel rack, and anything else. Ikea has some nice sets, Overstock has great deals, Home Depot and Lowes have some nice ones (not the pre-packaged sets though), and West Elm/Pottery Barn will have great sales in the New Year. Hooks are AWESOME. For some reason a nice row of matching hooks, with towels hanging down, just look nicer than misaligned towels on an old rack. Using a train rack will give you additional storage on top for more towels, or baskets for extra bathroom products.

5. Little things: change your toilet brush. This OXO toilet brush is amazing because it doesn't get that black moldy stuff on it, and you don't have to see the brush between cleanings. If you blowdry your hair, get a hair dryer holder so that the cord isn't a nuisance everytime you use it. Repaint even if you have to change it to its original color upon moving out. Including the ceiling. Yes, a pain. Yes, very noticeable improvement. Make sure you get bathroom paint that can handle the humidity. Clean the bathroom super clean: use a white bleach pen to brighten the grout. Re-caulk around baseboard floors and fixtures. (Check out Manhattan Nest for some great inspiration!)

Do you have room to replace the shower curtain rod with a curved one? It can be a dramatic difference, even for one person, but you need the room to do it.

Get some new towels. I like the hard-wearing ones from Pottery Barn. Macy's has some great deals. Target has some OK ones, and some that seem to pill in a few months. Overstock has good options too.

-- Sunset's before-and-afters
-- HGTV Before-and-After (seriously, they have some good and practical advice, it's not all swanky)
-- Simple changes
-- Designsponge - lots of bathroom products and renos and DIY ideas.
-- Apartment Therapy - they have millions of Before-and-After posts, and other bathroom design ideas. The commenters can be strangely snarky but many have good tips based on their own experiences.
- 5 ways to deal with ugly bathroom lighting fixtures
- 10 ways to customize rental bathrooms

TL;DR version: Storage. Unified colors and textures. Clean and grout. Change visible hardware including showerhead. Buy new towels.

Go through a ton of inspiration photos and blog posts to figure out what might work for you. Take some measurements, look at pieces online and go from there. Don't dive in without a plan because you'll waste money on things that need to be re-done or can't be returned. But be flexible enough to see some inspiration in stores!
posted by barnone at 2:39 PM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This litter mat looks like it gets good reviews, and it could totally work in a bathroom scheme.
posted by barnone at 2:41 PM on December 22, 2011

A shelf with a mini-library — comix and silly books — to read while sitting on the toilet?
posted by Tom-B at 2:45 PM on December 22, 2011

While I'm at it, we've got a glass shower door, so fun shower curtains are out too. Sigh.

You can still hang shower curtains in front of a glass shower door- my friend did this in her bathroom and it looks much nicer.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:21 PM on December 22, 2011

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