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The second you move into a new place the first thing you want to do is unpack and create your space.
But doesn’t the desire to redefine your physical space also hit at random times even (and perhaps especially) when you’ve lived somewhere for years? Sometimes a big heartbreak or a burst of good news can spur the desire to redefine your home.
Other times returning from a trip will help you see your space in a new light and show you the parts of your space that you’ve outgrown.
Revamping your home can be a right of passage from one stage of life to the next and there is no need to limit yourself just because you’re living that frugal lifestyle.
When you’re working with a limited budget it can be hard to fulfill your home decor desires instantly but we have gathered some tricks and tips that will make any home decor transformation more fun, affordable, and unique.
If you follow even a few of these tips (we highly recommend picking a clear color palette and learning a few fix-it skills) then you will be able to manifest the home decor you’re dreaming of.
Thrift Shops & Secondhand
One of the best ways to save money on home decor is to shop secondhand. Hit up weekend yard sales, make a habit of stopping by your local thrift shops, and keep a watchful eye on Craigslist.
Secondhand items carry a history with them and sometimes wood, leather, and other textiles look even better with age. Some auction houses will have very affordable antiques that you can grab at a low price simply because not many other people are there.
Getting a piece of furniture secondhand means it comes with a story and even if you don’t know that story you have always make one up as a fun conversation starter for when you have guests over.
Find Stuff For Free
And sometimes even better than the deeply discounted gems, you’ll score secondhand, you may be able to get free furniture and other household decors simply by being willing to pick it up!
Craigslist is filled with offers of free fridges, beds, sofa, and more to the helpful soul who is able to come to get it and take it away. This is when owning or having a friend with a truck can come in hand.
Even a handcart, a few spare blankets, and some tensions ropes can help turn an otherwise regular car into a moving machine.
There are two places to look if you want to get major scores on free home decor. One of the biggest places to score perfectly good free items is at the dumpsters of your local University the weekend students move out.
The word dumpster definitely carries with it a heavy stench but fear not, Universities usually rent extra large dumpsters to handle the extra bulk of items being thrown out, so the trash isn’t mixed with the discarded furniture.
And students are usually in such a heated rush to leave that they either leave items in their dorm room (later to be removed by maintenance staff and tossed in the dumpsters) or they carry the items out to the dumpsters and just leave them there.
As crazy as it may sound you may be able to score furniture, clothing, books, even electronics like TVs and computers simply by showing up at the right time.
Another prime spot to score free stuff is when storage units are emptied out.
Often times people will rent a storage unit and then either leave town, stop paying for the unit or abandon it altogether, and this leaves the managers with the burden of dealing with whatever is left in the storage unit.
Sometimes they will hold auctions on the stuff inside to try and make a little extra cash but other times they will happily give the stuff to whoever is willing to take it away (fair warning, the deal might be that you have to take all the stuff off property, not just pick and choose).
Check with your local self-storage facility for their specific details.
Look at What You Own Already
Sometimes we get so caught up in wanting more, more, more, and newer, newer, newer, that we don’t even realize what we actually own.
Taking the time to really see what you already have might help you reclaim or repurpose something you already have that just needs a new shot at life.
Ask yourself, “Do I like the style of my bedside tables, I’m just not feeling that color anymore?” and if the answer is “yes” then you know what to do.
A fresh coat of paint, some new hardware like a decorative handle or doorknob, and a few accented details like a thin line of gold painted along the edge of a bedpost, can really make an old piece feel brand new.
A great first step is to clean and declutter your home so that you can see and appreciate everything.
Marie Kondo, the world-famous Japanese decluttering expert, now has a show on Netflix (link) where she helps walk clients through this process of decluttering and finding joy in what they already have.
Sometimes you already have the piece you’re looking for, it’s just buried under a pile of papers or clothes or has been forgotten in the garage for the past few years.
Pairing down your possessions can dramatically help your space feel different even without bringing in any new objects into your home.
Throw an Exchange Party
Clothing swaps aren’t anything new but a furniture/home decor swap brings a fun twist to an old classic.
True, some items are FAR too large to haul across town to your friend’s house, but you can invite people over to your place to pick and choose items and ask them to bring pictures (and hopefully some rough measurements) of pieces they are interested in trading.
This isn’t a “fair trading” party where you have to swap a big item for another big item.
Someone might have three big, stuffed chairs they want to ditch while what are looking for is a selection of tiny serving bowls for an upcoming cocktail party –– to each their own!
A fun way to get people excited about this is to take a few pictures of items you’re very willing to get rid of and to type up a brief little story about each. Make it funny, relatable, detailed, and personal.
Maybe there is a chair you’ve had since your college days and while it’s sentimental it doesn’t have the aesthetic quality you’re going for at this stage of life.
No problem! Snap a few pictures, and type up a witty explanation of how sturdy the chair is (I sat in this chair watching Netflix, writing my thesis, petting my cat Sam, eating late-night bagels, and maybe making out with a few ill-fated boyfriends of the past, but down this chair is ready for you!) and text it to your closest pals.
You’ll be surprised at how much fun it can be to swap around artwork, books, furniture, kitchen items, and more with friends.
Slow is Smooth, And Smooth is Fast
It’s not uncommon to get bitten by the “I need to change everything in my physical surrounding space to change my life” bug for whatever reason and suddenly feel like if you don’t totally redecorate, you’re somehow falling behind or missing out.
Changing your physical space can feel like the quickest and best way to take ownership and control during times that feel chaotic or uncertain or maybe even times that feel extra exciting and manic.
Breathe. Wherever you are on that spectrum, know that this is totally normal. But also, know that this is not a time to make big, drastic decisions, especially if you’re on any kind of budget.
When it comes to home decor, moving slowly allows for a smoother transition into the new world you’re creating.
A slow change also lasts longer, because you won’t be bouncing from sudden (and perhaps temporary) inspirations where you want to decorate everything a la’ Paris in the 1920s one month and the next you want to have a clean modernist look.
If your goal is truly to make a permanent aesthetic change in a certain direction you’ll actually get to your destination quicker by moving slowly –– that’s what we mean by “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
Making what might appear to be subtle changes over a year or two will actually result in major changes that are very noticeable and longer lasting. If you’re thinking that this philosophy might apply to other areas of life as well, we aren’t going to argue with that.
Choose a Color Palette
The secret to having a consistent look throughout your home is to make some decisions upfront that you can use to guide your decorating chooses. Knowing what you want makes it a lot easier to get it.
This doesn’t mean that you choose Tiffany blue and then everything you own needs to match that exact Pantone but deciding on some core colors, textures, and styles that you want will help your whole house feel and look cohesive.
A great place to start is to create a mood board. This is a common practice among designers of all sorts and it can help you clarify and articulate what it is you’re looking for.
Start by choosing a few colors that you like. It’s fine to stay in one color zone, for instance, blue, but you want to have a variety of hues and tones so your entire apartment doesn’t end up looking monochromatic.
Choose at least one bold color and a few more muted, neutral colors. Contrary to popular belief, have toned down colors like grey, white, and beige can make other colors pop –– a robin’s egg blue can take on a whole new royal hue.
After you’ve chosen your colors the next step is to decide on textures. Cozy knit wools, natural looking linen, worn saddle leather, sleek modern steel –– it’s fun to have a mix but limiting your visual variety will make each piece stand out more.
Think of each item in your home as a guest at a cocktail party –– ideally, you want everyone to talk with everyone else over the course of the party, so give them a common language to speak.
A hint of gold leaf in the living room might be in conversation with the golden mirror in the bathroom and the gold painted hooks by the front door. Every little detail speaks louder when they are echoed throughout the home.
Lastly, choose a style. Mixing African antiques with Swedish contemporary is fine –– just make sure it’s intentional and consistent. Something as simple as a round shaped coffee table can direct the style of an entire room.
The decorative pillows on the sofa can be round, the sofa itself can have an arched back and soft edges.
Narrowing your purchases to pieces that fit within this sensibility will help you save money by preventing more purchases and also give your place a particular feel that will feel curated and comforting.
Make Your Own Art
You might feel like you want to make your own art but you aren’t sure how or what to make –– where is the inspiration?! The best place to start is Pinterest.
Find some art you like and make a board filled with inspiring images. Next, go to any local art gallery, museum or coffee shop and see what art is in that space.
See what materials the art you are drawn towards is made of. If you find yourself being drawn towards watercolors, grab a cheap set of watercolors, some watercolor paper, and start painting! Artist Mari Andrew made a career of just those simple tool.
Making a piece of artwork will be less expensive and far more meaningful than something you’d buy and with a simple gilded frame from your local thrift shop your art will look like it was stolen from the museum wall.
Shop Sales, Discounts, and Use Coupons
Whether you’re shopping online or in a brick and mortar store, there are plenty of price matching discounts, and coupons available to help you keep your money in your pocket where it belongs.
Many times the clerks are able to discount items at least 10% off without even asking for a manager.
Take advantage of big sales like Black Friday after Thanksgiving (very popular United States shopping day) and Cyber Monday (international extension of the same concept).
Sometimes you’re able to stack discounts, like at Bed, Bath, And Beyond or purchased online for a steep discount and then save on shipping by picking up in-store.
In the wild west of discount shopping, the smartest folks still clip those digital coupons and ask for price reductions.
Become the Fix-it Master
It’s a truth nearly universally accepted that an individual with an appliance is in want of a good fix-it person. For some jobs hiring a professional is essential but for most jobs, some simple knowledge and a few key tools will save you time and money.
Being able to fix or repair broken or damaged things will also give you a new found superpower: you will be able to take that “broken” vintage fan and with a few turns of a screwdriver replace that bolt that’s become loose and suddenly the fan is as good as new.
The lost arts of sewing, carpentry, and painting might feel unattainable to you but in reality, they are only a few clicks away. A simple YouTube search will teach you how to properly strip paint off an older wooden chair, sand it down, and refinish it.
That old chair you thought was ugly now looks like a shabby chic rendition of your favorite designer seat.
Invest in Quality
When you’re going to splurge, make sure you spend those hard-earned dollars on something you absolutely love (think Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” ritual) and that is going to last.
Investment pieces are things that will last and be able to make the transition with you from home to home and from one stage of life to the next.
Think about the items you use the most and which ones bring you the most happiness. It might be more showy to get a new sofa for the living room but if you actually spend most of your time in your home office why not invest in the spaces you actually use?
A quality desk chair that not only feels good to sit in but makes you happy to look at is a way better investment. Pay attention to how you interact with the space you live in.
What items do you use the most? What places do you enjoy spending time in? What little extra something would bring your experience in that spot to the next level?
Sometimes it’s actually a better investment to get an expensive cashmere throw for your free hand-me-down sofa instead of upgrading the sofa itself.
That throw will keep you cozy and warm and provide a touch of sophistication and elegance while you snuggle up with a good book.
And that throw will be easy to move with you to your next apartment, whereas a sofa might not make a cross country move so easily.
It definitely depends on what stage of life you’re in, but if you’re not settled into a “forever home” avoid investing in big items, and if you are in your forever home, make sure you get a piece that will last and even possibly be handed down to the next generation.
It might be a funny thing to think of, especially if you’re just starting out in your young adult life, but the pieces you have now will one day be considered antiques, and if you buy quality pieces and take good care of them they can be treasured and appreciated by those that follow you.
Quality and care makes everything last longer.
We hope this article shows you that no matter what size space you’re looking to decorate or what your budget is, the solution to your needs is within your grasp.
Taking the time to clarify your goals and learn new skills will serve you long after your decorating is complete. Home transformation is more than just redecorating, it’s about taking the time to be intentional and powerful within your own life.
And who knows, maybe you’ll get so good that you’ll even be able to transform not just your own home but maybe even your friends’ homes too!
And if you plan ahead and take a few before and after pictures of your space we’d love to feature some of the transformations these tips have helped you achieve.
We can’t wait to see what transformations you create in your home, life, and the world around you!