Decorate your home for less with these tried and true budget decorating ideas to transform any room in your home.
Do you remember decorating that first room, space, apartment or house that you could finally call your own? When you got to choose every decorative item for the space, not your mom, sister, or roommate – but you… and you alone got to choose? It was probably a first apartment or house when the decorating passion hit you hard. You wanted everything you saw in magazines and furniture showrooms, but didn’t have much cash to do anything but dream.
When I look back, I remember those days fondly – they are what helped me build and edit my decorating style, DIY skills and gave me confidence to keep going.
When I first started blogging, many DIY decorating blogs were all about thrifty and low cost home decor. It was back in the days before Pinterest and Instagram perfection began to invade the scene and budget and thrifty took a back seat.
I enjoy coming up with new ways to decorate for less, like I did my first apartment and then on a much larger scale with my first house, so much so that I even wrote a book about it back then, called Instant Decorating to show others how they could do it too.
Even though I share many posts about how to decorate on a budget, they get buried deep in my blog’s archives, like when I posted how I used cardboard from large boxes to make the decorative backdrops for the shelves and the memo board in the kitchen of my previous house.
I was recently made aware of all these forgotten budget decorating projects after reading a comment from reader, Katie. Her comment brought me back to my early decorating days and how I was able to decorate my house on a tight budget.
In my response to her comment, I told her I would elaborate on my reply in the way of a new post.
Here is Katie’s comment and question:
“I love to decorate for holidays but my house looks so empty when I take the decorations down. I’m already sad that the holidays are over and then looking at my plain house makes it worse. I love how you talk about looking at a post-holiday home as a blank canvas. Interior decorating is one of my favorite hobbies and now I can look at a post-holiday home as an opportunity. Unfortunately, as a college-student, I do not have a lot of items laying around the house that I can use as decoration. What is your advice on cheap or DIY decorations to create a cute white-on-white themed home?”
I remember when I was in college being in the same boat as Katie and trying to decorate my first apartment with the little that I had. I remember buying a wicker chandelier at a flea market in NYC where I went to school and a poster of the NYC Ballet.
It was then that I started to enjoy the thrill of the hunt for bargain decor. I had a roommate back then and when she came home after I hung the new light and mounted the poster on the wall, her jaw hit the floor – she couldn’t believe how good the room looked. This gave me the confidence I needed to continue on my quest to make our teeny NYC apartment as nice as I could. You know that I went back to that flea market every week and learned other ways to find items to decorate.
I also remember the first house that Ed and I bought. It was filled with nothing but hand-me-downs that I was happy to have. As I started to put my own style into the decor, I bought a brand new navy blue lamp at a discount store called Wacamaw Pottery in Burlington, NC.
I was so happy and proud of it. A few days after getting the lamp, I was hanging drapes I made from sheets. I accidentally hit the table the lamp was on and the jolt sent the lamp flying to the floor. It broke into pieces.
I cried big time tears. When Ed saw I was crying about a lamp, he didn’t understand since we had quite a few other hand-me-down lamps in the house we could use. I told him it was so much more than just a lamp – it was the first thing I was able to buy for the house – it was something that I bought because I liked it – it fit my decorating style.
With 10 years of posts, I have quite a few budget decorating ideas to share with Katie and others looking for affordable ideas on how to create a beautiful home when they are just starting out. Even if you have money to spend or have been decorating your home for years and have a stash of decorative stuff that you can shop your house to change things up, we all love to find ways to decorate for less.
Katie likes the white on white look, but you may like a completely different color scheme and style. The ways to go about it are the same – it is what the “thrill of the hunt” is all about.
Below I am sharing what I did when I started out decorating the spaces I called home and still do. Being able to decorate a room didn’t happen overnight, but with my eye on the prize, lots of effort and resourcefulness, I was able to go from that college apartment to another and then my first house and 5 houses later, here I am, still enjoying finding bargains and ways to decorate for less.
10 Decorating Ideas for When You Have a Really Small Budget
1. Plan – Just because you don’t have a lot money or stash of items to decorate your space with doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come up with a plan. It can be a simple notebook where you keep room and furniture sizes, ideas, magazine clippings, and a list of items from fabrics to spray paints you want or need. This helps you to focus. You know if something you find will fit, ensuring you spend your money wisely.
2. Never forget the found, free, or flea mantra – You’ll not only save money with this mindset, but truly design a personally designed space that you can proudly call your own. Your best bet for finding items to decorate with on a small budget is frequently going to thrift shops, resale stores, flea markets, yard sales and don’t forget the Dollar Store. Do you remember when I made this 3D gallery wall? All the items I used to create it were all free, hand-me-downs or from the dollar store.
- Do a local online search for “thrift stores near me” or “thrift stores in “Your City”. Check your local paper for yard sale listings each week.
- Did you know Goodwill has a website where you can bid on pieces from all over the country? shopgoodwill.com Also the EstateSales.Net and app can assist you when scouting estate and yard sales in your area, plus give you GPS directions to each sale. Don’t overlook my favorite place to find thrifty decorating finds.
- Make a list and a plan to visit as many stores and sales as you can. Talk to the employees to find out when new items come in. If you find something you like, but it is still out of your budget, don’t be afraid to ask if they will take less for the item. I have done this many times with success as most stores want to make a sale.
- Ask for hand-me-downs. Tell your family and friends if they are getting rid of anything, to ask you first before they give it away.
- Free stuff – Don’t be shy – if you see something you pass by in the way of curbside trash, go grab it. Everything can be cleaned and reused or repurposed for your needs. The desk in my studioffice was one such find.
- Head to the clearance section – every store from thrift stores to HomeGoods has a clearance section. Always check it out. A white vase may have a chip on the back and a price tag of $2.50, but on your mantel or open shelving, no one will see the chip, just the pretty vase. I found white quilts marked down and bought them all for $30. I used them to make slipcovers for the seating in my living room.
3. Start a Stash – Save every scrap of material, gift wrap, jewelry, paint and more in a box or cabinet. Organize it so you can find the contents easily. Place supplies like scissors and fabric glue in the stash also. Having this will make it easy to transform second-hand items you find. Over 35 years, my supply stash has grown from a box, to an armoire to an entire room.
4. Everything can be altered with paint and fabric. Search for items from books, vases, pitchers, frames, furniture and more for a few dollars. All of these can be changed with paint or fabric. It is more about the shape and size of the items to fit your space and needs, anything can be painted to the color you want.
- Books can be bought for a dollar or less sometimes. Look for spines in colors that you like. Use them to fill empty shelves. Another use for them is to find similar size ones with white pages and hard covers. When you get them home you can spray the entire book or just the covers any color or cover them with free printable paper or gift wrap.
- Once covered use them as lifts to add height to lamps, plants and vases to make them stand out more and create balance and flow using decorative accessories.
- Upholstered chairs can be painted to update the color. I did this a few years ago with total success.
- When searching for drapes, don’t limit your search to already made window treatments. You can drape a sheet or tablecloth over a rod or use clip rings to hang it on a rod to create very budget-friendly window treatments. Yard sales are great for finding used curtain rods and clips.
- You can buy white or any basic color of spray paint (off-brand) very inexpensively at most discount and home improvement stores. They are always on the bottom shelf. There might not be a full-range of colors, but if using a basic color, you can save money. I used it all the time when I worked in retail display to change the color of the props we used to decorate the store to red, black or white. It works just fine and I actually prefer it over the more expensive brand names.
- For inexpensive paint – ask at the paint counter at the home improvement store if they have any “oops or mistake” paint in the color you are looking for. These mistake custom colors usually are half price or less. If a piece of furniture you are making over is small, consider using acrylic craft paint in a semi-gloss sheen. Generic brands at the craft store are 99 cents a bottle.
- Stores like ReStore now sell paint and even their own brand of chalk paint for a whole lot less than you can buy at the home improvement store. Or learn to make your own chalk paint using a $2 bottle of craft paint
5. Get apps on your phone and wait for sales at craft and fabric stores like Michaels and JoAnn’s Fabrics. They always have coupons for 25% -40% off. I never buy anything at these stores without using one of these coupons. They update them every week.
6. Learn how to sew a straight line on a sewing machine or learn a few no-sew techniques. If you don’t have a sewing machine, ask around to see if someone’s mom or grandmother no longer uses their machine. This is how I got my sewing machine 35 years ago, a slant needle Singer from the 1940’s. It is still the sewing machine I use today.
- I learned to use it by reading the instruction manual that was still in the cabinet and took a basic sewing machine class at a local fabric store.
- If using a sewing machine isn’t an option, consider using a few no-sew decorating options like fabric glue and iron-on fuse. I have tutorials showing how to use both when making everything from drapes to pillow covers.
7. Go on a nature walk to find things from branches, rocks and pinecones. All can be spray painted or even left as is to add to your decor. You can even add glitter to them to use as inexpensive, but impact making Christmas decor.
8. Repurpose – Need a side table? Think out of the box and create one using an old TV tray table or a tall stool. When decorating, repurposing items in new and creative ways will not only save you money, but make your decor unique. Look at everything you see with new eyes and ask, What If I did ____ to it?
9. Recycle – Don’t throw items out that you normally would place in the trash, find ways to make them into something you want or need. This Desk Set was made with scraps of gift wrap and items I would have normally thrown away – VCR tape boxes, and an orange juice can.
10. Take advantage of free printables. Online free printables are offered on many blogs and on Pinterest that you can frame to create wall art for the cost of a few thrift store frames. You can find them by doing an online search for “Free Printable Art.”
- Another free way to make artwork for your walls is to use the covers from DVD cases. I found inexpensive frames at IKEA and made a gallery wall using the covers from my favorite movies.
Once you start to gather a few items and begin to transform them to fit your style you will be on your way to decorating your space in a style that makes you feel good and functions the way you want.
Be prepared to experiment and know that you will make mistakes. It is just part of the decorating process. There will be items that you buy that you transform that don’t look the way you envisioned. Don’t let this stop you though as some of my misses actually turned out to be wins when I took the time to change them again.
For instance – 30 years ago when I spray painted a black stone planter white and then sponge painted it purple. It looked awful. I took it to the sink and started scrubbing the paint off and something magical happened – the scrubbing gave the finish a lighter distressed look. It looked amazing.
That planter now graces the front porch of my daughter Mandy’s house. My mistake turned into a keeper that still looks good after 30 years.
Do you remember your first decorating purchase that made you giddy with excitement to bring into your space to start making your decorating style come alive?
Do you have any budget decorating tips for Katie or readers like her who are just starting out with nothing and want to decorate their home in their own style throughout all seasons of the year?