“We may be poor, but we aren’t dirty!”
I still remember my mom’s proclamation about the importance of cleanliness growing up and it has stuck with me. She was mopping the floor of our immaculate mobile home at the time. I was 5 years old.
Shortly after we moved from that mobile home on our humble farm into a century old house that my parents’ got for free and moved onto a new foundation not far from where the mobile home had stood. They spent months remodeling the inside themselves, with the help of my carpenter Grandpa. And when we moved in? That tiny little farmhouse felt like a mansion to us kids. (I bet the main floor is only 800 square feet with three tiny bedrooms upstairs.)
And that house, too, was always clean. And decorated. And my parents were not rich, in fact, by every definition we were poor.
So if you happen to be reading my blog and think my home is an impossible standard, think again. I don’t care if it is a trailer house, an apartment, or a shack – if it is your home then you should be proud of it. Think of my mom (her name is Pam) and be inspired. She not only raised three kiddos and took care of endless farm wife duties (milked cows every morning and night, drove grain truck in the fall, planted, harvested and canned her entire garden …. you get the picture, her “to do” list was endless) but she also swept our floors daily, washed them weekly, and always made sure our home was clean and cozy. When I was a kid our beds were always made and our sheets were always clean. When people tell me they’re too busy to keep a neat house, I am sorry, but I think of my mom and I really don’t buy it. If something is important to you, you make time. And people who say they’re don’t have enough money to decorate their home, again – I think of my mom. She didn’t shop at Home Goods or Target. We went to garage sales, she sewed curtains, and she made due with what we had. And I am here to tell you – if you want a neat and clean home, you don’t need any money. If you have a dollar to buy some Lysol and a quarter to pick up something darling at a garage sale, you’re in business! Just ask Pam, she did it for decades.
Here are my tips for decorating on a budget, the main areas that will make a huge impact on any room for hardly any money at all. In fact, here’s a suggestion for a $200 make over for a standard sized room. (Spread it out over a year if you want to, no one says a make over has to happen in a weekend. It is ok to go slow!)
Step One: Walls $3 to $40
The first thing you have to do is make sure your walls are clean. If you don’t wash your walls yearly, then you need to start. (I am amazed that people don’t do this. My mom washed our walls every spring. And if they were scuffed, she washed off the scuff marks immediately. And she didn’t have access to Magic Erasers – she just scrubbed.) So clean your walls. And if they haven’t been painted in decades, pick up some paint. Paint is cheap – you don’t need anything high end, $20 tops for a gallon will take care of a standard sized room, another $20 for painting materials if you don’t have them. A couple coats will do it. (Live in a rental and you aren’t allowed to paint? Then just make sure your walls are spotless. Magic Erases are $3. Clean them until they sparkle, top to bottom. The entire room will be refreshed!)
As an example of the difference your walls make, here’s a before and after of our main living area I posted previously. See the impact the paint color made? This is a large space, not a standard sized room (so yes, paint was more than $20 in this case). I am simply showing this as an illustration of the impact wall color can make. And it makes an impact!
Step Two: Flooring – $5 to $30
Ok, so now that your walls are either painted or simply cleaned, you can move on to flooring. If you like your floors just fine – great! But if you don’t love them, find an area rug in a neutral tone. Already have carpet? Who says you can’t put an area rug on a carpet? If you are decorating on a budget, you absolutely can. Here’s a shot from my decor store, Grace 1972, when we first opened in February.
Notice the area rug under the dining table? The floor is carpeted in a color I hate, so I plopped down a rug. (I picked this one up at Tuesday Morning for $30. And if you shop garage sales you can find one for $5 or less – just give it a good vacuuming and a scrub and it will be good as new!) You can add an area rug to any room – living, dining, bedroom even if it is carpeted. If you really hate your flooring, the larger the rug the better. So keep your eyes peeled. Second hand rugs are incredibly affordable and will absolutely transform the space. The carpet in my store is, I confess, ugly as sin – but no one even notices. Draw the eye away from the ugly with an area rug. It does wonders.
See what I am doing here? I am addressing the base of the room. If you ignore your walls and flooring – no amount of decor is going to fix that. So start with your base. Make sure it is clean and addressed and that you like it. From there you can now start focusing on the fun things!
Step Three: Window Treatments – $20
Curtains and blinds can be expensive but if they aren’t in the budget you don’t even have to know how to sew to put up nice curtains. I used fabric and safety pins on many a window in my younger and money lean years! But today, people are making curtains from paint drop cloths found for $5 at any hardware store and they are FABULOUS! They are even making curtain rods from pipes – look at these clever and economical ideas:
Simply Google “Drop Cloth” curtains. There are several ideas out there, people even simply bleach them in their washing machines to get them whiter and softer before hanging them. It is genius! So if you say you can’t afford window treatments, think again.
Sheet sets are also another fast way to make improvised curtains – look for sales on single flat sheets. You can safety pin them to a $3 curtain rod – voila! Instant beauty, texture and interest on a budget without any sewing.
Oh, and don’t forget – wash your windows! Every spring and fall, without fail. Some Windex and newspaper (not paper towels) will have them sparkling in no time. If you decorate dirty windows, it is not going to look as fresh and nice. So take 15 minutes and wipe them down, inside and out, before hanging your curtains. It makes a huge difference.
Once your walls, windows and flooring meets your approval – NOW you can think about decorating your room.
Step Four: Color Scheme & Decor – $110
Right now, if you spent the top of the budget on the other areas I’ve outlined here, you have $110 left for your $200 room make over. And I can’t stress enough how important the first three steps are. Many people want to skip right to step four and start decorating. Well, I don’t care how cute that chair/couch/pillow is – if your walls are red (and dirty) and your floor is orange and your windows are filthy with twenty year old metal blinds – that room is not going to be helped by your adorable decor purchases. See the point? You feel me? Good! If you get these concepts down, I don’t care if you live in a shack – your home is going to be cozy and cohesive and you’re going to love it!
Now then, commit to a color scheme at this point. Whatever color your walls either already are or the color you chose to paint them is what you will now build your color scheme around. If you have white or neutral walls – the sky is the limit. You can go bold, you can go neutral – whatever your jam is. If your walls definitely are a color, you’re going to have to build the rest of your room around that color. Keeping things cohesive is key to a welcoming room.
Here are my formal dining and living areas – see if you can identify the color schemes in each one:
I actually have a pretty chill color scheme – it’s all grey, white, black and neutral! I will pull in some subtle muted colors in blues or creams, or even the muted faux purple florals on my black dry sink blend just fine as they aren’t bold. But my point is it is deliberate and planned. I only choose items that are in this color pallet for my spaces. The end result is everything flows and it is appealing to the eye.
Growing up in the 1970’s, my parents had deep rust colored carpet, dark wood paneled walls and furniture that had a color scheme of rust, orange and green in florals patterns. By today’s standards, that is pretty hideous but the point is it all flowed and was in the same color scheme. (The curtains were a sheer brown/orange pattern that tied in with the furniture.) Those decorating rules are timeless. Pick a color scheme and stick to it as you add pieces to the room.
What is a color scheme? It is one base color accented with two or possibly three other colors. (And you can add more as long as the colors all mesh.) You can actually have a monochromatic color scheme (one color with just different variations of shade from light to dark with maybe a bright bold pop of color such as orange or red) or you can have definitive color scheme of three separate colors that go well together (such as yellow and navy and white). I am not going to get into color wheels and all that jazz because you don’t have to be a professional decorator to simply pick your favorite colors! If you love it, be true to yourself and choose a base color to build around with two or three accent colors that say “home” to you. It’s your home and when it is your home, the only rule you need to follow is YOU need to love it.
Miscellaneous Fail Safe Decorating Tips
My best tip for decorating on a budget is to definitely make sure your larger pieces (such as your sofa or seating) are in neutral solid fabrics. If you buy a red couch, that is a ten year commitment to the color red (at least). I may have actually done this . . . I regretted it. I was buying a new couch four years later when I was sick of the color red. Ugh. (If you have a colored (or patterned) couch and hate it but can’t afford a new one, invest in a solid neutral colored slip cover or a few large solid neutral colored blankets or sheets. Place one over the entire couch (safety pin it if you need to) and then wrap the cushions in the second blanket. Instant transformation on a budget!
The point to my suggestion to keep your larger pieces neutral in color is because that way you can bring in your color scheme through pillows, artwork and decor. These are smaller items that can easily be changed. Case in point, I started in my home office with a color scheme that included muted reds and blues. I incorporated these colors into the space through throw pillows. My vintage crib illustrates this well:
Then, a year later I decided to lose the red and went to an all blue, cream and neutral color scheme. See how simply swapping out the pillows accomplished that goal?
By keeping larger items neutral and bringing in your color scheme through smaller pieces only, this way you can change the look of your room over the years by changing smaller pieces, not larger ones – which is definitely a more budget friendly approach.
So there you have it! Yes, you can decorate on a budget by just adopting a few strategies for cohesiveness and cleanliness. Keep things clean and keep them tied together through color, and that’s it! Your space will be inviting and one you can be proud to call home.
So if at this stage in your life budget is an issue, think of my mom, Pam, and just tell yourself, “I may be poor but I am not dirty.” Dignity is a choice and how you live is your choice as well. If you want a nice home, then have a nice home, and have fun creating it.
The choice is yours.
Peace, Joy and Blessings,
“The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.”