resetting & trading up | how to create a home you love

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have noticed a lot of furniture and accessories coming and going.  You may watch that and think something like, “Well, of course she can do that!  She’s an antiques dealer and a blogger and all of that is a part of her business, but what am I supposed to do?”

Yes, the fact that I buy and sell things as a part of my business makes it much easier to try out new pieces of furniture in my home.  The fact that I am a blogger and get a lot of things for free or discounted in exchange for advertising does give me a lot more options, but I’ve been playing this same home decorating game for almost 15 years.  Long before I did this professionally, before I traded for cool stuff from great companies and before I had the buying power to make a huge pile at the antique store counter…this is how I decorated my home.  And you can, too.  Here’s how.

ONE – Work with what you have

This is one of the best ways to save money and fall in love with your stuff all over again.  Try moving things around, using them in unconventional ways.  It doesn’t cost any money to rearrange the furniture, pull something out of storage, hang something on the wall, or turn something on it’s side.  I said this yesterday, but give it a try even if it seems a little nutty.  A stack of crates can become a bookshelf or end table.  A trunk can become a coffee table.  A rug can become art for the wall.  A bedsheet or tablecloth can become curtains.  The blog world is full of amazing, creative ideas.

My three favorite ways to work with what I have are… 1.) Rearrange it, 2.) Paint it, 3.) Slipcover it.  Does your room feel crowded, busy, uninteresting, uninspired?  Rearrange it.  Like the function and shape of the furniture, but hate the finish?  Paint it.  Are all of your upholstered pieces mismatched thrift store finds?  Slipcover them to coordinate.

So, even during the seasons of life when I had to calculate everything that went in my cart at the grocery store, we didn’t have cable or internet, and I unplugged any electronic device that wasn’t in use, I could still decorate just by using, reusing and reinventing what I had.


TWO – Keep your eyes and options open

I am always on the lookout for things…on the curb, at yard sales, thrift stores, auctions, free stuff, clearance racks, whatever.  I don’t design a room in specifics, but generalities, so I can work with what I find or what’s given to me.  A whole world of options are open to you when you look for the potential in things and are flexible in your approach.  This can sometimes get you into trouble, though, when you’re too flexible and you end up with a house full of freebies and cheap stuff that you feel mediocre about.  You can keep your options open and still be a little picky or move onto number FOUR and look for ways to trade up.

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THREE – Don’t be afraid to let something go

Getting rid of the things you don’t like is one of the best first steps to falling in love with your space again.  If you walk into a room and the first thing you see is the hideous-beast-of-a-bachelor-pad-entertainment-center and it makes you want to throw in the towel on the rest of the room, maybe it’s time to sell that bad boy and make room for something that is equally functional, but looks a lot better.  Now, if that is your husband’s favorite thing in the house, some compromises are in order and usually a happy medium can be found.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to let go of things that are just clutter as well.  Having to baby-proof my house was one of the best things to happen to my decor.  That 3-4 year period when we had crawlers, mouthers, droolers, pullers and grabbers helped me strip away all of the things I had put just to fill a space.  Taking pictures of my space for the blog also helped me see the things that were just there because I’ve always had them out.  I didn’t really care about them or like them, but they were my accessories, so I had them out.  Isn’t that what you do?  I stripped it all away and made three piles…1.) What I love. 2.) What I want to get rid of.  3.)  What I want to keep, but I don’t want to have displayed all the time.  The things in third category, I pack up and put in the attic or basement.  If I don’t even think about them for a few months or years, I get rid of them or sell them unless they are a family heirloom.

I will say, though, I’ve even taken a different approach to family heirlooms.  I think sometimes we keep things out of obligation, just because they are “family heirlooms”  aunt so-and-so owned it, but I never really knew her and I think that thing is so ugly.  Why keep it then?  Give it to another family member who will love it or who doesn’t mind being the keeper of useless things no one really wants.  I keep family heirlooms when they are part of the history of a family (like letters, pictures, handmade items, etc.), if I have a connection with the person who owned them and/or if I really love them and they fit the style of my house.  I used to feel like I had to keep every little thing, but I came to the realization that I didn’t.  I have a few pieces from my family and my husband’s family that are really special to me and not having a bunch of stuff out of obligation makes me love them even more.

All of this to say, if you don’t love it or need it, let it go.  It’s very liberating!!

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FOUR – Look for opportunities to “trade up”

This is how I’ve been able to decorate most of my house.  I buy something that is a good deal, fix it up, use it for a while and then sell it for a profit and replace it with something I like even better.  Before I had a business, I would sell things on eBay, Craigslist and at yard sales in order to buy other things I really wanted.  I’ve bought sofas, sets of dishes, wood flooring, dining sets, paints, fabric and more that way.  Before I had a business.  I realized I was good at it, which is a part of why my business transitioned from a decorative painting and mural business to an antiques/refurbished furniture business.

As you may have noticed in my house, I trade up a lot.  And trading up doesn’t always mean I’m getting something more expensive.  It means I’m getting something I like better.


FIVE – Don’t try to get more with your money, but what you really love with your money.

One of the pitfalls of being a bargain shopper is that you want to get the most you can for every little penny.  That can be a good thing, but that can also mean that you end up with a bunch of bargains you don’t really love.  Sometimes getting more for your money means getting one thing that is absolutely perfect for your home instead of ten little things that are just okay.  I do think there are also places to splurge and buy nice and new.  For me that is a family room sofa and a master bedroom bed.  Just about every other piece of furniture in my house was bought used.  Those are two pieces of furniture that need to be comfortable and functional and, in my opinion, are worth a splurge, if you can.  You can still look for sales and coupons and outlet deals and sometimes you get lucky and find the perfect thing on Craigslist, but I looked for a bed frame for about 10 years and finally broke down and bought the one I really loved on sale at Restoration Hardware.  And I LOVE it.  Worth every penny.  Of course, I sold other things, so I could buy it!

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So, I hope this post gives you some ideas of how you can create a home you love on a realistic budget and fall in love with it again or for the first time.  Here are a few more ideas…

Barter - You may not have a blog in order to use advertising as a trade, but you probably have other skills or desirable stuff.  I’ve traded roller blades for a sewing machine, a bag of chicken for a vacuum, babysitting for a piece of furniture, cleaning out a barn in exchange for some of the goodies found.  Be creative and you can probably get a lot of good stuff in trade.

Swap- I did this a few years ago with Karen, the Graphics Fairy.  We had a Junque Swap and invited other women to bring their “nice junk” and we drafted pieces we liked.  It was so fun and I got a birdcage I still have in my house today.  I also painted and sold a desk I acquired and used that money to buy something else.

Don’t be shy – A lot of people have given me stuff for free, just because they know I like furniture, decorating and antiques.  My aunt Karen gave me rolls and rolls of fabrics, my aunt Susan has given me tons of furniture, my Opa gave me a bunch of stuff out of his attic before he passed away, and friends have offered me pieces they are purging from their homes.  Those freebies have been such a blessing to me and I pass free stuff along to other people as well.  I just listen for needs, wants or people who I know will put something to good use.  It’s a fun way to acquire and get rid of things.

Now, don’t neglect your turkeys and start upheaving your house!  Just write down ideas and then you can you get to them after the holidays…

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  1. I SO agree with everything you said!!!

  2. Great post Marian!! Happy Holidays to you and your precious family! Marcy

  3. Great advice Marian! i do everything you mentioned! I am lucky,I have a wonderful friend in town that has a business.When I am tired of things I setup a sort of private sale just for her.She loves what I have and I always let her name her price.She is always fair and I always either get what I paid for or more!It is a win win.She does not like going to garage sales because it is allot of work.She is older and it’s just hard for her.She can come to my home and buy great pieces that she can resell for a profit.

  4. Sylvia says:

    Great article. For me, the statement that jumps out is….” I realized I was good at it…..”. That is the big difference between you and most of the rest of us.

  5. I sooooo agree with EVERYTHING you’ve said!!! We’ve gotten most of our things for free or cheap and traded up! Great post!

  6. I have been doing this for years and people are amazed that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on home furnishings! I have bartered for our 4-poster king bed frame and a large pewter cupboard! Something that would have cost me well over $2,000.00. Most everything in my house is from flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, etc! It’s so fun to do!

  7. Marty Cotton says:

    This was very sound and helpful advice, and I so appreciate it! Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones.

  8. All great tips Marian! I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving with your family, and be safe as you travel. Marti

  9. That is great advice. I have a closet my husband calls Home Decorators Outlet. I just love to swap things out and change it up. One thing you didn’t mention…moving things around and redecorating makes housework less boring!

  10. Deborah says:

    That was a great post. You passed on so much of your keen insight and tips to us, your followers. I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  11. I loved this.
    Very well thought out and put together so even my little brain could get wrapped around these ideas! You’re talking on my level!
    I need to reset some rooms in my house…purge and make them into rooms I love.
    I’m hoping to do some of that this weekend.
    Thanks for this post…very inspiring. Pat

    oh! Happy Thanksgiving. :)

  12. Shelly says:

    As an antique dealer and decorator, there is one piece of advice a dealer gave me many years ago in regard to buying antiques. Buy the best you can afford. An example is collecting ironstone. Try to buy pieces that are not spotted with brown areas, chipped, or cracked. Ironstone is an investment and will increase in value, but a damaged piece will not. The same with collecting old dishes, or anything really. Do not waste your money on things that are damaged, wait until you can afford a piece that is of good quality instead of just buying a bunch of damaged goods. I know not everyone thinks of re-sale value, however in the antique world it is smart, especially if you are going to want to “trade up”.

    Happy Thanksgiving! :)

  13. This post is great! Thanks so much for all your advice…and Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. Jessica B says:

    Thanks Marian – this is the type of post that made me fall in love with all things MMS many years ago. Your advice is quite timely as we move into the season of thanksgiving and gift giving. I know I will “shop my house” to pass along treasures before venturing out into the retail world. May God bless you and your family today and throughout the new year.

  15. Anne Boykin says:

    Dear MMS, Sound advice! Thanks so much for the great insights into how you decorate. I love your look and your photographs are to die for. Happy Thanksgiving. Hugs, Anne Boykin

  16. As we move into our new home (7.5 months pregnant, on the day before Thanksgiving), I am overwhelmed with possibilities. And, well, just plain overwhelmed! So much to do, so much to buy! Then you write a post like this.

    It reminds me that everything doesn’t need to be perfect right away. We can, and should, be grateful for what we have (and what we can trade up).

    The post also reminds me of why I so often ask myself “WWMMSD?” in my decorating decisions :)

  17. Great advice, Marian! Happy Thanksgiving. x

  18. This is such great advice! Definitely gives me a different outlook on decorating.

  19. I love how free you feel to switch things up if you don’t love it. Our home is really the last place we should keep things we don’t love. But sometimes it feels so hard to do – thanks for all the ideas on how to do so, even on a budget.

  20. Rondell says:

    Great advice and tips! When does your next book come out? Very anxious here.

  21. julie says:

    Haha! This is how I dealt with Tip #3: My husband of 26 years moved out, and I gave him all the furniture I no longer wanted! How’s that for letting go?? lol Seriously, I do feel like I am starting over now…clean slate (in more ways than one). This all happened over 4 years ago, and I am little by little making this house (that I’ve lived in for 21 years) a new home for ME. Only filling it with things I love — and most definitely on a budget! Love your advice, buy cheap and make it into what you want it to be. Thanks for sharing, Marian. Love to watch your evolution. :)

  22. Linda says:

    Great post today! I’ve been doing all of the above for a few years now; initially b/c I was a broke single mom. But now I do it as a business also – very gratifying isn’t it?!

  23. Siouxie Q says:

    It is ironic that you should write on this topic today. I JUST finished my dining room redo at midnight last night, in the nick of time for our Thanksgiving meal today. (The Husband and kids said we could eat in the kitchen, but I was determined!) It’s amazing what can happen you step back, look at things with a critical eye, edit, and get out the paint brush. Thanks for the inspiration! (I’ll message you a photo of that table we talked about.)

  24. Great tips, Marian!

    I would also like to add that moving forces one to re-evaluate the items they have in their home, especially if a long distance move is involved, or a move from a larger house into a smaller one. So far, in my 40+ years on this earth, I have moved a total of 12 times, and I think it helped me eliminate stuff that is not being used, not loved, or simply too bulky to be moved.

  25. Terri S says:

    I am so like you in a lot of your ideas. I love buying stuff and redoing them and then sell or keep depending on the piece. What a great blog today. Fit me to a T! Thank you so much and keep up what your doing. Love it!

  26. I can testify to your generosity, you gave me a spoon with my initials on it, I think of you every time I look at It:) Great tips here Marian, I think it is also good for personal growth to trade or sell things, a person might find a profession like you did.

  27. Nancy says:

    Great avice as always! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  28. Patty connelly says:

    One day, while passing the time at a bookstore as I was waiting for my daughter, i came accrossed your book and became inspired to do more than just brouse pinterest. Since that day, i have discovered a wonderful little shop that sells your paint, picked up a dresser from the curb, painted my nightstands, a small table, and my dining room hutch. I loved your boxwood wreath and worked up the courage to stop in at a bank where they had an abundance of boxwood and followed the instructions for preserving it. I love the wreath and cant wait to get more! I had my very handy son rehab my coffee table and redesign our entertainment center to work with a new tv. Boy, did you get my ball rollong! Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

  29. You give the best advice! I feel like I was reading your book…my favorite piece of advice you give is if you don’t like something, get rid of it. Plain and simple, but how many of us are hanging on to pieces we’re not happy with? Thank you :)

  30. It’s true – you do give very good advice! I struggle a little bit because we have quite a few “family pieces” that just CAN’T leave the house…or ever be painted…or anything…
    but I can usually find a way to work around them.
    I have a table – the very first antique i ever bought (for myself). I was thinking it might look good with a “white leg treatment” – like you newest dining room resident…
    that’s something that i can do!

  31. I’ve done this for years, but when I read your post I realized I’m guilty of keeping too many things from others that I could change to suit me. So, great-grandma’s childhood dresser and mirror ARE getting painted white real soon! Thanks for making me remember they’re only special if they’re right for me.

  32. Jeanine C says:

    This post reminds me of one of the mottos I try to live by… a quote from William Morris found here:

    I love this quote and it is a great reminder when sorting, cleaning, repurposing, giving away, or treasuring!


  33. Jeanine C says:

    Such good advie. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by William Morris,

    “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

    Happy sorting, purging, repurposing, giving away, purchasing, and treasuring!


  34. Barbara Landers says:

    Love, love, love yourn sharing! It is so nice to see a lovely home for REAL people….and that doesn’t fall into a McMansion category! I cannot believe your energy….but we all benefit from it! Keep on keeping on.

  35. When I first got this in my inbox, I popped the link open immediately. As I began to see the pictures, I was defeated. Everything but my couch, loveseat, and a headboard has all been hand me down or garage sale items, and as much as I try to pull it together, I mostly don’t get the results that I want. I got up from my computer, and looked at this hand me down that I thought had no more life in it. Then I saw something else. It’s in my office/Howdy Honey work area. It was my grandmother’s, and it probably came from Montgomery Ward. It has such fake wood that it was obviously a sticker. I spraypainted it taupe when I was 20 and moving into my own first place. The glass top has always revealed it’s ugly cheap past, but then I saw some plywood, and I got an idea. Thank you. I have been feeling very defeated lately about why my passion was on fire but my ideas were not exploding into something unique. Now I have an idea, and I almost dismissed your advice.

  36. Marian, you always have such good advice. Now, I need hubby to read this. :)

  37. This was fantastic, thank you! I feel like I am at the point in my life where I am cultivating my style and settling into where I live, and these ideas are so helpful. Love your constant inspiration!

  38. Inspiring! Thank you!

  39. debbie says:

    Fantastic post – this is such great advice and now I have to apply it. I am the worst at getting something because it is a bargain and I like it but I don’t love it. Now, I think I hate all the casegoods and want to get rid of them and start over. I agree it’s better to have 1 piece you love than several that are just so, so. I also am very sentimental and it has caused me such anxiety about what to throw away and what to keep. I am going to do better for the new year.

  40. If you’re feeling anxious about getting rid of something, just pack it in a box and put it in storage for a while (a closet, basement, garage, etc.) See how life feels without it. Do you think about the item a lot? Do you miss it? Do you want to get it out of the box and use it again? Or do you like the space better without it? You haven’t thought twice about it? At that point, you’ll either know it’s something you want to keep or you can let it go and not be anxious about it. It does get easier when you realize that you don’t love all of the things you’re anxious about getting rid of. You almost need to train yourself to let go. :)

  41. Anita says:

    Wonderful words! You have a great knack for saying what we all need to hear once in a while when everyday life side tracks us.

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