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if you think a beautiful home is out of your budget…


…it’s not.

When I asked for feedback a few weeks ago, some readers brought up how they “miss the days of me decorating on a budget.”  To some, it felt like I’m dangling a home out there that is out of reach unless you’re “rich”.

When I read those comments, I wanted to reach through the screen and hug the women who felt that way.  I wanted to apologize for leaving them with the impression that you have to have a lot of money to create a beautiful home.  I wanted to take them on a tour through my home and show them the things I got for free on the side of the road or dug out of an attic or picked up at yard sales or on Craig’s List.

And I wanted to look them in the eye and tell them that I know exactly how they feel, because I’ve been in their shoes.

As I shared in part one of my business story, there was a time when our finances were tight.  No cable, no internet, no eating out, no vacations, no splurges or treats, no clothes shopping and definitely no buying furniture and decorations for the house.  We were on a bare-bones budget.

I remember that place well…the frustration of wanting to change your wall color and not being able to buy even a cheap can of paint.  I spent all of my birthday and Christmas money on things for the house…sofas from a thrift store, low-grade, unfinished hardwood flooring for the home office and fabric for curtains.  I remember debating on whether or not I could afford to buy a pair of $3.00 side tables at a yard sale.

I know what it’s like to choke and then despair when someone shares an “affordable project” that isn’t even in your hemisphere.

I know.  I haven’t forgotten.

To those who feel that way, like a beautiful home is out of your budget, I want to encourage you.  It’s not.  Seriously.  Cross my heart.

Here are four things you can do immediately that are free…

rearrange the furniture

If arranging furniture was an Olympic sport, look out, because I’ve been training for years.  That came out of the desire to change my space, but I didn’t have money to spend on it.  Even if I have the budget to buy something new, I always try working with what I have first.




I’ve said this before, you can’t see a pretty home if it’s buried under a bunch of clutter.  Take a few minutes each day to work on one corner, one drawer, one cabinet, one closet, until you have paired down your belongings and weeded out the things you don’t use or love.


shop your house

Most of us have items in our home that can serve more than one purpose or can be reused to meet another need/want.  I started hanging plates on the wall as art when it’s what I could find at yard sales and thrift stores for $.50-$1.00/each and I still love the look.  Turn an unused bedspread into a slipcover or shower curtain.  Transform a tablecloth into curtains.  It takes some out-of-the-box thinking, but there are dozens of ways to rethink run-of-the-mill housewares.  (Maybe I need to do a post series on that.  I’ve done some nutty things!)



I traded/bartered for almost my entire kitchen (over about a three year period).  Now, yes, I traded for promotion on my blog or for written tutorials, but that’s just an asset I have to offer.  Everyone has something they can barter.  A photographer asked me if we could barter a photo session for a dresser for her daughter’s room and that worked well for both of us.  You can trade anything that has value to someone else…babysitting, yard work, vegetables from a garden, canned goods, baked goods, rides to school/practice, putting VHS on a DVD…whatever!  If you’ve got it, use it to your advantage!


(I really need to paint another dresser like this!  I wish I had a better picture of it.)

We do need to have an honest conversation about budget, though.

Obviously, you can do more to a space when you have more money to spend.  That’s just a fact. I know that some projects and products I share will be out of reach for some of my readers.

And I know that what is affordable is relative.

Please don’t let that discourage you, though!  There are a lot of things you can replicate on a very small budget, if you’re creative and resourceful.


The great thing about color is that it can be reproduced on any budget.  I always loved this antique Bavarian bed, but I couldn’t find one and, even if I had, I doubt I could’ve bought it.


I found a bed that gave the same feel for $100 and painted it in the same colors and a similar design.


Look at the colors you love in rooms you pinned or seen in magazines.  Bring those colors into your home through budget-friendly paint and fabric.


Just like color, textures can be replicated on any budget.  A warm wood table, a nubby rug, sleek white dishes, shiny flatware, painted and distressed chairs.  Again, look for texture combinations you love and use them in your rooms.  I love bringing texture in with things found for free in nature like shells, seed pods, pine cones, nuts, twigs, etc.


grouping like objects/collections

If you collect anything or have multiples of anything, display them together.  It makes a huge visual impact no matter what it is.  The window displays at Anthropologie are an amazing example of this.  If you put enough coat hangers, piano rolls, file folders, records or ribbon spools together, they can look like art.


fake it ’til you make it

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably remember my “faux” grain sacks.  There is a tutorial for making one in my book.  I have long loved the look of antique European grain sacks and, until about three years ago, they were just out of my budget.  So, I made my own.  I hunted for fabrics that would give me a similar look and then I hand painted them.  I also used inexpensive materials, like drop cloth and cotton twill for slipcovers…


I recently made new slipcovers out of antique hemp sheets.  I used the drop cloth slipcovers for years and they were getting stained and looking a bit tired.  I decided to upgrade to a fabric that was more durable, with better structure and texture.  Since I buy and sell hemp sheets, I was able to do that now.  I slipped both chairs for about $80 with the drop cloths and about $240 with the hemp sheets.


Making the slipcover is the same, no matter your budget.  The look is almost identical when viewing the overall room.  Just pick the fabric that’s best for your room and price range!  (You can always upgrade down the road.)

And beautiful fabric can be found at a bargain, by the way.  I just found a huge roll of high-end gray linen for $6/yard at a flea market.  I’m going to use it to cover a sofa that was given to me for FREE!


It’s going to look like a $3,000 sofa when I’m through with it!  (Fingers crossed.)

In closing, I just want to say that I still wholeheartedly believe and live out the design philosophy that I typed out years ago.  It’s on my sidebar for a reason…

“Throw out the notion that good design is expensive, must be carried out by a professional and can only be bought in a fancy store. I live in a real home on a real budget and have never taken a design class in my life. A great look is affordable and attainable to anyone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and dive in. So, get ready to go junking, tune up the sewing machine, and buy a good paint brush. Your home’s potential is waiting to be realized and you’re the one who’s going to discover it.”

That’s what moving mountains in your home is all about.

Thanks for reminding me to tell you that.

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  1. Linda says:

    “Affordable is relative”, quoting you (Miss Mustard Seed) from your article … relative to resources whether they are financial, DIY skill level, creative means for acquisitions, and/or have-on-hand possessions. thanks for you insight.

  2. M Murphy says:

    I am in a different situation in that a few years ago, I could afford to buy almost anything for my home. We had our own business. It was tied to the housing market and we all know how that went about 2009. We sold everything, paid off all our debts and moved cross country back to my home state. We bought 20 acres in the middle of nowhere outside a small town in Tennessee. My husband built me a new “old” farmhouse. Since we had agreed to do everything on a cash basis, there was no cash left for furnishings. I had brought a few of my favorite things with us and sold everything else. Anyway, my point to all of this is that I am so much happier in my little country home with my flea market purchases than I ever was in the huge house with all the new stuff. Never was I so excited than when I found a Mitchell Gold platinum white slipcovered sofa at Goodwill for $47.50!!! While extra money is nice, it doesn’t make you happy. I love your blog!!! But I also love that you share a bit of your heart and soul as well as your wonderful design talent. Keep up the good work!! You are truly a treasure. God bless you.

  3. Alicia from California says:

    Dear Marian,
    Your message today couldn’t have come at a more opportune time in my journey. Since I moved into my new 1955 home (I call it my “pool house”) I’ve agonized on how to make it my own. Instead I found that this blessing of a home was “chosen” for me and my creativity has come out in ways I’ve never imagined…in very small ways because of a very small budget (social security). The last few weeks I began shopping my home! I’m letting my “pool house” show me what works and what doesn’t. I’ve shopped the stores and brought decor items home with such excitement only to find that they didn’t work in my beautiful 1955 pool house. The staff at those stores recognize me now because of all the returns I’ve made and they are so gracious.

    I used your tutorial last year to inspire me to make slipcovers for armchairs, a sofa and love seat! They helped give the house I was selling a more contemporary look. I brought that furniture with me and they make my little pool house look so cozy. My neighbors have admired my handiwork and yesterday I received my first commission to make them a slipcover for their love seat. I am so excited!!!! Could this be the manifestation of that dream I’ve carried with me for so many years – to be creative and earn a few extra dollars each month? At 67 years of age I know there are still many opportunities for dreams to become a reality. I’m good at rolling up my sleeves, once the motivation hits me, and work hard at what I enjoy the most – being creative and making people happy.

  4. Once again, an inspiration to us all. Thank you for allowing your heartc / spirit shine through. I need pposts from you to get me up and moving as I’ve allowed myself to become sidetracked from my interior design aspirations (own home only). Time to locate those picture frames I took down about 6 years ago when we painted the walls. Off I go.

  5. Reading this jogged my memory of my own life
    9yrs ago I cleaned a beautiful Manor House, the decor & furniture where absolutely stunning & way out of my price range!!! So I began looking on charity furniture shops for pieces I could transform.

    My first project was a half moon hall table.
    It took me hours stripping the paint off with a blow gun I’d brought from a carboot .. sanding down etc
    -actually lost my voice for a few days from the damage the burning paint fumes! <- just remembered this!!

    …luckily I quickly discovered other furniture paints

    This took me onto great times .. Picking up a vintage mirror for £2, proudly hanging it in my bathroom.
    Money really was tight but I'd manage to completely transform my flat!

    I'd made lots of mess ups & still do with my painting. Live & learn!

    I've recently opened my first shop (scary!)
    And hopefully, eventually will be a stockist of mms paints! Once I've had a little more practice

    Treated myself for my birthday on Monday & ordered a few mms paints & sealers to try out Lucketts & Grain Sack! Excited!!

    Thanks for your post, reading them is like therapy xx

  6. Stephenie Klingler says:

    Great article! May I suggest to readers that if they are looking for affordable wall paint, they should definitely check out the nearest Habitat for Humanity Re-store. Their paint is VERY reasonably priced at $3-$6/gallon. Color chouce is limited, but I’be achieved gorgeous colors by mixing 2 or 3 colors together. Happy hunting!

  7. Cathy J says:

    Great blog post. You are on a roll! Absolutely love you!!!

  8. Wendy D. says:

    Love this article!!! I have always decorated with thrift store, flea market or side of the road items. Not because I could not afford better, but because we grow and change our style as we get older, so I don’t want to feel that something cost too much to let it go. Repurposing items for different uses is one of my favorite tricks in my home. Table cloths and doilies for curtains, old windows for room dividers, vintage suitcases for storage, the list goes on. If you love it then go for it and make your own style after all your the one living with it!!!

  9. Marian – your tutorials gave me the courage to make slipcovers for a sofa in my sunroom.
    I have never ever done anything like that before. Is it perfect? No. But I love it. The look is comfy and clean. I would encourage anyone who doubts themselves to at least give it a whirl. You just might surprise yourself! Xoxo

  10. Elizabeth C says:

    What a wonderful message! So true, I’ve moved furniture around for years, switched out odd and ends to make my area look a little different. Softer look in the spring with less décor and fuller in the winter before Christmas décor goes up. It’s amazing what you find at the end of drive ways waiting for the garbage truck!!!

  11. After I read our book I was inspired to redo my bedroom “shopping my home”. It took me 6 hours and didn’t cost a dime. I couldn’t believe all the good items I had stashed away. It gave me a bedroom I could be happy in while I saved my money for a new home.

  12. Just an idea…many people who are retiring/downsizing/moving out of the area get overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” that has to be disposed of…..really nice furniture, lamps, pianos, etc….. It is difficult to get rid of many items that are large and bulky. No Craigslist..too much bother and perhaps dangerous. Charities often no longer do furniture pickups or are backlogged for months in their pickup dates and it just doesn’t work. My friends and I have wound up just giving things away to neighbors, movers, whomever; anyone who will do the furniture pickup quickly themselves that we feel safe with. It was all free to them and we are grateful they took it. In some more populated areas of the country, churches could offer this service, and maybe everyone would benefit.

  13. MaryLisa Noyes says:

    Agree Agree Agree! I’ve rearranged the furniture in my house numerous times. I did it as a kid in my bedroom. It’s the best marketing secret for a new look. Stores like Pottery Barn do it every 3 weeks to give everything a fresh look.

  14. Ginni says:

    Well said, Marian! It is what we have to do as keepers of home. And at our our house, as at yours- we just have to GET THE ART OUT! If one is creative, creativity must come out of the person, regardless of a budget.

    And shopping at my own house is the best advice ever.

    Have a great week!

  15. Thank you for writing this. I am going into a season where my finances will be extremely tight and I will have no wiggle room for a decorating budget.

    You mentioned in your post about doing a series on some of the things you’ve done in the past and I think that is a fanastic idea!

  16. Really enjoyed this Marian. Been there with the $3.00 in my pocket too…


  17. Michelle foley says:

    Can you please post a turorial when you recover the couch! … Getting around all that pretty wood! I have a similar chair I am about to do and would love some if your tips!! Thanks!!

  18. Such a great reminder and an inspiring post. I’m going to rearrange some furniture this weekend!

  19. Donna Burke says:

    I loved this post… being self employed for many years now has given my husband and I the gift of being together, only needing one car, scheduling flexibility and more… What it does NOT give us is extra money for decor. We bought our 1895 Victorian in horrible condition with no running water or electricity. I was more than blessed that my Dad retired that year and joined me on a wonderful journey of restoring our home. He was a electrician/plumber and was patient enough to teach me. Fourteen years later there is not one inch of our 8,000 square foot home that we have not touched. In my entire house (four furnished floors) maybe 5 pieces of furniture were bought “new”. The rest of my house is furnished with “junk” from the trash, thrift stores, friends etc. I’ve sewn all of my curtains, made slipcovers from drop cloths… The thing is I wouldn’t trade my ‘junk” for any new thing I see in expensive homes… My home is a reflection of me. Everything in my house has a memory or story. My Dad, my husband and I have made this my dream home when money wasn’t there for extras. My best memories are of seeing my Mom and Dad driving up with a trailer of “goodies” that someone had thrown away. I had treasures to play with for years. The following year my Mom passed away suddenly at the young age of 60. Every time I see the treasures she and my Dad brought to me over the years I think of her. She taught me very young in our old farmhouse that you could do anything with a paint brush, some time and patience. ♥

  20. Melinda says:

    I recently moved and the sun porch was in need of a fresh coat of paint not to mention the slate grey carpet was covered in pet hair. We took out the rug and painted everything… ceiling included in a nice shade of white…. far cry from the dated gold that was there. We cleaned up the rug and to my surprise it started to look really good. I repainted the old light fixture black and we washed the windows. With a neutral base of white and grey I started to place certain items back in the sun porch. Two chairs from the side of the road, 1) $4 very cool lantern hanging from a fixture on the wall… table from the dump, mirror from the side of the road. Final touch was $3 dollars worth and wreath and leaves and I had a beautiful fall wreath. I was so proud to realize everything was from the side of the road or purchased second hand. The space is inviting and relaxing. MM paints are a big help! If you work at it you will be surprised.

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