dear reader | to the one who keeps making the same decorating mistakes

Marian ParsonsDecorating, decorating dilemmas, Tips and Tricks47 Comments

Dear Reader (to the one who keeps making the same decorating mistakes),

We should start a club.  We’ll call it the “I have not learned my lesson” club or the “Oops, I did it again” club.  (Hey!  We have a theme song if we call it that.)

We can have meetings and everything.

“Hello.  My name is Marian.”

Psst.  This is where you say, “Hi, Marian.”

“I just had to repaint my walls for the third time, because I have not learned my lesson.  I know I should buy test pots and paint a swatch to make sure I like the color first, but I feel like swatches are for weenies and I’m not scared of color and I want my walls painted yesterday, so I’m going to buy $75 worth of paint and spend an entire day painting a room that I’ll hate by dinner time.”

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I imagine a lot of us are in this club.  We buy fabrics and spend time making curtains that we pretend to like, so our spouses don’t murder us, but in our gut, we know we missed the mark.  We pick out a tile that makes us sick to our stomach once it’s installed.  We splurge on a piece of furniture that we love in everyone else’s house, but we then realize that it doesn’t work in our house at all.

In short, we keep making the same decorating mistakes over and over again.  We rush things along and ignore that little voice in our heads that knows we’ve been here before and it didn’t end well, but we go through with it anyway.  Because we want it done!

And we are now conditioned to associate decorating decisions with regret and a knot in our stomachs and wasted money and time.

And failure.

So, we either stay on the merry-go-round and hope that we’ll get it right somewhere along the line or we freeze.

I’ve tried both.

So, what do we do to change?  How do we get the end result that we want when we don’t know exactly how to get there or even exactly what we want?

I don’t think there is a 100% fail-proof answer, but I do think there are things we can do to get moving in the right direction.

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one

Stop the madness.  Just put down the paint brush, back away from the sewing machine, and halt the shopping trips to your favorite local haunts.  I know that most of us are doers and we want to keep doing something, but plowing in the wrong direction isn’t going to have a happy ending.  Take a step back and assess.  What do you love about your space?  What is the feeling you want to evoke?  Does your room feel like that?  What style feels most “you”?  Does your room reflect that?

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two

Collect images that reflect the look you want in your home, maybe even in that specific room.  Once you have a bunch of images collected, look through them all in one sitting.  Are there common elements?  Colors, finishes, furnishings, and styles that keep repeating in your favorite images?  Put your observations in a list form and use that list and those images to create a plan.

three

Armed with your plan, assess your room again.  What pieces will work with that plan?  Are there pieces you should sell/donate?  This is a time to edit and undo things you’ve done in haste or without any real plan or direction – the whims.  It’s also the time when you can give yourself permission to get rid of things that you know in your gut aren’t working.

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four

Add with intention.   Everything you bring into that room should fit with your plan.  And I’m not speaking strictly from a design perspective.  If you have toddlers and need a kid-friendly play area, that should be in the plan.  If your husband has an oversized recliner that is essential for football season, yes, that should be in the plan, too.  But everything you bring in, from the furniture to the fabric, accessories to art, should fit into that plan.   Setting some boundaries for yourself and being focused will help you avoid those impulse buys and quick decisions that usually don’t end well.

five

Be patient.  If you really want a specific piece of furniture or fabric or rug or whatever, don’t settle for something that’s not even close.  I’m all for bargain shopping and trying to get the look for less, but sometimes a piece is worth waiting for. Again, I know we’re doers; women of action!  We want the room done!  Patience is not our style.  But, just imagine that moment when the bed frame of your dreams is delivered to your door or you finally find that perfect piece at an amazing price on craigslist.  Those things are worth the wait and are rarely ones you’ll regret purchasing.

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And show yourself some grace.  I know my intentions were always good as I bumbled my way through some of my rooms.  Some of it is trial and error and if you misstep, just regroup and keep working towards your goals.

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Soon, we’ll all be so good at making decorating decisions that we’ll have to start a whole new club.  Maybe “The United Sisterhood of Makeover Enthusiasts.”

USME

And we’ll probably need a support group for our husbands as well…

We’ll get there, friends.

Sincerely,

Marian

dear reader | to the one who keeps making the same decorating mistakes

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47 Comments on “dear reader | to the one who keeps making the same decorating mistakes”

  1. Hello my name is Kim, and I am.a mess,lol.
    Sign me up, I get halfway thru the sewing or painting n realize is not going to look the way I want( due to compromise in fabric etc) so I don’t finish. Actually it’s kind of a weird thing, if it’s not going to be perfectly the way I want it. I don’t want it at all. Definitely need a club and therapy, hahaha

  2. I wish I was more like you, as in recent years I have gone to the other end of the scale.

    Thinking and planning…thinking and planning some more…and on and on. So much of my energy goes into this part that it takes me forever to actually get any darn thing done!

    I blame Pinterest and lovely blogs such as yours for a lot of it! Seriously, I enjoy it all so much but there are so many stunning ideas – like the beautiful white chair, stool and cupboard above which has been promptly ‘pinned’ – I do tend to end up in a lather of indecision.

    Maybe I should start ‘Ditherers Anonymous’ instead!

    1. Thanks for writing this for me. Could not have said it better myself. This is how bad it is….. we are currently (for at least 6 months) living with sub-floors (yes, sub-floors) because I can’t decide on flooring. It is maddening.

    2. “Ditherers Anonymous”? That’s hysterical. Where can I join?

      May I propose a subgroup? It’s for those of us who, once we finally start a project, get stuck on a question or unexpected challenge, then dither indefinitely about how to resolve it.

    3. you are my kindred sister, I will join your club.. and then maybe we can inch into Marion’s direction

    4. I am with you on this one!!! I will gladly‘Ditherers Anonymous’….then we can move up to the “Oops, I did it again” club and so on, until we graduate and are accepted into the USME!!! Marian, you are our leader and inspiration.

  3. Marian,
    So True. Sometimes the things you spend months planning and worry over turn out OK and the things you pick up on a whim are what make you smile everyday.
    I think when you know yourself and what feels right to you the results are better.

    I have learned that I enjoy my home when I choose for us instead of fads, trends, or what others think we should have.
    rick

  4. Great advice! You gave a suggestion a while ago encouraging people to look in old decorating magazines to find timeless style that still speaks to you–I love that advice. I have many old copies of Victoria and Cottage Living, and you are right–some decorating ideas are “bleah” to me and some (bead board, wainscoting, classic simple lines) stand up to the test of time (for me, at least!). But I have to say … it’s been almost 3 years since our kitchen reno and I STILL can’t find the right dining area chandelier!!!!

  5. You are absolutely right on with these suggestions, and I realize that I subconsciously incorporated a lot of them when I furnished the living room of my last home (my dream home). I decided that I wanted a Christmas background (believe it or not) so I painted one wall moss green and the beadboard under the kitchen peninsula barn red. I don’t think anyone else would have gone that direction but over 20 years, I never repainted because I always loved it. We already had some of those dark red persian rugs so I got some forest green upholstered furniture. Again, not a usual choice but it suited me and the room. Looked great on my hardwood floors. It took a lot of time to get everything right, selling and buying things from CL (I never buy new–such a huge mark-up).

    Anyway, I think you should add a tip #6: recognize and keep the “happy accidents” where something you didn’t plan turns out perfect.

  6. I am a lover of most things. I have a friend that I go shopping with and this is how it goes ” this is so cute but where am I going to put it? Can I put it here ( raising the item in the air as to put it on a shelf or on a wall ) ” as a go mentally around my house I put it in the basket you know just in case. Before I go to checkout I say a thank you to the item and good bye. When she does it so funny but this has helped to control that ” this is soooo cute ” items. She said everything takes up time and space.

  7. When I see something I like, furniture, decorative pieces, etc., I try to visualize it out of that picture and into where I would like it to be, most of the time that helps and unless it is “one of a kind” piece it will be there when you finally decide yea or nay. I can add it to my dream list, lol.

  8. ‘Been there, done that’ over the years with painting, decorating & sewing. In the past couple of years…well, since I found Pinterest…I have found something that works better for me. I start a new Pinterest board for whatever I’m wanting to redecorate, then I pin like crazy for a few months. Pin, delete, add more pins, until I finally really feel that I’ve exhausted every decorating picture possibility, then I narrow down my choices and move forward. It takes patience to not jump in and impulsively start the project before I have all my ideas together, but it’s definitely worth the wait. I did this with my home office earlier this year. Actually, it was Marian’s redecorating of that client’s home office awhile back that made me realize my dark, dingy, ugly, 20-year-old office was depressing to work in. I pinned like crazy, then finally painted & redecorated it earlier this year. I truly love it now and feel so much happier & excited going to work in my pretty ‘me’ office.

  9. I bought something to resell just today and already want to donate it to goodwill. I feel your pain.

  10. Thank you for this excellent post — an instant classic.

    I like that it includes not only how to overcome bad habits but also how to forgive yourself for the mistakes they’ve produced.

  11. Hi Marian. Were you talking to me? LOL. I just went through everything you said. Painted my living room, loved the color, but it didn’t flow with the rest of the house. Soooooo, I primed the walls (the paint was a medium color) and sat for months trying to decide on a new color. After all that time, I was obsessed with finding a color for the living room. I looked everywhere to find a color I liked. I found curtains and this was the starting point for me. Sometimes it just takes one thing to get on track. Went with a shade lighter than the curtains and I love it. Thanks for the great post. So good to know I am not alone trying to make a decorating decision.

  12. Believe it or not, getting older is an advantage, in decorating as well as many other things. You learn not to rush, not to buy unless you really love it and the price is right, not to pick up the quick make-do but to wait for what is right. When I redid my kitchen I spent hundreds of hours online, looking for all the elements, and a lot of those hours were spent hunting for knobs and pulls. I chose major appliances more quickly than knobs and pulls. I had a box full of samples that I ordered and weren’t right. The rest of the kitchen was finished, and I still had post-it notes serving as pulls on the cabs and drawers. But when I finally found the right ones, I knew they were right. No hesitation at all.

    All you young things need to be patient with yourselves!

    1. Not always, Kay. 🙂 I’m pushing 60. We’ve been in our house for 17 years and I still don’t know what to do with it. I’ve had paint swatches on my walls upstairs that are almost as old as my son who just graduated from college. Last spring, I finally decided to just do SOMEthing, so I painted the guest room and knew as soon as it was done that it wasn’t going to work. So, it’s back to being speckled with new paint swatches, which will probably be there for another 15 years.

      I have a few problems:

      First, I seem to like lots of colors, styles, and things that don’t marry well.

      Secondly (and probably my biggest issue), I am very fickle and get taken in by trends. Remember “Old World & Tuscan?” I so wanted that in my house 15 years ago. Now I look at the remnants of it in my home (like the wall colors) and wonder what on earth I was thinking. Now, all I can think about is “Farm House.” I love all the clean whites, board & batten, “shiplap,” etc. But there’s no way I feel like repainting 18 foot walls again. And husband would not be too happy about my getting rid of the furniture I HAD to have when we moved in. I have no carpentry skills for the board & batten, etc. And if I did, by the time I got around to it, I’d probably be wanting to do something else. So the house sits here looking dated and I hate it.

      Finally, after all of these years wasting time and money on mistakes, I have lost faith in my ability to choose well. I am convinced that if I have chosen it, well then it will surely be a mistake. So, I do nothing. Like all of us, I have wanted a beautiful home my entire life, but I am beginning to think I will never make it happen and that it’s time to give up and move on. I wish I could find someone to just make it all pretty for me so that I could stop thinking about it (I think about it constantly). I envy those of you who can come up with a plan and bring it to life.

      I used to be able to laugh about the state of my house, but I have started to lose my sense of humor about it. 🙁

      1. I so hear you. And I wish I didn’t care about my home like I do. At times I almost envy the women who just do ‘whatever’ with their homes … and never stress over it. Yet, I can’t be like that. Is it an artistic side? Or a need for deep comfort from our surroundings? Not sure. But ‘I yam what I yam’. 🙂 Thanks for your honesty. 🙂 (I am in mid-sixties, btw) 🙂

  13. I sincerely hope that I will get there. Since I retired I have been thinking about what I really want,but I have been taking it slow,it is a struggle but I know I will get there. Thanks Marian.

  14. Then there are the rest of us who can’t make up our minds which look we want or like so our make-overs never get started or they stall half-way through. For instance, my bathroom has been waiting for the right wallpaper for–oh, about ten years, I’d say. And I’ve been living with the bare drywall in the meantime. Friends ask questions like, “So what’s the plan for the bathroom?” I think I know the look I want, but not sure how to do it or if that look is one I’ll love in two years. Pathetic, right? If only we could combine the hesitant-to-ridiculousness with the impatient-to-be-done-at-all-costs qualities, maybe we all could actually begin a project, finish it and be happy with it! I mean, really happy!

    So how about a post for “the rest of us?” If you can’t identify, Marian, call in a friend to write it! ha, ha!

  15. I simply delay and delay…and delay. I bought my first house in 2013 and am just now coming up with my vision. It’s been fun looking, and now I am starting to buy!

  16. I just went through this Marian – painting a honey oak cabinet from the 80’s in our renovated master bath. We went from greens and golds to “The Beach” and so the honey oak had to go. I picked the wall colour and cabinet colour using the colours in the tile as inspiration (a travertine-look porcelain) as well as some small paintings and photographs of Martha’s Vineyard that will be featured in the room. Perfect plan, right? Everything should look great together, right? However, I doubted both colours when they were painted. My painter said she loved them both. She’s got the background in paint, design and staging that I don’t, so I decided to trust her. My husband agreed with her too. So, this time, I decided to try to listen to the expert and the one who also has to live with the colours that I chose. And you know what? Now that it is finished and paintings, photographs, furnishings, towels and a few design elements are all coming into the room, I actually love both colours. They began to make sense only once I had started to place everything in the room that was used to pick the colours in the first place. Maybe that’s the lesson I needed to learn – don’t judge the colours until you get the whole thing together. I’m going to call that room done and am very happy with it. Our livingroom is another story – we painted that one 3 different shades of pink in the 80’s (hanging my head in shame)… 😉

  17. You are SO right!!!! Let’s start a club! I absolutely LOVE my home (overall) but absolutely hate my family room. It was an outdoor porch decades ago and they closed it in-all with wonderful windows. But I can’t seem to get the decor right. I really want to take everything out and just stare at an empty room in order to get a “vision”….I don’t want to employ a designer because they do what to put their style in it, and not our family friendly version.

    I am hopeful it will come to me!!!!

  18. Sometimes it’s even a matter of not really looking, but there it is! I had a wall in my Project Room that was a perfect space for a shelf unit, and I temporarily put up one of those white plastic shelf units from Home Depot. It look awful but I didn’t have any other options, and I really wasn’t even looking. One day on a whim, with no goal in mind, I was wandering through Craig’s List and there she was! A gorgeous, big, beautiful bakers rack that I instantly knew would be perfect. It took a little arm-twisting to convince DH to run up the freeway to pick her up, but even he was impressed when we finally met her. We brought her home, set her up, and I have been styling her this way and that way, ever since. The whole room has been a 2-year project, and is still not completely done!

  19. Marian,
    Your “Dear Reader” series is one of my favorites and the topics always seem to speak to my heart. The old saying that “Misery loves Company” is even true when it comes to decorating as it gives me some comfort knowing that others have made some of the same stupid mistakes as I have or face some of the same décor challenges.

    One thing I have learned the hard way is to be true to yourself. For instance, I got into farmhouse industrial for a short time until I realized that it just wasn’t me. Of course, at the time it was the “hot” trend and in every décor magazine. I have realized over time that I don’t want my home to look like everyone else’s but rather my own unique style and not something that looks like you just walked into Pottery Barn.

  20. I’ve SO been there. It’s taken a long time and a lot of wasted money, but I’ve learned to really listen to my gut. Shopping is hard. I see a million things I have to have but if I can walk away and not think twice about it, I know it was fleeting. I’ve also learned, and this one’s hard, that it’s okay to admire other people’s homes without second guessing my own. We all have different tastes and what works for one, doesn’t always work for all.

  21. I’ve been there so many times.. I’ve painted most rooms in my large house 3-4 times because the color wasn’t quite “right” in other lighting… I’ve made entire fitted slipcovers WITHOUT pre-washing and more importantly not PRE-SHRINKING the fabric, I’ve hauled furniture home from a sale and nearly killed my husband trying to get it in the house only to realize that it doesn’t work for what I wanted or I don’t like it anymore. We hauled a HUGE ARMOIRE from Maryland to Ohio and I didn’t like it in the morning… Usually I keep my misgivings to myself so my husband doesn’t kill me, but it will bother me forever if I don’t fix it. AND fix it I do- I re-paint, re-cover, cut, re-assemble… until I DO like it. Glad I’m not alone! 🙂

  22. Raising my hand to join. (You may not see it over here, behind the wall of boxes containing all of our earthly possessions that didn’t fit into the TWO pods and are now stacked in our efficiency apartment…the one we’ve been living in for 8 months while we renovate our entire home at one time)…not one of my more “well thought” decisions. I guess that thinking that we could live in the house while we did this was a little “overly enthusiastic” given that we’ve had no heat/air conditioning or bathrooms since January….on the plus side, I haven’t gone to a single market or shopped for anything home related and have vowed not to until we finish. I plan to purge and follow your guidance above when adding back. Thanks for your honesty.

  23. Hi Marian,
    You are such a nice, kind person. Creative, interesting and inspiring. I always enjoy reading about your adventures. There should be more like you!
    Best wishes,
    Maureen

  24. This was a great post. Wow, all the comments it created. I loved reading every one of them because I so relate to this, too. As I have said before, Marian, I love your honesty. Yours is the favorite decorating site for me. My go-to. But even though I have recently retired, I cannot start one project .. because of that ‘frozen’ state which my indecision and past mistakes have placed me in. 🙂 For a year now I have wanted to purchase your decorating book. I should name it as a wish-gift for my upcoming 65th b.day, possibly! 🙂 Again, this is the best decorating site ever. Every woman in the world (who cares about these things) should know about it. And your style blends with many different tastes which might be represented by all of us. Thanks for the time you take to share your talents, as well as your thoughts & feelings, with us.

  25. I can identify with the lady who said she leaves projects unfinished half way through if it’s not “perfect”. There’s something to be said for embracing your mistakes (to a degree), moving away from perfectionism. It’s really hard for me to do, but I’m getting better at it. I’m reminded of the David Wilcox song, “Leave it Like it Is”. Have a listen and see what you think.

    Susan

  26. Sigh….. Regarding step 3……..Oak “husband made furniture” in our bedroom that was made very nicely and from 25 years ago. Now sitting these days in an gray and purple bedroom just does not cut it! Tried to talk him into me changing the color of the furniture but that came up against a big no…… hmm.

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