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

Marian ParsonsDecorating, Popular, Secret Weapons, Tips and Tricks84 Comments

…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.

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declutter

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.

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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!)

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barter/trade

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!

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(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.

color

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.

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

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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.

texture

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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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84 Comments on “if you think a beautiful home is out of your budget…”

  1. Sadly, I feel compelled to point out one must have some degree of talent (and a lot of self confidence!) to tackle diy projects on a budget. I would be afraid to take on a couch re-cover or to paint that bed. You did a beautiful job, but if money was tight, I’d be too afraid to try something like that, for fear I also wouldn’t have enough money to fix it.

    1. That is true, but you have to learn somehow! I wish I had more pictures of some of the stuff I made when I was learning. The first chair I upholstered was a mess, but it was free, I hated it, anyway, and I did the best I could with it. We used that chair for a couple of years until someone gave me some other free furniture to learn on. I always suggest starting with something free or very cheap, so it’s not a big deal if you “mess it up.”

    2. I understand upholstery fear…but for other things, I study catalogs like Pottery Barn. How is the furniture arranged? What is behind the couch on a table? I did go to antique stores and Goodwill for some pretty silver trays that move around on walls or coffee table holding items or I stand up on my hutch shelf. I study the Christmas magazines! I look at blogs. I pay attention to that sprig of yard greenery and I get out a collection of vases and set them together and the light plays off the glass and the various yard greens. I go to high end stores when they have super sales and find unusual pieces for dollars that were closer to a hundred. And I am not afraid to try and if I don’t like it, try over!!! And try small. Just do new towels and a rug in a bathroom. Dollar tree sells USA made soaps that look pretty sitting out. Find a pretty small plate to set it on. You’ve made a start!! Find a Kleenex box to go along with it. Roll up the wash cloths and put in an inexpensive handled basket and set on top of commode. Smile. You’ve begun. And it feels good!!!

  2. Great post. I love the mix of pottery barn/restoration hardware with family heirlooms, and junk finds. I have always wondered how did you get offered great family heirlooms. Did you ask or wait til offered?

    1. I asked. My Oma kept just about everything and the attic was full of boxes, bins, trunks, etc. No one else really cared about what was up there, so I asked my Opa if I could dig through it and take what I could use. He said yes, so that started a few years of digging every time I visited.

      Some other things were offered to me by relatives who know I like furniture/antiques.

  3. I truly love your style, and I’ve watched you spread your wings over the past few years. I agree wholeheartedly that style has nothing to do with the cost of items you decorate with, but it’s more about making the most of what you have. I don’t comment often, but your well written post really struck a chord with me. Thanks for being and inspiration to us all!

  4. Great post. I’ve been through some really hard times due to the economic downturn. We lost our home and everything we had. We are still renting until we can buy a home again. At one point my husband was unemployed for two years and lived off of my part time income. I remember go to the grocery store with my calculator too. I also learned how to decorate and remake my home with next to nothing. It’s hard but it is possible with determination and a good imagination. I love how you gave examples of things you can do with your home for free or a small budget. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I love how you put your “then days” perspective on this and I am not trying to be negative, but at the end of the day, when you look at your home when you were getting for free, doing your own DIY and free/barter things vs. what your home currently looks like, there is definitely a difference and having the resources and all the free sponsorship to receive the upscale items you receive is definitely not within most people’s reach. Kudos for you for your tenacity, though! Also, as the person above stated, you have to have the talent to sew, etc., and not everyone has that either. I do like following along on your blog, but I like to keep it real, too!

    1. But, that is my point. I am STILL doing my own DIY, using things found on the side of the road, bought from Craig’s List, etc. My home was put together over almost 9 years and all of those projects, finds, bargains and trades have resulted in the final look.

    2. Mary, your negativity is holding you back. I am an old person and I can say that it is now easier and cheaper than ever to have a nice house. I have been going to thrift stores and flea markets my whole life but they are bigger, better, and cleaner than ever before. They are also in better neighborhoods. Yard sales, tag sales, and garage sales did not really exist before the 1960s and 1970s. And WHAT did we do before Craigslist?

      No one starts out knowing how to do DIY projects because we don’t learn that in school and most of us don’t learn at home either. My mother tried to teach me to sew but I couldn’t learn from her (sadly), so I had to learn on my own. People who do DIY projects successfully take classes (at Home Depot, community colleges, and Michaels), read instructions and watch videos on-line, and absorb information from product labels.

      Start with something simple like repainting an old piece of furniture–you can do it!!!

      (This is your grandmother speaking.)

      1. I agree that DIY gets easier and better with practice, but practice with the right tools helps a lot! My sewing machine would laugh at hemp sheets, but only after it jammed a few times first.

        I don’t see Mary’s comment as negative, but valid. Sponsorship for a home project is a big time boost, helping hand or hand up. I really like how Marian acknowledges these boosts. Ex. help at the beginning from mom and dad or showing how rooms evolved with sponsorship.

        I enjoy watching MMS’s evolution and success. I don’t see her as “more blessed” as another put it in the comments the other day, but blessed indeed. That is a good thing.

        Also, I am much more picky in my thrifting after seeing all the quality pieces MMS and others find and use to decorate. Declutter, yes! And her style is so rich and beautiful that regardless of whether I can give my kitchen the same make over, I can incorporate lots of what she does. It helps to see what works and doesn’t. How a room looks okay and then great by little or big tweaks.

        This is one of my favorite blogs and I enjoy following along for not only the eye candy, tutorials, sweet personality, but to watch a hard working woman rewarded for her efforts. Unlike, maybe a retired teacher on a pension and social security struggling to make ends meet (I know, I know, she could start a blog too). A little compassion for the frustrated and acknowledgement for those trying to keep it real.

        Been thinking about your blog the last few days…every since the Plated comments. 🙂

  6. This post made me smile. You have so many great tips. I love and appreciate your “realness” about decorating. I dont know if you have a Restore near you but It’s an actual store where people bring anything and everything having to do with a house that they aren’t using anymore or don’t need and they donate it. All of the money the store makes goes to Habitat for Humanity. I think it is an amazing option for someone on a budget. They have everything, even paint. It’s a great place to find things for someone itching to change things up a bit!

    1. We actually just got one in our area. I’ve been wanting to stop in, but haven’t had the chance. It’s on my list, though!

  7. I have read you for years as you are a girl after my own heart. I can point to a dozen things in my house that were off the curb. My house and style are evolving all the time and people have often asked me to help them with the décor in their own house. I notice design everywhere. I love “You’ve Got Mail” not only for the storyline but the incredible apartment that Meg Ryan lives in. I have done merchandising in many retail stores I’ve worked at and they have given me free rein. I absorb everything from home décor to fashion to gardening and am not formally trained in any of it. For me there is inspiration at every turn.

    If I were to give any advice it would to stop being afraid and jump in with both feet. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I have a dresser in my garage now that I painted with rather crappy results. It will sit awhile until I come up with Plan B.

    Your home is your palette and your sanctuary. Go for it!!

    1. i thought I was the only one who did things like that. I watch that movie every time it’s on. I love that table in her kitchen and the woodwork is so beautiful.

  8. This was such a wonderful post. If I waited to decorate until I had “real money” I’d have to wait until my children are out of college (20+ years!) I’m not willing to wait, and I think it’s good for kids to watch mommy using what we have to make things beautiful– maybe not perfect– but still beautiful!

  9. You are so good to your readers and have a huge heart and go about everything in a teaching and sharing kind of way… I LOVE your style and so love the success you’ve grown into. I also love how you share Christ in your posts! Bless you!

  10. Marian,

    What a great post. I can really tell you are opening up more with your blog posts and I love it. It’s more approachable and encouraging. Almost like talking to a friend.

    I’ve read your blog four years and also had the pleasure of meeting you almost two years ago in Alabama at the Market with Layla.

    Keep up the great posts and inspiring work. You’re a gem, that’s for sure. Much deserved success. I learn so much from you.

    Betsy Gordon
    West of the Square Designs

  11. “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!)”

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I would LOVE to read about this, and it would even make a good link-up.

    Johanna

    1. Yes, please! And also suggestions and examples of what I call “road kill” (things got for free on the side of the road)
      🙂

  12. Marion, you could not have said it any better or clearer than you did in this post. You have shown and explained the struggles that you have had and how you were able to take those times and prosper by the choices and sacrifices you made. You took your talent and passion and what started out as a necessity turned into a growing business but not ever forgetting the process.

    You have shared, with all of us, your heart, home and ideas and continually try to give us the tools we need to improve or build on what we have. Things don’t have to be new or expensive to look good.

    I firmly believe that you don’t have to have much to really have it all. Some of my favorite and most comfortable homes are some of the cheapest. It’s all about how they make you feel!

    For those who think or say that what Marion has is not accessible or in your budget ….. I think you are wanting the wrong thing. It really has very little to do with money.

    1. I am sorry to disagree with you, but I have had a 5 bedroom custom house and money beautifully decorated (by me), and recently moved into my retirement house with my clothes and pots and pans. It does take money to buy at the Dollar Tree or Craigs List. Everything in my house has been received from Freecycle or Free Merchandise site pages on FB. I do not belong to the garage sale pages, because they require payment of say $10 for a gorgeous garden pot, for example. I mean, we must decide between food and medicine, and gas has curtailed going anywhere. BUT I refuse to give up and have framed magazine pictures with $1 frames, and my daughter had a lot of replaced furniture and leaning lamps in her attic. No comforter, no drapes, no rugs, a GOLD kitchen, and cracked ceramic tiles. There is a difference. Thank you.

      1. I hear your despair & disappointment . You said the magic words when you said, “I refuse to give up.” ABSOLUTELY frame/hang pictures from a magazine or calendar that you find attractive. Try to find a thrift store where you may find used drapes or bedspreads etc. that could be cut up and used for curtains. When I was deeply discouraged, the last thing I wanted to hear was some Pollyana telling me to cheer up, but I hope you won’t be upset if I offer you a tiny piece of advice born of experience. You’ve suffered a HUGE shock due to your altered circumstances. There will be sadness. It is normal and natural for you to feel that way. Maybe (I’m just trying to help, here) it would help if you thought of it this way: You have moved to a foreign land with just the suitcases in your hands. (I actually did that once.) You’re going to be learning a “new way to live,” as surely as if you had done that too. Slowly start investigating the new landscape & speaking the new language. A big hug to you.

  13. Your home is beautiful and it reflects your talent. It is a blessing to be able to decorate, sew, paint and up cycle items as you do!! I love your abilities and your honesty about budgets. From years of searching for furniture and accessories I understand your message. Please keep sharing to help us make our homes comfortable for our families.

  14. This reminded me of some of the advice in the “Tightwad Gazette” books (my homemaking “bible” for many years). The author had a tactic called “trading up”. She used the example of a vintage stove she wanted. She couldn’t find just what she wanted for a good price, so she started with an inexpensive stove, repaired it, sold it, and kept trading/selling up until she got just the stove she wanted. It takes patience and perseverance. Another tactic she had was “putting out the word.” Say you were looking for a vintage credenza, you mention it in conversations. Often someone eventually knows someone who knows someone who has an aunt with a beautiful credenza she wants to get rid of. This also takes patience and some tact to know when not to be obnoxious about it. As with all good things in life, I think the key is not wanting instant gratification. Nothing worth having in life is easy.

  15. Your home is so beautiful and you are truly a home decor artist.

    What you say in this post is something I’m trying to make myself actually use in reality. It’s like, I “know” it, but part of me just doesn’t believe it, so I don’t look for the opportunities. I think my biggest turning point was seeing all those beautiful craft rooms on Pinterest, and loving all the big desks these ladies had. And they looked like they belonged in the rooms! Not just bought and put there, ya know? And then one day I found a big old office desk at a thrift store. And I just couldn’t leave it alone. I got it for $150. This thing is huge, solid wood, and looked a bit ugly. At least it did until I slapped some homemade chalk paint on it. LOL! And I never dreamed I would get the huge desk of my dreams for less than $1000, much less $150.

    You are an inspiration to those of us that are trying to teach ourselves to look in unusual places for beauty.

  16. Thank you for this post!
    I wanted to let you know I see such faithfulness in the way you use the gifts God has given you.
    The verse you have patterned your business after is so appropriate for this post. You have not just used the things that God has put in your path. You have had faith.
    It’s not an excuse for me or anyone else that you’ve had help from companies or family or have seen something on the curb and given it new life.
    All of these were a result of you opening up yourself to what God would bless you with.
    I think the faithfulness is so much more important than the things we have around us. The faithfulness you’ve shown in the hard times has prepared you for now and is more beautiful than any item we could decorate our homes with.
    I think your attitude is the most encouraging. If you had moped on about not knowing how to do something instead of just jumping in and being determined to learn you would still, most likely, be sitting exactly where you were.
    But you didn’t! And because you didn’t, so many more of us have the opportunity to learn from you.
    Thank you for having the faith of s mustard seed and allowing all of us to be able to see what happens with faithfulness and a good attitude.
    May you be blessed more than you ever thought possible and move more mountains than you ever dreamed!

  17. I firmly agree with the idea that your home can be a place of beauty on a low budget! (Please note, that was the promise, not that rearranging furniture gives you pottery barn sofas.) So been there, and still there! I love my home, and have spent YEARS collecting freebies, hand-me-downs and home made touches! It takes commitment and trial. Period. Two things that I think were incredibly helpful to me, were identifying my style by studying images, and studying my space design and use. Don’t wallow. Keep creating! Some of the most inspiring women to me were wives of grad students, with small kids, who brought beauty into their tiny homes in the most creative ways!

  18. I really appreciate this. As a blogger who is starting to get offered nice things I couldn’t necessarily afford on my own, it’s hard to say no and seems silly if it fits within one’s aesthetic. I didn’t start blogging to get things, but I certainly saw relationships with brands as a goal, and I hope people will understand that. I will continue to mix in thrifted finds, but I’ve always been a “save here to splurge there” kind of girl, so I just try to stay true to my style and I’m glad to see you do the same!

    I love seeing where you’ve come from, that’s something to be incredibly proud of and grateful for…not saddened by. I’m sorry if others have made you feel otherwise.

  19. I agree wholeheartedly! When there’s a will, there’s a way, is how I see it. So you don’t know how to sew – LEARN! There are plenty of tutorials all over the web to learn almost anything your heart desires. So if you really want to sew a chair cover, watch some tutorials, start with cheap fabric (buy a sheet at Goodwill to cut up for a trial run), and dive in. (I found a sewing machine at a garage sale for $5). Once you learn the basics, you can sew anything. Most home projects are very simple straight seams. Start with a pillow cover, pillow case, or valance – all straight seams. So you’ve never painted a piece of furniture – again, TONS of videos to teach you how. Grab a brush and get going. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back. If you truly want to make a change in your household, you can. Like already mentioned, check the Habitat store near you. Paint is very reasonable there. Confidence is gained with experience, so just get started somewhere on something. Quit making excuses! I am saying this to myself mostly, because there are some things on my waiting list that I just haven’t had the courage to tackle yet, but really, what am I waiting for? So I have a $10 chest of drawers sitting in the shop for 3 years. If I screw it up, I’m not out much, plus it’s doing me no good whatsoever in it’s present state. If I don’t like the finished product, I can sell it on Craigslist and use the money for another project. Pinterest gives plenty of inspiration for any project one would like to tackle, so study up, then go for it. “I don’t know how” is an obsolete excuse if you have access to the internet! Keep up the good work, Marian! I look forward to your posts every day.

  20. “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!)”

    Yes, please! 🙂

  21. I too remember a time when the simplest “extra” expense just was not possible. Now I have more “disposable income” and am far more frugal than I was then. I think there are two problems young people starting out face…first, sometimes I think my kids (and young adults) look at what I have and don’t realize that it took me a LONG time to get here…I didn’t have nice furniture or nice things in my 20s…and when I did, I had a credit card bill to show for it…HUGE mistake! Second, somewhere along the way, younger generations lost the ability to “think outside the box.” In other words, be creative with what they can afford…paint it, slip it, fix it. Maybe it is because MY generation was so liberal with credit and we didn’t teach our kids the value of “upcycling” or living within your means…even if that means your end tables are $1 garage sale finds and a can of paint. I get so excited when younger people want to learn what I do…because it tells me they are willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty in order to have “nice things” rather than just whip out a credit card! My daddy didn’t teach me how to tile a backsplash, but he taught me if I want a beautiful home and nice things I had to be willing to use my brain to learn and my hands to do! I applaud women like you who devote their time and talent to teaching others!

  22. Thanks so much for this post today! I’ve tried many of these ideas through the years from your blog. It is true that just a little tweek here or there can give a fresh perspective to our homes. Thanks for spurring us on!

  23. I love this post! And I love your home and what you have done on a tight budget- yours is one of the blogs I read for ideas and inspirations. I always think if someone else can do it, I should be able to do it (whether or not that is true remains to be seen). I am on a tight budget in a fixer upper house and I will say this: the limitations have been good for me. They actually free me to do a project at a time and live within my means. Right now my means is doing projects myself- things I would never tackle if I could afford to have someone else do it. And yet I’ve learned SO much about home improvement and about myself in the process. God has been showing me again and again that limitations are a gift- not always one we like- but a gift nonetheless. Learning to embrace the reality of where I am at is a game changer. So I have a lot of craigslist and second hand furniture, and have been honing my refinishing skills and I actually love my cheap $70 dining set (repainted and reupholstered) more than the expensive stuff in the stores- but that might just be the hours of back breaking labor I put into it speaking 🙂 Anyway, thanks for your posts and your inspiration.

  24. Great post today! Boy, if I’d had to wait until we had $$$ to decorate, I’d still be waiting all these years later! I know those days of no money that you remember — the no money/super tight budget was awful, but some of my best memories were created in those years. And some of my best projects too! A beautiful home doesn’t happen overnight. In this world of instant gratification, it’s all too easy to forget that taking your time creating beauty and the feel of a home is time consuming but time very well spent.

  25. I love your illustrations and suggestions on making a home beautiful even on a budget. We recently painted our kitchen and I wanted to start off with a clean palette. I made open shelves out of old barn wood which I am now using to display my collection of Ironstone pitchers. Your tip on grouping like objects together really does make a great visual impact for any room and certainly made one in my kitchen. However, I would suggest limiting collections so they don’t compete against each other or look too busy.

    I also want to compliment you on our your recent posts. There is such a renewed, fresh feeling to your blog and I am so happy you really listened to your readers suggestions and ideas in going forward.

  26. One thing you said recently really stuck with me. You mentioned in passing that you’ve always been willing to do the work to redecorate and tackle DIY projects.

    That was it in a nutshell for me. For whatever reason, be it fear, laziness, procrastination, or lack of money, I have not always been willing to do the hard work of tackling and finishing a project.

    Also, seeing how your home has progressed to where it is today, has been an encouragement me to just do what I can right now. I tend to wait until I can do something perfectly, and so nothing gets done.

  27. Wow. This really resonates! I love how you’ve broken down the essence of capturing a high end look. You should consider a book about the evolution of your house (and heart) with the focus being on replication and substitution on a budget. (Maybe you could partner with other bloggers who have different styles of houses, like the Nester or Ashley at Handmade home, with their more Pinerest Modern Style and maybe somebody who does mid century mod like Knack studios and Danielle at Finding Silver a Pennies who does traditional British. Could be super cool!) Just Say’n.

    This is what I try to teach my design clients. It’s powerful stuff, once they wrap their brains around it, and then start to recognize where their own taste lies.

    Killer post. You just keep knocking it out of the park.
    The Other Marian

  28. I am really starting to resonate with the fact that you can love the home your in even if its not that dream home you dream about at night. You can make what ever home you live in yours. I love that quote at the end and it really says it all

    Thanks for sharing & reminding

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Decor
    xx

  29. Marian,
    Inside and out, you are a beautiful person. Over the years, I have enjoyed watching you grow, learning more about your creative process, and even seeing how you overcame difficult challenges. Your home is beautiful too. Thank you for being you.

    Love,
    Olivia <3

  30. Talk about move mountains! You are such an honest person and so humble. You have such amazing talent to reach into your heart and put it on paper, every day I might add!

  31. I started diy when I was a newlywed with no money so I feel very kindred Marian. Like you I’ve been able to purchase a nice piece here and there and mix those pieces with my projects l guess if you just look at pictures you would think everything in your home is a big ticket item because its so beautiful. But I dont know how they missed the fact that your home is a mix of both diy with a few splurges in there.

  32. Marian- thanks, once again, for a great post! My husband’s position was terminated by the corporation he’d worked for all his adult life (23 years). He worked piecemeal for the next four years, and we subsisted on my (very low) private school paycheck. One day, we came home, checked the mail, and found that 5 $100 bills had made it through the mail, inside a sweet, anonymous note! Before my husband found his current job, we were bringing home food from a local church food pantry every week, because we didn’t have enough money to cover all our expenses plus food. His current job moved us to a small apartment with no yard, a 13-hour drive from our beloved 4-bedroom, 2-car garage, 2-storage shed, large front-and-back fenced yard, which is still in foreclosure proceedings after two years. God blessed us with this to: give my husband time to go back to school on the GI Bill; divest ourselves of things we weren’t using/didn’t need; find out who our real friends were; humble us; bring us closer to each other and to Him. God kept us going in the path He laid for us, so that we were ready and able to accept this latest gift with gratitude, instead of digging in and refusing to consider moving from our beloved corner of the world. I have been able to create some cool pieces from cheap, used items, “oops” paint, and elbow grease. I’ve shopped the $1 bins at Michael’s, Target, and other chains. I’ve followed many of the recommendations above. I’ve been willing to wait. Having a home you “love”, or like, is first about attitude. Everything else is the frosting on the cake.

    1. Bless you, Darlin’! Your story is one that has touched so many hearts and families in America this past decade. Yes, we quickly DO find out what is and is not important, and who are real friends truly are. Thank you for writing today. Bet I’m not the only one to draw strength from your courage! Hugs ~ xo

  33. Isn’t it the point of your blog that you can do things on a budget and without professional training, and isn’t your blog the perfect example of it, even if it looks professional – it is the fruit of all your labor and all your leaning and talent that came from trial and error. Perhaps it is fear that has kept some readers from seeing and hearing that! I understand that though, because I do have put off trying a lot of these things, from painting to upholstering because of my fear and my telling myself that I don’t have your tenacity and your talent. But, I own that and I realize that fear is keeping me from trying and this is the very reason I don’t have your talent or tenacity because I am keeping myself from it by not doing anything at all; but I don’t blame you, Marian, because really I know it is just me! You do inspire me so much and because of where you have come from and where you are I know it can be done! And even I can do it…when I finally decide to get started, embracing the inevitable learning curve and mistakes that will no doubt come before the inevitable good that will also come if I persevere – you are still my favorite decor blog after all these years!! Sometimes people can’t see that it is their own fear that are holding them back and not that it takes all the talent or money to have a gorgeous home like yours!

  34. Forgot to mention that God also used these hard times to allow us to gift others with the things we had to “unload”! We were able to give away many expensive, as well as inexpensive, items. God is good!

  35. Marian, I have been doing exactly what you do for years and like many I love the hunt and the redo to replace something I’ve lived with for years. About the only things I bought new was a bedroom set when I got married 45 years ago and my current couch. All else I have gotten from family, at garage sales or estate sales (and now Craig’s List) or my husband and I have made it — including my headboard, cabinets, farm table, benches, shelves, quilt rack. We love doing our home this way and after 45 years I’m getting it just like I hoped someday it would be. I’m sure we have saved thousands of dollars over the years. I still like seeing something I’d “like to do” and doing it. This weekend we are planking the walls in our guest room. You are inspiring and I so enjoy your ideas, tweeking them so they fit me and my house. Love your blog.
    An inspired follower,
    Chris

  36. Great post! Your philosophy rings so true and keeps me coming back for more inspiration every day.
    I’m an old hand at DIY and scavenging for bargains. My favorite find is a hand made sideboard purchased for $1.00 at a barn sale when I was in high school in the ’70’s. I still love it! Except for a store bought sofa and 2 chairs I try to keep furniture purchases vintage and below $40.00. It’s a game I play with myself and I’ve been winning for over 40 years. Heading for retirement the budget is still low but my house is full of well made furniture and accessories that were cheap or free. It can’t be about instant gratification, it takes a little time. I don’t like to spend a HUGE amount of time on decorating though…things are nice, nice things are nicer but I don’t want to give up too much of my allotted days on earth to things, nice or not.

  37. Marian, I loved this post! It is such a great reminder of how we can get creative with what we have and shop smart! I have friends who come over to my house and are always amazed with how it is always changing and they think I must have spent a lot of money to decorate our (rented) home. I’m always reminding them that i shop at flea markets and goodwill, buy fabric on clearance, and spend a lot of time working on DIY projects to make this house feel like home.

  38. i have so many pieces in my home that were so inexpensive. In my area estate auctions are popular. Everything gets sold and sometimes at the end of the auction that dirty dining room table that just went for $30 just needs some good old fashioned elbow grease. Many people cannot see through the dirt. Also, paint is a great way to make mismatched pieces look cohesive. I cannot sew anything more than a straight line and don’t do upholstery either. A few years back a woman I know was starting an upholstery business and I asked if I could help in anyway to get some work done for myself. She agreed and I went in and pulled staples and anything else to help. There’s always something you can do to help keep costs down. Also, take a class on furniture refinishing or sewing. Classes are out there and they are fun too. There’s no better feeling than transforming that diamond in the rough, no matter what your budget is. Thanks Marian for all your great tips.

  39. Thank you so much for sharing this post and the comments and replies are amazing. Your writing is so clear and concise and cuts right to the heart of how many women feel. Being in my 20s, I’ve been learning how to stretch a shoe string budget, however, thanks to many creative bloggers like yourself, I’ve been able to tackle projects like recovering a sofa. The first one I did, not so great, but the second one, hey it was better. It’s all about what you make of your situation and not being afraid to TRY! I love your attitude and approach to this subject… It’s all a process that takes time, energy and persistence!

  40. Please, please remember – sell what you don’t like or love and apply that money to something you want. I just sold a table I have had for 30 years yesterday. Why? Because it won’t fit into the space we just moved to and I need a settee or loveseat. Sold dishes on eBay this morning. Same thing . . . I won’t use them anymore. Gone! To someone who will enjoy them and it gave me another $25 towards that piece I hope to find at a bargain price.

    If there is truly a will, there’s a way.

  41. Due to prior divorces and resulting bankruptcies, my husband and I started over (with 3 rambunctious little boys ages 5, 6 and 7) in an old, single-wide mobile home 14 years ago. It was so gross I bleached every single surface (even closet rods) before moving in. It had dark brown cabinets and pickled-looking wall paneling. It was awful! However, when I was complaining about it to a godly sister one day, she reminded me that until I was thankful for what God had given me and made the most of it, I couldn’t expect anything better. Well, that lit a fire under my tail and I got busy! I painted the paneling a beautiful, soothing sage green, replaced the carpet with an inexpensive Home Depot brand, added on-sale curtains from Target, hit yard sales for accessories to group together, organized like crazy using vertical space as much as possible, and dug up perennials from family and friends to plant in a flower garden. Folks were always shocked when they walked through the front door and saw the inside! We poured very little money, but a lot of love and gratitude into that place.
    A couple of years later, God blessed my husband with a transfer back to my home state, a house we shouldn’t have qualified for – but did – and a job where he could be home with us every night. We love our home now, but look back so fondly on our little trailer and the times we spent there.
    Thanks for sharing your story. It really touched my heart and caused me to look back at how far God has brought us and all He has taught us in each step. Many blessings to you for your transparency.

  42. WOW, love this post and the comments !!!!!! Here is my story…..I am 59 years young, my whole life has been a budget and still is to some degree. Ladies, stop thinking you can’t ! Because YOU CAN !!!! and it will be better when you do !! YOU CAN LEARN to sew, paint, etc !!! NEVER say NEVER!!!!! My German mother learned to sew, knit and crochet at age 5 !!!! Not kidding !!! When my husband and I first married, we were on a tight budget….I went to town once a week (to save gas), took a calculator to the store……never went out to eat until our kids were teenagers and to this day once or twice a week is it !! Besides home cooked is much better !!! Today we have only a flip phone, no dishwasher, no ice maker, I purchased at yard sales etc. and doesn’t bother me one bit. When newlyweds I couldn’t afford anything for my walls, so I learned how to cross stitch and progressed to making antique looking samplers that still grace my walls, I also makes hand hook wool rugs, made my own curtains etc…..If you want it bad enough, you will learn and your home and life will be richer (in more ways than one) than you can imagine ! Today, we live on a 100 acre farm and the home we had built by the Amish has…..all paid for many years ago !!!! I thank my European heritage for teaching me to work hard……

  43. Marian, I love your post today! I am retired now and on a smaller fixed budget. I am having the time of my life shopping Garage and Estate Sales. I worked 6 days a week and never had time to really decorate my house. I am selling the pieces that I don’t really love and picking up old treasures for little or nothing to paint and restore. I started out painting and distressing old sewing machine drawers and worked my way up to bigger pieces. I am only keeping the things I really love and selling the other makeovers for some extra cash to go into my “vacation savings jar”. Thanks for all the inspiration!

  44. Wonderful post…..you got my creative juices flowing!! Thanks for the inspiration……love that you took all the comments and are showing or reminding us again how you did it!! Keep up the good work….loving your blog again!

  45. Marian, I think if you read in between the lines your readers may be asking for a new Miss Mustard Seed product line….Miss Mustard Seed Furniture Stencils. Great post!

  46. Bravo on a wonderful post! I was “dumped” at the age of 50 after being the family’s main support for years. All on my own in a city of 1,000,000. I knew no one. I was hurt/angry, but I focused on what I wanted most: A home of my own that I found beautiful. I worked all week at my regular job, weekends at a 2nd job, and typed for people at night. I paid an extra interest payment monthly on the home I had bought for myself (I had received no financial settlement of any kind). I dis-covered flea-market “lay-away” and it was seldom that I wasn’t making payments on some antique I found beautiful. I found a source for well-mended damaged Persian carpets on eBay & tore out the wall-to-wall carpet to expose original hardwood. I found an incredible upholsterer and drapery maker, both in parts of town I would never visit alone after dark. Slowly, I put together what I had been dreaming about. I retired at 61 free of debt (I’m now 81). Now where I live everyone thinks I’m rich because of how my house is done up. How I laugh. I know better!

  47. I have a friend who has the God-given talents like Marion does. When we were in college and had no money, she had the knack of making her apartment look like a home. When she bought her first small house, she would find a wallpaper border at the discount store and a can of mismatched paint and bring the room together. I would try to do the same thing, but the things I bought never seemed to come together right. It was only after talking to her years later that I realized her husband made quite a bit more money than mine did (we were both stay-at-home moms). That’s when I realized that even though she was very frugal, she still had more money than I did to spend on her home. Combine that with her decorating talents, well, it made me feel better that I couldn’t seem to accomplish what she did.

    My house now is more decorated than any house I’ve lived in partly because I bought a smaller house, but mostly because I have a full time job. I can afford to buy things now. I found out that my talent lies in being an accountant which has provided a nice income (mostly spent on helping 3 kids with college). I still don’t have natural decorating talent, but Marion’s blog has really provided inspiration.

  48. Marian, this post was great! It truly does feel like a breath of fresh air has passed through the rooms ever since you asked “The Question(s)” a few weeks ago. It seems as if people are more willing to share their hopes AND fears ~ I just hope you don’t take the latter personally. Your purpose is to help us, and you do it with panache!
    I live in a large city and wanted to share a financial idea: the way my neighbors have created our very own “Swap Shop.” We set up a Facebook Private Group (you have to be invited to join by a member; it’s easy and safe), gave it a name and decided to keep it within our ZIP code. Anyone can list any item she has available to Sell or Trade or ask for an item she needs (and we keep our prices really low for each other). Example: “48” round glass table topper, $10, p/u my garage by Sat. or it goes to Goodwill!” or “LTB (Looking to Buy) small color TV for son’s dorm room.”
    The exchange began with gently used clothing (nice shoes that were worn once and too tight for owner, say) but soon went on to include furniture. We eventually separated the two into “Apparel” and “Home Goods”.
    It’s been such fun and so successful! Some women sell to make extra cash, but it truly has turned into more of an, “I don’t need this; can I help out a sister?” kind of thing. Often, things are free, for Trade, or $5-$10. Armoires, for some reason, are practically given away.
    Maybe an idea for other women … if not your neighborhood, maybe you could do it through church, or schools, anywhere that is close enough in location for easy transfer.
    “Where there’s a Will, There’s a Way”
    P.S. Lots of us are MMS fans!

  49. “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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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

  54. 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!

  55. 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!!!

  56. 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

  57. 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!!!

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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!

  62. 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!

  63. 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!!

  64. 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. ♥

  65. 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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