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

Marian ParsonsDecorating, Popular, Secret Weapons, Tips and Tricks

…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.

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

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