If you’re like me, you want to have a home that welcomes family members and guests alike in a comfortable, beautiful way, but you might not have room in your family budget to afford all new furniture and extensive, blow-the-walls out renovations. While financial limits can be frustrating, I’m here to tell you that you can create a home you love without spending a ton of money.
To create a home you love without spending a fortune, start with these nine steps:
- One Room at a Time.
- Eliminate clutter.
- Define how you and your family use the space.
- Gather Inspiration.
- Shop your home.
- Shamelessly ask for hand-me-downs.
- Shop Secondhand First.
- Don’t be afraid to put in some sweat equity.
- Move things around until you find your room’s style sweet spot.
This formula, even if it doesn’t give you the house of your dreams initially, will help you define and create designed, intentional spaces in your home that suit your family’s needs and reflect your stylistic flair.
Don’t believe me? Give it a try and see.
Step One: Focus on One Room at a Time, Start to Finish
OK, that’s not really a step; it’s more of a rule. But if you tend to hop from project to project like some sort of HGTV bunny, you’ll soon find yourself living in a home where there is no room to rest, because every room is in some state of disrepair. I am honestly the Queen of This Tendency, so I’m not holding myself up here as a role model. More of a cautionary tale.
Start a room.
Work the process in the room.
Finish the room and celebrate!!!
Pause for a bit before tackling your next room.
Step Two: Eliminate Clutter
True confession: I’m a bit of a hoarder. I keep stuff because:
- I’m sentimental
- I don’t like to throw things away that still have value
- I don’t like to get rid of stuff I may potentially need again one day.
This mindset often manifests itself in piles of random objects stacked on every horizontal surface of my home.
- I can’t get rid of this magazine without tearing out every recipe or home decor idea that caught my eye.
- That rug/dish/candlestick/ceramic walrus belonged to my grandmother! I can’t get rid of that!
- Whenever Chevron fabric comes back in style, I will be ready; I can’t possibly donate this fabric that’s sat in my stash for five years!
I’d love to tell you that I don’t have these internal arguments with myself, but I absolutely do.
A year or so ago, I read How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana White. If running a tidy, well-organized home doesn’t come naturally to you (it doesn’t to me), read this book or listen to the audiobook version. It’s very helpful.
One of my big takeaways was that the amount of stuff I have needs to fit into the space available in my home. And when I say “fit into the space”, I don’t mean that you can still squeeze through a tiny path in your living room or there’s one inch left of unoccupied real estate on your kitchen counter. I mean the space that’s available to put everything away.
I’ve come to realize that it’s worth the mental breathing room in my life to throw away, sell or donate anything that doesn’t fit well in my home.
Will I have to buy something again? Maybe. But living in a house so crammed full of just-in-case-I-need-it stuff that you can barely move sideways or you’re afraid that shelves will come toppling down on you is not really living.
It’s more like managing a really sad warehouse store.
OK I went out of my way to make a point, but here are a few questions to ask when going through the painful but freeing process of purging excess belongings:
- When did I last use this?
- Do I really need it?
- Could I borrow it from a friend if I no longer have one of my own?
- If we had to move tomorrow, would I want to take it with me?
- Am I keeping this just because I feel bad about getting rid of it?
Clearing out the clutter is harder for some people than others. If it’s hard for you, give yourself a lot of grace. If you declutter and you still have too much stuff, try again with a trusted friend.
Sometimes it helps to have a fresh set of eyes and someone who loves you and is willing to talk through some hard choices with you. While there have been a few times that I’ve regretted getting rid of somethings, they have been few and far between.
Most of the time, the freedom and clarity of vision you get from whittling down to your most useful and precious possessions outweighs any momentary twinges of regret.
Before we leave the clutter subject, one more question to ask yourself is: Does this item’s purpose make sense in this room?
For instance, our laundry room doubles as our pantry, so I keep my cookbooks in there too. In most laundry rooms, cookbooks wouldn’t make sense. But because I find myself in the laundry room/pantry hunting down ingredients on a daily basis, a cookbook is not out of place.
On the other hand, we don’t keep our ironing board in our laundry room. Again, that might seem odd, but I do a lot of sewing and the ironing board stays with my sewing machine, where it sees the most use. We don’t need two ironing boards; we just come to the workroom to iron our clothes.
Make your space work for you, not the other way around.
Step Three: Define How You and Your Family Use the Space
When getting ready to make some design changes to a room, first take a notebook or your phone and go stand in that room. While you’re in there, write down every job you do in that space, from obvious to not-so-obvious. If it’s a kitchen, for example, you may write down:
- Wash dishes
- Prepare meals
Those are obvious, right? But maybe you also do things like:
- Pay Bills
- Watch TV
- Help Kids with Homework
Depending on the size and location of your kitchen, it can take on many different roles in the life of your family. Do your best to write down all of the ways your kitchen functions.
Two other questions to ask when thinking through your usage of a room are:
- What does this kitchen do well?
- What are some pain points/ways it could function better?
For example, the refrigerator in our kitchen is a side-by-side door model, which is unfortunate because of our cabinetry layout. The refrigerator door cannot fully open without hitting the cabinets, and a drawer and a door near our refrigerator are completely unusable because you can’t open them with the refrigerator in its current location.
Sometimes design flaws like this are out of your budget to tackle, but it’s still good to note them because you send a little message to your brain that say Maybe when money’s not so tight we can reconfigure our refrigerator/cabinet layout.
Just making a note of this pain point lights up a thought process somewhere in the dim recess of our brain that may lead to an AHA! Moment on down the road.
Get input from your family members or housemates as well. They may touch on something you hadn’t noticed or forgot to write down.
Step Four: Gather Inspiration
This step is where you dream. Hello, Pinterest!
For the sake of time, I’ll assume you already have a Pinterest account. Create a new board with your room of choice in mind, and pin like a madwoman.
Be sure to note on your pin what you like specifically: maybe it’s the paint color, or the style of the chair, or the placement of artwork, or the light fixture. Otherwise you may look back over your pins and have a hard time figuring out why some of them are there in the first place!
Don’t let budget constraints slow you down at this step; you’re trying to narrow down what your style is and what design elements appeal to you visually. This doesn’t mean you have to buy everything you’re drawn to.
As you pin, take advantage of the “More Like This” function. When you select a pin, Pinterest will give you a host of similar pins to choose from under the pin you’ve selected. You can go down that rabbit hole as far as you want to really focus on an aspect of the room.
It’s great fun, believe me.
Other places to search for inspiration are:
- Houzz.com (you can pin photos you like to your Pinterest board)
- Decor Magazines like HGTV, Southern Living, Traditional Home, House Beautiful (use your phone to snap pictures of ideas you love and add them to your Pinterest board).
- Instagram (search hashtags like laundry room, laundry room makeover, etc.) You can pin those images to Pinterest.
Once you’ve gathered enough images, search for common themes in your pins:
- What wall color are you drawn to?
- Are your images filled with lots of pattern and color or are they more neutral and monochromatic?
- What word comes to mind when you look at the pictures: Playful? Serene? Casual? Formal? Minimalist? Exuberant?
Write down your findings. This process helps you to have a starting point.
Another way to make sure your final result is harmonious is to find a piece of fabric or artwork that reflects the mood you want to create in that room and then make sure that every color you put in that room is drawn from the artwork or fabric.
This gives you a framework that will help if you get overwhelmed with decisions or find yourself going in multiple directions and need a guiding hand.
Step Five: Shop Your Home
Now that you have a clear design direction, walk through your home and see if there is anything you’re not using (or not using well) in its current location that would work in your soon-to-be-renovated space.
When I was updating our laundry room, I found some fabric that would work well as a window treatment and a cabinet skirt. I also found some scrap wood that I used to build a floating shelf, as well as some other little decor elements that I could use like baskets and faux plants.
You will be surprised at what all you can find in your home that just needs a little love or a new place to shine. Make this part a game and challenge yourself to re-purpose as much from your home as possible before spending any money.
If you’re like me, you will have to do this multiple times. I would gather a bunch of potential items, place them in the room and then stand back and think.
Be fearless in moving things around. Take no notice of doubtful family members/ housemates. Enjoy this part of the process.
Maybe you have some paint that would work for the walls? Maybe you have a neglected piece of furniture that can be transformed? Maybe now is the time to use up some of your fabric stash?
You will find two things to be true as you step out and take risks:
- you get better at making the right choices and
- your creativity will increase as it is used. You’ll have some mental roadblocks, but you will overcome them. Your brain delights in figuring this stuff out.
Step Six: Shamelessly request hand-me-downs.
I know that Social Media is a double-edged sword, but this next step gives your Facebook or Instagram usage some time in the sunny spotlight. Take a picture of what you’re looking for and ask if anyone has one (old desk, vintage bed sheets, leftover wall paint in white, coffee table, whatever) that they would be willing to give you for free at a low cost.
If you don’t have money to spend, offer to run errands for them or clean their house or babysit. I love sharing my progress as I renovate a room on social media because it becomes a team effort.
People share their ideas and opinions and it’s super inspiring. (If someone is mean to you about your efforts, just keep scrolling. Don’t let one person’s grumpiness negate all of the other friends who are cheering you on!)
If what a friend offers is not what you had in mind, just politely reply, “No thanks.” Your friends’ or family’s cast-offs might not fit the bill, but what a delightful surprise if they do!
When people know that you are working on a project and trying to keep expenditures to a minimum, they are more likely to offer you something than if they don’t know.
So share your progress and roadblocks with your friends and see what may come of it. You never know!
Step Seven: Shop Second Hand before Purchasing new items.
There are so many bargains out there if you are willing to look around. Don’t rush this step! Here are some great places to scout:
- Facebook Marketplace
- Facebook Local Online Buy/Sell/Trade Groups
- Yard Sales
- Thrift Stores
- Consignment Stores
- Estate Sales
Buying second hand is better for the environment, saves money, and allows you to buy a better quality piece of furniture than you would if you were making all new purchases. If you’re buying furniture, you will want to carefully inspect your items to make sure they work properly and are not stained or soiled beyond saving.
You will soon be able to recognize a true diamond in the rough as you weed out their yuckier counterparts, and over time, you will be able to create a home with unique pieces that are meaningful to you. This is well worth the effort.
Think of the sustainability impact we could all have if we just shopped secondhand first!
Step Eight: Don’t Be Afraid to Put in Some Sweat Equity
Most people have either 1) more time than money or 2) more money than time. I fall into that first category, and if you’re reading this, probably you do too. Maybe it’s not a LOT more time than money, but even so, that means that you are going to want to learn how to DIY some projects to keep them in your budget.
I’ve had plenty of DIY successes and failures over the years, and here’s what I’ve learned: every time I try a new project, I always learn something. Whether it’s a huge flameout or a massive win, you will always learn something.
Maybe you learn: I don’t want to electrocute myself. I will hire an electrician when it comes to wiring next time.
Or maybe you learn: I really love building things, and it’s not nearly as hard as I thought it would be! Hooray!
Be fearless in your DIY projects, but don’t be stupid.
If you’re not sure where a project falls on the fearless to stupid scale, call a friend who is farther along in her DIY know how and ask her opinion: Should I try this? Or am I setting myself up for frustration and additional repair expense?
Ask a few friends and then decide what you will try based on the information you’ve gathered.
Whenever possible, I encourage you to try to DIY. You would be surprised at the amount of projects a homeowner can finish on their own or with a little bit of oversight from a handier friend. You save money and your project will just mean more because it’s something you did yourself.
But there is definitely a time and place for calling in a professional, and it’s good to know when that is.
Don’t be afraid to put in sweat equity, don’t be afraid to ask for advice, and don’t be afraid to outsource work that is necessary but over your head.
Step Nine: Move Things Around Until You Find Your Room’s Style Sweet Spot
Step Nine goes hand in hand with Step Five: Shop Your Home. Here’s what I like to do: Start with clean, bare horizontal and vertical surfaces.
At this point, your window treatments are up, all of your furnishing are in, any shelves or workspaces have been installed.
Now it’s time to dress it up. This step can be very intimidating, but remember our theme of fearless DIY? We also fearlessly decorate.
Gather your decor elements just outside the room.
Place them as it feels right and then snap a picture. I don’t know why, but sometimes seeing the picture gives you a better feel for what needs to change than just looking at the actual objects.
Move stuff around, take some pictures and repeat as necessary. You can ask advice from friends, but often you get as many differing opinions as you have friends, so sometimes advice results in confusion instead of clarity. Just keep messing with it.
Go back to your Pinterest board and notice how they arrange shelves, place artwork, use lighting. You can imitate what is pleasing to the eye: you won’t have the exact same stack of books or little brass figurines, but you can pay attention to the size and scale of items individually and as a group and use that wisdom to style your own.
Learn from the pros (here’s one of my faves: Courtney at Golden Boys and Me) who are always posting their beautiful homes. If you copy their style enough, you will soon find the confidence to step out with your own unique look.
Everyone is different. That’s part of the beauty!
Those of us living on a super tight budget often think we are simply stuck with what we have: a shabby, depressing little home.
All we can think to do is focus on what we hate about our homes. Don’t give up on making your home a welcoming, cheerful place, even if everything about it isn’t exactly as you hoped it would be. Life’s like that, and you’d be amazed at the changes you can make if you set your mind to it.
Don’t let your (home)life be all about the negatives. Look for ways to celebrate your home, and transform it into a place that is a respite and a haven for you and your guests.
Your house is not a showroom; the beauty of it can come from wall paint and fluffy pillows, but a home that is too precious and beautiful to be used for hospitality and invitation is not really a home at all.
Do what you can with what you have; be intentional in your purchases, and learn from others to really make your home into the place that is welcoming and inviting to all who enter.
It really is possible, even on a teeny tiny budget.