My husband Dave and I got married when we were 19. Yes, I said 1-9 y’all. When we got engaged, I was head-over-heels for that boy and living like a Jane Austen character who had found her match. I quickly realized that, unlike the heroines that I loved, Dave was not a wealthy English Duke. Thinking about it now, I know it is only because of God’s grace that our marriage made it when the fantasy came crashing down. At the time, I was a college student, and he was working a minimum wage job. Our apartment rent took all but $300 of our monthly income. Groceries, gas, utilities all had to come from that $300. Let’s just say we ate at my parents A LOT.
But, one aspect of the fairytale that I could not shake was my desire to have a house of my own to “manage” as Ms. Auste would say. Even in the early days of marriage, my heart longed to create a home. I wanted to cultivate a space that was beautiful, welcoming and reflected us. I learned quickly not to go into the home decor stores. I could not afford anything, and I would leave frustrated that all the pretty things could come home with me. I found creative ways to give our space life without going into debt to do it. These things brought not only decor but life and breath into our home. If you read my January Art Journal With Me post, you know I am all about finding your breath.
Even though our income has increased and we have a little more than $300 to pay the bills, the lessons I learned in those early days have served me well. I could go in the home decor stores now and buy at least a few things (and I do from time to time), but my frugal heart still loves to decorate our home with the free or nearly free. I have done everything on this list not only in the past but also in our current home. These photos are all from the space that I live in now. I did not want to write a “decorate cheap until you have money” post. I learned then because we did not have the money, but I continue now because it works. I hope these tips bring creativity and life into your home, no matter what your budget.
5 Ways to Decorate for Free (or dirt cheap)
1. Utilize nature
Nature can refresh not only your heart and mind but your home as well. I use flowers, feathers, driftwood, and even tree bark to decorate my home. If you do not have a backyard or place to scavenge, try to find walking trails, beaches, or friendly neighbors with pretty yards. I unashamedly keep a pair of garden clippers in my car. My poor husband has had to pull the car over more than once so I could cut weeds and wildflowers out of an overgrown ditch.
2. Display items you already own
You may already have beautiful items in your home that stay put away in cupboards or cabinets that would make lovely decor pieces. We have open shelving in our kitchen, so all my dishes become decor. But even if you do not, pull out some of the things you do not use every day. Turn the silver pitcher into a utensil holder. Hang the hats and bags on the wall. Use the “fancy” dishes to catch trinkets. You will be surprised by what you already have on hand.
3. Clean the garage (or your mother-in-law’s garage)
My absolute, hands-down, favorite piece in our home came from my mother-in-law’s garage. My father-in-law passed away shortly after we were married. He spent most of his adult life working in the marine and fishing industry. They had saved the stern of one of his old boats from many, many years ago. When she sold her house a year ago and cleaned out the garage, there was this beauty. I immediately knew that it would be a show stopper. You never know what someone may be holding onto (even very sentimental items) that would be perfect in your home.
4. Find out trash pickup day
We do not have trash pick up where I live. However, Thursday is trash pickup in the gorgeous, historic waterfront district about 10 minutes from my house. When I think about it, I drive around (admiring all the huge houses I adore but will never live in) and see what is on the curb. A few times, folks moved and left furniture that did not work in their new space or did not fit on the moving truck. The green chair that squeaks in my studio videos was a curbside find. A spray with disinfectant and a quick shampoo later, she now has a new home.
5. Get a $2 of paint (I bet you already have one)
Never underestimate the power of a $2 bottle of craft paint. Y’all already know I paint all the things all the time. But transforming things with paint does not have to mean buying a $50 gallon from the hardware store. One bottle of paint transformed my sons’ bedroom. I can do a separate post on the whole process (leave a comment if you would like that), but it is easier than you think. If you can make a dot or straight line, then you have all the skills you need.
Cultivating a home is about more than the money you spend on fancy furniture. Let’s be real the amount of stress brought into my life by trying to keep the three boys and giant dog from ruining said fancy furniture is not worth it. One of my mantras is my kids are more important than my couch. Their ability to play and romp around their living room is more important than my desire to have a white slipcover.
Having a comfortable, beautiful home does not have to cause stress or break the bank. Skip the home decor store and see how you can be creative. Do not let budget keep you from enjoying your space and “managing” a home Jane Austen style.