14 Ways to Redecorate for Free

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Sometimes our homes make us feel tired. As in:

  • Tired of rooms that have looked the same since 2007.
  • Tired of kid- or pet-raddled furniture.
  • Tired of wending our way through crowded spaces (let alone trying to clean them).
  • Tired of dark paint, insufficient lighting, cluttered shelves or anything else that keeps us from loving where we live.

Maybe you can’t afford to redecorate. But you don’t have to spend a dime to get a fresh, new look. Just a few simple tactics can provide the change-up you need, and summer is the perfect time to do it: When it’s just too hot and/or humid to enjoy being outdoors, why not focus on creating a more comfortable, welcoming interior?

Besides, we tend to have more energy with the longer, lighter days. The kids are out of school and can help, at least with the decluttering. (Hint: Tell them you’ll share the proceeds of a garage sale afterward.)

It’ll be fun to host friends and family in your newly redecorated digs – and you’ll enjoy living there a lot more yourself.

“Our homes should be our sanctuary, our safe space,” says Andrea Brundage, of Simple Organized Solutions.

With sites like Pinterest and HGTV, there’s plenty of inspiration to be found. But here are some tips from the pros to get you started.

A change will do you good

1. Use what you already have. That small table that no one notices in the living room would look great in the entryway, especially if it held a framed family picture or a vase of flowers from your garden. Jennifer Mangum of Redecorate Today suggests moving a comfy chair from the family room to a bedroom corner to create a “private reading nook.”

“With the freed-up space in your family room, you could add a small table and chairs for a game/card area,” Mangum says. “Look around your home and see how you can switch things.”

Which brings up an important point:

2. Embrace change. Maybe you once loved elaborate curtains, textured paint treatments, tons of pillows, shelves full of knickknacks. It’s OK to want something different. Don’t be afraid to tear up the wall-to-wall carpeting or tear down a wallpaper border. “Often we get so used to our spaces being a particular way it’s hard to see the many possibilities that actually exist,” says interior designer Baiyina Hughley.

3. Declutter, declutter, declutter. How many tables does one room need, anyway? Maybe you’re sick of dusting all those vases and figurines. Perhaps one sofa is enough, since no one ever uses the matching loveseat. Removing a few items (or a lot of them) makes a room feel larger, and paring down the visual bombardment can make a space seem more peaceful.

Note: Since your zeal to declutter could get the better of you, store these items in the garage for a week. If you still feel you can live without them, donate them and take a tax write-off. You could also …

4. Trade your décor. Personal finance author Ellie Kay suggests organizing a neighborhood “swap meet” with the proviso that no money will change hands. “It will be up to the individuals to decide if they want to swap that couch for a big-screen TV or not,” she says.

Unswapped items can be donated to a local charity (look for one that will pick up at your site). You can also do décor swaps with close friends only, via e-mailed photos.

A clean, well-lighted place

5. Change the way you display. Décor is where you find it. Make groups of interesting items: old toys, say, or three large shells you found while beachcombing. Frame unusual items, suggests Jessica Anderson of the BrightNest blog: maps, scarves or whatever you have handy. Make a basket or clear glass bowl interesting by changing out its contents regularly: a branch of cherry blossoms, fresh fruits or vegetables from your garden, pine cones, holiday ornaments.

6. Amp up the lighting. Either bring in lamps from other rooms or move the fixtures around in their current rooms. Different lighting can create a much warmer effect. Professional organizer Tanya Allason suggests switching lampshades from fixture to fixture, too.

7. Clean your windows. You can also improve the light in a room by removing dust and grime from windowpanes. It really does make a difference.

8. Slipcover your furniture. Got some pins and a fabric remnant or a really pretty sheet? That’s all you need, according to this eHow article, “How to Make No-Sew Slipcovers.”

9. Change colors. Whether it’s a single wall or all four of them, there’s no simpler way to change the look of a room than to paint it. You might not have to pay for paint, either: Look for leftover paint on the Freecycle Network, or see the Earth 911 website.

A few more suggestions

10. Use your best. Grandma’s china or silver should be seen, not locked away. Antique lace is a beautiful accent on furniture or tables. A colorful vintage quilt can be hung on a wall like the folk art that it is. “It’s incredibly liberating to use fewer but better-quality items,” Hughley says.

11. Shop for free. The Freecycle Network is an obvious choice, especially since givers tend to post photos of their items. Craigslist has a “free” section. Laura Harders, who blogs at Beltway Bargain Mom, suggests asking for extra items for free when shopping garage sales – or just wait until the end of the day and offer to take unsold items: “I have gotten seasonal décor items for free this way.”

12. Shop at curb mart. Often people put things out with “free” signs in the hopes that they won’t have to take those items to the dump. I’d be wary of bedbugs and/or fleas in upholstered furniture, but I’ve happily rescued things like plain wooden chairs and a floor lamp. Last weekend my partner and I saw two women hauling a bookcase to the end of their driveway; they hadn’t even set it down before he was out of the car and offering to take it.

13. Help someone out. Ask family and friends if they’re looking to divest of any furniture or décor. You’re doing that person a favor and you get something for free. Just make sure you ask this of people whose tastes you share, lest you end up with something so ugly you wind up leaving it at your own curbside.

14. Protect the result. Once you’ve got your place the way you want it, work to keep it that way. Train yourself (and anyone else who lives there) not to leave shoes on the family room floor or to turn the kitchen table into a storage area. Resist the impulse to fill up newly cleared areas with new things.

Seriously: “Stuff creep” is insidious. My partner’s mom has a one-in, two-out rule: Anytime she wants to bring home a new item, she gets rid of two things she already owns. This helps her focus on that new whatever-it-is: Does she want it badly enough to get rid of two other things?

This isn’t at all punitive. It just forces you to ask a single, important question: Will what I’m looking at make a real difference in my life, or will it end up as just more clutter?

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  • Y2KJillian

    If you can stick with one in, one out, you’re doing better than fine–assuming you have thoroughly de-cluttered or dejunked first. OR, every few months, you have to make a bigger sweep through–like we’re doing to our garage today. Amazing how setting things here and there over time creates a heap! Much of it comes with “Why on EARTH did we keep that? Quick! Put it on the corner with the free sign!” Luckily we have a busy corner and almost everything disappears sooner or later. What doesn’t, goes to the goodwill. Actual garbage we can take to the dumpster where my husband used to work. Lucky us!
    Jillian

  • Kerry Aggen

    Despite being a relatively small town in Wyoming (the US state with the smallest population), there is a rather good consignment shop here… I’ve taken just about everything I’ve “downsized” there (clothes, furniture, kitchen items, etc.), and have made a bit of money from those items selling! They also have a policy that anything remaining unsold after a certain amount of time gets donated to the Indian Reservation just over the border in Montana, so I know that anything usable will be put to good use. I love win-win, or in this case, win-win-win!!!