10 Tips for Redecorating on a Budget

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There are two kinds of decorating. There's the kind that happens to most of us just a few times in our life, when we move into a new space and get the chance to start from scratch — and then there's the kind that happens when you're already been living in your space for a while, your life has changed and your home starts to feel confining, like a too tight sweater. That's when you know it's time to redecorate or at least shake things up a bit…

But, since that can happen every few years, and most of us don't have the money to throw everything out and start all over again or the time to scour Craigslist, how do you accomplish it without losing your mind or blowing a big wad of cash? Over the break, I redecorated my office. Here's what I learned and a breakdown of how much I spent.

  1. Prioritize: While the first impulse is to toss everything and start over again (this impulse is especially strong when six of your friends have just moved into brand spanking new places), tackle one room at a time. I started with my office (for more about the first pass, see From Dining Room to Home Office: Without Buying Anything).
  2. Make a budget and have a plan. It doesn't have to be exact and it will change. I started at $1000. Painful, but realistic for what I thought I wanted to do.
  3. Decide on your furniture arrangement before you decide to buy — or sell — anything. Most of us are quick to buy and some of us are just as quick to sell or toss. When I started dreaming about my office makeover, I had a long list of things I was considering: a desk (like this one from West Elm), two wing chairs or perhaps a bench (cut down to fit under the windows and upholstered to make a faux window seat), a rug. Big plans, big dreams. Big money. Hmmm. How to trim? That brings us to the next step.
  4. Prioritize the room's activities: In my dream new space, I wanted a comfortable space for a guest to sit and drink a glass of wine while I was in the kitchen preparing food. While that was all well and good, I don't entertain that way very often. My big priority is having a desk I can work at every single day. So, mostly, this room needed to be my office. I figured I could move things around and figure out a comfortable place for a guest or two to sit or which I can set up as a bar when I have a party, etc. Rather that than a comfortable space for a guest that I'd have to squeeze an office into.
  5. Start by shopping in your own home: Once I knew what the function of the room was, making a list for what I needed in the room was easier. Since it was an office, I needed a desk. Since I'd already decided to move the dining room to the living room, that nixed the dining room table which I had been using. Then I remembered the desk I'd been using in my living room. While it may not be ideal, it's workable (and I saved $600 by not having to buying the Parsons Table).
  6. Get to the essence of what you want. Apart from a desk, I needed a chair and storage. Since storage could mean anything from a shelf to a cabinet, it freed me up to consider everything that was in my home. Previously, these storage ottomans had served as both my filing cabinet and my seating. They got moved into the office as did the end tables from the living room. Voila! Plenty of storage meant more items crossed off my shopping list and more money saved.
  7. Think outside the box. When you're looking around your house, get creative. A sofa table can become a desk, spice containers can hold small desk items. Think outside the box when discovering your furniture arrangement too. You can float furniture, layer it, angle it, put it against the wall or back to back.
  8. Remember to keep the things you love: When I was starting this process, I was talking to a friend who was interested to know what I was getting rid of. When I told her, she sorta yelped when I got to the pink chair. Oh, you can't get rid of that, that chair is you: modern and classic and glamorous and organic all in one. She was right — I had to keep it. It fits under the desk perfectly and though it may not be ergonomic, I've been finding it is very comfortable to work in. Once the desk and the chair were in, pulling things from other rooms was easier.
  9. Pare down your shopping list: As I pulled things from other rooms, I crossed things off my shopping list.
  10. Buy only what you love: This is the first rule of decorating. When I finally did go shopping, although a lot of things went into my cart, only a few things stayed in it. I've learned to cull my cart before I get to the checkout counter.
  11. Be prepared to be surprised and trust your instincts: Although I'd only gone to IKEA to buy a rug, I ended up throwing a sheepskin into my cart, something I've always wanted but never bought, and a small striped tray.
  12. One thing changes everything: Have you ever noticed how you can buy one new piece of clothing, a great jacket say, and suddenly it can pull outfits together you were just about to toss? The same thing with decorating. Once I laid down the rug, the rest of the room seemed to fall into place.
  13. Take another look: The mirrored desk and pink chair was very girly and glamorous. I looked in the outbox I'd started in my living room (which is next on the list of rooms I'm redecorating) and pulled accessories from there. The end tables and the ottomans are useful storage and pretty, the red tray was a nice pop of color, the white vase was something I picked up a long time ago and has been sitting in the corner of the living room.
  14. When you focus on what you need, you also get what you wish for: I needed an office, I was wishing for a place where a guest could hang out and talk to me while I was in the kitchen. I got the office and, when I stepped back, I realized I gotten what I wished for too!

Here's the breakdown on the end result:

Gislev Rug from IKEA: $19.99
Barbar Striped Tray from IKEA: $3.99
Rens Sheepskin from IKEA: $24.99
Total: $48.97

Images: Abby Stone