Congratulations on securing your own space! However, the current appearance doesn’t quite reflect your personal touch, given the white walls and beige carpet left by the landlord. Moreover, the challenges of a steep cost of living (including inflation, hefty rent, car payments, and student loans) make it challenging to allocate funds for customizing your fresh abode.
Or Maybe You Can
My daughter has worked from home for more than a decade. A chronic illness plus the insane daytime temperatures in Phoenix keep her indoors a lot more than she’d like. Sick of looking at the same old walls, she decided to do something about it.
Pretty Simple, Too
All she did was rearrange the living room furniture and bring in an extra lamp from elsewhere in the house. The effect? A brighter, new-seeming room, without spending a cent. I called it “The $0 Makeover.” The shifted-around couch and chairs made it simpler to move about the room; the new grouping also made it easier to have a conversation when she had friends over. Since the living room is on the north side of the structure, it tends to be dark; the “new” lamp brightened the room during the day and made it easier to read at night. If you’re in the market for change but can’t afford a major remodel, try these free tactics.
Move Some Stuff Around
As indicated above, minimal effort can have a significant impact. Try it.
Open a Can of Paint
That is if your landlord’s OK with it. A few hours’ worth of masking, rolling, and brushing will yield a new space. Even doing just one wall can seriously change the look of a room. Check Freecycle, OfferUp, or Buy Nothing groups in your area to see if anyone has any paint they want to rehome. Or maybe your friends have some leftover paint – put it out in the universe!
Pro Paint Tips
- You can blend different colors to create custom hues, as long as you don’t mix flat paints or oils with semi-gloss.
- The paint dries darker than what you see in front of you.
- If you run out of time or your painting gets interrupted, put the brush or roller in a plastic bag in the freezer. That saves you the hassle of washing and drying.
Add Color in Some Other Way
So your landlord nixes the paint job. Oh well. Look for other ways to add brightness. Have you got any boldly colored scarves? Drape one over a piece of living room furniture, or pile them all in a basket. Set your brightest-hued cookware on a kitchen shelf instead of hiding it in a cupboard. If you can bear to part with a graphic novel or comic book, tear out the brightest illustrations and decoupage them onto the top of an end table. Sure, you’ll have to pay for the decoupage solution, but Michael’s often has coupons! Or if you happen to have a bottle of white glue, mix 1½ cups of it with a half-cup of water and DIY your decoupage. That afghan your grandmother crocheted for you from Dorito-orange yarn with a zigzag forest-green accent? Fold it over the back of the couch for a retro look. If a visitor berates you for your lack of taste, tell them the afghan was put there as an ironic statement. Or, if you’re feeling feisty, you can say, “Hey, my grandma made that for me, and I love my grandma. You got a problem with that?”
Re-Invent What You Have
When I lived in Seattle, I used a patio plant stand as a bathroom towel holder. I also set up a tiny chest of drawers (bought for a buck at a yard sale) in the apartment’s entryway and used it for things I needed to deal with quickly (bills to be paid, library books to be returned). What furniture do you have that could use a new job title?
Swap Out the Light
Change out the ceiling fixture globes from room to room. Or move a bedside lamp from the guest bedroom into your bedroom. Take the standing floor lamp from the den and put it in the living room. Watch listings on Buy Nothing/Freecycle/Craigslist for additional lighting options that someone wants to give away. A change in lighting makes rooms look and feel new.
Maybe your cousin is tired of that beanbag piece and would love to try your wingback chair. You can both win here. Or perhaps your bestie wishes aloud that she had a coffee table right when you thought that yours takes up too much space in the living room. Ask if she’d like to swap something or give the table away and notice the new feeling that results in your less-crowded room.
Edit Your Look
Start by taking everything off walls and surfaces. Move things from room to room, making sure that nothing goes back to its original place. Those Funko Pop pieces do pop when displayed along a bathroom shelf. Your hat collection will look great hanging from nails in the entryway or on a section of the living room wall. And so on. Aim to do this several times a year to keep things interesting. New items in new spaces = a new look.
If you’ve got a group of curios on a shelf, break them up; if décor pieces are spread out, group them together. Anything that makes a real statement should be allowed to stand alone; the lack of nearby visual clutter will bring out the item’s unique qualities. And if you have too many accent pieces? Stage a décor trading party with friends. Everybody gets a $0 makeover!
Re-Think Your Furnishings
A professional organizer once told me that homeowners sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that a room “needs” certain things. The result might be a crowded feel or a cluttered ambiance.
That Coffee Table, for Example
Do you ever use it, or did you buy it because you thought you had to? Did you also buy a couch and a loveseat, only to find that they make the room feel squeezed?
Here’s a Simple Fix
Consider each room’s primary function. If there’s anything in the room that doesn’t support that function, move it out. For example, if you find yourself paying bills and doing taxes at the kitchen table, do you need a desk that takes up a lot of space in your bedroom?
Focus On Function
Ever notice how often people hang out in the kitchen, even though the living room is closed? Put some extra seating (maybe that loveseat no one uses anyway?) to make it a cozy place for family and friends to interact. Or if you’re a serious gamer, forget what “design” TV shows or TikToks say a living room must have. Go for what makes you and your housemates/guests comfortable: lots of cushions, the proper lighting, a gaming chair if you can afford it, and, yeah, maybe a little fridge for drinks and snacks so you don’t have to interrupt the game. (Pro tip: I regularly see dorm fridges offered for free through my local Buy Nothing group.)
Have Fun With It
Once, I talked with a guy who filled an old wire bike basket with colorful art cards. The same dude also found a discarded antique medicine cabinet on a New York street; he took out the mirrored pane and used the lovely wooden cabinet to display curiosities. A friend enjoys her old-time Santa figurines so much that she decided to leave them out all year long. Shadow puppets and carved masks, bought during her 50th birthday trip to Bali, are displayed in the living room and kitchen. The stairwell in her home is covered with Harrison Ford movie posters. Her house is just her. And your place should be you – loud enough for visitors to hear it. Has she still got your old teddy bear? Put it in the corner of the couch. Take the faux flowers out of that clear-glass vase your mom gave you and fill it with Legos. Consider a “travel table” (or bookcase shelf) to highlight fun stuff you’ve brought back from trips. You live there – so enjoy it, already.
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Amaka Chukwuma is a freelance content writer with a BA in linguistics. As a result of her insatiable curiosity, she writes in various B2C and B2B niches. Her favorite subject matter, however, is in the financial, health, and technological niches. She has contributed to publications like ButtonwoodTree and FinanceBuzz in the past and currently writes for WealthofGeeks. You can connect with her on Linkedin and Twitter.