I have really had to tighten the (designer) purse strings lately. Less eating out, shopping for black high heels, and filling the Beetle's tank with gas to go driving aimlessly on Sundays. All in the name of bill-paying - sigh! This new cheapskate attitude of mine, while annoying to friends who want to go out for drinks and dinner, does have one nice benefit: I have been learning to love what I have, and see what's around me in a different way. One thing I've always loved is decorating my house (and before that, my apartment)...but that usually came with a price tag. Now that I am cutting back on shopping sprees, I've come up with some ground rules for keeping your home beautiful, even when you have little (or no) cash to plunk down.
1. Clean well and regularly! I know it sounds boring and basic, but nothing makes your home look better than keeping it tidy, organized, and dust/grime free. I like to start by picking everything up that is out of place, clearing one room at a time. Do the "most important" rooms first - that way, if time runs short and you haven't gotten to that spare bedroom, you can close the door and call it a day. Next, cleaning and dusting, and finally, vacuuming. I always start the cleaning phase by completing the task I like least - for me, that's washing and drying the dishes - because that makes everything afterward seem easy.
2. Make everything smell pretty, and create some ambiance while you're at it, with candles. I have a candle in every room of my house! I tend to go for clean, light scents in the spring and summer, and vanilla-y scents in the fall/winter, but that's just my preference. One thing to keep in mind is that a little goes a very long way. Too many scented candles can be overpowering, so balance them with a few unscented ones as well. A great trick is to think outside the box when it comes to candle holders. I've used dollar store plain, straight drinking glasses lined up in a row with white candles inside (looks prettier than it sounds)! Take a look through those boxes in your attic for pretty coasters, glassware, little trays, etc. I employ the same concept with vases - lots of non-traditional things work. Last night, I picked some Lilly of the Valley that I discovered near my house, and used a clear toothpick container for the vase. ;-) Speaking of flowers...
3. Fresh flowers and plants add a thoughtful, pleasant touch. I prefer to buy mine from the grocery store (Price Chopper usually has a great selection), and take them home to re-arrange myself in a vase. It's literally the difference between spending $5.99 (from the 'Chopper) and spending $59.99 (by ordering them from the florist). Better still, pick your own! If you don't have any planted flowers in your own yard, would a neighbor mind if you snipped a few lilacs? Look for patches of wildflowers in wooded areas, too. Just don't pick any poison ivy - hee hee. If you're not a flower person, any green plant will do. Even some interesting branches in a tall vase works.
4. "Art" is very much open to interpretation. Few of us have $200 or more to spend on a big painting to hang over the couch/fireplace/what have you. There are hundreds of options when it comes to hanging art on your wall. Remember the yellow picture frame they hung around the peephole of their apartment door on Friends? It was unusual, and it totally worked. Garage sales are great places to look for old frames that you can use as is, or scrape and repaint yourself. What you put in them is up to you - maybe a photograph you love, some cool printed wrapping paper that goes great with your decor, a map of your favorite city in Italy, or a finger painting from your little one. You're going to look at it often, so choose something that you think is beautiful, and let your personality shine through.
5. Change your perspective. Moving the furniture around can completely change the look, flow, and use of a room. Even something small, like swapping the throw pillow on your couch with the one on your bed, or the chair in your study with the one in the hall, can give the room a totally different vibe. Think about what you do in the room, and make sure your new design is conducive to that activity. My husband and I are total TV and movie buffs, so a clear view of the TV is a necessity for our living room and bedroom. Not thrilled with the idea of lugging your furniture around without knowing if it will work? Use paper to cut out the shapes of each piece, break out the crayons to color them in, and use a blank piece of paper that's the shape of your room for the background. Now you can move the "furniture" around any way you'd like, to see if it looks the way you want it to. Once you're satisfied with the arrangement, tape the pieces in place and you have a blueprint for moving the furniture.
6. Clutter is your enemy. Sometimes it just takes a different way of thinking (or even a different opinion - grab a friend!) to see what you do and don't need hanging out in your space. Things that have just always been there - the stack of newspapers, DVDs, books - might serve you better in another room. After 13 years, I still cannot convince my husband that his decades-long collection of sports magazines is unnecessary. But I have gotten him to store them in the attic rather than leave them in a precarious, leaning stack on our living room floor. I'm not a big knick-knack person, but I like to change the few objects I do have on my coffee table up every now and then. Change is good! Try getting creative with hiding your stuff, too. I love anything that has hidden storage, like the bench in my hallway and the basket where I like to store umbrellas, hats and gloves. Look around for ways to repurpose what you have for storage. Maybe the candy dish you never put out could hold your keys? A small statue or sculpture could work for hanging necklaces that are in a pile on your dresser. Organization doesn't have to mean Rubbermaid containers (although my basement is so full of them, I ought to take out stock in the company).