Creativity without cash: How to decorate your home on a budget

When a tight budget prevents big spending on home decor, the following tips can help you get creative and breathe new life into your household.

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  • Any one of us can spend hours coveting the fabulous home décor found in magazines. Given a few thousand dollars and a few months of shopping, it would be a cinch to make any room look like a showroom. But when money is tight it is easy to feel like our options are limited. Don't be discouraged. With some creative thinking, we cannot only give our homes the pizzazz we desire, but truly personalize it to reflect our families.

  • My children love going to their grandmother’s house which is decorated tastefully with years of treasures from photos to collectors’ editions of her favorite books, from leafy green plants to colorful quilts. It’s beautifully designed, and the home has a warmth that I doubt even the highest dollar designer could replicate. Following are a few tips I learned from her, and a few I picked up along the way, just to get the creative juices flowing.

  • Spend your budget on big investments

  • Get a cozy sofa that will host hundreds of family movie nights. Or, a high-quality rug for the living room that will warmly welcome guests to your home. When you do spend the bigger part of your budget, make sure you spend it on the pieces in your home that are going to be a part of your life for the long haul.

  • Shop the sales

  • If there are boutiques or specialty shops that you pine after, don’t be shy about watching the clearance tables. Yard sales and Internet classifieds are also wonderful places to find high-quality items for dirt cheap. Thrift stores offer an eclectic mix that might even give you some creative new ideas for your space.

  • Breathe new life into your own old treasures

  • Your boring old kitchen cabinets can take on a whole new character by switching out the knobs. Antique stores, hardware stores or online shops have a wide selection for cheap. Paint is also your friend. Slap a coat or two of a bright new color on an old bookshelf or dresser to give it a fresh appeal.

  • Play musical chairs

  • Test out your bedroom lamps in the living room. Switch out tables and chairs. Mix and match what you’re already using. You might find that you like a certain piece a lot more when it makes its appearance in a different room.

  • Wear your heart on the walls

  • You may find that you have more wall space than you have money for fine art. Why not frame some of the kids’ best pieces? Crayon drawings and finger paintings not only offer lovely splashes of color, but will bring lots of smiles. Frame some candid photos of family members and hang them in patterns down your hallways and on your walls. My kids and I have “restored” a few old thrift store paintings by pasting collages over the original work. The lovely framed pieces always catch the eyes of our guests.

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  • Be a big reader

  • Storing books can be a cumbersome task for families. Hang small shelves here and there around the room and organize your books in an appealing way. Stack them in corners with a houseplant on top. Children’s books have fun colors and pictures. They can really liven up kids' rooms and encourage them to read as well.

  • Who’s the fairest of them all?

  • Mirrors can be purchased very inexpensively and used all over your home. Placed thoughtfully, they can make the room appear larger and accentuate other decorative items in the home.

  • Experience the freedom of nature

  • Here’s a way the kids can be a part of the fun, too. Found objects in nature can be a beautiful addition to the family home. Fill a wooden bowl with found pine cones for the fireplace hearth. Put dried flowers in vases. Large rocks, seashells and even beach sand can be creatively used to create an outdoor feeling in one or more rooms.

  • Having a strict budget for decorating doesn’t have to be a drag. One of the bright sides of a tough economy is that it requires us to use our creativity more and reflect on all the little things that make your family unique. That’s good for the soul, and it can make your home so enchanting it’s magazine-worthy.

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Margaret Crowe is a poet and mother of two from Charlotte, North Carolina. 

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