10 Frugal Decorating Ideas

Color without commitment: Most hardware stores offer sample-sized cans of paint for just a few dollars, so you can test drive a bold color without buying a full gallon.
Color without commitment: Most hardware stores offer sample-sized cans of paint for just a few dollars, so you can test drive a bold color without buying a full gallon.
©iStockphoto.com/mark wragg

For some of us it's a matter of time, or a lack of confidence in our personal tastes; for others, it's the financial burden. But for whatever reason, home decorating can be overwhelming. While on the simplest level, decorating is about applying your tastes and sensibilities to your home environment, creating a comfortable atmosphere for your family and guests is also an ongoing process. Home décor trends, your personal taste, and even the uses and requirements of each room can change over time.

In that spirit, this article will highlight some fun and easy techniques for changing things up in a way that won't hurt your pocketbook. We'll move from room to room looking at different ways to save money, reuse, refurbish and create fun looks and uses for your rooms that will keep you out of the decorating doldrums when you've gotten tired of the same-old, same-old.

Ultimately, redecorating is a way of telling the story of your house and family, and that isn't a story that ever stops growing and changing: The best way to stay on it is to remove the parts that stress you out, so that your home spaces remain as dynamic and beautiful as you want them to be.

Declutter and Revise

Of course, the easiest way to save money on decorating is to keep from spending it in the first place. By accurately assessing what you already have, looking at the real-life uses of your rooms, and moving a few things around -- or getting rid of them altogether -- you can revitalize the whole place without spending a dime.

Simplicity and minimalism are in vogue not just for the aesthetic sensibility, which may or may not appeal to you, but because home life itself becomes increasingly complicated. Most of us could fill a closet (or several) with our unused gadgets and gifts, dusty knickknacks and all the other physical symptoms of real life. By applying a discerning eye to the surfaces and "junk drawer" areas of our homes, we can find new places for these objects: All the better if that means the items move on to resale or charity shops, or the living spaces of youngsters moving out for the first time.

Likewise, you can do a sweep of each room, thinking about new purposes for furniture and objects that aren't used in practice the way you thought they would be. That comfy chair in the bedroom -- the one you intended for reading before bed -- is only as useful as you make it. If the reality of your life's rhythms doesn't match up to the ideals you once imagined, there's no shame in moving that chair to a dead space in the den, where it will see actual use.

Crafting on the Cheap
An ottoman recovered in a fun print can breathe fresh air into a living space. Remnant bin fabric finds keep the cost of this project ultra-low.
An ottoman recovered in a fun print can breathe fresh air into a living space. Remnant bin fabric finds keep the cost of this project ultra-low.

Once you've got your major pieces where you want them, it's time to accent. You can revitalize -- or even completely reinvent -- second-hand purchases with a few simple tools and supplies. Not every accent or piece of furniture needs to be a full-on art project, so if you're worried about scale or supply cost, start small.

Once you have a piece out for a while -- a recovered cushion, perhaps, or a new lampshade -- and haven't had any visitors jump down your throat about your homemaking skills, your ambition and confidence will grow.

Fabric is your friend. For accent pieces like those mentioned above, you're looking at scraps and remnants -- a single cushion-cover could set you back less than $5 and change the whole vibe of a room -- and work that entails nothing more exhausting than a needle and thread or hot-glue gun. The internet is full of crafty blogs that can provide tips and inspiration.

For more advanced projects, remember that everything's new to somebody. By refurbishing and repurposing second-hand or thrifty purchases, you can create one-of-a-kind objects that everyone will love. The "shabby chic" trend was a long time ago, but some of us still think that's the only option: It's not. Don't underestimate the power of your own ingenuity.

Living Room

For most of us, the living room means casual and family activities. In a smaller house, it may combine the uses of the den and even dining room, which makes it one of the most multi-purposed areas in the whole house.

A drab or poorly lit living room can easily become nothing more than a home for the television. By considering the room's uses, and clearing the space of unnecessary items to create greater working size, it can become your home's other heart. Only you can accurately pinpoint the realistic uses of your living room, and you can transform the house by working harmoniously with them.

For example, if you've got comfy chairs along the wall of your living room, but they rarely see use, it could be a sign that your guests and family crave a more social setup. Trade out those comfy chairs for an unused loveseat or chaise from elsewhere in the house to create a cozy, conversational tone.

Likewise, a shift in upholstery or a few different throws can change the color and feel of a room, turning an unused sofa into a snuggly family area. By identifying dead spots and rededicating them toward your purpose -- moving the TV to a separate wall, or out of the room altogether -- you create a new space to come together, without forcing it or doing anything more than making it more inviting.


If your home has a den or study, you've got a whole new set of considerations. If it's used as a media center -- where computers, video and gaming equipment are used -- that will bring along a few specific messes. Transform the look of an entire room simply by rethinking the placement of wires, consoles, videos and videogames.

In lieu of an expensive armoire or TV stand to hide wires, get the fuss out of sight simply by routing them through inexpensive plastic tubing from a home improvement store. Or consider, again, rearranging objects throughout the house. If entertainment equipment isn't being used -- if the TV in your den is defunct, or if the kids prefer one gaming console over another -- that just creates dead zones and clutter. Sometimes, just moving (or removing) items is all it takes to create a relaxed but stylish vibe.

Halls and Walls
Unless you live alone, your favorite artists are probably living under the same roof as you. Make their creativity part of your design style.
Unless you live alone, your favorite artists are probably living under the same roof as you. Make their creativity part of your design style.

The truth is that our homes tell the story of our lives. What better way to demonstrate your love of your home and family life than to decorate with the art you're already creating? The natural inclination among most of us is to decorate our rooms the way we see them in catalogs or during open houses, but those décor schemes are often purposely bland. Why use pre-framed art from a big box store, when your children -- and even you -- are creating art all the time?

Odd corners, utility spaces and even pantries can do with a little personalizing. Liberate your children's art from bedrooms and scrapbooks, and show your pride by presenting them wherever they can brighten and enliven these spaces. Frame your own photography, or create collages with your children using their own art. Even a laundry room can help to tell your story, and a little beauty goes a long way.

If you're in the mood for something on a larger scale, think about creative uses for wall paint and decals. Stripes or different-colored walls can be fun, depending on the space. You can paint picture frames right on the wall, or use a projector to make large-scale designs. Ultimately, any trick that tells the true story of your family will look right at home, and make guests happier and more comfortable.


It's easy to overlook the bathroom, because we spend very little time in there over the course of a day, and generally spend those times efficiently so that we can get back out into the world. Consider your bathroom as a private space, for guests or everyday use, and design from there.

The bathroom is an oasis, not only for grooming, but for self-indulgence and alone time. Whether in the bath or enjoying a home spa treatment, your bathroom should be inviting and calm. Is the light particularly lovely during a particular time of day? Give yourself the gift of decorating around that light. Does it steam up easily, or does water accumulate on the floor outside the shower? Decorate with durable and inexpensive rugs and furnishing.

For kids' bathrooms, of course, cleanliness is of the utmost importance. But a clean design aesthetic in the bathroom makes it welcoming and useful for everyone. Most of us tend to clutter the counters with products that gobble up space and never see use. Think of the sink area the way a chef thinks of his countertops! Only items that are useful, necessary, and preserves workspace are allowed.

If the idea of getting the curling iron or blow-dryer out from under the sink every day fatigues you, don't bother hiding them. Perhaps some industrial hooks or extra shelving with some inexpensive molding could clear up your clutter. Just think about the room's regular uses, and find a balance between simplicity and convenience that will suit your daily routine.

If you don't spend many of your waking hours in the bedroom, there's no need to clutter it up with furnishings that won't get used.
If you don't spend many of your waking hours in the bedroom, there's no need to clutter it up with furnishings that won't get used.

The master bedroom is another place with widely varied uses. For some of us, it's a calming location for the end of the day, or one we never see except for bedtimes and the morning rush. For others, it's a personal home-within-the-home in which we do our best thinking, reading, talking or resting. The bedroom can be a danger zone for decorating, because we tend to decorate "as if" we were going to use it in some way, instead of to suit our needs -- or we never get around to it at all.

Think about the rhythms of your daily and nightly life. If you don't see the room during the day, don't bother creating a huge dramatic scene. It's not a movie -- it's your life. If you prefer spending relaxation time in the bedroom, make sure you clearly delineate the meaning and use of the spaces in it. There's no need to over-organize, but if you watch yourself mindfully, you might see some places for improvement that will go further to revitalize the space than any painting or new bedspread.

Do you find yourself tripping over an accent bench every morning on the way to the closet? Do you find yourself staring at a bump in the ceiling when you should be sleeping? What in the environment could be changed to better serve your purposes? What do you see when you look around the room: Is it too much stuff, or too much space? Does the bedroom feel half-finished, or does it feel cluttered and wild? Address those questions, and you'll be able to customize the style of the space to feel fresh, often without spending a dime.

Kids' Rooms

A child's room bears a dual responsibility. It is a fun, personal space, but it's also a place for quiet time, study and sleep. A child should feel her room is her own, but the space should also be treated with respect. If clutter and messes are a problem, it's easier to provide a solution than to have the same arguments over and over.

Durability and ease of cleaning are the watchwords, but this must fall into harmony with the natural uses of the space. A child who is outdoors all day doesn't require the same environment as a budding artist who prefers time in the sanctuary of her room.

While it's good to let the child guide your choice of accents and art, remember to save some of those personal objects for the rest of the house. Displaying art your child loves in common areas or adding her books to the family library shows that you respect her tastes.

Dining Room
A formal dining room may look lovely, but in most homes, that's wasted space.
A formal dining room may look lovely, but in most homes, that's wasted space.

Many of us think of the dining room as a formal space, unused except for special occasions. The key to opening up this space is not simply to force the issue: It should be a natural space to congregate.

The dining room is a dual-use space -- sometimes formal, sometimes casual. By decorating with both types of gatherings in mind, you can make your family and guests more comfortable without spending a dime. Making coasters or placemats from family art is as easy as buying inexpensive laminate or contact paper to cover them for everyday use. A large dining table is perfect for puzzles, crafts and games, and can be easily transitioned to a more formal look with a simple change of linens.

The dining room shouldn't be an untouchable showpiece or a secret -- it's a place to gather and enjoy one another. That means making everyone feel included and comfortable in the space, rather than like an unwelcome visitor. There's no need to keep the place in expensive settings and tablecloths year-round. By taking it down a notch, you give the space air and life, making it all the more special for those unique occasions when it is transformed.


And finally, the kitchen: The heart of every home and the staging place of most of our warmest memories and stories. Decorating around these concepts depends entirely on the way you use your kitchen, and how it's laid out in the context of your home as a whole.

Maximize counter space, but do so mindfully: If you're going to break your back hauling out the toaster and blender every day, they deserve pride of place. Trivets and egg-cups have their uses, but most of them are gifts that won't see everyday use and can be safely stowed. You do more to transform the kitchen by simply removing non-essentials than by any amount of redecorating or refurbishing.

Whether your kitchen is a slightly messy space for creativity and intimate chats, or a high-tech, spotless test kitchen, one thing is for sure: Thanks to the sheer availability of gadgets, food-specific tools and cookware and organizers, most of us have accumulated too much junk in our kitchens. The last place a frugal decorator needs to spend money is the kitchen. Every piece of equipment you cram in there limits your functionality even more.

No room benefits more from the intelligent use of design principles than the kitchen, but those principles should be in play in every room of your home. Decorating is not about purchasing objects, but about the balance between what you have and how you live. It's about demonstrating your love for family and home by creating a beautiful and useful environment that makes sense for your needs -- not some perfect picture that's going to stress you out. It's your home, not anybody else's, and only you can make that call for sure.


What's the Least-affordable City for Housing in the World?

What's the Least-affordable City for Housing in the World?

Paying for housing takes up a huge portion of your paycheck. HowStuffWorks Now looks at the place taking the biggest bite.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Trover, Sarah Rae. "20 Thrifty, Frugal & Inexpensive Decorating Ideas." Apartment Therapy Chicago. Sept. 2009. (Oct. 2, 2011) http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/chicago/roundup/roundup-15-thrifty-frugal-inexpensive-ideas-095961
  • Emily. "Use What You Have." Remodeling This Life. July 2008. (Oct. 2, 2011) http://www.remodelingthislife.com/2008/07/16/frugal-decorating-use-what-you-have
  • Schalla, Carol. "27 Ideas for Bargain Decorating with Antiques." Midwest Living. July 2011. (Oct. 2, 2011) http://www.midwestliving.com/homes/decorating-ideas/decorating-with-antiques