Decorating Style Without Money! Making the Best of What You Already Have!

It Ain't the Taj Mahal!

I want to preface this by saying that you may very well look at these photos aghast and wonder how on earth I can live like this! Well, the answer is that, for me, living in my own home with no shared walls and no rent to pay is worth more than any amount of luxury or convenience. Having a roof over my head that doesn't leak and walls that keep out the inclement weather and having it be mine, is of the utmost importance to me.

My home is a FIXER! most emphatically, and I am a poverty stricken, yet creative, do-it-yourselfer! The ideas I am sharing here are not for everyone, but, if you are like me and are simply doing the best you can to make a home in need of repairs habitable, you may find some useful ideas here.

My home is probably about a hundred years old...

My deed says my home was build in the 1960s. After I had removed some horrendous 1970s paneling and two layers of antique wallpaper to reveal some very sturdy and smooth wood underneath, I found this hard to believe. I have recently learned that my home is one of several that were moved into town from a remote farm in the 1960s. They had been built by a rancher to house his workers. Eventually, they were brought into town and set up as rent houses.

Note: The date stamp is incorrect. This was taken in 2010.
Note: The date stamp is incorrect. This was taken in 2010. | Source

It's old-fashioned, and it's comfortable - now!

I should have taken "before" pictures, but when I was doing all this work, it never occurred to me that I would write a HUB about it. On these walls, I removed crumbling, moldy paneling that was about 50 years old. Underneath were two layers of very old fashioned floral wallpaper. Beneath that was the wood that you see. The wall on the left is an exterior wall. The wood is smooth, and the planks are wide. The wall on the right is an interior wall, and the wood was not quite as high quality. For this reason, I painted them a solid light yellow instead of using the lighter redwood latex stain that you will see in the last picture. Since I removed the old, crumbling wall coverings, I have far less problem with dust than I used to.

The trim is furring. This is a lower quality wood than you would usually use for trim, and it is also much cheaper. Each eight foot piece cost $1.32 - about a fifth of what I might have spent on actual trim. I found it easy to work with, and I think the results are quite satisfactory. If you are going to do a contrasting trim in your home, be sure to paint the trim before you put it up. It's a lot easier that way. Then you can just touch up chips and dings with a small artists brush.

The watercolor on the left wall is one of a set given me by a friend. The other pictures are black and white family photos, and I plan to fill this wall with this sort of picture. The lamps are a thrift store find. I did buy the mirror new, but it was on sale!

The heater is an antique that my uncle had. I grew up with these, and love them (although I hate burning a petroleum product). Used correctly, these are very economical and safe. You just have to be sure to turn them off when not in use, when you are not home, and when you are sleeping and don't burn the flame too high. It really isn't necessary.


My furniture is entirely second-hand, donated, refurbished, reused and so on. The dresser in the photo above is one that was given to me by a neighbor. It's not grand or modern, but it is Ethan Allen, and it's got three big roomy drawers and six smaller drawers behind the doors on the sides. It's solid wood, sturdy and useful, and I'm glad to have it.


If you can't buy it, fix it! If you can't fix it, make it! If you can't make it, make do!

This is just one corner of the same room. I painted this library corner and these shelves to match the trim in the rest of the room. Paint is not cheap, but it can be a lot cheaper if you check the bargain rack at your local home improvement store whenever you are there. I got the paint for the trim and for this section of wall and the shelves for $5 for a full gallon. All of my paint was purchased in that way. I painted this entire room for under $15.

The shelves were salvaged from the old school when it was torn down. They were free. All I had to do was load them onto the top of my car, tie them down, and drive them home. They fit perfectly in this corner, and I just attached them to the wall with screws.

The set of encyclopedias you see are a complete set of 1955 World Book Encyclopedias. They don't even take up a whole bookshelf! They are just gorgeous inside, and it is interesting to compare the way people thought in those ancient times with the ideas of today. I found them neatly stacked beside a recycling bin when I took my recycling one time. I couldn't just leave them there, and I have really enjoyed them!

The pictures are some I have collected at various yard sales and thrift stores. I painted all the frames to match. When I did this room, I found that I had inadvertently been collecting and saving signed watercolors of flowers and birds for years. I unpacked them all, worked on the frames a bit, and had my decoration for the room ready. Altogether, my pictures for this room may have cost me about $15 - $20. Keep your eyes peeled for nice artwork at yard sales and thrift stores. It can pay off in the long run!

Keep or find real wood furniture whenever you can!

These days so much furniture is made of particle board, plastic, and other garbage that will fall apart with just a bit of ordinary wear. It pays to have furniture made of real wood. The little chest of drawers beside my bed is probably about 60 years old or more. It belonged to my father. It is plain and simple and solid wood. I'll probably refinish it one of these days. I expect I will have it for the rest of my life, and it will still be perfectly usable when I'm gone!

You can't really see the frame of my bed, but it is a simple antique frame that I got at a thrift store for $5! It is cherry. No telling how old it is, but again, it is sure to outlive me! The quilt at the foot of my bed was made by my grandmother and her friends. It's a bit delicate. I cheated on the other one and bought it new!

The lamps are thrift store finds. I think I spent about $8 altogether on lamps.

I found the picture on the wall discarded! It is a nice, signed watercolor and there is another one that goes with it that you will see in another photo. They had both been professionally framed and matted, but one had apparently taken a bad fall or somehow been damaged, so whoever had them had just thrown them out. I repaired the frame and painted both frames to match my trim, and I am very happy with them.

Since this picture was taken, I have added a nice, big, framed, signed watercolor of fledgling mockingbirds and two smaller bird watercolors above my bed. They are a set I found at the thrift store. The big painting had a damaged frame that needed repairing and touching up. Altogether, I spent about $6 on the set, and again, I am quite pleased with it!

These walls still have the old paneling. Since it was in pretty good shape, I decided to leave it and just paint it (with more bargain paint). I am happy with the way they turned out.


One man's trash...

This is the other corner of the same room. I found the rug, the table, and the wardrobe sitting by the side of the road! Not all in the same place, though! They were finds that I came across over a period of time. The table and rug were leftovers from a garage sale. I saw the wardrobe sitting on the curb in a nice neighborhood and knocked on the door of the house to ask about it. The elderly lady who answered the door told me that it had belonged to her father and that it had been around all her life. She was 86. However, she hadn't used it in years and decided she didn't want it. Well, I surely did, so I loaded it up and brought it home! It always pays to ask!

I also found the little yellow trunk discarded many years ago. It was banged up, but I repainted it, and it makes a nice little storage chest.

The picture on the wall on the left is the other half of the set I mentioned earlier. The one above the wardrobe is the other half of a set given to me by a friend that I mentioned in the first section of this article.

Salvage and be creative!

This is my comfy chair in my living room! It was given to me by some good friends. Actually, every bit of furniture you see here has been donated by kind friends and family. My uncle gave me the rocking chair that you can barely see in the corner (under the big pillow, which cost a dollar at the thrift store!) It's solid oak. He found it discarded with a little minor damage. He repaired it, and I have been enjoying it for about 15 years!

Since this picture was taken, I have built shelves into the corner to hold storage tubs and baskets. The tubs actually hold my extra cans of paint! I have a couple of nice baskets that I use to hold extra pillows and throws.

My uncle and I salvaged the fence paneling you see used here as a window treatment and as trim. I also used some as wainscoting on another wall. We used the rest to build a dog yard. I decided to use it as a window treatment here because this is a western exterior wall. When I had curtains on this window in the past, they got damp and musty in the winter and were simply not strong enough to keep out the heat in the summer. The fence paneling has done a nice job here. The window is old, painted shut, and not worth saving, so I didn't feel bad about tacking this fence panel up. This room has an exterior double door, so putting this up does not compromise safety. If your window is your only alternate means of escape from a room, don't do this!

Both the west and south wall in this room are exterior walls. I removed paneling and wallpaper as in the other rooms, and painted this wood with a lightweight, latex redwood stain. It is actually fence paint and very inexpensive ($11 a gallon) but I like the effect (which is really quite a bit nicer than this overexposed picture shows). Again, having an exterior door in this room played a part in my choice of material. If I had not had excellent ventilation while working, I might not have used an exterior type of paint. I would NEVER use an oil based paint indoors, and you shouldn't either. The fumes can be deadly!

I'm sorry I don't have pictures of the rest of this room. When I get some, I will add them. As with my bedroom, I left the paneling up on the other two walls and painted them a dusty tan with $5 a gallon bargain paint. Altogether, this room cost me $16 to paint.

What is "Bargain Paint"?

Bargain paint is the paint that people have left over when they finish a big painting job. Say a person goes to Lowe's or Home Depot and orders five gallons of high quality paint of a certain color to paint one room. When they have finished painting the room, they might have a full gallon of paint left. They can take it back to the store and get their money back! Then the store sells that gallon of paint on the bargain shelf for $5. That is usually a savings of about $20 or more!

It is always good quality paint. It really pays to check that bargain shelf every time you go to the home improvement center. If you see a shade you like, get it! Then be creative in how you use it. Every wall in a room doesn't have to be the same color. I always do two walls of one color and two walls of a coordinating color, even when I don't have to!

I do have some extra paint that I haven't used yet, but I will use it. Even if I don't, it didn't cost me much, and I have gotten incredible use out of most of the bargain paint I have bought.

What you don't spend in money, you will spend in elbow grease!

Doing all this work by myself took me a long time, and it was really hard! And I'm still at it! I have a kitchen and a laundry room yet to do, and then (with the help of a neighbor) I am going to start on the exterior.

But the thing is this: This is my house! I know every inch of every wall very well. I did this all myself, and while it may not be professional, and it may not be the way someone else would do it, it's mine, and I'm proud of it, and I'm glad that I was able to use my head and pinch my pennies to make this old house a little bit nicer to live in.

Home improvement isn't rocket science!

Follow these tips to start doing it yourself:

  1. Take the time to identify your project & think it through
  2. Have a plan & keep safety in mind
  3. Shop carefully and wisely for materials & be creative
  4. Look up information about how to do things you aren't sure of
  5. Get help with the work that is just too heavy or complicated to do alone
  6. Make the most of what you have & use your imagination!
  7. Reduce, re-use & recycle! Remember a little repairing can save a high quality item from the dump and save you a lot of money!

You'll soon see that you can do it, too, and you'll be glad you did!

All photos & text: copyright Suzanne Bennett: 2010

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Comments 49 comments

Richard F. Houpert Jr. 5 years ago

I build scenery for the movies for a living. I have access to all the materials we use for a set, and then fill dumpsters with when we're done. Recycling is great - the materials are free, and Ms Bennet is dead on on the use of these types of materials (free). I'm also a great collector of other peoples discards - though I am still waiting to find some really nice stuff. Ms Bennet is dead on accurate.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

You've done something that I never had the nerve to do. Congratulations. There were times during urban renewal that they were selling old houses for a dollar but the new owner took responsibility to rehabilitate the house. When historical neighborhoods were being rehabilitated there were also such bargains.

I hate to think that my high school years in the 1950's are the ancient times

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks

Suzanne, thanks for letting us into your home and giving us a tour. I think everything there is beautiful! I have always wanted to have different colored walls, but I've never dared to do it myself, so most of the walls in my house are cream/white, the way they were when I moved in. The only room that has been painted an interesting color is my daughter's.

You give some really good tips on saving money. I think it's great to have quality furniture with a history. It makes sense to salvage materials that nobody else wants. A very cozy place you have there! Wish I could visit.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks for your comment, Richard. I appreciate your kind words, and I wish I could be there when you throw out all that good stuff! :D

Dahoglund - thank you, too! Well, I was born in those ancient times! Actually, I am about the same age as my encyclopedias!

Aya - Thank you for the compliment! Perhaps you will have the nerve to paint your walls creatively! If I had a chimp, I think I might let him have a creative hand at painting one wall just to see what he would do! :D

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Love the creativity involved - something we used to have. Just moving furniture around can redecorate a whole room. And repurposing an item - looks so clever.

And yes to real wood, something that is so rare. I even remember back in the day when the wood furniture in my parent's home had a back. Now it has particleboard stapled to the back.

One thing I learned while living in S. Korea is that Americans own too much household junk, which costs money and requires upkeep and then soon we have to throw it all away.

Such a clever hub. Rated up and many thanks!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks, BK! Yes, simplify, simplify! :)

KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

You would be surprized by what a little creativity, some paint, and rearrangement of furniture will do to make your home look good. Add to that the wonderful finds in thrift store, flea markets and garage sales and you have a truly unique home.

Creative hub, very smart. Voted up and awesome.

cwarden profile image

cwarden 5 years ago from USA

Great hub! The things in my house that I receive the most compliments on are recycled!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Koffee & CW! I wouldn't be surprised! ;D

Charlotte Tressler 5 years ago

Your house looks lovely, sister! Nice job!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks, sister! :)

crazy-zebra profile image

crazy-zebra 5 years ago from Midwest

enjoyed reading your article. I love the ideas you put forth because it encourages people to recycle and be artisic. It is good to use what is already here instead of always buying what is just coming out--environment and I thank you.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks for your kind comment! :) We have plenty of things already in existence, not really much need to make more - especially if we are going to make more of inferior quality.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Sirrot! I appreciate your kind words! :)

ed77burns profile image

ed77burns 5 years ago from USA

Your home is really looks nice and beautiful.Good ideas without investing much money ,anyone can make her/his home beautiful aftre reading this hub.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks, Ed! I appreciate your kind words! :)

PaperNotes profile image

PaperNotes 5 years ago

All it takes is pure resourcefulness indeed! I love your home, it seems so comfy from the photos you have posted here.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Many thanks! :)

ChristineVianello profile image

ChristineVianello 5 years ago from Philadelphia

Extreamly creative, and great tips!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks, Christine! :)

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

Thanks so much for this wonderful hub on decorating. I found so many helpful tips that I can use. You made my day! Rated up and bookmarking. :)

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

I'm glad you found it helpful! Thanks for your comment! :)

Justsilvie 3 years ago

Very creative Ideas! Love your house! Voted up and shared!

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia

Hello Suzanne, I enjoyed the tour of your cozy looking home. I like to think whenever we can, we should adopt the motto of reduce, recycle, redo. I have furniture that belonged to my husband's grandparents. Ditto a trunk and great unframed decorative mirror. I use a desk that was given to me when I was in high school. I have a wonderful sideboard that I found for a song at one of the local thrift stores. I could go on, but short, I agree with you.

A note, a great way to buy paint if you don't need to cover a large area, look at the rejects at stores like Home Depot. They are often available for very little.

Great article and tour.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks, Cyndi! Yes, that's what I mean by Bargain Paint. All the home improvement stores have a shelf where they keep the leftover (or reject) paint that customers bring back after finishing a big job. I usually pay $5 a gallon for excellent quality paint in all kinds of interesting colors. :)

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

Suzanne...You've got the right attitude and talent to match! What you've done to make your home cozy (while practicing frugality) is nothing short of amazing.

So many resources are wasted and end up in landfills. I'm embarrassed to remember that many years ago I thought nothing of throwing away something still usable just because I was tired of it. No more! I use it until it falls apart and can't be repaired. Then I do without.

The motto of "Reduce, recycle, redo" should be used by everyone. Of course, the very wealthy would not consider it, but they make up only 1% of the population in the U.S. anyway!

Voted Up+++


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Actually, it's reduce, reuse, recycle, but redo is a good one too! Yeah, my uncle and I are both scavengers. Whenever we see something perfectly good by the side of the road, we pick it up! LOL! Just today, I gave some new neighbors a perfectly good resin dog house and a perfectly good futon frame. They needed both desperately and had no alternative to get them. Even though I survive far below the poverty level, I happened to have them on hand because I can't stand to see usable items thrown in the landfill!

Thanks for your comment and your vote, Jaye! :)

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks, justsilvie! I somehow missed your comment!

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

I enjoyed the look at your home and love your creativity in furnishing and decorating it. I also hate seeing perfectly good things being thrown out curbside and have picked up many an item and then taken them to charities that run thrift stores so that they can be sold and put to good purpose. I have also found things like dressers, etc. that a friend's twin sons needed for their apt. I think it is crazy and even sinful to discard items that can still be used. There are charities that with a simple call would even come by and pick them up. Recycling and reusing things is not only thrifty but good for the entire planet. Up votes and sharing.

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 3 years ago from Arizona

Suzanne, this is awesome! (And I voted it as such.) I have a similar approach to things -- I don't believe in a disposable economy, as our natural resources are certainly not disposable. Not only that, but I love objects that have a story. I, too, live in an old house (1952). I'm glad no one tore it down during the housing bubble when so many beautiful old ranch homes were destroyed to make enormous, inefficient, soulless McMansions.

I would much rather see the potential in an old castaway item than to buy something shiny and new. I can't tell you how many pieces of furniture I have that were salvaged and I either spray painted or repainted using used candle wax and mineral spirits to "distress." I love how it all turned out, and I love the fact it is affordable!

It makes sense to be frugal, respectful of our resources, and aware of landfill glut. It is responsible and sustainable to adopt your approach. I bet you have the coziest of homes!

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

I love your attitude and your creativity! One of the joys of having your own home is having the freedom to try out your ideas without having to answer to anyone. Using bargain paint is a great idea! You can even mix a couple of compatible colors together.

When we moved into our first home, it was a indeed a fixer upper, and after the major repairs, we had very little money for decorating. One thing I enjoyed doing with my kids was papering the big farmhouse bathroom with animal pictures cut from Ranger Rick magazines. We pasted them on with wallpaper paste and put a coat of varnish over top to protect them. It looked great, and cost practically nothing.

Thanks for some great suggestions and encouragement for frugal living! Voted up and shared!

Careermommy profile image

Careermommy 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

This was a very fun read. You have a lot of creativity to share. I like the idea of using what you have. Thank you for your enlightenment!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Glad I could help! Many thanks! :)

I am very happy to get so many positive comments on this little HUB! :)

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

So many practical ideas! My first lamp tables were empty ammo boxes. (My hubby was a soldier.) When I get bored but have no money I don't shop - I rearrange. It's amazing how good your stuff can look in a different format! Great hub!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Great point! Reduce, reuse, recycle! Thanks! :)

Aunt Jimi profile image

Aunt Jimi 3 years ago from The reddest of the Red states!

My dear friend has a degree in interior design and I guess I caught the bug from her for redoing old furniture and things that are still solid. They add so much character and they're usually far less expensive than new furniture. This was an interesting hub to read and I really enjoyed reading about how you made your 'old' house comfortable. Older homes too, have so much more character than the ones they're building now and the older ones are built better too.

Voted up, useful, and interesting!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Many thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

I'm going to pin this to my Useful Tips and Ideas board. May give others helpful ideas!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Many thanks! :)

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Will tweet this to further get out the word about reusing and recycling. You have done a great job with this in mind. The fact of it saving you money is just one added perk. :)

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Thank you! I appreciate your sharing and kind words! :)

Nancy Owens profile image

Nancy Owens 3 years ago from USA

This is a great article, especially for young people just starting out in life, and the re-purposing can be so fun to do. I really liked that you mentioned repairing items. It seems that we have become a "replace it" society, and the art of repairing things is getting lost in our high-tech world.

Voted up and sharing.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

That's very true! Thanks for commenting, voting and sharing! :)

vibesites profile image

vibesites 3 years ago from United States

Decorating your own home with little or no money is a challenge, but it's that challenge that makes it all exciting. Your creative juices naturally come when you're doing it on a low budget. Your rooms look really spiffy! Thanks for sharing your tips. :)

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

My pleasure! Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Vista15 profile image

Vista15 2 years ago from Columbus, OH

Oh, Boy. I know I read this before, and I DIDN'T COMMENT? So... I enjoyed reading it again. I think we must be long lost sisters, or something. I have a hub I wrote about my house... (Packrat 101: More is More) and I can't explain, just read it. I see it listed below your article. If it's not still there, just click on my picture. I've been working on my house since I bought it in 2001, and I'm still not done. But I love what I've done and enjoy living in it. All my salvaged stuff, bargain basement, Thrift Store finds are MY TREASURES. Loved your Hub!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 2 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks! Yes, things are so much more meaningful when they have a little history! :)

aesta1 profile image

aesta1 20 months ago from Ontario, Canada

You reminded me of those days when we renovated an old house. We did a lot of elbow grease but we were happy we did it.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 20 months ago from Texas Author

Thanks! Yeah, I'm wanting more and more to sell this drafty old barn and get a tiny house, though. I think that will be my next project. :)

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