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Green Decorating with Recycled Furniture for Single Moms

Updated on July 14, 2009

living within your means with style and grace

Necessity is the mother of invention. As a single mother, I love this old adage because it is just amazingly true. When we don't, or can't, get credit to go to the big-box furniture stores, we have to "make do" with what we can. This doesn't mean that we can't live in comfort and style. And an added bonus for those of us who care, is that we are taking "green-living" back to basics. Instead of buying new furniture and home-goods, we are recycling the old. This doesn't have to mean that our furntiture is dirty or moldy. As a single mom, I've learned that you can be good to your planet, live with style, and live within your financial means if you follow some simple guidelines.

Decorating is not as much about the price of your décor, but in the placement and cohesiveness of your furniture. If you can stick to one particular era, you'll have a more cohesive design-scheme. For example, I love, love, love mid-century design. So, I've trained my eye to search for this style. It is also nice to mix it up for a more eclectic style from room to room. Your kitchen could be kitschy mid-century, but your living room may be '70s chic.

single moms making a financial plan for the future

Single mothers are often in situations where their credit has been destroyed due to divorce or necessity. I've known mothers who have used their credit cards to pay for groceries and household essentials. When they can't make the payments due to the high interest rates and over-the-limit fees, their cards go into collection and often bankruptcy is the only answer. Lack of credit for single mothers is also due to their lower wages in general.  Factor in the cost of child-care with the low wages and you may create an atmosphere ready for depression.  As a consumer economy, it is a challenge for single mothers to lower their expectations in the home. The truth is, there are many reasons why single mothers should not overspend. First and foremost, single moms have to learn that we can't live beyond out means. If we continue to accrue debt, then how will be ever be able to buy the house of our dreams as we work toward the future?

mid-century living room for inspiration

living rooms designed for style and family for the Single Green Mom

Couches or sofas should be chosen with an eye toward fabrics that can be easily cleaned. You'll be far fless likely to deal with buggies and germs if the fabric doesn't have holes for the buggies to climb through. The soft, spongy sofas of today soak up the bacteria. Older sofas may not be the best for lounging, but they are certainly the cleanest. You may even find the odd couch that still has the plastic-wrapping on it. Don't look for the heavy, bulky couches and sectionals of today. The lighter the couch, the more likely it is made with solid wood instead of chip-board.

When I grew up, children weren't allowed to sit on the coach. Sofas were for the adults. Kids watched T.V. while sitting on the floor. Funny. I never, ever remembered complaining about this. It was just the way it was. We had a living room that was barely used that housed the fancy furniture. If you have small children who love to dirty up your sofa, you can try (and I emphasize the word try) to establish this rule in your home. There was a reason for the plastic covers on the fancy sofas years ago!

mid-century lamps often have lovely colors like these blue living room lamps. lighting makes all the difference in your rooms.

Classic and Chic Mid-Century Sofa

neat angles provide interest in lighting

old, but clean suitcases are great for chic storage of everything from important documents to photographs...they make a nice end-tables too.

wicker is light and green...a single mom's dream...

Wicker furniture is also a good choice when you are moving on your own. I found a wicker love-seat, chair, side table and foot-stool for $50 at a yard sale. Now, the seat needed painting, but it is pure wicker, not plastic. I use the footstool with a wing-back chair that my mother found at a flea market for $25. I can't afford to buy a dining room set, so I've placed the wicker set inside and created some seating for a playroom. My older daughter often manages somehow to stretch herself across the wicker love-seat as she reads one of her Harry Potter, House of Night, or Twilight books for the gazilionth time (Is that a word? It should be.) She calls this her "reading-room"

white wicker sets the stage for loveliness

and about those rugs...

Throw-rugs will have to be cleaned if you're going to feel like they aren't carrying any buggies into your home. You should rent one of the machines from the grocery-store. My son has allergies, so I'm wary of buying rugs second-hand because of the animal dander. I bought the throw-rugs for the hard-wood floor from a discount store that was going out of business. They were selling the display rugs that had a label on the front for an unbelievable deal. I've taken off the label and covered the hole with a well-placed chair or decoration.

Before you move into an apartment, request that the carpets be cleaned and sanitized. If at all possible, choose an older house with hard-wood floors. It's just so much easier to keep these areas clean with kids and also healthier in general. If you have hard-wood, the landlord may require throw rugs for sound muffling for downstairs tenants and for the protection of the floor in general.

I'll be writing a hub  in the future about these remarkable rugs that are made exclusively from recycled t-shirts and other cotton fabrics.  They are really easy to make, and look so pretty and fresh in your home.  

Rag Rugs from Recycled Clothing

green depression glass

vintage pyrex mixing bowl set

vintage books and dishes add finishing touches to your home

Books can make beautiful decorations. I love to collect old, vintage books and find that they make for a warm, inviting display for bookshelves. The art-work on the covers are true treasures. When you have children, I find that it is important for them to see that you value literature. I have collected books that I loved when I was a child that were lost along the way. An old encyclopedia set that I bought has been a treasure. My son, who is 5, looks at them every day.

When you start collecting dishes, you will find that a theme or color will attract you. For some reason, I loved any green glass. I have some depression glass and green glass from the 70s that I display. I also love old serving and mixing bowls that I use and display. Anything with a connection to the past serves to create a feeling of permanence in your home. It is vital to create this "homey" environment for your children. They need to feel that their home isn't just a place to sleep, but a connection to the past.

colorful collections of children's books are delightful

maple chair

the hub of your home is your kitchen...

Kitchen tables that have a laminiate or formica-type top will be a cleaner bet than solid wood. Solid pine may look pretty, but bacteria can develop in the crevices over the years. If you choose a solid pine wood table, clean and scrub with an antiseptic cleaner and a strong scrubbing brush.  A hard-wood table should be polished with a wood-cleaner and preferably covered with a table cloth for protection.  If you're lucky enough to find a formica, cool, mid-century table with matching chairs -- you'll be lucky to get a good deal. These pieces have become very collectible and I've seen their prices sky-rocket way out of my league. I've seen quite a few of these tables at my local Salvation Army, but the chairs are usually in a sad state. I'm not particularly handy, nor do I have the money to invest in refurbishing old furniture, so I always have to pass. Usually, they won't sell the table without the chairs. If they do, you may be able to find stray chairs here and there. They really are super-cool, easy to clean, and kid-friendly for the single Mom.

My table seats 6 tightly and 4 comfortably.  It cost $10 from the local thrift store.  It has a wood-laminate top and cleans in a snap. The only down-side is that there is no expandable piece for the table itself. This makes it a little less servicable if I have people over for holiday sit-downs.

If you're a single mom, don't choose heavy kitchen chairs! I love light-weight maple kitchen chairs. When you lift up a chair, it shouldn't feel like you're lifting up a concrete block. Look underneath your chair seat to see if there is a mark. I chose all Ethan Allen maple chairs for my kitchen set. They cost $5 each from the local Salvation Army. They don't all have the same style, but they are all solid maple.

As I said before, if you have time to prowl around for mid-century kitchen chairs to match a retro formica kitchen table, it is worth your while.  This is a beautiful look for your kitchen. 

colorful drapery can be hung on regular old curtain rods

Vintage Linens

Linens of all kind are expensive. If you're a single mother starting from scratch, you won't be able to afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for towels, blankets, quilts, sheets, pillow-cases, napkins, and tablecloths. I find that towels may be easiest to find in thrift stores. A good quality set of sheets that are not soiled will be soft and clean for your beds. Older linens will all hold that coveted Made in America label that you just don't find anymore. Quilts may only need a little mending to be servicable. As far as tablecloths and napkins are concerned, you should find at least three table-cloths for your holidays. Vintage table-cloths are sometimes a little pricey, but I've found quite a few in thrift stores for next to nothing. If you are looking to reduce your paper usage, hunt around for a bunch of cloth napkins for your table. Instead of paper napkins, which I generally will not spend money on, I use cloth napkins that don't add much to your laundry load. The same goes for tea-towels or dish-towels. There are lovely towels for your dishes that are donated that have been gently used before. 

when you have an old bathroom to work with...

Bathrooms are probably the easiest to decorate the green-recyclng way. I would take my cue from the style of toilet, bathtub and sink that you have. If you are renting an older apartment, your landlord may not have remodeled your appliances in decades. A strong tile-cleaner with bleach and a scrub-brush can really clean up tile that may look moldy. Ventilate the bathroom while you are cleaning because this stuff is toxic. Choose a shower curtain that won't compete with your appliances. If you have an old glass sliding door in your bathroom, I would request that it be removed. Not only does it harbor old mold from previous tenants, but it's almost impossible to bathe children comfortably with the aluminum slider on the rim of the tub. If they will take it out temporarily, you can replace it with a clean shower curtain. If they won't replace it, you'll have to scrub the crevices until you're satisfied that any mold or germs are gone from the previous tenants. While bathing the children, you'll have to place heavy towels on the rim so that you can lean over to soap them down and/or take them out when bath-time is over.

Take a utilitarian approach in your bathroom. Less is more as far as cleaning is concerned. A plastic bucket should serve as a toy-holder for children's bath-toys. When looking for a used bin for your bathroom, I'd suggest plastic that has no cracks or scratches. Again, sterilize thoroughly before using. I avoid used-wicker in the bathroom unless you bleach the starch out of it. Solid soap lasts longer for me than the more convenient pump soaps in the bathroom, so I always need soap dishes. Keep your soap in a well-drained dish so that it doesn't melt away. It may need more upkeep than the pump-style, but I find that they are more cost-effective.

toxic toys are bad for the kids anyway, so choose older, hard-plastic

We've heard a lot about the cheap and toxic plastic toys that have flooded the market. Like many mothers, I got rid of all of these toys when I heard about their dangers. Kids being kids, I had to replace them with similar toys. As a single mother, I didn't have the money to buy the fancy non-toxic toys. I went on a hunt for the vintage Fisher Price toys that were made from a harder, more durable, and less toxic plastic. You only have to touch these toys to feel the difference. In reality, children don't need tons of toys to occupy their time. If you live in a small space, it becomes impossible to store the toys that you will accumulate. When you are limited by your budget, it becomes easier to be more selective with your purchases. The same is true for gaming systems. If you don't have one, then they might just take out a board-game or a deck of cards. Remember those?

vintage Fisher Price playsets bring back memories and are healthier for the kiddies...

"when you wish upon a star"...

Some Moms might say "Wait a I have to deny my son his Rock Monster Lego?" No, you don't. But, we don't have to give in to every whim and demand from our children due to the amazing marketing from the toy market. Birthdays and Christmas are times for gifts. As we know, kids always want the next toy that is advertised on Nick or Disney. Of course, it will break your heart if you visit a friend who's bedroom looks like a showroom for ToysRUs. But, these are desperate times. And desperate times call for desperate measures.

You can't give your kids all the toys they want and forget about starting a savings plan for your family...or paying your electric bill for that matter. It's just not your reality. Kids also have to learn that they are not the only ones in the family who can't do or get what they want. If they see Mom spending money extravagently, then they may feel rejected. Involve them in your search for green and recycled furniture, houseware, and even toys for them. If you teach them the value of living within your means, recycling, reusing items, not spending and consuming wildly, don't you think that they will learn more valuable life-lessons than "he who has the most toys wins". That's so last century.

my ideal recycled bedroom set with a small vanity table and chair

single mother resource books from Amazon


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    • dealrocker profile image


      9 years ago from California

      I liked this hub very much and must say ideas and pictures are very amazing.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Most of my furniture is salvaged, and everyone loves the effect.

      The best thing is I don't have to be precious about it and spend all my time nagging my family in case anything gets scratched. That's not to say my kids destroy the house. They are very respectful but living in an environment focussed on material objects is not my plan. I'd prefer to save money this way and spend on the kid's education.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I don't know how I missed this tour of smart living practices. The photos are wonderful and the narrative rich.

      One of my aunts, an artist, would scavenge her neighborhood for all manner of tossed items--tools, furniture, tin cans, lamps--which she then painted in her distinctive style. Instead of these discarded items winding up in dump sites and land fills, they found their way into elegant homes as one-of-a-kind folk art pieces, and my single-mom aunt was able to supplement her income while she raised her children.

      Do you think you'll be writing that Hub on rag rugs?

    • gracenotes profile image


      10 years ago from North Texas

      I love this hub. Your pictures are great too.

      In my family, we had saved an old sofa from about 1963. My dad wanted to keep it, but most of the rest of the family made fun of it. My mom had it re-upholstered, and it was so cute! It was one with a spare, minimalist style. Today's sofas are so big that often you can't find a wall long enough for them.

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      10 years ago from Texas

      Great article and illustrations! Good work! :)

    • Cailin Gallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Cailin Gallagher 

      10 years ago from New England

      Meaghan - I love the show Mad Men as well. I'm looking forward to the new season in August

      JamaGennee and SweetiePie - I agree with your 100% about the quality of the old furniture opposed to the new pvc-type furniture. I've also started visiting the Freecycle site which is available in most communities now. Instead of throwing items on the side of the road now, I've seen a shift toward these sites when people want to get rid of their old furniture. Thanks again for the comment. :)

    • Cailin Gallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Cailin Gallagher 

      10 years ago from New England

      Meaghan - I love the show Mad Men as well. I'm looking forward to the new season in August

      JamaGennee and SweetiePie - I agree with your 100% about the quality of the old furniture opposed to the new pvc-type furniture. I've also started visiting the Freecycle site which is available in most communities now. Instead of throwing items on the side of the road now, I've seen a shift toward these sites when people want to get rid of their old furniture. Thanks again for the comment. :)

    • SweetiePie profile image


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Very informative and picture rich hub. My dad often find beautiful décor at the second hand store, and many of these things are simply donated by rich people who buy new things all the time. Some of this décor is also vintage, but has simply been sitting in the attic for decades.

    • Cailin Gallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Cailin Gallagher 

      10 years ago from New England


      Today's furniture is made so cheaply compared to the old but good stuff. I totally agree with you. I love furniture with some history too. The shabby chic look feels homey and feminine to me. I've tried to capture that in my bedroom, but I have a long way to go to get the look that I want. Maybe one day...

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      10 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I haven't been inside a furniture store in years! Except for the canopy bed I special-ordered, the furniture in my little abode came from yard sales *or* the curb in *good* neighborhoods. Even then I'm rather picky, so that it all ties together as "shabby chic".

      As for children not allowed to sit on the bizarre! When my daughters were small, friends were shocked when I re-upholstered a (free) sofa in off-white linen (upholstery remnants on sale!), but it had nary a stain when I gave it away years later. The girls were taught the living room was for sitting, not playing. Toys stayed upstairs in their rooms.

    • profile image

      Meaghan :)  

      10 years ago

      WOAH. Ive been looking for almost all these items for years! Now I know I'm not the only person who loves that style :) Ive looked for a lot of inspration from the show Mad Men :)

      GREAT HUB :)


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