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How to Decorate your Apartment on the Cheap

Updated on February 22, 2012
An item with a bold pattern might be the "pop" your room needs.
An item with a bold pattern might be the "pop" your room needs.
Antiques can be thrifty editions, adding elegance, flair, funk, or sheer uniqueness.  For my shabby chic style I found this porcelain, wind-up clock from the early 1900's at Goodwill.  Price: $4.00!
Antiques can be thrifty editions, adding elegance, flair, funk, or sheer uniqueness. For my shabby chic style I found this porcelain, wind-up clock from the early 1900's at Goodwill. Price: $4.00!
This runner was under $8 and made my coffee table look elegant.
This runner was under $8 and made my coffee table look elegant.

Decorate With Style, Not Debt.

Maybe you're decorating for your very first place, or perhaps you have never quite had the knack for piecing together colors, placing furniture, or choosing items that will create that "look" you're going for (or maybe you don't even know what "a look" looks like). Well, whatever reasons brought you here, I hope my own experiences (i.e. failures and successes) can be of some benefit to your decorating adventures.

Be a Space Cadet: First, you must assess your surroundings. Is that spare bedroom an office or a guest bedroom, or both? How can you make the best use of the natural window lighting? What size furniture will fit in each room? My first apartment was a one room studio. Talk about tight living quarters. If you need to get creative with space, may I recommend you check out these tricks to making your space as comfortable and roomy as might be possible in a cereal box.

FINDING YOUR COLOR: Okay, I know that this is no small task I'm asking; however, this gets the decorating ball rolling, so to speak. Once you have a color in mind, you can begin to find items that will suit your theme. Go to home improvement stores, stock up on color swatches, bring them home and sit on them (not literally) for at least a week. Sometimes, at the end of a week, I'd would wonder why I had ever grabbed that color I thought I loved. (Can't paint but want color on your walls? Follow link in next paragraph.) Once you have a few colors in mind, visit the paint company's website (eg Behr, Shermin Williams, etc.) These companies often have room visualization portals, so you can see how your chosen color looks in a room before you commit to painting it onto your own walls.

Finally, I like to google the color of interest and see what other's are doing with it. Are they pairing it with another unusual color? Are they putting it in their bathroom or their living room? I chose a robins egg blue with a true red (the red "wallpaper" in my image is actually just fabric starched onto my walls; it pulls right off, no damage. Ingenious! If you have a color combo you'd like to visualize, simply use google images (e.g search: "orange and red room" or "blue and eggshell room").

GET THRIFTY: Sure Goodwills all seem to smell a little funky, but that's no reason to stop you from saving bookoo bucks. There's almost nothing that can't be cleaned up and made to shine. I like to challenge myself to find as much as I can second hand: rummage sales, thrift stores, consignment shops, ebay. Not only is this type of recycling good for the environment, but you begin to see the savings add up tremendously. For example, I bought my comfy and lightly used recliner at the Salvation Army for a mere 14.99 (savings of 130.00), my coffee table for 12.99 (savings of 50.00), and my couch was only 24.99 at Goodwill (300.00 savings). This equals a total savings of 480.00 on three items! Now if I just don't spend it all on coffee...dang you Starbucks!

DOWN SIDE: From my vast experience as a Goodwill junky, there MUST be a method to your madness. Thrifting is time consuming and you often go in seeing 99% of things you do not need but might be tempted to buy "just to see" if it fits. Do not buy something unless you are sure it suits the look you are going for. Check out HGTV's website for ideas, or just google "apartment decorating ideas" (e.g. shabby chic, retro, metro, etc.).

Be picky.

If you buy a bunch of junk you think might fit this look or that, and haven't properly planned out the effect you want, you will end up with an apartment full of decorative stuff you can't use. I did this a lot when I first began decorating as I was vacillating between three separate themes: shabby chic, bohemian, country chic. I ended up re-donating a lot of the stuff I'd bought. So plan, plan, plan.

TECHY TOUCH: Do you own a smart phone? If so, this is great for thrifting. Not only can you can see your true savings before you commit to a purchase, but you can even see other's critiques and ratings of that item.

Are you truly saving?: Google the item you want to purchase and see if it is worth the money. Or, if you have apps, download price scanners such as Amazon's price scan tool which allows you to scan barcodes and then populates info on that product.

Sometimes second-hand stores sell items that really aren't that much of a savings. For example, Goodwill actually purchases unsold, new items from Target and resells the items at fairly hefty prices. A curtain that went for 24.99 at Target may be resold by Goodwill for 19.99; big whoop. And if you're thinking about purchasing used electronics (coffee maker, toaster, alarm clock etc.) you can read reviews on the item which is always helpful. Maybe there's a reason it is at the Goodwill, although generally speaking I have had great luck with electronics. You can usually plug things in before you buy them as well. Just ask.

ADD FLARE: Thrift decorating takes imagination and patience. The key to decorating, for me, is the special touches added to my environment. It might be a comfy throw over the couch, a scented candle, a cool frame you placed your great grandparent's wedding picture in, a couple of embroidered decorative pillows, or an antique cabinet found at a flea market. In the end, your apartment needs to feel like a home and only you can decide just what that looks like. If you do not have patience, I would not thrift. It takes time to acquire the many items you need, and sadly, you may have to live without something for a bit. My suggestion is to visit second-hand stores early and often. I even recommend talking to the staff to see when would be a good time to visit for a particular item. Do they get more couches during a certain time of year, perhaps after college graduation?

Well, good luck on your journey. I will try to post more pictures of my own inventiveness as I go along. Feel free to ask me anything. Happy hunting!


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    • jaylucas profile image

      jaylucas 5 years ago from Midwest, USA

      Absolutely, Jakob. Although I am less of a garage sale person. I always feel odd walking up to someone's home and assessing their belongings. And I feel more like I should buy something, anything...just me?

    • Jakob Barry profile image

      Jakob Barry 5 years ago

      These are great tips! And it's very true that it's important to take your time in deciding on certain things. Some pieces may simply be too good a deal to wait on but others require patience so you get it right. If you have the time yard, moving, and garage sales are also excellent places to find great furnishings and decorative items for the home.

    • jaylucas profile image

      jaylucas 5 years ago from Midwest, USA

      Thanks! Yes, for a while there I was in need of Goodwill rehab. I have learned to control my urges. :) Good luck!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Fantastic cheap ideas! I've found some great bargains at Goodwill, a brand new coffee bean grinder was my latest find for $5.00! Great hub! Voted up!