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How to Decorate while Poor

Updated on January 4, 2018
janikon profile image

I'm a thirty-something writer who lives in downtown Toronto. I've been an online writer for over seven years, focusing on health trends.


We all want to live in a beautiful home. We all want to be surrounded by our favourite possessions but, unfortunately, sometimes our budget does not allow a shopping spree at Anthropologie. Whether you are a student, a poor twenty-something post-grad or a struggling thirty-something or beyond, you should never compromise your design due to your restrictive budget. There are some people who seem to have a natural knack for finding treasures; ones that seem to transform their spaces into an interesting web of stories. We would all love to live in one of the pages of an IKEA magazine but our need to eat always drives us into the grocery store rather than Home Outfitters. Just because you have no money does not mean you cannot live in a beautiful home surrounded by beautiful things, it is all about decorating while poor.

Recycle & Reuse & Repaint

There is nothing more important than the three R's when decorating on a strict, nearly non-existent, budget. It's time to adjust your perception of great stuff and resolve yourself to the fact you may need to put a little work in before it is ready to go into your space. I am sure you have heard the old adage, "One man's garbage is another man's treasure"? Good, because it is about time you started living by it. Local thrift shops, second hand stores and yard sales are fantastic places to meander through on a Saturday morning or lazy Sunday afternoon. The key is to take your time and shop for what each piece could be, with a little work.

I have been accused in the past of being somewhat of a decorating snob but since moving-out I was forced to pack-up my snobbery, at least until I have enough money to justify it. The hardest thing for me to learn was that though the establishment may look dirty, rundown and a 'credible' front for a drug and prostitution ring it did not mean the items inside were not worth looking at. Though, with that said, I would caution against buying furniture from anywhere that looks extremely dirty; unless you have the money to have pieces professionally cleaned, bedbugs are not house guests you care to entertain.

When my Grandmother sold her house a few years ago I inherited a few pieces of furniture which I absolutely love and have helped to shape the design scheme for the space. Everything does NOT need to match within a room, you can tie them together with accents. So, if you are offered your great Aunts entire living room set but only really like the chair, it is okay to only take one piece, do not feel obligated to adopt your design to fit recycled furniture.

Usually with a fresh coat of paint, stain or cheap fabric you can transform a rather dingy piece of furniture or chipped keepsake into something really unique. Do not fall into the trap of keeping something exactly how you were given it because you are afraid of offending the donator (especially if they are one your family members), remember they got rid of it for a reason and probably do not care what you do with it. Be warned though, the aforementioned rule does not apply to family heirlooms or antique pieces of furniture brought over to the 'new' world on a boat ... those should be kept behind glass and left untouched by stain, paint or glue. Remember the last thing you want to do is become the bedazzling pariah of your family because you hot-glued your Grandmothers pearls onto a photo frame.

You can often recreate your favourite design schemes for a lot cheaper than they retail for in the major decorating magazines. The key is to remember you may not be able to buy everything design-ready and may need to put a few hours of extra work in.


repurpose. repaint. replace.

Yes, I completely realize these are three more R's to contend with but these are not necessarily rules as they are fun things to do and try. While scouring the city for cheap deals and yard sales is extremely important when trying to fill your apartment or home with interesting and unique things, these three R's are more for when you already have them. You may not always need to repaint or replace (some of the pieces you already have) but repurposing is fun for everyone to try once and a while, no matter how much or how little money you have.

I absolutely love when I see someone using a piece of furniture (often with a specific purpose) used for something entirely different. When E and I first moved into our apartment we did not have a coffee table but I did have an antique chest [I found a year earlier on the street near my Grandmothers house] and presto, we had a unique focal piece in the living area. It has since been repurposed as a side table, aside the couch, and home to a pretty fantastic claw footed lamp. If you do not have the money to buy certain pieces you need and you cannot find anything cheap to do in the in between, take inventory of your furniture pieces and see what you can repurpose.

Have a desk you do not necessarily need for work? With a coat of paint or different stain could it be used as a foyer table? Or perhaps it could be dressed up a bit and used as a bar for your dining area. The possibilities are endless and something you can really have fun with, this is your space and the only person you really need to impress is yourself.

I was given an old English style cookbook holder by my employer and have been toying with the idea of repainting it to match my kitchen. Other than the chipping paint the holder is in perfect condition and it would be a shame to throw it out because of something so easily fixable. Investigate your options when it comes to kinds of paint safe to use, especially if you have animals or children living with you- no one should get lung cancer because you had the urge to repaint a spice rack. You also need to be wary of where and when you repaint (especially if you are using spray paint) if you live in a rental space, remember to ask your landlord if there are designated spots to paint outside. The last thing you want to do is be evicted because you did not bother to do your due diligence, though I am sure the revamped spice rack will look beautiful affixed to the side of the refrigerator box you call home.

Do not be afraid to throw things away if they are a) broken or b) there is no longer a space in your home for them and you have exhausted the options for them. If they are broken throw them in the garbage but if you simply can no longer find use for them, by all means, donate it. Your garbage ... well, you get the idea.

drawers as shelves! say, what?!
drawers as shelves! say, what?! | Source

So, in closing, you should never be afraid to reach for the stars while you are coming up with a design plan, even if your bank account is crying nothing but zero. Although you may not be able to afford the top of the line or shop in the all the trendiest stores it does not mean you will not be able to create your perfect space. It is all about imagination and the ability to use the three R's to guide you ... and the three more when you have finally dragged everything home.

Because if you are as poor as me, we both know you will be walking the twenty-three blocks home but take comfort in the fact, at least, you will be skinny in your new affordably designed apartment (or home). And that is all that matters.

S absolutely loves hubbing and has learned to embrace poverty while he's decorating. Apart from spying on his neighbours, attempting to curb his addiction to Arizona Green Tea, he also contributes to the website The Twenties Project regularly. He also urges you to start writing for HubPages too because it is pretty awesome.


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    • profile image

      Cuadros Goya 

      7 years ago

      Interesting hub! It is great working with you hands and make something beautiful.

      Check out here you can find beautiful things and is not expensive at all.


    • Kondicionieriai profile image


      7 years ago from Lithuania

      It's beautiful :)

    • janikon profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Canada

      @Shannon I'm happy you liked that one, but seriously you want to avoid hot-gluing your families heirlooms

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      " the last thing you want to do is become the bedazzling pariah of your family because you hot-glued your Grandmothers pearls onto a photo frame" :D Epic

    • janikon profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      @Nell Rose You're welcome, and I hope you make a hub about reusing your old stuff! I will be first one to read it. Thanks for the read!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Perfect timing! I am doing up my bedroom, and I have to use all the old stuff but try and do something magical with it! lol! so great help, thanks nell

    • crazymom3 profile image


      8 years ago

      Glad you wrote it. I live by this. I love paint. It trully does wonders.

    • janikon profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for the good thoughts, lily- they are always appreciated and welcomed from such a good friend. You must do a hub when you have changed it up, I am so intrigued by your hobbit house!

    • janikon profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      @zacharyg You will be amazed at what you are able to find. And you force him, force him good! Thanks for the HubLove.

    • lilyfly profile image

      Lillian K. Staats 

      8 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

      Hee hee! How much I needed to read this!I love my little hobbit house, but, oh, I need to change it up.. sending good thoughts sweetie, be well, lily

    • ZacharyG profile image

      Zachary Payne 

      8 years ago from Savannah, GA

      it was nice to read this my boyfriend and I are looking for furniture for our new place with a very small budget. I'll have to force him to read this.


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