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Things I like to spend money on: Travel, nights out with friends, clothes, experiences. Things I don’t like to spend money on: Overpriced restaurant food, interest on debt………..home décor.

It’s not that I don’t want to live in a space I love; I definitely do! It’s just that I’ve never prioritized spending on decorating the apartments and houses I’ve lived in, for what I consider to be a good reason: They’re rentals. I have historically moved around a lot and will probably move again in the near future. That said, the difference in my mood is palpable when the space I live in is cozy, bright, and beautiful. So, even though I spend very little on big-ticket items like furniture and remodeling, I’ve become a regular ol’ pro at sprucing up a space on a budget. Here are five ideas on how to decorate your space so it feels totally new-to-you, and on the cheap:

With art, think outside the box

Every time I visit an art museum—which is a favorite travel activity—I peep the postcards in their gift shop. If they have a postcard of a piece of art I liked, I’ll buy it as a memento. Often, museums will have normal-sized and slightly larger sizes, both of which look great in a cheap frame and paired with other, ahem, “pieces of artwork.” They cost between 99 cents and two dollars—significantly more affordable than buying even a print.

Another option is to frame beautiful pieces of paper. (Yes, paper.) For example, my local art supply store has gift-wrapping paper in incredible designs ranging from florals to maps to prints of darling objects like mushrooms. I’ve made plenty of homemade cards with this paper before, but it could just as easily be used as decoration. Another idea is to take pages from old books—I took out a page of an illustration of a bird from a book that I found at Goodwill (probably for $5 or less), and it is now officially my favorite piece of art. (Pro tip: matte pages work better than glossy pages, because glossy pages can reflect the light in some weird ways.)

Clean out the clutter

In decorating and in life, my own natural tendency is to overdo it. Heck, I’d have everything dripping in sequins and glitter in a rainbow of colors if I could. But I’ve learned from moving frequently and only ever having small spaces to myself, overdoing home décor is no way to build a zen place to chill out and enjoy. If you own a lot of “stuff” and want to revamp your living area, your first step shouldn’t be to add more, it should be to subtract.

Related: Furniture Upgrade Trap

Ruthlessly question everything you have in your home or apartment, KonMari-style. This means cleaning out closets, throwing out stuff you don’t use, paring down your collection of books, etc. Toss old magazines (let’s be real, you aren’t going to read them again), scan your photos, and ditch unused furniture. It can be hard to get rid of furniture—we hate to give something up we “may need in the future” and have emotional attachments to large pieces and hand-me-downs—but be honest with yourself if something is just taking up space and being a dust collector. Consider selling what you don’t need in a garage sale or online on a website like Craigslist.

Get a fresh coat of paint

When I moved into my most recent apartment, my bedroom was a drab olive-green color. I lived with it for a few months because I didn’t want to spend the $100 to paint it, but I finally broke down and gave ‘er a fresh coat. Now, it’s a crisp white that looks so much prettier, brighter, and easier to decorate.

Alternatively, you could consider doing a statement wall in a beautiful, rich color. (I’d only recommend this bold move if the rest of your walls are white or neutral.) Depending on your current color scheme, a deep turquoise, green, or burgundy could look wonderful and have a dramatic effect on the way your room looks.

Painting is the most expensive suggestion on this list, but it’s not as expensive as buying a big piece of art or furniture, or doing even a minor renovation—and it can have an incredible effect on the vibe of the space. Turn it into an evening event—recruit some friends, buy a few six-packs, blast some tunes, and paint that room or wall as a unit. Nothing will transform your home quite like modernizing and brightening the color of the walls.

Invite some greenery in

Indoor plants are very en vogue right now, as they should be! Having a few varieties of plants in a room not only brightens up a space, but can actually make our brains happier and more productive. Some varieties of houseplants can even clean out a majority of the toxins in indoor air, making it healthier to be inside.

I get my plants from a nursery outside of town—not a trendy home décor shop next to a café or fancy cupcake shop in a shopping district—and they usually cost me between $4 and $10 dollars. Recently, I’ve repotted them in a few cheap, sleek, pots from Amazon and Ikea and voilá! It instantly made my apartment into a cheerful conservatory. Not to mention I work from home, and therefore consider them my friends and co-workers now.

Focus on lighting

Let that sunshine in! Nothing makes me crankier than a room without natural light, so I always do whatever I can to make sure that windows are being fully utilized. In rooms such as a kitchen or living room, open up windows by taking off blinds and replacing them with curtains that allow some light to seep through. A well-placed mirror that reflects natural light can also make a room look much bigger. And here’s an easy one—make sure that furniture doesn’t block natural light sources. Get rid of or move furniture that makes a room too dark.

If integrating more natural light isn’t an option, adding the right lighting is an affordable way to transform a room. Personally, I love crisp and modern designs for lamps, and love a great floor stand lamp, or sconces, task lamps, and track lighting. I got my current lamp at Ikea, but I love scouring thrift stores for lamps as well—there are so many fun, affordable, and interesting vintage lamps out there. My mom recently found a cool mid-century modern lamp at a local flea market for $20, and it has totally transformed the room it now lives.

What do you do to spruce up your home on the cheap? What tips and tricks do you have?

Article comments

Kale says:

Great article, I have thrifted silver serving trays and plates as my dining wall decor. In my living room I have foreign coins and paper money in a shadow box as it’s wall decor along with a $30 large old world wall map I framed. Not the best photographer here but for bedroom and bathrooms I took some of my favorite pics, had them enlarged and printed at my local drugstore. Target is my favorite place for the photo shot frames.

Laura says:

Great ideas! I am a new home owner so this is something I like to find as well. A few other ides:
– frame a map of a place you have been too recently
– spray pain an old frame and hang it empty so you can see the wall behind it. I have found lots of cheap ones at thrift stores and garage sales. Since you don’t need the glass or mirror they can be really inexpensive
– paint on old wood chair a bright colour