I recently read a great article “Minimalism is Just Another Boring Product Wealthy People Can Buy” which raised some great points about how minimalism and nice decor are out of reach for most people, and it got me thinking. The rooms and dorm rooms I’ve decorated over the last five years, could I have done those if it weren’t for my parents’ and my place of financial privilege? Answer: Probably not.
When my dad bought a new house in 2015, he paid for the furniture, the paint, the closet system, and some of the decor that went into my room there. The fact that I was lucky enough in university to have dorm rooms that I didn’t have to pay for was a big deal, too. And now I’m working on my room at my mom’s house, and yes, this time I’m not getting everything paid for, but I have still have advantages. My bed came from my childhood bedroom, meaning it was free, and from my brother’s room I got a bookshelf no one was using. My mom gave me $50 for window coverings, and the singular piece of art I have which I didn’t paint myself was a gift from my sister.
All of these little things help, and actually, the very fact that I’d have to pay for additional expenses out of pocket has curbed my interior design plans. I am not painting the walls that are way too dark for a room with a north-facing window. I got a dresser rather than redoing the bare closet like I did at my dad’s. I bought my desk new, but saved up and waited for the annual back-to-school desk sale to buy it.
I want to write an apology here. If I ever made it seem like I was broke and yet could manage all of the decorating that went into my rooms or dorms, that is not the case. But there are things I’ve learned about how to approach a room makeover project without a thousand dollars just lying around, and I want to share these tips with you.
1. Map it out.
When I first got my new room at my dad’s house, my dad and I went to Ikea and I bought what I thought looked good. Only after living with my choices for a little while did I realize my room was way too small for some of the things I’d gotten. My room at my dad’s came together when I started figuring out what I wanted and what I could do within the limitations of my room and my budget (or rather, my dad’s). I made Pinterest boards, measured furniture, and was realistic about my habits, including realizing I’m not neat enough of a person to have a glass desk without drawers.
2. Make a game plan.
At my mom’s house, there was a long while when my room had only a mattress on the floor and a table my uncle had found on the side of the road. After I’d made my Pinterest boards and done my research about what furniture I wanted and where to buy it, I made a list of the most important things I wanted to buy for my room. First on the list was a desk, and I knew which one I wanted, how much it would cost and when it would be on sale. Next was a dresser, and I kept the same information on that. I had every inch of my room measured and I knew how everything would fit. I was still a little-over ambitious, but by having everything listed from most-to-least-needed, I was able to take a look at the bottom of the list where some rather expensive items were and just cross them out completely. By knowing what I wanted, I was also able to keep an eye out for the exact items on Facebook Marketplace and got the exact dresser I wanted for a fraction of the price, and already put together for me!
3. Stay flexible.
The desk lamp at my mom’s house I got secondhand for $7 is absolutely perfect for my room, and I’m really happy with it. I would not have found it if I weren’t looking absolutely everywhere for a desk lamp. With my room at my dad’s, I’d had a very strict idea of what I needed, and was not willing to compromise even on the $60 lamp I’d seen online. This time around, I checked Goodwill, I looked around the house, and I looked on Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace for lamps that were either cheaper or nicer than ones at stores like Ikea or Jysk, and I eventually found a lamp which was both on Facebook.
4. Be patient.
You don’t need to buy all of your furniture and decor all at once. In fact, I advise against it. Patience here can mean waiting for things to go on sale, like I did for my desk, or saving up to buy one thing at a time starting at the top of your list from #2, which I’m currently doing (next on my list is a desk chair). It could even mean waiting to see if you get one thing or another for Christmas before you go out and buy it yourself, as I’m currently doing for a multitude of things.
5. Use what you have.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s what I did with using my childhood bed again or taking a bookshelf no one was using, and it’s the reason my bedding is mismatched. Using what you have can just mean cleaning your room and appreciating it for what it is. Maybe you want to make your bed in such a way that feels a little fancier, or organize your closet better, or maybe even rearrange some furniture so it feels like a completely new room altogether. Back in high school, I used to rearrange things every few months to keep things fresh. Anything that makes you happier to be in your space can help, and it doesn’t have to cost a thing.
6. Look at the bigger picture.
When I’m planning out my room, I always keep in mind how long I will be in that room for. Part of the reason I went all-out with my room at my dad’s is because I saw myself living there pretty much until I moved out, and I planned to take most of the furniture with me when I did. In my dorm rooms, my decor was limited exclusively to things I could fit in my suitcase at the end of the school year and use again, or things that were cheap enough for me not to care, like pics ripped out of free magazines or using birthday cards as decoration. When saving money for my room, I also keep in mind all the other things I need money for. I don’t really need a desk chair when the fold-out stool I have now is doing a decent job and I need to buy Christmas presents soon. It’s all about knowing your limits and balancing your needs.
I hope that helps and inspires you to improve your space, even without money. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow!