I was talking to a neighbor the other day and she expressed how frustrated she is with her current house and how much she’d like to move. As we talked, it became clear to me that it’s not the actual house, neighborhood, or lot she hates, it’s that the house is older and needs some sprucing up. She feels like things are getting stale and boring, but she doesn’t have the money to completely gut the place and start over, do an addition, or to install lots of pricey countertops and flooring. She doesn’t really want to move, she just wants something newer and more in line with her current tastes. Since moving is prohibitively expensive for my neighbor right now anyway, we sat down and brainstormed some inexpensive ways for her to make her current home more tolerable. This is what we came up with:
Lighting: Changing just a few key light fixtures in the rooms you use most often can give those rooms a lift. Whether you change a ceiling fixture, add a ceiling fan, or buy some table lamps, the fixtures and the light they cast can change the atmosphere of a room.
Paint: Paint is just about the cheapest way to change a room. You can add stripes, textures or other patterns if you’re wanting a bigger change. You can also paint cabinets or furniture to give those items a new look. And if you don’t like it, it’s relatively easy to change. Get some sample cards and idea books and experiment.
Area rugs: If you hate your carpet or it’s in need of replacement but you can’t afford it, you can lay area rugs over the worst spots and hide the stains or damage. If you have light carpet and want a darker change, lay down some darker colors to take away the brightness. And vice versa if you want to create a lighter feel.
Moulding or trim: Moulding is inexpensive and easy to install. You can add chair rail, crown moulding, change your existing trim, or create patterns of your own design for very little money.
Upholstery/slipcovers: Maybe you can’t get new furniture, but you can probably recover what you have, either by getting some slipcovers, doing it yourself with some fabric of your choosing, or by hiring an upholsterer.
Clean up: Simply giving the house a good cleaning and de-cluttering can go a long way toward making it more attractive and livable. Get rid of the junk and discover how much room you have. Clean the grout in your tile and see how new the bathroom looks. Steam clean the carpets and maybe they’re not so bad.
Rearrange the furniture: When we redid our floors, I took the time to rethink how the furniture was arranged. (Pretty much it was still arranged the way it had been dumped the day we moved in.) I was surprised at how much more space we created by properly arranging the furniture. I’d always assumed that it would only fit one way, but there were other, better options. Even without the flooring we still would have created all new spaces just by rearranging the furniture.
Window treatments: Blinds, valences, shades, and curtains are inexpensive ways to add color to a room or change the appearance of the windows. There are so many styles and shapes to choose from these days, you’re no longer locked into the standard mini blind.
Convert a room to a new purpose: We long ago realized that we were never going to use our formal dining room as a dining room. We just don’t entertain that way. Rather than let it go unused, we converted it to an office just by changing the paint, adding a couple of more electrical outlets, and putting some french doors on the archway leading to the kitchen. All total, it cost about $600 and allowed us to change the guest bedroom that had formerly been our office back into a bedroom. The space was much better utilized and it gave us a “new” area in our house. If you have a room that’s not being used to it’s fullest potential, think about how you can repurpose it.
Flooring: New flooring doesn’t have to mean expensive, exotic hardwoods and natural stone tiles. There are many varieties of laminate and vinyl available today that can replicate the look of expensive products for a fraction of the cost. They’re also pretty easy to install yourself. And there’s no one saying that you have to redo all the floors at once. Pick your two most used or ugliest rooms and start there.
“New” furniture: Maybe you want different furniture but can’t afford to hit the name brand stores. Try looking at your local Goodwill, yard sales, or thrift stores. Often you can find pieces in excellent condition or pieces that just require a little TLC. It’s not “new,” but it’s new to you and that can be enough to make you feel better.
New shower curtains and bath mats: Jazz up a bathroom with a new shower curtain or some new bath mats/area rugs. If your bathroom is boring white, give it a color lift. Similarly, if you have a pink, gold, or green bathroom from the 60′s or 70′s that you can’t stand, choose some colors that complement the decor while also minimizing the parts you don’t like.
New bed linens: Pick out a new comforter and pillow shams to instantly jazz up the bedroom. Maybe you’ve had grandma’s quilt on the bed long enough and now it’s time to bring out the Caribbean feel you’ve always wanted.
Repair: Fix whatever is broken in the house. Replace burned out bulbs and add more light. Patch and paint any holes or cracks in the walls. Fix the broken end table you keep meaning to get to. Simply repairing all those things you’ve been meaning to can improve your home for little cost.
New toilet seats: I’m serious. You’d be surprised at how much a new toilet seat can jazz up a tired bathroom. You don’t have to stick with standard white. There are lots of colors, patterns, and textures available today that can complement your decor or become the focal point for the bathroom.
New faucets: Updating your kitchen and bathroom fixtures can give those rooms a much needed update and most are easy to install yourself, no plumbing experience necessary.
New knobs on cabinets and doors: They seem like small things, but the knobs on your cabinets and doors can change the feel of your home. Maybe you have brass and you want a brushed steel look. Or you’ve got those crystal knobs from the 50′s and you want something newer. They don’t cost a lot but the little change can spice up your house.
New towel rods: Try changing out the towel rods in your bathrooms and kitchen for a quick lift.
New artwork: Maybe it’s time for some new family photos on the walls, or to better arrange what you already have. Maybe it’s time to look for some new paintings or posters or to reframe something you have and love. You don’t have to get the works of the old masters; something you like presented well can change a room.
Plants: A well placed, large plant can hide an ugly fireplace or unused radiator. Smaller plants with bright blooms or leaves add color to a room. Plants can match the mood you’re trying to create, as well. Tropical plants make a room seem more Caribbean, while evergreens make it seem woodsier. Plants also improve the air in your home.
In this economy, moving isn’t an option for many people and neither is doing expensive renovations. Home equity lines have dried up, home values have dropped, and it’s probably not a good idea to saddle yourself with more debt right now. If you’re frustrated with your current home but don’t want to/can’t move, there are lots of things you can do to make your current home into something you love again. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on a complete renovation, addition, pricey appliances, or granite countertops, either.
We’ve been conditioned in the last few years to think that “home improvement” has to mean expensive. But many home improvements don’t cost a fortune and yield surprisingly impressive results. If you are even slightly handy you can do most of the work yourself, saving even more money.
You can do as many or as few improvements as your budget allows. My neighbor settled on some moulding, paint, and area rugs and says she feels much better about the house and the changes have curbed her urge to move. She’s spent less than $600. As money allows she plans to change some lighting and maybe repurpose her dining room. She’s saving a ton of money by not moving or investing in pricey renovations, she’s discovering some hidden talents, and she’s having fun in the process.