For nearly a decade of my life, I was working 5+ jobs and averaging roughly 12-hour days. While I enjoyed it at the time, it obviously came with the con of having very little time to invest in the feminine urge to make my apartment a home.
As a result, I invested zero time, energy, or resources into actually building a living space that fulfilled me. Most days I felt like a passing guest, and eventually, I had this desire to feel more than that. I wanted to be absolutely in love with my living arrangement. There are numerous studies on how doing this can enhance your overall health and productivity (maybe you’ve heard of Feng Shui?). Regardless, as I was approaching my late twenties, I found myself slowing down and really assessing my surroundings in a different way.
As I looked around my chic, Victorian studio apartment I saw old, dusty, broken things. All my furniture was either handed down to me from friends or a cheap ensemble that came in a box from Walmart. Each piece served its function well enough, so I hadn’t thought much of it – until this particular day when I took a different inventory. I started asking myself questions like “What is my personal style?” “Do I even like this?” “Aren’t I tired of clutter and mismatch?”
I wanted décor that told a story, was simplistic, and made me happy. I guess I always resisted the amount of time and money I thought that would take. But as I started to get into it, I realized it was one of the most liberating projects I ever took on. And the bonus? I was able to completely transform my apartment in one summer for under $500. Here’s how.
Start with a Mood Board
Having a vision of your style is the most important step. Otherwise you’ll find yourself overwhelmed, unsure of what to buy, and most likely purchasing things you don’t really need or that don’t necessarily fit. To skip the drama (and extra dollars), take things to a vision board first.
Pinterest was the best way for me to do this. Since my apartment was already set in an old Victorian building (and that was my preference), I knew that’s what I was looking for aesthetically. Obviously this style can be rather pricey, and I was on a budget, plus I didn’t have the space to be overly elaborate. The nice thing about Pinterest is you can search for specific requests. I started with typing in the search bar “modern Victorian décor on a budget,” “vintage aesthetic for a studio apartment,” and “studio apartment space saving ideas.” From these initial searches, Pinterest then generates similar searches, which is amazing! You’ll quickly find ideas you didn’t even know to search for.
Your mood board can keep you on track when shopping.
From there I simply saved the pins I liked. Having your mood board digital is convenient as you begin shopping. Believe me, it keeps you focused when touring around Hobby Lobby or HomeSense (where it can be very tempting to get off track).
The Best Budget-Friendly Shops
My favorite place to find the best deals definitely came from Facebook Marketplace. Before I started looking into decorating, I had always heard people talking about all these wonderful things they found there, and honestly I had brushed it off. At the time, it sounded like a hassle, and I thought they were probably exaggerating. I can now say that it’s the best thing Facebook has ever offered! What made it so great was that people were selling really valuable things in excellent condition for next to nothing, simply to get it off their hands.
I found a charming, vintage, Italian mini-wingback sofa chair set for not even $100. I only had space for one (my only regret), so I got it for half the price. Another favorite piece I found was a vintage secretary’s desk, with the pull down top and cabriole legs. I didn’t stop there – I ended up purchasing my kitchen chairs too that each have antique floral embroidery and mahogany wood, barely used. The woman who owned them before me said they were mostly used for her daughter’s doll collection when she was younger. Last but not least, I also found two gorgeous gold-brown accent mirrors that were passed on from a gentleman’s deceased aunt. While the deals were amazing, it was even more heartwarming to learn the story behind each piece – far more unique (something I love about antiques) than the mass-produced furniture sets we see today.
For finer detail décor, I enjoyed browsing local thrift shops and antique stores. These places always have hidden gems and great prices! I found a cute vintage tea set and other little items that tied in the aesthetic of the bigger furniture pieces perfectly.
Another great way to make the most of your money is to hit the clearance deals at Hobby Lobby or other craft stores at the end of the season. I found some amazing things this way when all the price tags were slashed to more than half off the original price. One incredible find was a floor length mirror (70% off!).
Don’t Rule Out Hand-Me-Downs
I had a good start to my endeavor with some of the hand-me-downs passed on over the years that matched the theme I was aiming for.
In my previous apartment, the former tenants left behind an antique, French, red dresser with a matching headboard for free. I was delighted to keep it, and they were relieved to not have to add it to their moving list. In addition, when I was moving out of that apartment, my roommate asked if I wanted a set of two red sofa chairs she no longer wanted (that perfectly matched my dresser!) so I took those with me as well. A good friend of mine had already given me a kitchen table. I gave it a fresh paint job, and it looked good as new!
Don’t take things to take them; make sure they’re in good condition and match your end goal.
Hand-me-downs can be fantastic when they integrate into your vision. The trick here is to not just take things to take them (unless you’re going for functionality over aesthetic); make sure they’re in good condition and match your end goal.
Take Your Time
While things aligned so that I was able to do this all pretty quickly, that may not always be the case. Don’t start throwing everything out and moving things around before you’re sure what your vision is or have the resources to make it happen. I promise you that having piles of things cluttering your space will make the process far less fun and will probably compel you to give up on the idea altogether...not to mention add insane stress. So take it step by step, room by room. As you buy a new piece, get rid of the piece it’s replacing. Breaking your redesign into digestible to-do’s will make it feel much less chaotic.
Avoid Perfection, Go for Authenticity
As you gain momentum in your revamp, you may start to find yourself becoming a bit of an, ahem, perfectionist. Remember, this isn’t meant to be perfect. Not everything has to match or look exactly like your Pinterest board. This experience is meant to be fun and refreshing! If you love it, that’s the only thing that matters (plus the homes that look “collected” are always the most interesting).
What helped me justify engaging in this seemingly “overwhelming” process and investing in it was the thought that these new pieces would be with me for quite some time. They would journey with me through singlehood and into my own family home someday. I was especially happy I had redesigned right before the pandemic. As remote work and quarantine came into effect (a vast difference from my former lifestyle of never being home!), I quickly realized the importance of loving the space you’re in and feeling inspired by it.
When you truly love and appreciate your home, it becomes an art you take pride in. You begin showing special care to it and designing it with love. It becomes worth every bit of time and extra splurges here and there for things that mean something to you and give a good story to tell. Above all, you’ll find so much peace in what you create!
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