It’s a well-known fact that your personal environment affects your mental health. If you live in a beautifully decorated home with plenty of plants and green space nearby, your risk for anxiety and depression is lower. If you spend your time in a basement apartment with no windows and a drab interior, the opposite is true.
That may sound like people on a tight budget are doomed to be less happy, but decorating your living space doesn’t have to be a budget-buster. There are plenty of ways to liven up a house or apartment on the cheap – or even for free. Here are some of my favorite strategies.
Scour Thrift and Antique Stores
Just like looking for clothes, shopping for decor at a thrift store can take a lot of time – but you might walk away with an amazing deal. Two of the biggest pieces in my home came from Goodwill.
Keep an eye out for interesting frames, and remember you can swap out one piece of art for another.
Don’t be afraid to hit up multiple thrift stores in your search for decor. The prices are cheap and you can find unique pieces not available elsewhere. Check the stores in ritzier communities if you want to find high-end items.
I also like salvage restoration stores, which can be fun for antique and vintage pieces.
Make it Sentimental
Creating a gallery wall full of art can be expensive, but not if you use photos with a more personal touch. Hang pictures from important moments, mixing old photos with more recent ones. Use a variety of frames if you have them, or buy a cheap pack of black ones to create a cohesive look.
If you have big frames and don’t like the art in them, print a larger phot o to fill the space. Not only will it be cheaper than buying artwork, but seeing it every day will brighten your mood.
Use Small Pieces
Good things come in small packages, and that’s especially true for decor. A few small items can transform a space without breaking your budget.
Take a look at what you currently own. We all have a pile of knick-knacks tucked away in a drawer or stashed in a box in the attic. If you’re struggling to fill a space, use those objects to get the job done.
Throw pillows and blankets are also a good alternative to liven up a boring couch or chair. A couple $20 pillows can brighten up a sofa you can’t afford to replace, and a patterned knit blanket can draw attention away from stains and rips.
Adding plants is a cost-effective way to diversify your decor. New plants are usually inexpensive, and can sometimes be used to propagate entirely new sprouts. An experienced green thumb could eventually fill an entire house just by cultivating the right plants.
Hanging plants can break up space, and many of them, such as Pothos, are easy to care for. Air plants in a hanging vase or terrarium are also hard to kill. You can also look into moss or fake plants if you don’t want the hassle of a watering schedule.
Unless you’ve been gardening for years, do lots of research before buying a plant – unless you want a house that looks like a plant cemetery. If you have a shady room, for instance, filling it with tropical plants would be a recipe for disaster.
Go to a nursery or do some research about the easiest kinds of plants. This is only a frugal tip if you don’t have to keep replacing plants that die.
Paint a Room
White walls aren’t a good look unless you have lots of art and interesting focal points. If you can’t decide on decor, painting a room makes it more visually appealing.
Pick colors that work with furniture you already have, and opt for bold hues. They’ll stand out more than a basic pastel.
A couple of buckets of paint and materials costs between $100 and $200 on average. Best of all, you don’t need any special skill to paint a room. Tape off the sides and walls lay down a drop sheet and pour the paint carefully. Have a friend come over to point out any spots that need another coat.
When you’re working with a tight budget, buying used is the best way to maximize your dollars. Scour Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for furniture, decor and accent pieces. A friend of mine found a West Elm floor lamp, retailing at $200, for just $20.
Search for specific brands and companies you like. You can even set up alerts for specific keywords to notify you when someone posts a new listing. If you’re hankering for a new mid-century modern bed frame, put in those keywords and sign up to get emails as soon as one is listed.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate, even if the price is already low. If someone is selling furniture, they usually want the stuff gone as soon as possible. Ask for a bigger discount if you’re buying multiple pieces.
If you’re a talented artisan, display your work in your home. If you don’t have an artistic portfolio – but you’ve always wanted to start one – take pottery, painting or weaving class. It might be fun, and you’ll get a souvenir out of it. You can also find a paint-your-own-pottery workshop and paint a vase or decorative plate.
If you already have some empty poster frames, make your own art to fill them. Look up YouTube videos on how to paint or watch some old Bob Ross episodes. You might be surprised how quickly you can become proficient at basic landscapes and portraits.
If you have a piece of art you made as a kid, find a frame and display that. Something you did in sixth grade might be fun to have in your home, both as a conversation starter and for the sentimental value. This tip also applies to parents with kids producing artwork on a daily basis.
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.