If you scrolled through my Pinterest boards, you’d think I’m some sort of DIY goddess with a great affinity for decor, a pioneer who’s not afraid to go big and bold with a dark accent wall, an eclectic stylist who collects tons of house plants and meaningful knickknacks (but also super into minimalism).
I mean, that’s the plan, but the reality is I am terrified of DIY projects. And home decorating? The thought of it makes me sweat. It’s an extension of my anxiety around change and decision-making. What if I repaint the ugly dresser and hate it? What if I spend a bunch of money on new furniture and discover it doesn’t give off the vibe I was going for? What if I permanently repurpose something but end up needing it unrepurposed five years down the road?
Plus, I don’t have a good eye for basic coordination, color, and symmetry, much less the envelope-pushing style choices I often pin. Since I place zero confidence in my style skills, it’s tougher to take risks.
BUT, I am actively combating my anxiety-gripped perfectionism, and redecorating is a far more low-key, non-life-changing way to step out of my comfort zone than, like, setting boundaries and speaking up for myself and all those other Important Life Things that require risk, mess, and a failure-riddled learning process.
Creativity is supremely uncomfortable for me because of my anxious perfectionism. I overplan my decorating schemes. I click around the internet for hours looking for exactly what I had in mind, and then never get around to changing anything because, weirdly enough, my precise style isn’t trending, or I find the perfect thing…and it costs way too much money. Then I have to do the dreaded Decision Making Process where I gamble away a bunch of money on something I think I want and then not being able to purchase something else better down the road — or what if it goes on sale in a couple months?! But what if I don’t purchase it and then never achieve the vibe of my dreams? Maybe I should check another website….
Oh, and it’s even worse shopping in person, because the stakes are higher: if I want it, I need to buy it right now because it might not be there after a few weeks of mulling, and I can’t keep popping back and forth amongst local stores to check out my options and price compare, because the kiddos are melting down and the husband is starting to give advice based on how likely it’s going to get him home sooner. And I need real advice.
Doesn’t that sound like a fun way to spend a weekend?
So I have pined the better part of a year away about how boring and ugly my house is, and done absolutely nothing about it. (Except pinning impossible Pinterest dreams.)
Then the heavens opened and suggested some YouTube channels about creating things on the fly, without a precious plan, without too much particular skill. Just people spending a few bucks on something from the thrift store and seeing what happens. In particular, I’ve been watching Mr. Kate’s $300 room makeovers (like this and this one).
Two elements stood out to me, besides the gloriously cheap budget: they shopped at one thrift store, and they did everything in one day. They narrowed their options from ALL THE POSSIBILITIES OF THE INTERNET to one store, they limited what they were doing to one eight hour day, and they further curtailed their choices to stuff under $300. And then they did what they could, within those limits, and they just did them.
Something about those limits freed up what little creativity I had banging around inside my perfectionist little soul. I didn’t need to do the best thing humanly possible — which is what my perfectionism boils down to. I just needed to do the best with what I had.
I hit pause midway through another Mr. Kate episode and just did stuff. My budget? Zero bucks. My store? The junk closets and corners around my home. My time limit? Now until bedtime.
First up: this sideboard filled with art supplies.
I decluttered all the important papers we’d carefully haphazardly scattered about the horizontal space, then moved the sideboard out of an awkward corner onto a blank wall in our dining room.
I’d found this amazingly weird piece of wood last fall while throwing walnuts into a flooded footpath with my toddlers. The flowers were a gift for my baby’s birth, and since I never remember to water anything living, they dried out on my dresser. For some Wisconsin grit, I stuck in buckthorn branches from the vast dead plant pile taking up our entire back patio. My husband hoards candles that my toddler then scatters about the house, so I gathered three together into a pottery dish that my husband sculpted and painted in high school. The napkin (you know, one of those cloth napkins you register for during those starry-eyed pre-wedding days when you delusionally think you’ll have time to launder cloth napkins after every meal) pulled it all together.
I dug out those mirrors from a Goodwill bag stuffed into a closet. Totally forgot I’d bought them, but now that I stumbled across them again, I realized I’d never put them up because I wanted them a certain color that I would never get around to painting, and thrown up in a gallery wall that has yet to happen. They worked perfectly with the sideboard wood. I didn’t plan to hang them diagonally, but they didn’t have any hangers (???), so I had to hang them from a corner. The nails were already there from the previous owners. Why reinvent the wheel?
Next, this shelf.
I also rescued this from an awkward corner and a pile of stuff. I wasn’t exactly sure what to put on it, but once I started digging around in my clutter hotspots, I found plenty. Finally I could display our college diplomas. My dried out wedding bouquet sits atop the Book of Common Prayer (a nod to my Christian studies major) and next to the tiny silver beaker my husband insisted on keeping, now a symbol of his chemistry major.
Our senior year college yearbook was too beautiful not to display, and I just filled in things around it — my husband’s original art, some naked hardbacks, the decanter my husband also insisted on keeping without purpose, and this awesome retro adding machine from (notice a theme?) a box of childhood stuff my husband insisted on keeping. I love adding interactive design elements that my kids can play with and fondly remember….
I’ve been agonizing over family photos for years now, but I never had the right frames, or the right wall space, or the ideal time to order prints. Now that I was a new and improved person, I just printed a few photos on cardstock and stuck them in frames lying around in a box — nothing precious about it. Are they amazing quality? Nope. Do I like the frames? No. Do I love looking at my loved ones’ faces, as is the primary intent of framing photos? Absolutely!
Oh, and the bottom shelf is reserved for the mountains of library books I check out and never read.
Speaking of books, I wanted to empty our heaving bookshelf and do something minimalist…but after browsing Pinterest, I realized the heaving bookshelf look is an actual style, and I, a lover of books, liked it. Besides, I couldn’t be too fussy about the shelves, because my toddler periodically, um, rearranges things. So I merely played with texture and depth — stacking some books horizontally, embracing the stack that leaned diagonally. Then I pulled out our German china heirlooms that have been languishing unappreciated at the back of our cupboard, and paired them with some dried phlox I rescued from that patio plant pile.
Just one last touch: we’ve got so many random furniture pieces strewn about the basement, so I brought one up and put a plant on it.
There you have it! A midnight redecorating project, completely dollar- and stress-free. We all love the dimension, styling, and meaning these areas bring to our house, and I came away from a few hours of creativity absolutely singing with joy and a sense of accomplishment.
What are you waiting for, my perfectionist people? Go! Be free! Raid your junk closets!