When I first moved into my apartment, which was entirely my own to decorate and furnish, it was a magical day. (The first part being not entirely true since I was sharing it with my fiancé, but he immediately went away to work abroad for three months so it felt like it.) The apartment came with a new “fresh start” feeling, and the excitement, the seemingly-limitless possibility to buy stuff that would make it feel like ~our space~ was intoxicating. I couldn’t wait to tackle DIY projects and create mood boards for each minuscule space, and it filled me with a specific and happy glow that still makes me feel good when I think back on it.
However, as I’m sure most people know (or will surely figure out on their own soon enough) decorating any space comes with a price tag; however big or small it is, it’s still a reality. It requires strict budgeting and a healthy dose of frugal purchases if you want to stay on track, financially speaking. The real challenge of keeping a space feeling warm and homey and looking tasteful, is figuring out how to stretch your dollars and make the most out of small increments of money. Sometimes, the smallest purchases can add cheer and a feeling of newness that lingers on well past the day you brought the item home.
I reached out to eight women to talk about some of their smart and inexpensive purchases, which helped make their spaces feel just a little bit shinier, and faked that sense of “newness” that makes people go “ahh.”
1. “New lightbulbs. The first time I changed out the lightbulbs in my apartment was like night and day. I didn’t even realize how completely dingy my bathroom lights were (or to be honest, that one bulb had actually blown out completely) and how it was affecting the overall mood of the apartment. I finally got around to purchasing a set of bright-white bulbs, and it made the whole place feel brighter and fresher instantly. Man, I also realized just how mismatched the shower curtain and rug were…” — Monica
2. “A new set of bath towels. <– Definitely would have to go with that one. I had been using my former set — the ones I brought back from my college days — for a loooooong time, and god knows why I kept them hanging around for so long. Those things were gross, and it was high time I let them go. Anyway, I picked up a new fluffy set of white ones from Costco, and now when I shower it feels luxurious. It was an easy way to upgrade my bathroom to something that felt newer.” — Erica
3. “Getting rid of my old shower curtain. Swapping out my old, soap-scum, mildewy-smelling shower curtain for a clean and bright new one was like, BAM! Newer shower and newer bathroom in an instant. Now, I’m excited to go in there and use my shower instead of feeling guilty and sad because I know how badly I need to clean it.” — Sam
4. “Buying seasonal room spray. A small way to make your home feel cozy, warm, and smelling 100. It makes my home almost feel like a store, where you are hit with a strong sense of smell the moment you walk in. The sense of smell is the strongest sense tied to memory, and I find that it helps me unwind and feel soothed as soon as I walk in the door. I picked up a can at Marshalls for like $7, and it’s a great way to make your home feel newer on the cheap.” — Carrie
5. “Doing a deep kitchen clean. This one is basically free to do (but you do have to top up your stock of cleaning solutions if you’re running low), and makes the absolute biggest difference in your life and feel of your home. To me, one of the most exciting things about buying our house was that incomparable feeling of living in a fresh, new, minimalist space that’s clean and ready to be worn in. I used to think that that state was something I could never again reclaim once we lived in it for awhile, but it 100% is. It takes making concious choices to keep the space pared down and squeaky clean. For example, I used to pack my fridge and cabinets with too much shit, and clean it thoroughly only twice a month. Since then, I’ve learned to take more pride in the kitchen space specifically, and on Sundays I dust, clean out the fridge, wipe down the inside of the pantry, and reseal any torn bags. Making the entire kitchen look and feel clean and simplified makes me feel so at peace with my surroundings and happy as hell.” — Bell
6. “Swapping out the kitchen soap dispenser and sponge holder. I used to have my bright yellow kitchen sink sponge just chilling on the side of the sink, which looked a little immature. Then, while I was shopping around one day, I picked up this little fancy soap dispenser/sponge holder holder for $9. I put it in the kitchen, and now it feels like a much more stylish and intentional way to house stuff that’s really functional. It like a super-small way I’ve made the kitchen feel new, because it’s a small pop of something pretty.” — Amee
7. “Using contact paper on my doors. I really love the starter home my husband and I bought, but the bathrooms are terrible and look like they’re from 1970. We had these orange-y wooden doors that I covered up with dark-wood color contact paper. It completely transformed the way my bathroom looks, and I think the roll was like under $10 at Home Depot. It’s a small and really effective to make our space look new without spending much money until we’re ready to properly fix stuff up (which is always a huge money sucker).” — Mila
8. “Changing the furniture arrangement. This one is way under $10 — it’s free! My mom always taught me that if you’re growing tired of a space, consider changing the furniture around before you go out and buy something new. Sometimes, seeing a piece in a new area or positioned on a different angle can make you see it in a whole new light. For example, sometimes I change up the pillows on my bed and my couch, swap around the throw blankets, try putting the lamps in a different place, or change my desk to face a different directions. Until you’ve exhausted all the different possibilities you space can offer up in terms of furniture arrangement, it can be easy to make your place look newer.” — Rebecca
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