Easy, Cheap Decorating Ideas

Redecorating a room is one of the best ways to breathe new life into your surroundings -- and help you feel more energized. But the word “redecorate” can be intimidating; dollar signs start popping into your head, as does your packed schedule, leaving you wondering where you’ll find the time or money.

Fortunately, you can redecorate on a budget -- one of money and time. There are plenty of easy, quick, and cheap ideas to decorate and change a space, says Stacey McGarity, a partner in the interior design firm Acquisitions for the Home in New York City. Check out her easy low-cost, high-impact decorating strategies: 

1. Embrace Accessories
“Swapping out items like decorative pillows and a vase can transform the look and feel of any room in five minutes,” McGarity says. A new or different rug also achieves that fresh feeling.

Keep the old items on hand and you’ll swap them in mid-year for an easy way to create two seasonal looks. Pillow covers versus new pillows help keep costs down, and not using the same rug year-round means both last twice as long. For warmer months, try a sisal rug and cotton pillows. When the temperature drops, go for a darker, patterned rug and pillow covers in lush velvet.

2. Rethink Artwork

Pictures and paintings aren’t the only things you can hang. “Think outside of the box,” says McGarity. Your basement, garage and closets are a treasure trove of easy decorating ideas. Postcards, snapshots, kids’ drawings, posters and even wallpaper and fabric scraps can all be cut and put into cheap frames and hung together to create a quirky personal home gallery.

Or, if you find a large fabric remnant, consider making it into a wall hanging by hemming it and sewing in a rod pocket. “You can do it yourself with a sewing machine, but a tailor charges only about $10,” says McGarity.

3. Use Your Library
Take a few of your coolest books off the shelves and incorporate them into your décor. Gather ones with similarly colored jackets or focus them on a theme, such as travel (try mixing a guidebook, an Italian cookbook, a photography book of Alaska and your copy of Eat, Pray, Love together). They’ll look great stacked on a table or tall piece of furniture.

Another idea: Purchase an inexpensive tabletop easel at a craft store and use it to display a beautiful open book, McGarity says. You can change up the look by swapping in a different book.

4. Create an Accent Wall
Painting or wallpapering an entire room is a pricey undertaking. An easy option is to do just one wall to create a focal point. It makes the whole room pop -- and you only do a quarter of the work!

Which wall should you choose? “Usually the longest in the room, but it could also be the one lined with all furniture,” says McGarity. “In general, though, you won’t go wrong with the one that feels the most blank.”

To select the right paint, pick a shade that’s in nearby furniture or other décor. “If you love the gray upholstery on a chair, for example, paint the wall behind it a lighter shade of gray,” says McGarity. If you’re decorating with wallpaper, small rooms like bathrooms, foyers and mud rooms often produce the best results. Also consider cheaper vinyl wallpaper. It’s twice the width of regular rolls, making it a cinch to hang. Plus, vinyl is durable and easy to clean. "For a small amount of money, you can make it the coolest room in the house,” says McGarity.

How to Have More Energy

Between work and family, household responsibilities and a social life, your days are packed. How do you have time to find the energy for it all? The next time you’re in need of a pick-me-up, try one of these quick and easy energy boosters. They’ll add some oomph to your attitude in less time than it takes to brew a pot of coffee.

1. Power up at breakfast.
“Starting your morning with the right fuel can increase alertness and concentration,” says Heather Mangieri, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in Pittsburgh. And no, a bagel or donut doesn’t cut it -- refined carbs may deliver a spike of energy, but a crash quickly follows.

Instead, make breakfast a combination of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy, unsaturated fat. Think whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk, topped with fruit and almonds, or two scrambled eggs with veggies and a slice of whole-wheat toast. The nutrients take longer to digest, giving you sustained energy until lunch.

2. Sniff a stimulating scent.

Keep a bottle of citrus or peppermint essential oil in your desk drawer and take a whiff whenever you need a pick-me-up. Or pop a peppermint or lemon drop candy or a stick of mint gum. Citrus aromas (such as grapefruit and lemon) and peppermint have been shown to trigger increased activity in areas of the brain associated with alertness, according to a study in the International Journal of Neuroscience. After smelling the fragrances, participants also performed math problems faster and felt less anxious.

3. Wear bright colors or decorate with them.

Looking at bright hues stimulates the brain and makes you feel more alert, according to the journal Color Research and Application. Red may be particularly helpful, especially if you need energy to focus on a complicated project, says Norbert Schwarz, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. In a study, people who looked at red shapes on a computer screen answered questions more accurately than those gazing at blue ones. Why? Red hues can signal caution, which may make you more detail-oriented.

4. Turn on the radio.

Music is a near-instant way to put more pep in your step. Researchers at London’s Brunel University found that when study participants listened to upbeat songs while jogging, they exercised 15 percent longer and reported feeling happier than those who worked out in silence. Fast-paced music may subconsciously push us to step up our efforts, but you don’t have to be on a treadmill to reap the benefits. Cue up a dance-worthy playlist next time you have a marathon errand-running session or need to zip through your to-do list.

5. Organize your space.

A kitchen full of dirty dishes or papers strewn around your office could contribute to your lethargy. “When you clear out or give order to your surroundings, you feel more in control, letting you focus more energy on other things,” says Regina Leeds, author of One Year to an Organized Life. Tidying up a small area can also give you a sense of accomplishment, which helps feed your motivation to tackle other tasks on your to-do list, she says.

No matter what your to-do list or day holds, these tricks can help boost your energy and ward off that midday -- or morning or evening -- slump.

Photo: Corbis Images

Family Room Clutter Busters

Your family room or living room is the one place your whole clan comes together to hang out. And, as such, it’s probably the default dumping ground for everyone’s stuff. If your family is like most families, that means clutter and disorganization.

But you can transform this room from the messiest area in your home to the organized, relaxing family haven you desire. Here’s how: 

1. Get rid of what doesn’t belong.
Think about the function of the room, says Lorie Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet and founder of the Web site ClutterDiet.com. How do you use the space? Most people use family rooms to watch TV and movies, listen to music, read, talk, play games and play with toys.

Start by going through each item with that in mind. Keep what fits and move out what doesn’t. That means board games, magazines and DVDs are in; backpacks, a briefcase, mail, keys, cold medicine and other miscellaneous items are out.

2. Sort your stuff.
Focusing on the stuff that you decided to keep, sort everything by how often you use each item, advises Marrero.

Things your family uses daily or almost every day (magazines, remotes, toys, etc.) should be easily accessible. Items you use a few times a month (playing cards, scrapbooks) can go out of the way in a cabinet or drawer. Gather anything you rarely need (holiday decorations, your grandmother’s tablecloth, old report cards) into storage bins and send them off to the garage, closet, attic or basement.

3. Ditch DVD and CD cases.
One of the quickest ways for a room to look and feel neater is to transfer discs to CD wallets or binders and get rid of the cases by either recycling them or donating them to charity. This way, you convert many shelves of storage or display space to just a few inches, and your CDs remain accessible. In fact, it’s even easier to find the CD you need.  “Because you flip through binders like a book, it’s easier to find specific discs,” says Marrero.

4. Clear the coffee table.
Because of its prominent spot in the room, the coffee table can amass clutter and make an otherwise tidy room feel disorganized. Here are some ideas on how to deal with the messy inhabitants:

  • Move magazines. Magazines and catalogs can easily pile up. Place them in a basket in a corner, instead. It serves as a natural “limiting container,” says Marrero. “When the basket is full, it’s a visual reminder to clean it out.”
  • Rein in remote controls. A universal remote is an extra expense, but what you spend to turn four remotes into one, you’ll earn back in sanity. Also, give it a designated home: Attach the soft side of Velcro to the back of the remote and stick the rough piece to the side of the sofa or another easy-to-reach, hidden spot.

5. Tidy up toys.
Some people think that all toys can be thrown into one place, but if you want to stay organized, that might not be the best strategy. “One big toy box encourages kids to dump the whole thing out,” warns Marrero. And then what do you have?  Clutter city! Instead, store toys in small containers by type -- one bin for dolls, one for blocks, one for games, and so on. And skip lids if possible. “Using open bins means that kids can just throw things in, making cleanup easier for everyone,” says Marrero.

6. Corral your cords.
A mess of exposed electrical cords is just that -- a mess. Fish cords through the back of furniture and use Velcro cable ties or even garbage-bag twist ties to bundle them. “That way, they don’t become a giant octopus,” says Marrero. Attach label stickers on the ends so you can unplug one electronic without the guessing game.

7. Stay clutter-free.
Once the room is organized, keep it that way!

  • Stop collecting stuff. “Try to prevent things from coming into the room in the first place,” says Marrero. Unsubscribe from magazines you rarely read, and buy music or movies online instead of getting them in discs. And, before you buy anything new, ask yourself, “Where am I going to store this?”
  • Think beyond the family room. If items like backpacks and mail keep showing up, give them a permanent home elsewhere. Create what Marrero calls a “destination station.” Hang hooks by the door for keys, put a basket in the hall for mail and give purses, backpacks and shoes space in your mud room or hall closet.
  • Straighten up on the spot. “Organizing is about decision making,” says Marrero. It’s easy to put an item somewhere “just for now.” But doing so instantly creates clutter. The rule: Put items away as soon as you finish with them, and find suitable homes for new things right away.
  • Enlist your family’s help. Talk about maintaining the order, then post a checklist reminding your kids that they have to put away toys, homework and other stuff before they can watch TV. Or set a policy that everyone spends five minutes before bed to get organized -- folding blankets, putting back the remote, picking up socks and so on.

The Dirty Truth About Kitchen Germs

What would you guess is the germiest thing in your house? The trash can? The toilet? It’s actually -- gulp! -- the kitchen sink. In fact, the entire kitchen is a hotbed of bacteria, according to a study by the Hygiene Council, a group of global health experts. The room plays host to half of the top 10 germiest areas in your home, even though most people say they regularly clean the kitchen.

“The potential for bacteria is so high in the kitchen because you bring in uncooked meats and produce that can introduce E. coli, Salmonella and other bacteria,” says Dr. Charles Gerba, who holds a doctorate in microbiology and teaches at the University of Arizona. “Cooking kills the bacteria, but handling it increases the risk of spreading germs to other foods and surfaces, like the sink and countertop.”

Fortunately, getting rid of your kitchen germs is a snap. Here are the top five germ-prone areas -- plus quick tricks for cleaning them.

1. The Kitchen Sink

In most drains alone, there are half a million bacteria per square inch, says Gerba. “Everything gets tossed in the sink -- raw food, scraps, dirty dishes,” he says. “Plus, it’s constantly wet, which creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.”

Banish the bacteria: Simply spray your basin and drain with disinfectant every night after cleaning up the dinner dishes. No need to wipe!

2. Sponges

The thing you rely on to clean your kitchen may be sabotaging your efforts. “If you use a sponge to wipe a bacteria-containing area and then use it to wipe countertops and other surfaces, you give germs a free ride around your kitchen,” explains Gerba.

Banish the bacteria: Designate one sponge for washing dishes and another sponge or cloth for wiping surfaces. Toss sponges in the dishwasher with a regular load at least once a week (or whenever one touches raw food). Microwaving a sponge for two minutes also kills bacteria.

3. Cutting boards

Cutting boards are big germ hangouts. Why? “First, you use them to prep things like raw chicken,” says Mary Findley, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Cleaning and owner of Mary Moppins cleaning products. “And second, knives create tiny grooves that trap bacteria and make them hard to clean.”

Banish the bacteria: To prevent cross-contamination, use one cutting board for meat, poultry and seafood, and another only for produce. Wash them after every use: Glass and plastic boards can go in the dishwasher, but wood cutting boards need to be washed and dried by hand. You can also apply mineral oil to wood boards every month or two, which helps seal crevices and block bacteria, says Findley.

4. The Faucet

After handling raw meat, most people reach for the faucet to wash their hands. But that leaves bacteria behind on the handle. What’s more, germy sponges and dishcloths are often stored nearby or draped over the faucet.

Banish the bacteria: When you spray the sink’s basin, also hit the faucet, the handle and the spigot. Or wipe all faucet surfaces with an antibacterial cloth, says Gerba. 

5. The Refrigerator
The fridge handle sees a lot of action, and all those hands can unknowingly spread pathogens. As for the inside, “the bottom shelf is the worst,” says Findley. “When foods leak or drip from above, they all collect there.”

Banish the bacteria: Wipe down the handle, drawers and bottom shelf before your weekly supermarket trip, suggests Findley. Once a month, take out and wash the drawers with soap and water, letting them dry thoroughly.

Closet Organization Made Easy

With a mile-long to-do list, closet organization probably isn’t your top priority. After all, you can just close the door and forget it’s even there! But avoidance won’t work forever, and closet chaos can take a toll worse than any wardrobe malfunction.

“When there’s no organization to your closet, you can feel out of control,” says Debra Baida, founder of the organizing firm Liberated Spaces. “It’s overwhelming and the stress can spill into other areas of your life.”

Fortunately, creating and maintaining an organized closet is easier than you might think. These tips will help you find peace -- both in the closet and out.

1. Ditch the deadweight.

Why waste time rummaging through never-worn items to find a favorite? The key to closet organization is purging the shabby, outdated and unused. Here’s how:

  • Use the wear test. If you haven’t worn an item for a year, put it aside. You should only keep pieces you either love or wear frequently.

  • Nix nostalgia. It’s common to feel sentimental attachment to clothes -- the dress you wore to your engagement party, for example. But instead of letting it clutter your closet when you never wear it, frame a photo of you in it. “A picture can be enough to satisfy the memory,” says Baida.

  • Follow the one-size-away rule. Yes, you may fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans at some point, but keeping ill-fitting clothes eats up space and can be a depressing reminder that you haven’t met your goal. Instead, “only keep clothes that are within one size of your current one,” says Baida. When you do reach your goal weight, reward yourself with new duds.

  • Phone a friend. If you have trouble parting with things, ask an honest friend to help. Hearing from her that something isn’t flattering might be all you need to toss it.
2. Arrange like with like.

When you arrange your clothes, group them by category. Put all your work blouses together, line up jeans one after the other, and so on. Finding what you want is easier when you only need to look in one place, says Baida.

3. Keep shoes visible.
Shoes take up a lot of space and get messy quickly. Invest in some multi-tier racks that fit under short items, such as shirts. They’ll be easier to see and keep organized. Store rarely worn shoes (like dressy high heels) in clear boxes on a shelf or under the bed.

4. Give accessories their own place.
For scarves and belts, try using a clear, pocketed shoe organizer that hangs over the door. The pockets keep items separate and let you locate them quickly.

5. Heed the seasons.

If you switch over your closet to match the weather, assess last season’s staples before putting them in storage. If you didn’t wear something all season, it’s probably safe to donate.

6. Maintain the newfound order.
Whenever you buy something new, think of it as a replacement for a less-fabulous piece. A one-in, one-out approach helps you keep up the space you’ve allotted for each category, says Baida.

Once your closet’s in order, it’ll be one less thing bugging you in the morning. And the more stress-free your a.m. routine, the more you can focus on what really matters.