Tuesday, November 18, 2008

10 Cheap and Free Redecorating Tips for the Recently Divorced

This is a post I've been thinking about writing for awhile and something I am constantly working on in my life - a project in process. Most of you that read my blog know my story: while I was married my husband and I bought a big Victorian home in a neighborhood I had always wanted to live in. When the marriage went bad, I moved out to a tiny 400 sq. foot apartment. When the dust settled and the divorce was final I ended up with the "marital home" (as it says on the divorce paperwork.) It is trying to pay this mortgage on my own, (along with my other bills,) that inspired this blog, and as you all know, I am $900 greenbacks in the hole each month. Things have been going fairly well so far, with some ups and some downs, yet overall moving in the right direction. But there is one thing - I am still living in this house my ex and I bought.

It is hard after a divorce. So many objects inspire memories. I look at the plates I use and remember that they were wedding gifts, I look at the garden and think about what we always planned on doing with it, and so on. With time it has gotten easier though and as the months have passed and the hurt faded, I've gotten more comfortable with the house. I don't think about the bad stuff much anymore. One of the things that has helped me has been redecorating the rooms to fit my taste, but let's face it, I have no money to spend on "frivolous" things.*

So, here are some free or practically free tips for redecorating your home after the divorce:

1. Move some furniture pieces around to change the "attitude" of the room - This is all about changing the way a room feels. Every room has a flow - a way people walk through it and move through the space, after a divorce there are some rooms that you may want to change in order to give them a different feeling.

For example, the way my bedroom is designed with the location of the windows, closet doors and so forth, there is only one place you can put the bed; but as I was moving back in, the thought of putting my bed where the "marital bed" had been made me really uncomfortable. Beds are so hugely symbolic. Well, instead of putting my bed in the obvious place, I stuck it smack dab in the center of the room. Did it look a bit silly? You betcha! But it achieved the goal of changing the flow of the room. By putting the bed in the middle I wasn't thinking about my side/his side or laying there with bad memories running around in my head. The odd positioning completely changed the space and as a bonus it also hid the fact that I had practically no furniture in there! If you have a big meaningful piece like a bed, couch or dining room table, that has "always" been in the same space consider moving it around - even if it means putting it where you have no intention of keeping it. I had my bed in the center of the room for four months before I decided I had swept out the old vibes and could put it in the obvious place.

2. Remember lessons learned in college - get free furniture to fill gaps. Divorce usually means splitting up assets, so you may have some big holes where the pieces your ex took used to be. It may be tempting to run out to your local furniture-mart and "treat" yourself to a brand new leather couch or that glass dining room table you always wanted but your ex hated. Bad idea! Look, you probably didn't get some huge million dollar settlement, or you wouldn't be reading this blog - but even if you do have extra cash in the bank, now is a bad time to spend huge amounts of cash. Going through a divorce sucks and it is easy to want to spend money on yourself to make yourself feel better, but this is a huge life change. It will change who you are. What you need to do now is spend some time figuring out exactly who you want to become, what you want your life to be like post divorce. That faux leopard skin sectional couch might seem like a good idea now, but not in six months when you've decided get rid of all your possessions to follow your calling to the Peace Corps.

Which doesn't change the fact you don't have a place to sit anymore, so what I suggest is doing exactly what we did when we were in college, broke and needing furniture - get "hand me downs." Ask friends and relatives, search the thrift stores and garage sales. Or think about reusing what you already have with a slipcover. It doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to be functional. My mother had a friend who had an extra dining room table and chairs which she gave to me for free. I am not kidding when I say it is one of the ugliest sets of all time, but you know what? The table holds my plates and the chairs hold my tush. I am planning on buying a red tablecloth (after Christmas so I can score a deal) for the table and eventually replacing the chairs.... someday... maybe. Or I may just pass them on to someone else who needs them when the time comes.

3. Cleanse the house of your ex's stuff. I think my ex thought he took everything that was his, but he didn't - not completely. There are weird little things in the back of drawers and hidden on shelves that are his. It is up to you on what you want to do with it - box it up, give it back, burn it in a ritual fire, the important thing is removing things that you don't want to see anymore. Spend a couple hours, put on some great tunes (and maybe have a glass of wine) and grab some trash bags and go through your house from top to bottom. Open every cupboard, look in every closet. It isn't fun, but it will prevent surprises from "popping" up when you least expect it.

4. Candles make a room better. One way you can clear out the funk is with candles. Candles are an inexpensive redecorating fix and help cleanse the air. They also bring provide a peaceful light, and peace is something you might need right now. I love having a few candles lit at home.

5. Paint is your friend. One of the first things I am going to do when I have a little extra cash is paint the bedroom. Right when I moved in I went to Home Depot and got a whole bunch of color samples to hang on the wall. Paint is fairly cheap and nothing changes a room like new color. I have found that even the intention of painting helps - just knowing I am going to give it a whole new look is enough to keep me going. It may be a few months before I have the time and spare dollars to pick up paint and brushes, but the plan is enough to make things better. Another option is to keep an eagle eye on the mismatched paint colors. Frequently you can score paint super cheap that way if you aren't too particular about the color.

6. Re-purpose a room. Home selling tips often warn against this, so if you are looking to sell your home, you just might want to skip this one on by, however, if you are staying put for awhile think about changing the use of a room. Can your bedroom be made the den? Can the dining room be an office? If the house is big, maybe you can even close rooms off and not use them, or if you are like me and used to a tiny space, you might want to stretch out and use the whole thing. The point is make the house work for you and your new life.

7. Look for new wall art. You might have guessed I'm not talking about expensive art here, what I suggest is finding things to put up that make you happy. It doesn't have to cost much, frames are almost always on sale at craft stores, but even poster putty or thumbtacks work in a pinch. The goal is to look at something everyday that makes you smile.

When I first moved out it was really important to me to have photos of family and friends around me. I took a bunch of unframed photos and found some frames in various places (dollar stores, garage sales and my own attic) and these made up most of my living room decor. They meant a lot to me, but cost me very little to put up. There are other places for cheap art too - recently a friend of mine brought me a beautiful piece of paper from a nice paper store. Technically it is wrapping paper, but I like it so much I am going to frame it. Another great place for art? I found a photo I loved on iStockphoto and asked my sister for a print for my birthday. If you have kids or are an aunt, uncle or grandparent, ask them for artwork - they will be happy to oblige! Or make your own - unleash your own creativity with brushes and paint.

8. Add some greenery. Right after I moved into my house my mother gave me a pot of clearance petunias. I was glad she did - I planted them and loved the bit of color they added to my yard. Another friend of mine gave me a planter right after the divorce, and recently I divided it up and put the smaller plants in their own pots. Even if you don't have friends and moms to give you plants you can still get some greenery for cheap. Look around your office - does someone have a spider plant or a pothos they'd be willing to give you a cutting of? Know any amateur gardeners? Many have plants you can split, provided you bring your own shovel! Even a packet of seed costs only a few cents.

9. Scrub it down from top to bottom. One way to change the look of a room or a space is simply to clean it. I'm not talking about a swipe of the dust cloth and a vacuum, but I mean that old fashioned, white glove, grandmother approved top to bottom full on clean. Remove the dust, the hairs under the sink, the gunk on the tiles. Do it one room at a time if you need to - Rome wasn't built in a day after all, but work through and really make your place shine. Not only will this make you feel better, this is also a way to really see your house, maybe help you remember why you fell in love with it the first time. If you aren't living in the house from your marriage, but instead are in a rental, it still applies! Clean your apartment from ceiling to floor and it will feel a lot more like home.

10. Finally, wherever you are living, try to make friends with it. Wherever you are, it needs to me a safe and comforting place. The healing process after divorce is going to take awhile and you need to be somewhere you can do that in. Look around for things that trigger sad thoughts or bad memories and see how you can change them. It doesn't have to cost a fortune, just because you don't have a lot of money, doesn't mean you have to deprive yourself - it just means you have to get creative.

Photo by: jingye

*Truth is, I don't think redecorating is frivolous at all. In fact, I think it is a great way to get good use from your home and increase the property value. However... if you are worried about paying the gas bill, now is not the time to worry about new end tables.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

Sounds like good advice. I imagine it would be tough staying in the "marital home" alone. I'm sure rearranging and redecorating can help make it feel more like a new place of your own.