Changing your environment can greatly improve your outlook. And that doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The key to great decor isn’t how much money you spend. It’s about seeing the possibilities in what you have already. You’ll be surprised at what you can do for little or no cost.

Use what you’ve got

I have a friend who calls herself a professional arranger because people hire her to come to their homes and “redecorate” with the things they already have. She goes through every room, the attic and the basement, taking inventory of everything available for her designs. Then she completely clears the room and starts from scratch to furnish and decorate with only the things she found in the home. The results are amazing.

If that triggered something in you that whispered, “I wish someone would pay me to do that,” check out the International Association of Home Staging Professionals. Or offer to do this for a few friends. Take before and after photos, and order business cards. You do not need a license or any particular certification to become a professional arranger.

Paint is cheap

Changing the color of one wall can change the entire mood of a room. One quart of paint is all you need. You can fool the eye with the way you use paint, making a room appear larger or smaller simply by changing of color.

It doesn’t have to be an entire wall. Paint the inside of drawers, cupboards or closets a bright color to give yourself a fresh reason to keep that space organized. Cool colors and lighter tints make walls look farther apart; rich, dark colors bring walls dramatically closer, creating an intimate look in a large room.

Consider these tips to make the job easier

Check your local hazardous waste recycling center or the “Goof!” shelves in the paint department at your local hardware or home improvement store for free or low-cost paint. One reader painted her entire house for $45 using three low-cost, five-gallon buckets of brand-new but leftover high-quality construction paint.

Use an old vinyl tablecloth as a drop cloth, or spend a buck for one at a dollar store. They are heavier than the plastic drop cloths at home centers like Lowe’s and Home Depot and will last for many rooms of painting. When you’re done, just hose it off and hang it over a clothesline or fence to dry before folding and storing.

When you take off the outlet and switch the covers, put the screws back into the holes so they don’t get lost. Or put the covers and screws in a sandwich bag.

Line your roller pan with a plastic grocery bag (inside out if it has printing on it) on the paint tray. Then you can just invert the bag when you’re done and throw it away.

Clean your brushes with a dryer sheet. A glass jar works great for this. Stuff the dryer sheet into it, and then fill with warm water. Place the brushes’ bristles down into the water, and allow to stand for three to four hours. Rinse brushes well, and dry.

Finishing touches

Strategic placement. The furniture you use most should be farthest from the entrance. If possible, avoid positioning couches, chairs, dining tables or desks against walls. Give yourself at least 3 feet between the furniture and walls.

Pictures and art. Most people hang pictures and art too high. The focal point for a single picture or the center of a group of pictures should be at eye-level for a person who is 5 feet, 7 inches tall. If that’s not you, I’ll bet you know someone who is that height.

Plants. Houseplants should be right for the light available in the area where you want to display them. Some easy growers that don’t require a lot of extra care include Philodendron and Boston fern.

Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of www.EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living. Submit comments or tips or address questions on her website. She will answer questions of general interest via this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.

Load comments