“I need to live like this is my home.”

“I need to live like this is my home.”

We bought our house as a fixer-upper when we were straight out of college, and even now–more than a decade later–we still have a lot of fixing up to do. I was young and indecisive; I didn’t have a style; I didn’t know how to make my house mine.

We’ve known for a while that we won’t stay in our little starter house forever. (4 kids + 2 grown-ups divided by one bathroom = no thanks.) We decided years ago that when the time comes to move on, we don’t want to sell our starter house. We want to hang on to it and rent it out. (Thus the goal to save up a down payment.)

We’ve been thinking about renting out our house for Derby this spring, using it as motivation to tackle some lingering projects and make some cash.

We knew we needed to do some work to get it ready, and set out to make a to-do list: replace some broken furniture, spiff up our much-abused hand-me-down dining room chairs, repair the peeling paint in the bathroom. Buy a tv, replace the broken dishes, put in a few new windows.

Before we finished the list, we scanned the other Derby rental listings on Craigslist, just to make sure we weren’t forgetting anything.

That’s when I started to have serious angst.

I don’t usually suffer from Pinterest envy or instagram angst, but I felt a stab of something when I looked at those listings. I couldn’t help but notice that those houses all looked lived in. They looked decorated; they felt complete. Mine … doesn’t.

For ten years, I’ve put off making decisions because I didn’t know what to decide, or how. I didn’t know what my style was or what I wanted things to look like. And besides, I knew we were moving on. And so I waited … until I knew.

But when I saw those finished homes in the listings, I realized just how much I’ve been biding my time here, waiting for the next house.

I’ve used my indecision–I’m just not sure what I want, yet–and my move as an excuse to not really make this house mine.

But it turns out you can’t find out what you want by waiting. You find out by doing, by experimenting, by trying something and living with it for a bit.

I was chatting with an interior designer recently who said a surprising number of her clients are renters. She theorized it was because renters know they need help, and they feel free to experiment in their temporary space–clarifying their style, with her help–so they can be ready when they move to their own place.

I’m a vocal advocate of failing forward with my wardrobe and with my work. But when it comes to my home, I’ve been reluctant to experiment. I’m constantly beating back my maximizer nature. Experimenting with a scarf, or colored skinnies, or dangly earrings is one thing … but with a sofa? Yikes.

(It’s important to clarify: I’m not talking about spending the big bucks! I’m talking about wall colors, throw pillows, which photos to put in what color frame.)

I’m resolving to make a few more mistakes going forward: to make my house mine, through trial and error–with a little help from friends with good eyes, and Pinterest–but mostly on my own. 

It’s time to experiment: to try new things,  to see what works and what doesn’t; what we like, and what we don’t. 

Wish me luck.

On a happier note, I heard something about interior design in the midst of my freak-out that I found reassuring. I’ll share a little about that tomorrow.

I’d love to hear about your personal experience–good or bad–with interior design in comments. And if you’ve got any good tips, please share them there!

(Title quote from my current read: Micha Boyett’s memoir Found.)

PS. My #1 lesson from Pinterest, and a DIY decorating experiment I don’t regret a bit.

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59 comments

  1. Anna says:

    I totally get this. My life took a different direction – I was single for a couple years after college, and then childless for another 6. I had time to experiment. Now with motherhood and financial pressures I look up some days and realize it’s been a long time since I really thought about how the house looks and worked to make it work for us.

    We’re about to make some minor changes to our Master because we’re expecting a baby and our 7 year old bedding, etc. was dated and sad. I want to welcome the baby (and my postpartum visitors) to something that is fresh and reflective of us at this stage of life. My longtime trick that is now made easier with pinterest, is to scan magazines, blogs, or pinterest and save images that feel “me” for the room I’m considering. I don’t overanalyze the picture, I just save it. When I’ve amassed a few I go back and start analyzing what the common threads are. Turns out I may get white sheets because even though I always thought that was boring, they kept showing up in my pictures. The color was added elsewhere.

    I also think it can be good to take cues from your wardrobe. I wear a lot of neutrals with fabulous pops of color or sparkle in my accessories. My house is the same. And finally, you need to know if you need a calm environment or an energizing environment. I keep our home, and especially our room, very subdued, yet interesting to look at, because I cannot handle too much brightness and color without feeling a little crazy. I allow my books to be the biggest, boldest pops of color and that is enough.

    • Anne says:

      I love how you articulated this–because I’m finding that I like mostly neutrals with big pops of color, too. At least in my home. Not sure about the wardrobe….

      And that’s very wise about the calm vs. energizing environment. So true!

  2. I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to decorating AND dressing, so I tend to not add much in the way of accessories on myself or on my house. So, my house (and I!) never exactly look magazine-worthy, but I’m not sure that I need to change, you know?

    I mean, I do paint my walls, and I’ve got things hanging on the walls as well. But I never have that layered, lush look that magazines do, and I’m ok with that. The minimalist, simple look means that it’s easy to clean my house, and it’s easy to live here and not break things.

  3. MK says:

    After five years of marriage, our little apartment is still filled with wedding registry gifts and hand-me-down furniture. I’m angsty about all that stuff from the wedding registry: the whole thing was overwhelming, so I made boring choices and get jealous of friends’ “pretty” kitchen things. And the rest of their houses, as we’re still in a tiny, builder beige-walled, only-allowed-ten-nail-holes-in-the-walls apartment.

    We’ll be making a big move this summer, so I’m starting to think about what things I want to purge from our stuff, what I want to keep, and what I want to update or replace to make our next home (still rented, but hopefully a townhouse or duplex–we’re movin’ up in the world!) Looking forward to your post tomorrow; I have no idea where to begin!

  4. Oh this is SO me. And currently we are living in a furnished place so I have no choice about the furniture. However i have blank walls I could do something with, but here they are still blank…and I haven’t figured out if I should spend money on a few things to make it look like mine. But I know I’ll enjoy it so much more if I just did it already…

  5. D says:

    I was having some similar thoughts lately and found one of the most affordable online decorating help tools:

    http://www.photosubmitdecorating.com/

    You can find other similar services by searching “Online Interior Design Help.” I am begging my husband to let me try it because I know that there are some things about my house I LOVE and want to show off, and others that I want to change but don’t know how/what to do instead, and I’m already very bad at incorporating things like storage space into a room. I would love to try a service like this to help me get it “right” faster.

  6. Good luck! 🙂 It takes me so long to make big decor decisions, too. But like you were saying, I’ve found it’s better to just do SOMETHING than nothing. If it doesn’t work, lesson learned.
    I have a decorator friend who I call whenever I move to a new place–I send her floor plans and she talks me through furniture arrangements :).

  7. Alicia Ragus says:

    I truly understand this. My parents moved into a “starter” home a little over twenty-five years ago. Various things (a surprise baby, a lay off or two etc) kept them in that house, but, in their minds it was always temporary so they never decorated or made changes to their aesthetic, but to what they thought would, eventually best help them sell the house.

    When I moved out and into my first apartment, I didn’t hang any pictures, place any tchotchkes or do anything that made the place feel homey…nor did I do so at my second or third apartments and I haven’t yet done so now that I moved into my now husband’s house. As we are in the process of buying our first home though, I find myself craving that homeyness for it and pinning a plethora of ideas yet am worrying I will pick the wrong couch or paint or lamp. Everything I have had has always been hand me downs or cheap thrifted solutions.

    However, I agree with what you said completely…doing something, even if it ends up being the wrong something, is better than doing nothing and, even the big things (like a couch) can be changed (with slip-covers or sold and bought a-new). So good luck to you and to all of us experimenting with a sense of style and a sense of home!

  8. Jamie says:

    One of the best things I’ve found so far in terms of helping nail down what you like and set up a “style” is to find one or two things you absolutely love, and then build on them. We lived with a cheap futon for a couch for years until we found the perfect couch/loveseat set – deep, soft, chocolate leather that looks like it belongs in an English manor house study. I then worked backwards from there – slowly picking a paint color (golden wheat), lamps, etc. that went really well with the furniture. I’ve done something similar in other rooms and it has worked equally well.

    I also second the commenter above who said it’s really important to know whether you need your house to be invigorating or soothing – knowing I wanted soothing immediately reduced the number of choices to be made across the board, which helped a lot. (And kudos to the commenter above who identified the value of minimalism! I forever look at centerpieces and little home decor things and think they’re cute, then refuse to buy them because visual clutter drives me nuts. You can like something without it being a good fit for your home and daily life.)

    • Anne says:

      I love your plan (and that’s mostly what I’ve done, but without as much “building out from there” as I’d like). Your chocolate leather sofa sounds divine. 🙂

  9. Ana says:

    OUr walls are so bare (and not by choice)…more by indecision. My husband is a total maximizer, and refuses to just hang things up and change them later. So now we’re contemplating a “decorating plan”, which stresses me out. I’d rather just go for it with SOMETHING and then tweak over time.

  10. Kate Frishman says:

    OH, I can SO identify with this! I am also an indecisive maximizer (thank you for that term, by the way, I’d never heard it before but it fits me to a T). I love to move, so I always think of the house I’m in as temporary, but we’ll be in this house for at least 13 years, so…
    True story: every time I move I just hang things on the nails that are already in the house. It’s ridiculous, but it has become my pattern. But hey, I painted the walls in our current house! I’m improving!

  11. Faigie says:

    I’ve only lived in 2 places in 30 yrs of marriage but have never been scared to try new things especially since all my decorating decisions are$$$ based. I start with what I can afford & go from there

  12. Ann says:

    Great post! We are currently bursting at the seems of our starter home (5 kids, 2 parents, one bathroom) and need to really start a construction project this summer or seriously think about moving. Never thought we’d be here 13 year. Have resisted interior projects thinking “we’ll be moving soon.”

    We did just recently upgrade our daughters room-paint, rug, bedding etc. it looks great and makes me a little sad we waited this long. We should have just jumped in head first with changes & upgrades. We should like & love our surroundings no matter how permenate or temporary.

    • Anne says:

      As I’m sure you can imagine, I completely resonate with this (although we’ve only got 4 kids to your 5 🙂 ).

      Love what you said about liking and loving our surroundings. Exactly!

  13. Karlyne says:

    Never, ever wait to do anything in the decorating line because you think you can’t afford it. If you can’t afford that living room in the magazine (or Pinterest), you’re looking at it wrong. Stand waaaay back and ask yourself what it is that’s drawing you in to that room. Is it the color? The pictures? The couch or bed? Start with what you have and what you can find in thrift stores (I picked up the perfect good-sized mirror for a blank little wall last week for… $4.95!), and don’t be afraid to move some furniture! One of my favorite “dining rooms” I actually put in the living room under the stairs- cute and cozy for winter time. And never, ever wait for “perfect”. You’ll be surprised at how perfect you can make a home without perfect furnishings…

    That looks like a lot of advice, but I tell you that after decades of moving and scrambing to make houses look like homes, it is heart-felt!

    No matter whether you’re renting (my parents must have rented over 30 times in their married career) or buying (I bought my first home as a teen-ager), putting your stamp on a home will make you feel more connected and grounded and, well, happier!

  14. I am mostly clueless at home design but we’ve done some pretty major remodeling just to update our 70’s-tastic house, and I do feel like we’ve made it our own even though it’s not as nicely put together or decorated as some of my friends’ homes. I really like the phrase you used — “failing forward.”

  15. Shelly says:

    My husband has always been our interior decorator. He really gets into it- just yesterday he bought a new area rug, end tables, and two waterfalls (like I said- he loves it). I kind of stand back and observe because he really does have good taste, but I do need to remind him that we do have ten kids, so it has to be livable, not a museum. And count your blessings with your bathroom. We’ve got one bathroom for twelve people!

  16. I’m thinking about this a lot lately as well. I enjoyed the little burst of decorating I did when we moved into this house (almost 10 years ago), but since then I’ve been pregnant or nursing or potty-training continuously. Not exactly conductive to decorating. But now we’re looking at finishing our downstairs to add some very necessary bedrooms and a bathroom so interior design is suddenly on my mind again. I recently bought new curtains for my living room and I was so proud of myself for finding ones I’m perfectly happy with even though I only allowed myself to look on the first two pages of google results:)

  17. I totally relate to this, only for me it’s because I’ve never owned and have always rented. In my head I think “well, I can’t do EVERYthing I want so why bother.” or “why put all this work into something that’s only temporary?” or because money is tight. Or, eventually, because I finally realized that I’m not super great at it.
    What I’ve sort of come to regret, however, is that I’ve denied myself the opportunity to experiment and express myself in different spaces and actually PRACTICING skills that I want to have.
    I’m facing similar choices as our family moves into a bus this month and I’m trying not to let the choices paralyze me. Again, it’s only temporary and a lot of it is based on cost (we got ten gallons of off-white paint for $40 so… that’s the main color we’re going with for the walls!) but I’m going to do my best to make it homey and pretty and fun to be in.

  18. I have come to a similar place in my life. We are renting right now and probably will for a few more years. So I am trying to embrace that, and find ways to make a rental the place I love to be. It will probably help settle a lot of kinks for when we do buy or build our own home. I look forward to seeing your journey.

  19. Jennifer says:

    I have never once changed a wall color – I just work with the existing colors. I do occasionally change colors of curtains, towels, rugs, etc. I have a list of things I want to do , but I am still mostly paralyzed by indecision, lack of DIY knowledge, lack of funds (or to be more precise, I always find something I want to spend my money on more than redecorating). I am excited to watch your journey.

  20. MJ says:

    We had our house built 10 years ago, and I got to choose every single thing in it – the kitchen cabinets, the light fixtures, the flooring, the (many) paint colors, even the doorknobs and hinges. I think of my personal style as happy hodgepodge, and I’m a firm believer that my house is my refuge and I should feel comfortable here. My husband and I have chosen every single piece of furniture and decor here based on what we love individually, and on what we love together, but somehow it works. I use the “Is it meaningful? Does it bring me joy?” criteria when I’m deciding what I want in my house, and nobody else in the world would probably be happy here except us. Now if I could just get my wardrobe in line with that…

  21. Nichole says:

    If you are going to pick paint colors or update kitchens or bathrooms, I highly recommend this blog: colourmehappy.com. I have learned so much from Maria, while still putting my own spin on things. It’s a great place to “go down the rabbit hole” and learn. Good luck on this journey.

    I think you will find that once you start and have some success, that having your environment feel like it’s yours will be as important as dressing well has become to you.

  22. I am right there with you. We lived in the same place for 9 years, with hand me down furniture and white walls. We moved in September but other than painting the walls of our new home, I just couldn’t nail down my style. I didn’t know where to begin with arranging furniture or hanging pictures. Just last month, when the photographer our family uses put out feelers on facebook to gauge interest in starting an interior design portion of her business, I jumped at the chance. I paid her a small fee (since she hasn’t started this as a real business yet, it was a kind of pay what you can situation) to come over and arrange my furniture, tell me where to hang pictures, and advise me on paint colors and what to shop for at thrift stores. It’s amazing the difference that one morning made and I now have a basic idea of what to look for to complete the house. She went all through my house pulling things from one room to put in another, asking me what objects were precious to me, what things I loved. By the end, I had a good sense of what “my style” actually is and I feel like my home is more my own.

  23. Beth says:

    Have you heard of houzz.com? It’s sort of like Pinterest for interior decorating. You create an account, and you can look through photos of professionally decorated rooms (and you can narrow by the type of room) to get ideas. You can also pick the aesthetic that you’re interested in (beachy, rustic, contemporary, etc), and then you can flag the photos you like in a lookbook so that you can come back and reference those photos later. It’s really helpful for getting ideas of what you like about the finished look of a room. My other piece of advice is don’t feel obligated to buy ALL THE THINGS at once for a room. You can do it little by little, finding small details to add to your home decor. That way you’ll end up with a room you really like instead of one you felt pressure to decorate all at once.

  24. Kelli says:

    I love this line:
    “But it turns out you can’t find out what you want by waiting. You find out by doing, by experimenting, by trying something and living with it for a bit.”

    So true, and not only for decorating and wardrobes, but life itself. I’m going through a transition period and just realizing that trying on new things will be my way to figure out what the next step will be. While I do believe there is great value in waiting and time, I think it’s also easy to get paralyzed and stuck in that limbo… So here’s to experimenting and trying on new things 🙂

  25. Em Miller says:

    My mom, sister and I all really like decorating, although I think my style is a lot different from theirs, having spent the past decade living in tiny city apartments. I am, however, hopeless at dressing myself, so maybe we can work something out. 😉

    Generally, I think if you’re picking things out that you really love, you can’t go too wrong. If you like all the things, they probably all have something in common that you like about them that ties them together. Don’t stress too much about it!

  26. Katie says:

    Uh, that’s vaguely terrifying. If you can’t do it right, why do it at all? Which is probably why my kitchen is still covered in hideous yellow plaid wallpaper with cornflower blue chair rail. But it’s so hard to do something if it can’t be perfect when time and money are Stich limited resources!

    Recently, however, my husband got fed up with a couch he’s always hated (all our furniture is hand-me-downs or rescued from dumpsters; this was one of the latter) and threw it out to the curb. We moved the other couch into the family room, and now we have a room that’s almost a total blank: a liquor cabinet, an organ, a bookshelf, and a giant couch-sized hole. We’re trying to figure out how we use the room so we can set it up better. It was incredibly freeing to throw away that couch, but incredibly disconcerting to have this blank room right when you walk in the house.

  27. It’s a bit different but our first home together had an unfinished basement, cheap laminate flooring and cinnamon-colored carpet. We resisted even putting things on the walls because we just didn’t know what to do. We knew we were going to finish the basement and replace the carpet and laminate with a higher quality option. But then we took the plunge and hung some things on the wall, and we instantly loved the house a little more. When we took care of those big items, we were totally in love with everything.

    • Karlyne says:

      “Do the little things first” is a good mantra! Hmmm, it reminds of Dave Ramsey’s (the financial guru guy) advice to pay off the little bills first so that you can feel successful quickly. I think it’s a good idea!

  28. Amie says:

    I am a long-time renter. I am terribly indecisive. I am quite certainly a fellow INFP. Are you sure I didn’t write this post?!?! Word for word?!? 😉 Best nugget for me: “But it turns out you can’t find what you want by waiting…” I need to put that on my fridge asap (if I could only decide what kind of paper/color of ink/cursive font to use). I have been “forcing” myself to redo our large built-in bookcase/cabinet this week but have stalled at the final “styling”…thanks for the extra boost to end the procrastination.

  29. going through similar emotions right now. Our home isn’t lovable to me yet (though I am so grateful for it!) But I want to make some practical decisions to improve it. Baby steps: curtains, rugs, wall art (of which we have none hanging yet!)

  30. Rachel S. says:

    I think we did a good job at our previous house. We moved in when we’d only been married a few months. I liked French stuff, so my hubby got on board, and we did most of the house in French things. He wanted our bedroom to be like a cabana, though, so that was palm fronds and such. We got rid of ALL of that when we moved from our nondescript vinyl village home to this 1919 Craftsman. We know more about our style now, so we’re excited to do vintage here! As soon as we get unpacked…

  31. Cindy B says:

    I’ve lived in my circa 1900 house for nearly 20 years, and just as my taste in clothing (and clothing styles!) has changed, so have my tastes in decorating. At first, I thought that I had to remain true to the period, so I had lots of Victorian-type decor. But gradually, I’ve evolved, and now the only constant is change! I have tapped into my artsy-craftsy side, and actually painted stripes on, and stenciled, a hardwood floor (gasp!). I’ve also painted and recoverd old theater seats from an architectural salvage store, and embraced the chalkboard craze with both a large hanging board, and by painting the inside of a powder room door with both metallic and chalkboard paint, to encourage potty poetry! My suggestion? Find bloggers whose style you like and follow them, and embrace Pinterest – create boards with things you see that you like, and over time, you’ll see your styles emerge – and I say “styles” because I think few people, in real life, slavishly adhere to just one style. Good luck!

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