Some of my friends have…

Some of my friends have said that they wish they could do a renovation like mine. Obviously, money is often limited, ditto time, but I think I've actually learned quite a few small things in the past few years of renovating and consuming countless design magazines and websites that are reasonably easy to implement, and may make you FEEL like you've renovated your home, or at least a piece of it. Here's a short list of suggestions:

  1. SUNDAY: Pick one room and straighten it up.

    Yes, this is useless for those of you who keep a clean house all the time, but I'm not talking to you. I'm talking to the rest of us, who often live in clutter, mess, and yes, dirt. If you can have one room to retreat to that's neat, it's restful and calming. You can pick which room stresses you out the most, or pick the room you spend the most time in, or the room you work in. I think a kitchen, a living room, or a home office are all great choices for this one. Hopefully, it won't take you more than fifteen minutes to pick it up, but if it takes more the first time, so be it. Try to keep that one room neat every day -- if you need to, make straightening it the last thing you do at night, or the first thing in the morning. And if you have fifteen more minutes to spare, actually clean it -- dust the surfaces, THEN wipe down or vacuum the upholstery, THEN sweep or vacuum the floor. Always clean top to bottom, because dust falls down. Shiny!

  2. MONDAY: Really look at the layout and see how your traffic flow works.

    Often, furniture just sort of lands somewhere when you move in, and then you bump into the coffee table every day for the rest of your life. Wander around the room, think about whether a piece might be happier somewhere else. If the room is big, remember that you don't have to shove everything up against the walls; sometimes it works better to float things in the room. If the room is small, seriously think about whether any of the furniture is over-sized for the space. Maybe you can't afford to do it right now, but if you know that your sofa really should be 65 inches wide instead of 75, you can keep an eye out for a better fit over time. For small spaces, keep in mind that multi-purpose furniture can be really helpful -- an ottoman can be pulled over for extra seating, for example. Design your room for how you use it most often, not how you use it on Thanksgiving. You can always squeeze an extra folding card table somewhere, and with a tablecloth over it, it'll look lovely.

  3. TUESDAY: Pick something in that room to get rid of.

    Most of us live with more stuff than we need, and your space will feel bigger with less stuff in it. If you're too attached to your things to just give them away immediately, one trick I learned from Apartment Therapy is to put a bag or box or some such in a closet / garage / basement for the things you're thinking of getting rid of. Leave the object there a week -- if you want it back, take it back. If not, give it away or sell it on Craigslist. (I have plastic bins piling up in the garage for a spring yard sale.) It's good for your space, and good karma too. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

  4. WEDNESDAY: Get rid of a book.

    (I know! Shocking!) Same principle as previous -- most of us have books sitting around that we don't need. Here's my test -- if I don't think I'll a) read it again in the next year or two, b) loan it to a friend, or c) want it for my kids, then I give it away. Let someone else enjoy it, rather than have it collecting dust on our bookshelves. (Kevin, do we really need the full set of Euripides plays in print? Aren't they available online for free now? Are we more likely to read them if they're sitting on our shelf? Really?)

  5. THURSDAY: Buy a plant.

    One design principle I really agree with is that every room should have something living in it. If you have a sunny spot for it, cactuses are super-low maintenance and may surprise you with flowers on occasion. In low light, an orchid that you buy with mostly buds and perhaps one or two blooms will flower slowly over two months. (If you're very patient, you might be able to get it to rebloom next year, but I usually give mine away to a more patient friend at that point.) If you have a little money and can get a glass terrarium, putting a plant or two in that will mean much less watering -- the one in my office kept a plant alive and green for three months of summer with NO water when I forgot it. And of course, there are all the stalwarts of green houseplants -- spider plants, pothos, ficus, etc. Some of them thrive in almost no light. You can buy little plants for $5 or less at Home Depot, and big ones for around $50. If you have more to spend, a nursery can advise you on the best and healthiest plant for your growing conditions. I love tropicals for the winter, since they'll often bloom in sunny windows, and then I can take them outside in spring for a riot of blooms over the summer.

  6. FRIDAY: Buy (or cut, if you're blessed with a garden) fresh flowers for that room.

    It can be something very small. A single rose. A $3 bunch of grocery store blooms. Most of us can't afford fresh flowers in every room of the house, sadly. But bringing them into one room regularly is a shot of beauty right to your brain. Okay, that doesn't sound as good as it did in my head. But you get the idea. And if you're having friends over on the weekend, wouldn't it be nice to have lovely fresh flowers in the room?

  7. SATURDAY: Hang art.

    If your walls are empty, pick one and put some art up there. Maybe it's your favorite kids' drawing, matted and framed. Maybe it's that one great photo you took on vacation, blown up to 16x20. (That's what I did.) Maybe it's a little piece you got at a local SF convention, or your town art fair. (Support your local artists!) Maybe it's a print of a famous master. You can get cheap mats and assemble-yourself frames at artist supply stores, or you can pick up something that works at IKEA or Target, or you can go all out and get it professionally framed. Don't feel like you have to fill up all the walls -- you need some white space too. But art is a terrific way to bring color and shape into a space, and it's easily changed if you get tired of it. Unlike a sofa.

Okay, I'm not claiming these are brilliant or even particularly novel, but I do think they're pretty simple and do-able for most people. Do one a day for a week, and I think you'll be AMAZED at how much nicer that room looks at the end of the week, and how much happier you are in it.

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