My Thrifty Decor

Or how to refresh your decor without breaking the bank.

You’ve spent far too much time on Pinterest looking at all the pretty things and you want to redo your bedroom. Or your lounge. Or your sitting room. And you want to do it right now. Then you look at the price of bed linen, throws, and cushions and weep. The dream gets put on hold.

It doesn’t have to cost the earth

Browsing through thrift shops/second hand stores (as I am sometimes found doing), I realised that some of the most exquisite fabrics are those that have been thrown out. Someone stored their collection of beautiful tablecloths for years and years saving them for that special occasion, and now they’re sitting on a shelf in a charity shop. Damask, pure cotton, 100% linen, woven mats — they’re all there waiting for a new lease on life. Okay so some of them have a couple of stains, or a worn out patch, or a bit of rust, or a stubborn mark that won’t come out. Never mind, you can work with it, cut around it, patch it, and rework it.

I wanted to show you how to thrift shop while keeping your decor needs in mind.

1. Set your goals ahead of time

If you don’t do this you’re going to wander aimlessly around the shops picking out anything that catches your eye and end up with a hodge podge of random items which don’t work well together.

  • Do you want to end up with three new oversized cushions and a throw?
  • Do you want a new duvet cover and a few table cloths?
  • Do you want to go with a particular colour scheme?
  • Do you fancy certain fabrics and hate others?

The first step is to decide what you want.

2. Do a stock take

What do you already have that you can reuse, or repurpose? Do you have a cupboard full of old cushion inners? Do you have some plain white curtains that you no longer use? Do you have some worn out table cloths that can be cut up into cushion covers? Do you have a stash of zips for a project you never used? Think about what you already own that you want to: keep, give away, reuse. Make a list.

To sum up these two points for my own decor project:

I already have:

  • four 45cm x 45cm cushion inners I can reuse
  • two 60cm x 60cm continental cushion inners to reuse
  • one king sized white cotton duvet cover I can repurpose
  • two drops of off-white calico curtains which I can repurpose

And, when I’m done with this project I would like to have:

  • four new small cushion covers
  • two large cushion covers
  • a decorative throw for my double bed
  • a small rug/mat for the floor
  • a bedside lamp shade

Have you made your ‘have got already’ list and your ‘want to have’ lists?

3. Plan your shopping route

This step can be a little daunting. Where do you start? How many shops will you need to visit? Where are they? Can you bargain them down on pricing? What do you look for?

Here are some tips:

  • Make a list of second hand shops in your area, the more of them that are close together, the more fruitful your trip will probably be. I live in the Southern Peninsula (Cape Town) and have gotten to know a few shops around these parts that are both affordably priced, and not too far from where I live. This means I can pop in regularly to see what new stock they have. Typically these shops have a quick turnover, especially if they are charity shops. In Cape Town there a number of charity shops — TEARS (animal rescue), Hidden Treasure, Salvation Army, Hospice etc. from Observatory to Noordhoek. Because they work on a donations basis, they tend not to put their prices up VERY high, unlike specialist vintage shops who are more careful about their collection. You can find a list-in-progress of shops I frequent in the Southern Peninsula here.
  • Try to go during the week on a less busy day. I find that Saturday mornings are both manic (the shop is crowded) and there is less time because everyone closes at lunch. If you can, try a Thursday afternoon closest to the end of the month (new stock has been put out but not yet purchased).
  • Write down a list of shops you’re aiming to visit and try to apportion time for each shop — 30–45 minutes max per shop. The more shops you visit, the greater the likelihood of finding something you’re looking for.
  • Scan the shop for what is on your list and try your best not to get side-tracked (ooh look at that lovely leather belt collection!)
  • Take cash along with you. None of the charity shops that I know have credit card facilities. It can be pretty frustrating trying to find a) the shop, b) a parking space, c) what you’re looking for only to realise that you now have to find an ATM to draw money.

This is serious business people. Take your cue from the girl guides/boy scouts and ‘be prepared.’

4. Have an in-shop strategy

Now that you have your shopping list, and your destinations ready, you need to know what are you actually looking for and where you will find it once you’re there. Here are some ideas. The key word here is ‘repurpose’. If you can look at something and see the potential in it for your new decor piece, then you’re on the right track.

  • Head first to the ‘linen’ section. Most second hand shops focus exclusively on clothes, and don’t always know what to do with their linen so they tend to dump in a corner. Ask the helpful shop assistant about curtains, table cloths, cushion covers and the like.
  • Look at table cloths — these are essentially large pieces of printed, or plain fabric that can be cut up to make something new. They’re ideal as a basis for your repurposing.
  • Look for cushion covers (and inners). Often these are in great condition and can be used as is, or they’re a little shabby, or stained, they can be dyed, embroidered or repurposed in some way.
  • Look for curtains. These are really wonderfully large pieces of fabric that can be cut up to be printed, dyed, made into various other items like napkins, table cloths, cushion covers, blinds etc. Something that is plain (white/cream/off white/navy), textured (raw silk), or has a slight pattern (dots, stripes) works well as a base for many projects.
  • Look at the ‘craft/hobby’ section. So many people have bought beautiful bolts of fabric, with the intention of making their own decor items and never got round to finishing them. These all end up in a charity shop somewhere. Along with fabric, you may find buttons, zips, cotton, embroidery thread, needles, and other helpful bits and bobs.
  • Look at decorative items like lace, doilies and embroidered napkins. I can see you pulling a face right now at the word ‘doily’ but don’t underestimate this humble little thing. There are loads of ways you can incorporate the texture of crochet and doilies into your projects — dyed, cut up, restitched, glued.
  • Lastly, look at some of the larger clothing items that you can possibly cut up and stitch into smaller decorative items. Sometimes the print/pattern of a dress or shirt will catch your eye. Have a look and see whether it might be enough fabric to cut into something else. Large men’s shirts are great. Jerseys are also wonderful to use for a textured cushion finish. Keep that in mind.
  • While you’re there scan the shop for other small bits and bobs, like lamp stands, picture frames (usually found in abundance), prints, old books that can be stacked, bowls, plant pots, silverware.

5. Before you hand over the cash

Have a last look at what you’ve found in this shop and make a mental note of how each item is going to be repurposed and whether the selection you’ve chosen will work well together. As with shopping for clothes, you may have found something you just LOVE but there’s no way it is going to go with anything else.

Are you happy with everything you have? Fork out the money and move on to your next destination.

In summary, for an effective start to your thrifty decor overhaul, you need to:

  1. Set your goals ahead of time — what do you want?
  2. Do a stock take — what do you already have?
  3. Plan your shopping route — where will you shop?
  4. Have an in-shop strategy — what particular items are you looking for?
  5. Hand over the cash

Where are your favourite places to THRIFT shop?