How do you live in a space that doesn't fit your style?

Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
Inspirational wall art from Amazon.
Inspirational wall art from Amazon.
First of all, thanks for collaboratively creating such a great, inspiring website. My walls have been more colorful, my storage more efficient, my shower curtains more delightfully patterned because of you. Here's where my desperate plea comes in…

Unemployment has brought my years of living in quirky shared apartments to an abrupt end. I'm now renting a room in a dear friend's house, and I think I may go NUTS. I mean, I'm glad that living in a pastel-hued environment makes her happy. I really am. But being surrounded by "soothing" shades of aqua, "adorable" knick-knacks, and "inspirational" quotes is inducing serious angst for me.

What's the Offbeat Homie in a stiflingly decorated environment to do? -Lucy

First of all, you're welcome. I'm happy to hear about all the wonderful things you've gained from Offbeat Home & Life (especially the shower curtain thing — seriously, y'all, wtf is with my obsession with shower curtains!?).

Now, on to your big ish. Ugh, I feel you. My wonderful mom has decorated a space in her Maui home in a way that drives me nuts. She basically bought up a big name decor store's entire stock of decorative words. There are words everywhere!

It's not that it looks bad — my mom is great at decorating — it's just that it's SO NOT MY STYLE that I feel like I can't relax. Luckily, I get to escape that not-me-decorated space. But what happens when you live in a space that doesn't fit your style?

How do you find your comfort zone or battle the decor blahs when you live in a space that doesn't fit your style?

Join our community!

  1. Is her style everywhere in the place, or are you able to make changes in your room (assuming that is where you are staying). Your bedding and personal items should make a difference, but other larger changes can also have impact: rugs, lamps, mirrors, curtains. Get yourself to a Michael's or hardware store for some 3M strips and hooks so you can hang things without damaging the walls. If there's stuff in your room that isn't your style, can you take it down while you're staying there? I currently have a stage manager staying in my office/guest room, and she's put some of the art I had up in the closet. I get it; we have different tastes (and not everyone wants to look at a breastfeeding portrait).

    In terms of common living spaces, is it possible to add small touches? Fridge magnets, your weird salt and pepper shaker collection (or whatever), special mugs, etc? Small details are an easy compromise, and may help you feel more at home/lessen the style fatigue.

    Finally…accept the decor differences and move on. Labeling it as "stifling" isn't going to help your mood. It's different style then your own, but if you turn it into a negative thing ("omfg I will stab someone if I see another cutesy family quote") then it's going to have a huge impact on your mood, attitude, and possibly your relationship with this friend. My mother-in-law is all about angels and word decor, and I roll my eyes a lot when we visit. But ultimately, it's her space, not mine. Can you lessen the time you spend there? Are there activities outside the home you find relaxing, like going on a walk/taking a class/hanging out at a library?

    17 agree
    • This! You can probably do a lot to improve your own room, at least. You're paying rent, so you probably have a little more leeway to push for that than if you were just crashing there. You might consider saying something to your friend like, "Hey, would you mind if I threw an area rug down/put up some art using command adhesive hooks/swapped out that bedside lamp for this one I found at a flea market/etc.? I won't do anything I can't remove easily when I move out." For common areas, it might be a little harder to get your friend to agree, but if it's *adding* stuff you like that you can easily get rid of when you leave, rather than taking down/removing her stuff or doing anything permanent, it might seem like less of an encroachment.

      The idea of spending time outside the house is also a good one. Not only will you be able to put yourself in environments that feel more "you," but I think that the tension between roommates is always less when they don't spend so much time together.

      11 agree
  2. Is it safe to assume that you have your own bedroom? Because maybe she will let you have a little freedom in there? Perhaps your own sheets, removable wallpaper, your own knicknacks?

    Another thing you can offer is to help your friend fix up a room she hasn't decorated yet. Maybe try and insert your own style or maybe help her paint the room the color she wants, and you decorate it with some of your old furniture and decorations?

    The other option is stepping up with Halloween/Holiday decor.

    4 agree
    • Ooh, I like the idea of having fun with holiday decor! That way you get to go a little goth during Halloween, or a little kitschy during Christmas, and get decorative gourd-y with with during Thanksgiving. Love.

      3 agree
  3. So this is less helpful if you are looking to add your style to your friends house but it might help change your mindset.

    Have you talked to your friend about her decor choices? I know when I first started going to my husband's grandmother's house I immediately felt unconformable. Everything was very high end and or a priceless heirloom. I turned into a mom of a toddler following my husband around telling him to take his combat boots off the white carpeting, or to get off the antique couch with his cranberry juice. I felt totally on edge like I needed to act fancier at her house. Like drinking black coffee out of her Italian espresso cups was wrong. I finally started asking about each item and she shared really cool stories about them. The paintings in the fancy guilded frames all through the formal sitting room belonged to her cousin that she brought with her from Italy. The fancy shamancy gold frames….she told me she had always been to afraid to change them out since the frames were so old and didn't want to break them. The fancy formal dinning room….actually a request of her late husband and she hates it but keeps it to honor him. The crazy expensive couch that totally freaked me out actually had strategically placed fancy pillows to cover the juice and coffee stains left by her kids/ grandkids. My physical reaction to her decor was more about my own issues and not about her decor at all.

    Maybe your friends pastel loving Pinterest worthy decor has a deep meaning to your friend. It won't ever be your style but maybe you can learn to love it for what it is.

    29 agree
    • Yes! When I've been in a situation like that I enter in thinking like an anthropologist, studying and appreciating the customs of the native. When I respect differences I receive respect for my own differences.

      2 agree
  4. My mom has no real sense of home style, and neither have I, so this is not an issue. My mother-in-law, though, is an avid reader of home decor magazines and her house is really WTF material for me, so I can relate.

    This might sound sneaky, but maybe try finding decor you like (and she won't hate) and offering them as gifts? "Hey I thought you'd like that vase/throw blanket/cushion, here's for you, I love you, thank you for having me into your home"

    Other commenters have mentioned making your ow space feel like home, I totally agree. With bed linen, quirky/geeky/goth/whatever-works-for-you art on the walls/propped on pieces of furniture, even simply keeping your own mess in an otherwise tidy home (or the other way round: being spot-clean in a messy home) can make you feel confortable in your own way.

    Changing the way she decorates her whole home will probably not happen because, ultimately, this is her home, and you will be temporary there, until you find again a situation that allows out of her house. But you can try adding your own touch.

    4 agree
  5. So, I'm not really sure what your situation is, how long term this is. But here's a "short" term options:
    I'd ask if she minded if you brought your own bedding (It's hard for me to sleep on any bed that doesn't have my comforter on it, so that alone should be a huge difference). Throw hanker chiefs you like over lamp shades in your room to change the look of them. Add different colored light bulbs (changes the wall color). You could cover any hanging wall art with cloth so you don't actually have to remove them and store them. Maybe take clothes pins and pin a different fabric to the curtains. Any type of decor that's easily removable without displacing the owner's stuff. Throw down a small rug. Some fabric over the top of furniture will transform it too. Hang a few pieces of jewelry/nick knacks around on things if you really like them. If you have a lap top, you can change your screen saver to pictures of art you like and keep it plugged in so it's like one of those electric picture frames that roll through images. Plus a few trinkets on the night stand. All these options should be very easy to do with no inconvenience to the owner.

    If it's longer term, you def. need to talk to your friend about what you are allowed to do to feel more comfortable in your room. I wouldn't take it as far as painting (if you have plans to get back up on your feet soon) but putting up your own art, and having some of your own furniture and decor. Even take some command hooks and a rod and hang your favorite shower curtain on a wall in your bedroom.

    The main point is to make the bedroom your sanctuary so that when the rest of the house overwhelms you, you can escape there and recharge.

    4 agree
    • And if you don't have a room of your own (if you're couchsurfing) perhaps you can arrange to section off one corner as your retreat. You might curtain it off, or make screens, or (if it works with her) move furniture around to create your own nook hidden from the rest. We did something of the sort with bookshelves when my husband's grandmother needed to stay with us for a time.

      1 agrees
      • On the other hand, if you can't secure a corner of your own, get one of those thrift-store hard-shell suitcases that are too heavy for anyone to want these days and therefore probably cheap. Or if you can't find one, a box that opens and closes. Set it on end. Strip out the interior if necessary and redo it to your own tastes. Make your own portable little world in there–your choice as to do it dollhouse style, diorama, icon, or shadowbox. Glue everything securely in place. Leave it shut beside your couch or sleeping bag or whatever during the day, but open it at night and gaze on it before falling asleep.

        And still another thought. Does your friend have a garage or a garden? When my father was in a situation like this, he painted a mural in the garage, getting permission to do that in a space seldom seen by the owner and therefore of less consequence. When I was in a similar situation I found a neglected strip of earth beside a paved path and gardened it, and Grandma was delighted!

        1 agrees
  6. We moved in to share our friends house, he needed someone to split the bills with but actually owned the house so it was all his decorations (think dog chewed chic). We turned our bedroom into our sanctuary, given it was a fairly large bedroom but he himself said he was seriously impressed by how I arranged it and how I made it into a mini apartment almost.

    If you are renting a room then that room should be yours, so you can carve out your own sanctuary in there. Firstly, push the bed up against the wall, when it is in the middle of the room it's just wasting space! I used one half of the cupboard to house our TV on a small shelf that fit in the bottom and hung a big painting inside the wardrobe, at the end of the bed I placed our very small couch with all of our CD rack next to it. Then in the spare space in the room I put a desk with a hutch over it and a bookshelf. This allowed me more decorating space, I hung my art up on the walls and put my rug on the floor, all of the under bed space was used for storing my stuff that we couldn't/didn't need to use.

    You just have to get creative, if the arrangement is only for a month or two, yeah don't bother but 6 months or more then you should be able to make your room your own otherwise you will constantly feel like a guest in what is your own home.

    1 agrees
  7. Have you asked her if you can make changes? If she's constantly gushing about how much she loves her home, you may be afraid to ask if you can change things, but don't be. It's your home too, and the worst she can say is no. I agree with the above posters on asking to put out things–posters, your knick-knacks, whatever–rather than repainting or taking her things down. I assume since she's your dear friend, then you know that she's happy, but maybe she just decorated that way because it's "normal" and she wasn't comfortable doing anything unusual. With you there to back her up, she might want to get out her own crazy stuff.

    4 agree
  8. I'm a bit confused by your letter.

    Are you not allowed to settle into your own space? If so, it sounds like this is a not-so-subtle hint at how temporary they'd like the arrangement to be.

    If you are allowed to settle into your own space (i.e. your room), then I'm not sure what advice to offer you. Yes, it's not your style but, ultimately, it's not your house. If you have your space to dress up how you like, this seems like a suck it up until you get on your feet kind of situation.

    I feel like I'm wicked missing something from this letter to offer adequate feedback on this.

    9 agree
  9. I moved into my [now] husband's place a couple years ago and I just hate it. Decorating aside (there have been many struggles over decor and I have triumphed significantly), the place itself is just fugly. Not my style at all. I'm used to San Francisco victorians and now live in a 1970's townhouse with popcorn ceilings and compartmentalized box-rooms. Hate hate hate it. The things is, our rent is unheard of (low) and in SF, rents are insane right now, if you haven't heard ($2500-3500 for a 1 bedroom apartment is standard these days). And so…I have no right to complain and no means to change it.
    Sometimes decorating a tiny space in the home to your liking, finding a sanctuary outside the home, and staying busy is all you can really do. I'm having to grapple with the "you can't have it all" reality of things, and it's a mindset I have never bothered with in the past. Times are tough for a lot of us.
    So I am just trying to stay on a daily gratitude path and add touches like fresh flowers, and my own art (who is going to say no to that?) to distract me from the ugliness. It's depressing to pull up in the driveway each day, so I'm a big believer in revamping my interior world – my mind – instead. Sometimes there is only so much control you can have over your environment. The trick is to find your way into comfort anyway.

    1 agrees
  10. Yeah, several people have said this, but: make your room your own and don't worry about the rest of the house. I lived in a shitty situation for 2 years where it was a shared house (not owned by my roommate) but the other roomie had been there before hubs and me – we weren't even allowed to put our own dishes in the kitchen ­čÖü We basically put up all of our cool posters and paintings in our room (and painted our tiny private bathroom, but that was with the owner's permission), added rugs and had a computer/tv combo facing our bed so we could just chill in "our space." Granted, once the roommate moved out (and left all his junk and trash. I'm totally not still mad, haha) we made over the whole house!
    Anyway, you should also ask your roommate/friend what you are allowed to do to make your room more "you." Can you put nails in the walls? I have some friends who were in your situation and it drove them nuts b/c they couldn't put anything on the walls, but you can use Command hooks instead. Do you have a private bathroom? You could get a cool shower curtain or mat and, again, put up some artwork that you dig. Maybe add some of your own dishes or kitchen stuff to the kitchen? And let us know how it turns out!

  11. It is important to remember that your dear friend, as you describe, did take you in to help your unemployment situation. Because of this, it is unlikely that she has considered the living arrangement will be anything more than temporary.In such a case, changing the decor, color scheme, & overall "vibe" of the house to suit you may not be practical, both for time reasons & monetary reasons. I would suggest:

    1. Ask to hang art & tapestries on the walls, which can cover the colors you dislike & add a strong sense of personal space & quirkiness. If she doesn't want to put new holes in the walls, suggest removing any current wall & replacing it with your own on the same hooks/nails/hangers, so it will be very simple to put her own decor back when you find a new place.

    2. Playing your music that reflects your interests (softly so you don't annoy your friend) in your room will give it another dimension of personality, as well as provide a bit of a noise barrier when you need to be alone.
    3. Make your bed your throne. Decorate the crap out of it, hang a canopy from command hooks on the ceiling, use your favorite bedding, & put up some twinkle lights.
    4. Remember that this will all pass. I sense some angry frustration behind this article, &, as a goth in the Appalachians, I completely understand how the look & feel of a home can completely ruin your mood. The best advice I can give is to look at that house as your symbol of gratitude & hope for a better future. Not many people are comfortable enough or even able to help somebody in that way. You have a great friend. Look at everything in that house as evidence of her & her kind spirit.

    3 agree
  12. OP here! Thanks for all of the thoughtful advice and sympathies. The room I'm using isn't entirely mine to play with, but I love the idea of a rug (all the carpeting is beige.) I asked about adding some things to shared rooms, and having my mismatched teacups hanging out in a corner of the living room is strangely comforting. The advice about attitude is also well-taken. I am grateful for the shelter – and doing the housecleaning – just also struggling a bit with the feeling of being trapped. The pastels are probably absorbing some of my frustration with the employment search etc.

    3 agree
  13. We rent from my in-laws and they renovated the master bathroom: it is objectively very very nice, but it's tiled heavily in a colour and style that looks bougie and Pinterest perfect, whereas I am totally eclectic and I like adding texture, colour, and details to a clean palette. Everyone who sees this bathroom swoons and gushes over it, and it just hurts my heart.

    1 agrees
    • I have issues with the bathroom where I'm renting, too. I found, online, 3D non-skid tiles for the floor of the shower-stall. They offer escape every time I look down at my feet. You can find some pretty unusual ones. Be sure and specify 3D when searching for it, to weed out the cartoony stuff.

      1 agrees

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.