How to stop dilly dallying and start decorating: a support group for recovering nomads

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I'm trying to re-envision this space. Less dry bar/music room/folding chair corner, more lounge space.

Before moving into Rockethaus, I moved so often I pretty much broke down in tears at the thought of moving. It’s the worst thing ever. In the seven years after high school, I accomplished 15 major moves. I packed up EVERYTHING in either my work or home and started over in a new place on average of two point six times per year.

While laying awake in bed and doing this math one night, I realized why I find decorating my house SO FUCKING HARD: I haven’t stayed anywhere long enough to learn how. Since that revelation, I’ve been teaching myself how to decorate through trail and error and my usual extremely-analytical assesments. If you just can’t figure out how to start decorating, this post is for you.

1. Think about what you use the room for (and how that compares to what you WANT to use the room for).

Kitchens and bathrooms are easy to fill with things we need and things that look nice because we know what we want from those rooms. I will cook here! I will poop there! I want to be able to eat a meal in peace and relax in the tub before bed.

Nesting instinct breaks down when a space’s purpose isn’t well-defined. Foyers and unweildly or multi-purpose rooms are prone to cause decorating confusion.

If you have a problem area, think about how you used it recently. We often end up sitting on the floor in our over-large dining room because we REALLY want to be using the room as a party lounge. Now we’ve got our eyes out for big furniture, brightly-colored vintage accessories and art, and retro mood lighting.

It will be a while before we see MAJOR changes, but identifying how we use the room helped us nudge what we could within the room to make it match more closely with our needs — and make it a more pleasant space.

2: Finish the statement, “If I could change ONE thing about this room, it would be ______.”

After we moved in, we had a small budget to spend on decor. Looking at any room in our house seemed daunting. I don’t know what color would look better in here! I can’t even PICTURE my ideal rug. Avoid this problem taking a moment in a room to play pretend. Ask yourself, “If I could wink my eye and ONE THING in the room would change, what would change and how would it be different?.”

Focusing on one change at a time breaks the task of decorating down into bite-size pieces, and makes it easier to choose where to begin; it’s a lot easier to decide “I want to swap that light fixture more than ANYTHING IN THE WORLD,” than “What color will the family room be?”

3: Ask yourself, what changes would make a room more pleasant?

For our HUGE dining/living room, the easiest way to make the room warmer/party-er is by improving the lighting. It’s not currently in the cards for us to install new lights, but now that we’ve identified a sticking point in the room, we’ve been able to play with adding more lights from elsewhere in the house in order to create intimate spaces.

Now that I’ve figured THESE things out, I may, in the future, be ready to choose things like palettes and pillow shams…but I’ll take my time. I’m doing everything I can not to move again for a very long time.

Comments on How to stop dilly dallying and start decorating: a support group for recovering nomads

  1. This is me! I’m not very nomadic, but I do have trouble decorating. I’m VERY practical so hanging little trinkets on the walls and putting up stuff that’s purely decorative is not something my brain can process. Does anyone have any decorative and practical ideas that might get me going?

    • Start with things that have a lot of meaning for you. If you have a collection of like items stashed in a box, haul it out and see if there is a way to display them – grouped in a bowl or glass jar, hung on the wall, crafted into something else, etc.

      Surrounding yourself with meaningful objects will give your home so much more of YOU. And that’s what makes it interesting…

    • Instead of just decorating your walls, check out stuff that has style while still having a purpose, like colorful paints or accent colors instead of paintings on walls, and rugs, pillows and throw blankets instead of trinkets. Find a unique coffee table instead of a basic wooden rectangle. Instead of storing a bunch of glass vases in a cabinet, you could store them in a line on a wall-mounted shelf. All useful without being useless, and it still looks “designed”. 🙂

      • Exactly. I don’t really like having lots of knick-knacks around, but I love cool-looking furniture and functional stuff. For instance, we have a colorful set of mixing bowls. They’re too pretty to hide in a cabinet, so they’re displayed in our sideboard. They add color without adding clutter.

        When our kitchen ran short of storage, we splurged for a sweet liquor cabinet rather than buying some blah shelving unit. We buy a lot of used vintage furniture; you can find unique and affordable pieces to liven up what would otherwise be a basic functional room. Pick a style or period you like and look for tables, lamps, curtains, cabinets, mirrors, etc. to make your home functional but also funky.

    • Put up shelves. And then put things on the shelves. In my last apartment, that’s the only way we could come to an agreement on how to decorate the living room. We just put up shelves are started putting stuff on them, like pretty bowls and books and things.

    • There are a tonne of practical things that also have a design focus so they look like decorations, but aren’t. For example, I’ve seen really beautiful, modern/sleek indoor planters that double as a litterbox or cat house (I don’t have cats, so this is useless for me, but still cool). I’d suggest joining pinterest and following some people with a design/function bent and see what kinds of interesting things they post. Another option is things like shelves for books, tea pots, other useful things.

  2. This is a great use for Pinterest, too…

    Create separate boards for each room and just spend time putting things in that you like. At the beginning, try to collect (either online or torn out of magazines) images of rooms that speak to you. Once you have about 10 or so, you’ll start to see themes emerge. Seeing all of the images together can help you define colors or patterns that you gravitate to, shapes that are pleasing, the balance of light and dark that attracts you. Then, when you’re ready to buy things, you have a reference to come back to. It helps me to have a clear idea of what I want and then, when I see something that I like but am not sure about it, I can go back to that reference image (or group of images) and make decisions with more confidence.

    I keep a little notebook in my bag with a simple list of wished-for items for each room. If you thrift or antique often, it helps keep your eye on the prize and you don’t end up buying the same things over and over. Or forget what you need. Or get overwhelmed and miss something great.

    • I have 2 house/home/decorating-related Pinterest boards: Home Scheming and Home DIY Schemes. “Home Scheming” is pure porn–pretty things, decor items, design ideas I like, etc. “Home DIY Schemes” is simple or complicated DIY projects I could do in my own apartment. Between the two of them, they keep me balanced–I can both keep my inspiration in mind and make small-scale practical changes to my home for cheap. 🙂

      I’m one of those people who moved so much during my college years, or had such harsh restrictions on what I could do, decorating-wise, that I never really developed that mental muscle either. This post really speaks to me, because it echoes a process I’ve been going through for the last two years. Thanks for the read, Cat! 🙂

  3. If I could change anything about my problem room, it would be taking our firehood (example here and putting it in there. Of course, that is a GIANT TASK including poking a hole through the ceiling and making a safe surround for it. But the room is like this centerless cavern and the fireplace (which is in our rock garden outside for now) would make it into that room we actually feel cozy in. I love those lighted logs… but I think my husband will think I’ve lost my marbles if I try to convince him to bring the fireplace inside for fake fires.

    Moving the fireplace would be weird for me, too, because we moved to Albuquerque under the auspice of moving back East someday; fireplace moving is so permanent.

  4. This is me! I too move around. Nothing ever fits the same way in the new place and I never see any point in buying new stuff if we are going to move in a year (spoiler alert, this is happening again in 7 months). I’ve often told my husband I think I’m a guy because I can’t think of decorating. Maybe once we buy a house…

  5. Kinda dorky, but I watch various design shows on tv for ideas. Kinda nice, some of them actually tells you step by step how to do it yourself or open up to new color.

    Also, I like browsing through flea markets and thrift shops for one of a kind decor stuff. Ended up finding a set of paintings at one place that became the color scheme for the entire dining room.

  6. The most “utilitarian” decoration for me are photos–I take way too many pictures (>2000 per vacation) to put them all on facebook or in a photo album. It’s cheaper than buying art, prevents me from accumulating too many useless knick knacks that I’ll just lose during my next move, and I can relive my trips just by walking down the hall. has a lot of great ideas for displaying photos.

  7. I was once told that I should choose curtains before buying paint. Fabrics come in certain colors each year; you can get pretty much any color of paint. It’s much easier to get a combination you like that way. (Of course, I was told this by the lady selling me curtains after she found out that I’d already bought my paint, so take it with a grain of salt.)

    • No, I would say this is true as well. If you know what you want to put in a room (like paintings, curtains, even furniture), base your paint selection off that, since there are usually not nearly so many choices for those items as for paint. Although I admit that painting our bedroom a certain color because that’s the theme/idea we want did help to force us maintain that theme with the rest of the decor, instead of succombing and throwing anything in there. It was a good excuse to come up with an entirely new theme (instead of basing it off our current collection of items, which we were gettting tired of).

  8. i saw a designer on tv years ago who said “if you find a piece of furniture you love, buy it. eventually it will work.” i liked that idea, and decided to go with it…. and it’s now really starting to come together…

    also, i know i’ve said it before, but: i know you all guys are all about crazy colours on the walls cuz white is so blah and boring etc etc…. but, if you can’t work out what colours you like, go with neutals. i’m sure you can work out if you prefer warm or cool, even if you can’t work out what specific colour you prefer. so pick a neutral (bright white, off white, beige, grey – my house is grey -… black?) and go to town… then when you walk into a junk shop and go “oh my god that lime green 60’s sofa is just to die for!” you don’t have to add “pity it will look like christmas all year round if i put it in my red lounge room” or whatever….

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