How to refresh your home without spending a dime

No money? No worries. Try these 10 hot tips for refreshing your home for zero dollars
Photographer: Will Horner

Everyone deserves a beautiful home, no matter what their budget is, but sometimes there’s simply not a cent to spare. Put your wallet back in your pocket and rejoice. We’ve got 10 totally doable tips for breathing new life into your home without spending a bean.

Learn how to refresh your home for free

1. Use up leftover paint

If you’ve ever taken on a paint job, you’ve almost certainly got old paint tins lying around, with anything from a couple of centimetres to half a can of paint inside, ready to be used on a new project. Start with the practical stuff – if there are scuffed walls or chipped door frames, patching them up can go a long way towards making your home feel tidy and fresh.

Then look at the creative stuff; reinvent a tired piece of existing furniture (or a new kerbside find) with paint, add colour to an old picture frame, paint inside some bookshelves, brighten up old plant pots or, if you’ve got enough you could come over all Mark Rothko and try painting layers of colour onto one wall for a modernist’s feature wall.

2. Declutter

A high-impact tidy and revealing surfaces previously hidden are the easiest way to transform any space, from the pantry to the bookshelf. But for the greatest impact, choose a space that means the most to you; for example, the entranceway is a traditional clutter catcher and, as the first space you see when you enter the home, making it clean and inviting can respark your love for your home.

Do a thorough audit – play keep, donate or trash with every item, then of the ones you’re keeping, consider whether it is of functional benefit to the space or can it be stored elsewhere? Finish with a good scrub, then style up your newly clear surfaces with a pretty bowl or cut flowers.

If the pantry is overhauled, you could print some new food labels from the free printable ones easily found on the internet. Welcome home.

3. Shop friends’ houses

You don’t have to have matching chairs, have some fun with your furniture.

Maybe your dining chairs are looking tired or you’ve been living for years with a milk crate from your flatting years as a bedside table. If your home requires a major addition, hold off on the big purchase and ask around.

Let family and friends know what you need because you never know who might have a grandmother who is downsizing or is looking to trade in their sofa for a different style. Another good tip is to keep an eye on Facebook Marketplace or Trade Me and type ‘free’ into the search box. Often people are less concerned about making a buck and just keen to have their old stuff out of the way.

4. Cut flowers

Fresh flowers are the easiest way to make a space feel special, but florist-bought flowers can cost a bomb. Save your pennies by raiding a garden – your own or someone else’s (ask first) – for fresh blooms instead, and arrange in sweet and casual bouquets.

Horticulturist Tammy Huynh suggests, “Aster, dahlias, cosmos, cornflower, larkspur, poppies, rudbeckia, ranunculus, scaboisa, sweet pea and zinnia are a handful of the flowers you can grow to cut.

Mass plant and choose a few different varieties or colours to mix/match for indoor display.” If flowers are scarce, get creative with foliage. Even bare branches can create an amazing sculptural display.

5. Browse your own shelves

If you can’t leave a gift shop without a pretty bowl or a scented candle, this one’s for you. Rather than displaying all your decorative items all at once, create a ‘styling cupboard’, then regularly swap out your table displays for a whole new look.

Even if you don’t have 50 candles in your archive, you can still find decorative treasures in your home, if you dare to be creative.

Turn a shallow serving bowl into a winter centrepiece by filling it with pine cones; move an unused crystal decanter from a cupboard to a sunny spot where it reflects a sparkle of refracted light; or turn some books and a small decorative object into that stylist’s fail-safe, an artful book stack.

6. Wash the windows

It’s no one’s favourite cleaning job, but spotless windows make a huge difference to the amount of light that comes into your home – and more sunshine equals a brighter mood.

Get out your squeegee and spray with a mixture of cleaning vinegar and water, plus a few drops of dishwashing liquid, if you like. Then finish by polishing with a microfibre cloth, inside and out.

7. Rearrange the furniture

Don’t dismiss this one as too obvious – trying out some new furniture tricks can completely change the feel of a room.

Moving furniture away from the walls can actually make a room feel more open. To anchor your room’s focus to a different point rather than the TV in the lounge, try angling furniture to take advantage of a view, or centre seating around the fireplace for a cosier feel.

If you’re working with a very large space, use strategically placed furniture to break it up into distinct areas, grouping cosy seats for a conversation corner, and using rugs to delineate dining and living zones. Move furniture out, or bring in pieces from other rooms – a buffet or tall hutch might solve the living room’s niggling storage problem, or a hallway console might be the perfect style solution behind the sofa.

8. Use lighting for effect

Playing with light and shadow, turning down the brightness for an ambient effect and using lamps to spotlight features – strategic lighting placement can allow you to do all this and more.

A floor lamp can be an incredible tool; use a tall floor lamp to add height in a room full of low seats and tables, angle it downward to pool on your favourite seat for reading, angle it up a bit to provide light for the whole room, or shine it directly on features you want to highlight, like a stunning artwork.

Table lamps can likewise be used for ambient effect, casting a warm, diffused glow. Move a couple of lamps into the living room to create a cosy and convivial mood and ditch the glaring downlights.

9. Practise multiplication

Getting your garden looking fab needn’t be the costly exercise you expect. Many plants can be propagated from cuttings, filling your garden beds for free.

“Geranium, buxus, hydrangea, rosemary, lavender and hebe are all easy to propagate,” says Tammy. “Using a sharp pair of secateurs, take a 10-15cm cutting from the ends of stems. Ensure you cut below a node (where a leaf meets the stem). Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting and dip the end of the cuttings into a rooting hormone gel or powder – or honey could work.

“Fill a tray or small pot with a propagating mix and insert cuttings into the mix. Water well, cover the pot or tray with a plastic bag (to help maintain warmth and humidity) and position in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight. Water the mix regularly to keep it moist, but not wet. Cuttings can take six to eight weeks to root. Gently pull on the cuttings to see if roots have developed and if they have, pot the cuttings into individual pots filled with good quality potting mix.”

10. Personalise your art

Using family photos and mementos as art makes for truly bespoke decor, is cheap or free to do, and makes your walls ripe for a refresh when the mood strikes. “Think outside the box, whether it is framing photos you’ve taken on your travels of special places or abstract art by your kids.

Your family gallery walls don’t just have to be photos of people,” says Vanessa, adding, “Have some fun and frame objects as well.”

The options are endless here; baby’s first shoes in a box frame are an adorable classic, that silk scarf from India might look great on the wall, or a collection of shells from your last beach holiday.

Words: Shelley Tustin

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