If sprucing up your child's room means stretching dollars and cents, take heart. Budget decorating is within the realm of
possibility if you use ingenuity, a sharp eye and a big dose of common sense.
Instead of viewing the experience negatively because of the restraints it imposes, see it positively as a lesson in resourcefulness. After all, it's important for your child to understand from an early age that sometimes things aren't affordable. In other words, freedom to choose a room to grow in doesn't mean license to put anything you want in it.
Start with a checklist. Divide the room into four areas: walls, floor, furniture and accessories. Write down what's needed in each. Even if you can tackle only one area at a time, you'll be better equipped with a decorating scheme.
First, direct your attention to the walls. A can of paint is the cheapest way to change an overall look. Keep cost down by choosing non-custom colors. Can't afford a total re-do? No problem. Just paint one wall or the ceiling. It will make a big impact on your child, especially if he or she chooses the color.
For a special wall treatment that involves the youngest members of the household, "sponge" paint the bottom half of the walls in different colors applied one at a time. Sponging is a clever way to create a fake wallpaper look, and it's easy and enjoyable for the whole family to do.
If painting is out of the question, accent the walls with a ready-made wallpaper border or a self-made border created with blocks, decorative sponges or other three-dimensional shapes. Toy stores have a good assortment. Thick double-sided tape is all it takes to stick these to a clean surface.
Once the walls are covered, don't overlook what's underfoot. The floor is a constant setting for childhood activities from clowning around to curling up with pets and playthings.
For a quick spruce-up without a lot of expense, buy throw rugs with padding or rubber-backed bath mats. On vinyl or wood floors, they add warm, cushy non-skid islands to retreat to for special play. On top of wall-to-wall carpet, they protect what's underneath. For toddlers and preschoolers, cut small bath mats into diamonds, circles or other geometric patterns to help them identify shapes.
If you can stretch your budget a little, look for a carpet remnant marked down for quick sale. Don't disregard cut goods that aren't large enough to cover the entire floor. Have the piece cut as one or two area rugs to be placed on top of existing floor covering.
When you can't afford to replace flooring, look into getting your old carpet cleaned. The next best thing to something new is something revitalized to look that way.
When money is tight, where you shop is as important as what you buy. Shy away from high-priced furniture stores. Instead, try home-improvement centers, secondhand stores and liquidation outlets. Newspaper ads and garage sales merit the once-over, too.
When shopping, keep flexibility in mind. Will it meet your child's needs a few years down the road? Some choices that might do the trick include:
* Fold-up furniture: Inspired by centuries-old Japanese fold-up futon bedding, today's futon furniture includes child-size armless chairs and sleeper/sofas that flip open as bedding. Some futons fold in half or thirds and convert to stacked soft seating that's useful for any age or size. Department stores, children's furniture shops and futon outlets carry them.
* Beanbag chairs: Beanbags invite playfulness. Usually in washable vinyl, they are sold in discount chains and major mail-order catalogs. Be sure there's double stitching at the stress points and that the beanbag has a zipper opening for refills.
* Modular cubes: Used singly, these "boxes" become low storage containers. Stacked upon each other, they serve as high storage units, bookcases, desk supports or side tables, depending on the number of individual components used. Building supply stores often stock low-cost pressboard or molded plastic cubes.
* Plastic organizers: Besides clothes, drawer organizers hold hobby and craft materials, school supplies, etc. Rigid styrene is the sturdiest and may be durable enough for a small child to sit on when cushioned for comfort and stacked. Make sure the one you pick can handle body weight before converting it to seating.
Once a room's major features are tackled, it's time to concentrate on accessories, the details that add personality.
* Bedcovers: A colorful bedcover can make a big impact. To cut cost, rather than buying new goods, recycle an old comforter with a new cover. Check a linen discount store or a mill selling "seconds." Or, sew one yourself from sheets your child chooses. Speaking of sheets: Unlike the rest of the room, which tends to be "timelocked" by a theme, the bed is one place where characters and current fads may prevail.