'I didn't buy anything for 365 days' – 6 ways I made my home look better for free

Want to upgrade your home for free? Yes, it is possible! These interior design tricks will give you a beautiful home without the unnecessary spend

How to make a home look better for free
(Image credit: Naked Kitchens/Siobhan Doran / Whittney Parkinson/Sarah Shields Photography / Albion Nord)

If you've been wondering 'how can I make my home look better for free?' You are not alone in your desire to curb spending. 

It is so easy to get caught up in a rapid cycle of consumerism. Before you know it, your quest to live a more intentional and sustainable life is drowned out by yet even more stuff. So with this in mind, I decided to embark on a 365 'no-buy' challenge: exactly 1-year dedicated to cutting out extraneous purchases to reset my out-of-control spending habits.

Remember, room transformations don’t always have to be grand or expensive affairs. Instead, they can be slowly curated through minimal – and free – updates using items that you may already own. All your home needs are a few thoughtful details to give it that five-star status that you have always desired. 

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of the 'no-buy' challenge and clever tricks you can use to improve your home throughout. Each one is easy but impactful – and above all, beautiful. So, if you have time to spare and need inspiration, keep scrolling...

How to make a home look better for free

Before you invest in designer décor, think critically, because spending a small fortune on furniture and accessories does not always guarantee an elegant look. 

In my quest to find pretty and practical home decor ideas that won't cost you much, if anything, I not only share my firsthand experience, but I have called upon some of my favorite interior designers for their tips on making a home look better without buying anything. It is easier than you think.

1. Switch rugs from room to room

luxury sunroom idea by Whittney Parkinson

(Image credit: Whittney Parkinson / Photography Sarah Shields)

People always ask me what will make the most impact when decorating a room and I always say a rug. Nothing pulls a room together quite like a rug does. A rug can define a space, break up a large room, or highlight a particular area – it can play a number of roles. To give a room an instant lift, use a rug. However, like with most things, I often tire of seeing the same rug in any one room for too long. The solution? I like to regularly swap rugs from room to room, and the results are too incredible not to share. 

Simply swapping your rugs from room to room, or switching up the placement of a rug within a room can add new life to a space. 'You can also change the room by the way you style a rug, and I love to play around with this: either you place your furniture on top of it, or you place it around it, so the furniture frames the rug,' agrees designer Louise Grey, of House of Grey. 'They are two very different looks,' she adds.

Another free styling trick to consider is hanging a rug on the wall: it acts as a great piece of art, fills a big space and, just like on the floor, acts as an extra layer of insulation for sound and heat – making the room cozier. Rugs can be an expensive purchase, so this simple trick is a must for adding depth and dimension.

Alternatively, consider using rugs in a bathroom, especially those where you have space for an occasional chair and table. ‘Aesthetics are just as important as practical elements when it comes to creating an inviting bathroom,’ says interior designer Henriette von Stockhausen of VSP Interiors, who adds that she is wary of cold, hard finishes.

Remember, it is important to turn a rug from time to time. It prevents fading in one specific area and avoids a path being worn in the pile.

2. Rearrange bedroom furniture

Cream bedroom with green headboard

(Image credit: Kitesgrove)

Learning how to sleep better is vital for our health, especially during this harsh summer heatwave. Your Feng Shui bed placement is vital to creating a bedroom with 'good' energy, in fact, the placement of your bed, especially in a place with a limited square footage is essential to how you interact with the space. Without the distraction of a shiny new purchase, I was able to spend my time readjusting the layout according to bedroom Feng Shui, and not only am I sleeping better, but I feel like I have a brand-new space.

When it comes to your Feng Shui furniture placement in a bedroom, a lot will depend on the size and orientation of the room. Bedroom Feng Shui experts recommend ensuring the bed is located in what is known as the ‘command’ position – that is, so that you can see the entrance of a room, looking towards the door but not being directly opposite. Nor should it be positioned under a window (too drafty), or against the party wall (in case sounds from next door interrupt sleep).

3. Use leftover paint cans

White kitchen with blue painted cabinetry

(Image credit: Naked Kitchens / Siobhan Doran)

If you have leftover paint cans or tester pots, don't let them go to waste. Artistic or imaginative paint ideas and paint tricks can bring a unique beauty to a home. The more creative they are, the better. An energetic burst of color can have a big impact, especially when tucked behind closed doors. 

‘Painting the interior of glazed wall cabinets is an effective way to add a touch of personality to your kitchen,’ says Jayne Everett, creative director, of Naked Kitchens. Choose a contrasting or distinctively bold color for the most impactful of changes. 

If you have a few hours to spare away from your day-to-day duties this summer, it could just be the perfect time to tackle a DIY project.

4. Curate a gallery wall with your favorite art or family photographs

Pink living room with gallery wall with striped rug

(Image credit: Sascal Studio)

The way art is displayed can have a transformative impact on a space. Beautiful gallery wall ideas are popular in design schemes, but take compositions a step further by rearranging your existing look.

‘Gallery walls can feel personal and cozy – and are a great way of displaying a collection of art,’ says interior decorator Leonora Hamill, who works on projects between New York and London. 'However, resist charging ahead. Arrange groupings on the floor in the space you are considering to get an idea of what scale and positioning work best.'

If you do have budget for art, you're in luck. Thanks to social media – and, in particular, Instagram, which connects artists and clients without a gallery middleman – the market has exploded with opportunities. Works can start from as little as $100. When building a collection, one tip is to start small – literally. Smaller works typically have a more modest price tag, offering the opportunity to add more pieces. ‘A beautifully chosen grouping of bijou works is chic, chic, chic!’ says Jennifer Conner of the Affordable Art Fair UK, who also runs her own gallery After Nyne Contemporary. ‘It’s hard to go wrong as long as you really connect with the work (and stick within your budget).’

5. Take plant cuttings

Hands preparing lilac cuttings on wooden table

(Image credit: Getty Images/Liudmila Chernetska)

Post-Covid, I am more aware of how important nature is to all of us. Every little bit we can do to help is vital: it is good for us so we should respect it and bring it into our lives. I think about how calming it is for the soul, just looking at greenery, whether that’s outdoors or indoors. My happiest memories have always been in the garden, which is why I've spent more time learning how to take plant cuttings.

‘It will take time to grow new plants from cuttings, but it won’t cost you anything, and you will be able to replicate the specific plant,’ says Period Living’s gardening expert Leigh Clapp.

Not only is taking plant cuttings one of the most frugal and sustainable garden ideas, but it is also one of the most enjoyable. There is no greater pleasure than propagating and nurturing new plants – watching them grow large enough to eventually take pride of place in your garden.

'Plants are art,' explains designer Maria Speake. 'They are basically living sculptural pieces and in a way, it’s quite good to think of them as that.' Dot them in beautiful vases around your sanctuary to make you feel happier at home.

6. Create an art installation on shelves

Kitchen shelving ideas

(Image credit: Future / Jan Baldwin)

Use the weekend to decorate shelves and curate beautiful arrangments. Shelves can act as art installations in their own right, without parting with thousands of pounds in the process. Displaying objects of the same kind creates a meaningful, impactful statement. The items don’t need to be high art – the act of putting them together on display using a strong color scheme to create a coherent thread will have the required visual impact. 

If you don't already own a plethora of vases or art, consider using family photographs, souvenirs from a memorable vacation, or even art created by your children or grandchildren. 

You can even try this look in a kitchen, as above, using a range of pretty crockery, bowls, and planters. 

Finally, if you are considering a more sustainable, low-cost, minimal life, or simply want to make the most out of the interior furnishings you already own, I implore you to try the 'no-buy' challenge for yourself. My home feels brand-new and I have certainly picked up a few design tricks along the way. Win-win!

Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.