The majority of my home furnishings were purchased from second-hand shops, consignment shops, antiques malls, garage sales, flea markets, the newspaper, etc. With the money I saved by doing this, I have also been able to purchase some new items. I most enjoy those pieces I have purchased and refinished myself. When I look at my furnishings today, it’s not just a piece of furniture or an accessory. Each item has a story to it, and I am reminded of that fun day of shopping and the excitement of having found the perfect item for a certain need. To me, my home is something of a personal journal of my 38 years of homemaking.

Most of the furniture in our home has been a part of our lives for 18, 25, or 30 years, and I still enjoy every single piece. I have not done a lot of replacing and redecorating, so my accumulation of furnishings has been allowed to flourish. I established a few simple rules for myself early on in our marriage that I can now say have proven to be very wise financially. No one taught them to me; they are probably just a part of my personality. I’d like to share a few of those rules with you this month, and I hope they will be helpful to you.

If I couldn’t die owning it, I didn’t purchase it! 

Of course, you will purchase certain items for your home that you will not want to still own the day you die—like carpeting, towels, sheets, curtains, etc.

I don’t mean those items! I applied this general rule to my purchases because I feel so many young couples believe they have to fully furnish their homes. Since they can’t afford to do it well, they purchase a house full of things that they KNOW they will replace someday. I call it “revolving-door furnishing.” While putting the money in the hand of the seller, they already have the thought, “This will just make due until I can get what I really want.” Obviously, there are must-have items—a bed, a chair, a table for eating, etc. Those must haves may cause us to replace things a few times until we get what we really want, but I’m talking about filling up all of the empty spaces in a home.

I didn’t let myself feel the urgency to purchase something that cost $10 to $20 for a “make-do” item, when if I waited a month or two, I could purchase something more substantial and that would have longevity. Do I own everything I have ever purchased? No, but I could have! I have never enjoyed wasting money. I am glad I learned the wisdom behind the old statement, “penny-wise and pound-foolish!” We are often careful with large sums of money but foolish with the smaller amounts. Unfortunately, large sums are made up of accumulated small sums!

Never be intimidated by empty space. 

I haven’t! This point builds on the previous one. At 29 years of age, my husband and I moved into the home we would share with our three daughters for 27 years, in Munster, Indiana. When we moved in, we had very, very little. Our first four years of marriage were spent in a one-bedroom apartment over a hardware store in Hammond, Indiana. Jennifer was born during that time, and when we moved from there, I was expecting our daughter Linda. I had very little in that little apartment. In fact, I only bought one item the whole time we lived there; I sold Tupperware long enough to purchase a rocking chair for when Jennifer arrived. We spent exactly one year in our first parsonage, which was also empty, and then moved to the home in Munster.

The Munster house had been built at a time when it wasn’t fashionable to have ceiling lights. Consequently, the only lights in the bedrooms were in the closets. We now had a family room along with a living room and a formal dining room. Several of these rooms set empty for a few years because we simply couldn’t afford to furnish them. The house actually had the “empty-house-echo” sound when we talked. But you know what? That sound didn’t bother me one bit! I developed a plan of attack, and I made myself stay with that plan. I did not feel a responsibility to fill up all that space on a rush. I didn’t have the money anyway, but that is what some young couples feel credit cards are for…we didn’t.

I decided to focus on my foyer, the room people saw when they first entered our home. I believe that when guests come to your home, they should be able to reason that you are a young couple, or that you had moved to a new home, and you are not finished with furnishing your home, so I didn’t allow myself to fret over large areas of empty space. Focusing on an area guests can see shows you have a plan, and your empty spaces are by choice…they are “in waiting!” Trying to do a little bit in every room looks like a little bit, and no area ever looks finished.

Learn the value in $5 

This rule refers back to “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” Traditionally, women are nesters, and we want our nests to look nice. When we are young, we can become overanxious about decorating and furnishing our homes. What we need too often is simply what we really want! We can’t have it all at the same time. We can’t have new outfits, eat out, nails done, hobby supplies, etc., etc., etc.! We can get frustrated because we want new drapes, new rugs, new towels, new dishes, new…—on top of the hair, nails and clothes shopping. All those things cost, and some of them are fairly big ticket items. Five dollars can seem so small when you feel you actually do need some things—not just want them. Five dollars here and five dollars there can add up to new pillows for your couch—which can make a big difference to the look of your living room or bedroom. Two trips a month to a nail salon for a year costs around $550, and all we have to show for it is our last fill-in! An entire room could get freshened up with that amount or a BRAND-NEW La- Z-Boy recliner could be purchased for that price!

Keep a spending log to see where your money is going. Fast food? Designer coffee? Pop? It all adds up, and I’m sorry to tell you, unless you are very wealthy, you can’t have it all at the same time!

Only purchase what you really like! 

I have already mentioned that much of what I have is several years old, but I have no desire to part with any of these pieces! I only purchase what I like, and so I still like it! I know my taste. I know with which style I want to live. I teach Home Decorating at Hyles-Anderson College. I love something about every style, but I only want to live with one of them. I have a classic traditional style with some Victorian thrown in for interest. I’m eclectic within those perimeters.

If we find out what style we really like and shop fundamentally in that style, we will be less likely to get tired of our furnishings and feel the need to replace them. Only purchasing what we really like allows us to build our inventory and to have the well-furnished home we desire.