Trail Mix: Upcycling, DIYing, and Making Your Apartment Awesome

This is my work from June of 2013, originally appearing here.

Over last weekend, I moved into a new apartment. As a rising third year, it’s my first place that I’ve had to furnish on my own. Last year I lived in my sorority’s house, and as a first year I lived in well-furnished (enough) dorms. I’ve been looking up ways to furnish and decorate the place, and as you might have guessed, I have had a sustainable mind towards it.

Unfortunately, the case with the decor in many apartments, especially in college, can be described succinctly in this Doghouse Diaries post. I’m trying not to let that happen despite my low budget. The internet is full of interior design blogs, but when they suggest that I purchase a $500 couch or a $200 rug, I’m less than enthusiastic about trying to make my apartment look nice. So in my search for a sustainable and cheap way to decorate my apartment, I’ve taken up Upcycling, DIYing, and searching for local furniture and home goods places that feature used goods. Even if you’re not artsy or eco-minded, it’s way cheaper to buy used furniture and fix it up than to buy new. It also gives your place more character. That coffee table you painted will be unique unlike many new ones, and it carries a story with it. If you bought one from Pottery Barn for $300, your wallet will hurt every time you look at it.

An upcycled vertical herb garden

(which is the best source there is out there, obviously), is “the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.” For example, old 2-liter soda bottles and twine become a vertical garden; a window becomes a shadowbox tablecrates become shabby-chic coffee tables, and so on. A great resource for upcycle DIY projects is UpcycleThat, which has tons of home improvement projects with an eco-friendly twist.

DIYing is always a sure-fire way to save money and make your apartment look nice, if you’ve got the time for it. Paint can drastically change the appearance of your apartment or house, but frequently, students who rent aren’t allowed by their leases to paint the walls. You could buy a colorful bedspread, but why not bring color into the room in a more unique way? Instead, incorporate a bold color in painted furniture. It’s fairly cheap to find an old book shelf or dresser at Goodwill on 29 or at the Salvation Army thrift store on Cherry Avenue. Sand off the old paint with a coarse grain sandpaper or a cheap orbital sander and paint with a semigloss or satin paint in thin coats for the most durable color. Or, buy a brightly colored patterned rug or curtains to make your room more colorful.

For purchasing furniture, I cannot recommend the Salvation Army on Cherry Avenue enough. It’s got a great selection of reasonably priced sturdy furniture that you won’t feel bad about selling within a few years. If you’re looking for a really unique investment piece, check out Circa, a locally owned and operated odds ‘n’ ends shop on Allied Street, near Albemarle Bread Company. At Circa, a long-time Best of C-ville winner for Best Furniture Selection, you’ll find quirky furniture, unique art, and all sorts of knick-knacks. Prices are higher for furniture than those at the Salvation Army, but you’ll find more unique things at Circa. Both are locally operated and sell used furniture. Buying used may not seem glamorous, but it saves you money and helps to prevent needless waste.

As a side note, please never throw away your furniture! I’ve seen way too much waste around my apartment complex. Unless you broke it, burned it, and then peed on it, there is absolutely no reason to throw it in your complex’s dumpster. Sell it on Craigslist or take it to Goodwill! They’ll take anything and drop-off is easy. Or, just leave it on the sidewalk with a “Free” sign. Someone less fortunate can probably use your old stuff – it’s no skin off your nose to help someone else out.

When you’re being eco-savvy and dollar-conscious about decorating, try upcycling or DIYing with what you have or what you’ll find at Circa and Salvation Army!

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