It’s rainy, gloomy and no one wants to spend money. For the decorating-obsessed, this is a disaster. We’ve all heard the usual advice: paint a room, buy fresh linens, light a candle etc. All good points but somehow they don’t inspire me. So, having had much practice at finding ways to get my decor ‘fix’ without spending a fortune, I thought I’d pass on some tips. Here are my decorating pick-me-ups:

File, sort, trash

While the rain poured down throughout February, we got our house in order by going through, literally, every drawer, closet and cupboard. A couple of trips to OfficeMax and we had enough storage boxes and folders to open our own stationery store. But now all the books are on shelves, the drawers actually open and close and I can find my make-up in the morning. The odds and ends that never seem to have a home are now organized – even labeled, thanks to the label maker we scoffed at initially but secretly quite enjoyed using. We even have an ‘organization station’ (inspired by a recent issue of Domino) off the kitchen. Thank goodness. Now I feel like I can breathe.

Jonathan Adler

Ok, so this isn’t really a tip, just an excuse to talk about one of my favorite designers. But how can you not feel your spirits lift when you buy one of his joyous creations? If a funny fish plate for $20 makes me forget the frenzy of work these days and makes serving dinner more enjoyable, then it’s well worth it.

Fish salt and pepper dispensers: how can you not smile?

Fish salt and pepper dispensers: how can you not smile?

Change the lights

In a kitchen that desperately needs renovating (see more on that below), new lighting has made a huge difference. Ikea’s under-cabinet halogen lights cost a few dollars but have turned our kitchen from a gloomy throw-back to something resembling a modern kitchen. We also swapped the yellowing three-way spotlight fixture in the ceiling for a chrome bar with four halogen lights. Ok, so a bit retro but it brightens the place up no end. A cheap copy of the Le Klint pendant, found on eBay, gave our landing instant personality. Next stop, the florescently-lit bathroom…

Transformational buys

Ok, so I get it, buying something small satisfies the need to, well, buy something. But it doesn’t really solve the need to redesign a room you’ve fallen out of love with. A rug is one of the most room-transforming items you can buy. There are lots of very reasonably-priced woven rugs available that can make a room look completely different without breaking the bank. I just bought the espresso/ivory Zigzag rug from West Elm for the tiny sitting area off our dining room. Because the space is so small, and yet next to our very ‘grown-up’ gray-blue dining room, I’ve struggled to decorate it in a way that has personality without being out-of-keeping. This rug was the answer. Every time I see it I feel happy! My son loves it too because it doubles as extra tracks for his cars and trains. It cost $362 in the West Elm sale, which I don’t think is too bad for what amounts to a complete makeover.

West Elm's Zigzag rug - instantly lifts your spirits

West Elm's Zigzag rug - instantly lifts your spirits

Virtual decorating, launched by Brent Hoberman of fame, allows you to design rooms using a sort of consumer, on-demand version of CAD. You can design a room in 3D, make a mood board, or furnish a photo without moving from your chair or spending a dime. Decorating therapy at its best – and cheapest.

Room design created on - love the photographic wallpaper

Room design created on - love the photographic wallpaper

Get planning

Today we had Home Depot come in and measure our kitchen. They’ll do a full design in 3D for $100, including an estimate. Ok, it’s still $100 which you might not get back (if you don’t buy your kitchen from them). But, unlike working with a designer, it’s a ‘no strings attached’ deal so you needn’t feel obliged to purchase. We desperately need a kitchen renovation but probably won’t spend on it until the market picks up. But at least we can plan. Then we’re all ready to go when we feel flush enough.

Start studying

An interior design course is a bit of an investment. But it needn’t be a fortune. The Interior Design Institute, for example, runs a 12-part course for $1,000. I’ve been doing this for almost a year (yes, I’m very slow – but I fit it in around other things at my own pace) and it’s a wonderful way to learn more and get my design fix. What’s more, it’s an investment I should get a return on as it helps me make smarter design decisions.

If the experts are to be believed, we’ll be in the thick of this recession until at least 2010, so I’m open to more ideas!