Sunday, April 22, 2012

Broke Doesn't Mean Boring: Decorating a Nursery on the Cheap

Last weekend, Randy and I finally put the last touches on Parker's room. Considering he's due in two weeks, I'd say it was about time! Being on a tight budget, we didn't have much cash to spend, so we had to figure out how to furnish and decorate it on the cheap. All told, we spent less than $100. Looking back, we realized that we spend about that amount on Zoey's nursery also.

Considering how much people can spend on nurseries, we feel that we did pretty well. If you go into any store that sells baby furniture – cribs, dressers, rocking chairs, etc. Any one item can set you back hundreds of dollars. It's ridiculous.

Especially when you consider all the free – or nearly free – stuff out there. Because really, once anyone's kid has outgrown their swing, bouncer, crib, etc., the main goal seems to be to get rid of it quickly so it stops taking up room in their house; after all, most kids just accumulate more and more and more things. 

Here's how we furnished the rooms:

Zoey's crib, converted to a toddler bed
We didn't have to pay for a crib for either child. For Zoey, we got one from my sister, who had kept the crib she bought for her daughter and had recently come to the decision to not have more children. It is a convertible crib/toddler bed; Zoey is now using it in toddler bed form.

Parker's Crib
For Parker, we got a crib off of Between Freecycle and Craigslist, you can find almost everything baby-related for free or next-to-free. Both these free cribs were sturdy and in good condition.

                                     Rocking Chair
I believe a rocking/gliding chair is important for those late night please-dear-lord-go-to-sleep sessions, as well as for feeding. That doesn't mean I want to pay a month's rent for one. Rocking chairs – or the modern favorite “gliding” chair sell for a LOT of money. When we were shopping for Zoey, we saw chairs from $300-$1,000. And they didn't even give massages. We got ours from Craigslist for a whopping $10. It's a basic rocking chair that gets the job done.

This is another essential. Not only does it perform the basic function of holding clothes, it provides the best place to put a changing station (unless you're rich enough to buy a separate changing table for $100-$200). We got a contoured changing pad (that you need for the top of a changing table anyway) from a friend who was off-loading baby equipment and put it on top of the dresser.

Zoey's re-fabbed dresser
The problem with dressers is that people so rarely get rid of them. After all, unless they're in really bad shape, they still hold clothes just fine. Heck, I still use the dresser I had when I was 10. So does my sister. With Zoey, this wasn't a problem, as we had an extra dresser that came with our house. It was dark, ugly wood, but Randy stripped off the stain and painted it to match the room.

Dressers appear on Craigslist and Freecycle occasionally, but unless you are sitting and watching constantly so you can be sure of being the first responder, your odds of getting one are low. We attempted to get a half-dozen or so – a couple of times replying less than an hour after the ad was posted – and got beat out for all of them. If you live in a metropolitan area, it's easier because there are more dense postings, but it didn't make sense for us to drive 70 miles each way for a free dresser.
It's modern.  For the '80s....

That meant we had to go out and buy one. Our budget meant we were limited to a chintzy press board chest of drawers from a store like Target, or second-hand shops. We finally found a dresser at Goodwill for the bargain price of $40. That's the most we spent on any one item for either nursery. It isn't the most attractive dresser – black lacquer and gold trim – but it's sturdy, and has enough room to hold not only clothes for the first six months, but also all of the cloth diapers and accoutrements.

We spent a bit more on decor for Zoey's room than for Parker's, mainly because we painted Zoey's room. Randy painted the walls a pale yellow and the ceiling a pale pink. We used the same paint on her dresser. Now that we're in a rental, we didn't want to pain the walls, so we didn't have that expense.  If we weren't renting, we'd have painted the walls again - for a relatively small expense, it really makes the room look more coordinated. 

For both Zoey and Parker, we wanted to put their names on the wall, so we got craft letters from JoAnns ($2/letter) and painted them, then hung them over the crib. Unless you name your child Evangelica or something equally long, this is a cheap but nice decor.

If we had any artistic skill whatsoever, we would have painted the walls rather than buying art...but we don't. We originally had flower decals on the wall for Zoey (a package at Target runs around $10) and that was it. Then Randy's sister Megan – who DOES have artistic skill – painted some pictures that we hung instead.

For Parker, we decided to craft it. We wanted to decorate with a dinosaurs. Again, our lack of artistic ability combined with our lack of money limited our funds. We decided to make our own wall art by making frames from frames from 1”x2” lumber ($2/8 foot board) and stretching dinosaur-patterned fabric across them. We had a little snag in our plans when we realized that apparently dinosaurs are not in style any more, so there's not much in the way of dino cloth. We did manage to find a couple of prints we liked, and went to town.

While we were at it, we found this neat United States map print for Zoey's room. We spent about $15 total on cloth and another $15 or so on the wood – not too bad.

We got Zoey's curtains at Target for about $15 – they had some with an extra-thick backing to block out light (in both houses, we gave her a room with a western exposure). Randy's sister made the curtains for Parker's room.

Swing/Bouncer/Floor Gym/Playpen/Diaper Genie/Hamper
All of these, we got for free from a friend who was off-loading baby gear or for our baby shower for Zoey. When Parker is done with them, we'll pass them on to someone else for free. Considering the extremely short time they are used, any free version you find will likely be in excellent condition.

We got two years' worth of clothes for Zoey (so many, in fact, that she never wore some of them!) and one year's worth or so for Parker for free. Just like baby-related furniture, people want mainly to get rid of the extra clothes taking up room – and especially for the first year or two, kids wear clothes for such a short period of time that many of the clothes are in new or near-new condition.

High Chair
Ok, this isn't for the nursery, but you'll need one eventually. There are tons of chairs out there with various add-ons. They can get quite large, not to mention expensive. We originally got one for free from my sister, but found that it wasn't much good when we left the house, since it wouldn't fit in the trunk of my car. The answer – a $30 bare-bones chair from Ikea. It's a simple molded plastic seat with four straight metal legs that snap in and a tray. Easy to clean, easy to transport, and space-efficient.

We also saved a lot of money with Zoey by making our own baby food and freezing it – I'm sure I'll make a post about that when I start doing it for Parker. We're going a step further in savings this time by trying cloth diapers – now that we have a good washer/dryer, it makes sense and doesn't seem to be that much more work than disposables. I'm confident that you'll get an update on that, as well!

All in all, we discovered that – with the notable exception of a dresser – just about everything essential for babies is easy to find for free or next-to-free. If you aren't the first in your family/friend group to start having kids, you'll probably have most of what you need given to you before you even think to ask.  Otherwise, your Craigslist and Freecycle will supply a plethora of options.

If we had to start over this time, I'd have started the dresser search as soon as I knew I was pregnant, rather than just looking intermittently. Free/cheap dressers do exist, but they get snatched up quickly; this makes sense when you consider the price of a new dresser (easily $300 or more). How much you want to spend on decor is up to you, but by doing a little more work yourself, you can decorate the room for less than $50 even without purchasing from thrift stores.


  1. Parker's dresser is so 80s I wouldn't be surprised if he was born wearing a Don Johnson suit.

    1. Hey, the 80s are making a comeback...I've even seen people wear legwarmers. On purpose and not as part of a costume. By the time he knows any better, that might be a 'vintage' dresser that everyone thinks is rad.

  2. The 80's are absolutely here, no doubt about it. I'm trying to ignore them though.
    I love your ideas, especially the cloth wall hangings. When G was first starting to eat she got an expensive hook onto the table seat, that was awesome, until she gained weight and started bouncing. So we went and got a plastic strap to the chair seat that was maybe $15 and that works just as well. We used an entertainment stand/cupboard we weren't using anymore for her changing table because her dresser was too tall. Which by the way was from when I was a kid, given to me by my great grandparent's who got as part of their bedroom furniture when they got married. You weren't joking about dressers lasting!
    I didn't even know about freecycle and craigslist, I'll have to go search bookshelves!

    1. The cloth was Randy's idea; we've been looking for art (we have nothing on our walls - it's kind of sad) and one thing we keep seeing is canvas prints stretched over a frame. It's something we could do even with limited artistic ability!

      The dresser for Parker's room is actually a few inches taller than I'd like, but it's a good height for Randy. I guess that means he gets permanent diaper duty! Works for me...

      Bookshelves are all over craigslist. Freecycle is a bit more hit and miss, but I've seen a lot of different types of furniture on there.