One of the Biggest Design Obstacles…

What holds people back the most when designing spaces?  Holding on to things.  Letting those items that they are not willing to part with boss them around and dictate the design of the space.

Now, before you get worked up, this does not include true family heirlooms, but everything else is fair game, no matter who bought it for you or what memories it brings back.  We’re also not necessarily talking about things like tile that are attached to the home.  We’re talking furniture and accessories.

We all have this problem.  We get attached for one reason or another.

I’m not much of a keeper of things in general.  I’m really just the opposite.  I get rid of things pretty fast.  But, even though I’m not a huge keeper of things, even I still run into this issue from time to time.

For instance, I did part with my old bed because it was a little too “cottage” for what we were doing in the new house.


I loved the bed, but needed to part with it in order to go the direction that I want to go with the space.  I wanted an upholstered headboard.  I couldn’t find just what I wanted and time to make one was not on the horizon.  So, I got this new bed from Four Hands two months after selling our other bed.

Oh, and don’t worry – we don’t have that ugly carpet anymore.  Our new house has wood floors in the master bedroom.  Yay!


I love it.  Nailhead and tufting – two of my favorite things.  But… the color isn’t exactly what it seemed in the store, though I love the men’s suit look to the fabric.  It’s a tad more brown in the bedroom.  However, it is well made and I just bought it in May.  So, I have a hard time parting with it.   We all have our reasons, this is mine – this time.

But, the deal is, IF the color doesn’t work well with what we end up doing in the master bedroom, I can either just force it and keep it and design around it, or I can choose to not be attached to it.   Am I going to let it boss me around as I design the space?

I hope I won’t.  (We do not yet have the space fully planned out.)  I try to be flexible and realize that a bed can be sold or moved to another room.  If it impedes a great design and vision, it is fair game for being sold.  Don’t let one or two items boss you around.

What makes you hold on to things?    Maybe reasons like these:

- It was an expensive piece at the time.  (I spent a decent amount of money on my dining table, desk and hutch and a few other pieces in my last house.  Just having spent that money a few years before makes me less eager to part with the piece.  It’s a psychological thing.  But, they are now all sold.  And, to be honest, it was a relief.  I sold them just to transition away from black furniture.   I’ve also found that if I can buy things on Craigslist, I don’t feel this way.)
- I can’t afford another piece.
- I don’t want to deal with changing that out.
- My bff’s firend’s grandma gave it to me, what if she sees I don’t have it anymore?
- I used to love that piece.  It was so popular in the 80s.  It made me feel cool then.
- It is still new.
- Memories are attached.

The Decorologist highlighted a dining room before and after recently.  This is the before shot.


Oak Windsor style chairs, matching sets…  What if the owner let the furniture, which is nice but dated, boss her around?  What if she was attached to it and not willing to part with any of it?  My how that would impact a design!

Here is the after. She kept the table. Everything else is new.


What a difference, new chairs, china cabinet and paint colors made!  She was flexible.

I have had clients do this with dining sets as well as with sofas that have undertones that are difficult to work with, or an item that is dated but that paint could remedy.  I am often surprised by what clients say MUST stay in a room.  I think they feel that parting with things just adds to the price tag.  It doesn’t have to.

Instead, keeping things due to feelings of guilt or fear can greatly limit what can be done with a space.  Be fearless.  And flexible.

Having said we should all be willing to part with things that are not family heirlooms or the like, the thought that is likely going through your mind is we don’t have unlimited budgets.  We can’t all just jump up and buy something new every time we decide that something we own does not work.  Right?  I know I cant.  We can still be flexible.  We just have to get creative.

- Use the items in another room.  Does it go with your overall style, but just doesn’t work in that particular space?  It may be a good candidate for another room.
- Sell it on Craigslist and use the money earned to purchase something new (or used).   In an ideal situation, no money is lost.  It’s like a trade-in.  But, you will have to be patient in both buying and selling.
- Be willing to paint items that can take paint.   Don’t let the tone of wood or color of metal dictate the design.
- Is there something from another room that you can pull in?
- Focus on one room at a time so it’s not too costly or overwhelming.

One of my clients started with this room in her beautiful home, which isn’t bad.  But, because she was flexible and not attached to anything, we were able to come up with a fun and exciting new design for the space.

2012-06-25 11.27.52

She knew some things could go in other spaces, some to another home they have and other things could be sold and new items found on Craigslist, which helped with maintaining a reasonable budget.

Here is the new design story board that hasn’t been implemented just yet.  We’re still ironing out details.


When I buy things, I try to ask myself a few questions.

- Can I find this on Craigslist?  If you purchase something on Craigslist, there is a good chance that a couple of years later, you can sell it for almost the same price and tada, no money lost, yet you got something new!
- Can the item be used in more than one space?  If the items is pricey, I like to have flexibility and know it can be used in more than one specific space.  If the item is less expensive, no worries.  Or, if the items is extremely unique, no worries.
- Can I resell this for at least half the price and find something used in it’s place without spending more money if I don’t like it?
- If it’s a large item that I will potentially own for a while, is it neutral and classic?  Will it stand the test of time?
- Can the item be returned if it doesn’t work?

Be patient and find that just right item.  Don’t settle or be bossed around by pieces that you own.

What is holding you back? What pieces are you not parting with that maybe you should?   And, why?  Because they look dated?  Because the color is off?  Because the style is all wrong?  What makes you hold on to things?



  1. Guilty!!! It’s the fear of having to spend more money that makes me hang onto things I’m not into anymore, and then worrying that I won’t be into the new piece long after I buy it. So… Things just stay the same, like my bedroom set, and I walk by and stick my tongue out hating it. Not a good solution.

  2. Money! Is what’s holding me back….I have a few projects that I want done but it cost thousands, the other thing is my husband he can be quite handy but I have to be on his timetable :( I have learned the shortcuts of switching things up but it will only get me so far. Great post!

  3. Very interesting and thorough. I’ve gone both ways over time. Some of the items I have parted with…the Henredon sofa the most famous……that I gave to my daughter, I was fortunate two years ago to have been able to retrieve. My son in law hated it, and had it in their attic, …..I really needed a sofa that size. I called and in two days it was back “home”! I had it recovered and it’s a jewel.
    But…mostly I give items away to family members. They save a little and I feel good in being of some help.

  4. There are a few pieces that we got for free that aren’t quite our style, buuuut if we get rid of them then our rooms will be empty so I just have to be patient haha.

  5. I really enjoy your columns and ideas, and even though I’m on the higher side of age 60+ I like change and think young! I buy at Good Will, thrift stores, and have had fun redoing and adding/subtracting often.

    Why don’t you put a light coat of pain on that bed that is the color you want? I see your painted chair in the photo. So I know you know how! ha

    What do you do about concerns about bed bugs these days in furniture from ‘used’ places. I never was worried, but now days………?????


    • Thanks! I have a rule about painting fabric – never paint anything new that is still worth a good amount to sell. Only paint things that are old and that you’d otherwise consider reupholstering so you have nothing to lose. That’s my philosophy.

      You know, I totally think about bed bugs and I do get weirded out. For that reason, I rarely buy things that are fabric on Craiglist… but I have purchased a chair and it went well. But, yeah, if I get the sense that could be an issue, I’m out. Yikes. I guess it’s hard to know for sure.

  6. My clients seem to get overwhelmed because the project seems too big and costly when in reality, just switching out pillows and a rug could be enough… Or at least it’s a starting point to get them excited about tackling the room a little at a time… and like you mentioned Kristi, that’s what paint is for, a cheap but effective transformation of everything from furniture to fabric. Great post with great advice!

  7. Kristy, this post couldn’t be more perfectly times. I am letting a rug boss me around because it’s one of the most expensive things we’ve ever bought. I have buyer’s remorse, but I think I just need to sell the rug and get the look I really want. Thanks for the encouragement to let go of things that don’t work for you!!!

  8. Great post. This totally happens to me, currently with a very nice, expensive-at-the-time rug in our living room. I’m shopping for a new one and can’t wait to trade it in!

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