Tag Archives: apartment

Six No-Cost Projects When its DIY-or-the-Phone-Bill

I’ve been going a little crazy the last couple weeks with my list of projects (pictured below) that I want to work on around the apartment, yet I have no dinero!

project list

So what do you do when Verizon demands its payment, but you need some creativity in your life? Well, who doesn’t enjoy a challenge?¬†Here are my top 6 totally free projects. And by “top” I mean recent. Please share those of yours that are actually tip-top! See if you can guess which one is (kind of) a joke.

1. Bring nature inside for above-the-head bed art

branch headboard

For this I literally walked around the neighborhood searching for branches. I had something entirely different in mind, but the thing about searching for fallen branches is its entirely different from being able to order exactly what you want from Target. What I ended up with I liked better than my original idea anyway.

How to:

1. Find branches you like.

2. Arrange them how you like on another surface.

3. Use a level to help you find their spot on the wall.

4. Drive in a single nail at the thickest place in the branch (where it won’t split too badly).

5. Stand back and say “Voila!” (Yes, out loud.)

2. Rearrange books and safari animals on the coffee table

Coffee Table

Coffee Table_Under glass

Coffee Table_Elephant

Coffee Table_Tiger

We got this coffee table JUST for the storage. There’s a layer for books and drawers underneath for the unsightlies. I added more books, and display my two friends – the golfing tiger and ballerina elephant I bought from a sweet 13-year-old girl at an arts and crafts market in San Antonio.


1. Get some books you already have. Or just keep the ones out that you have out all the time anyway.

2. Find creative very nice 13-year-old girl who makes awesome fancy toy animals and sells them at her mom’s art stand.

3. Put ’em all together.

3. Paint chip art

Paint chip art

I must admit that paint chip collecting has been a tick of mine, so to speak, every time I enter a home improvement store, even before I knew of all these paint chip art projects all over Pinterest these days. I had a bunch in one of my craft baskets, pulled them out, and just did whatever came to me. I’ve seen many beautiful projects online nowadays though. Here is one of my favorites.


1. Collect paint chips.

2. Cut into 2×2 pieces.

3. Arrange how you want on a surface.

4. Transfer them to the wall with some basic tacks.

Or just do your own thing with them. You can’t really go wrong with paint chips as long as you get colors that make you feel good.

4. Print out some bird friends


I made these birds about three years as inspired by an Anthropologie (their displays are better than their clothes!) display I had seen in college, and put my own spin on it. I already had them so they certainly were free, but if you have a printer, card stock, and optionally some pastels, then you’re in business!

I used to have these all on one string facing one direction so you would see a line of them as you walked through the door, but it never quite worked. So I flipped them out to face the other way and put them on my Christmas tree branches for a new look.

(crappy) BEFORE (picture):






1. Google “bird silhouettes” and pick out your favorites.

2. Put them randomly into a Word doc.

3. Print onto cardstock.

4. Cut them out on uniform pieces.

5. Optionally draw some random designs on some with pastels, watercolor, colored pencil, whatever you like.

6. Hang them with alligator clips onto fishing line.

5. Hang something you already have

heart and sign

I had this hanging quote sign from a rental house a couple years ago that the tenants before (also Teach for America alums) had left behind. It might be an upcoming project for a re-do itself.

“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

The heart thingamajig was a “gift” from a small boy in Granada, Nicaragua made out of folded banana tree leaves. Its just been sitting around until I spotted a place for it and just did it!

6. Give your SO a haircut

So clearly he was in need of a good cut. (I’m so sorry, Daniel.) And if you can’t gussy up your apartment itself, why not gussy up its residents?


The first time I cut Daniel’s hair I was 18 or so, and was so thrilled/shocked he agreed to let me do it, he spent something like 2 hours sitting on a stool in the kitchen while I worked on it, because I wasn’t about to screw it up!

These days I don’t take quite that long, but I’m still not very speedy. The question in this situation is … is this nice haircut due to my hunger for projects … or was it that same hunger that led to my neglecting his locks and letting him he end up in that Beatle-like state in the first place? Chicken … or egg?


If you can do this item #6 just before Valentine’s Day like I did, you can have the added benefit of a sharp-looking date as well. ūüôā


How to:

1. Grab a comb, a glass of water, and a pair of sharp scissors. (I literally use our kitchen scissors because we are that by-the-seat-of-our pants, so really any pair will do.)

2. Say a prayer.

3. Get to work (and don’t let him see the concern on your face as you stop to examine your progress).


Frame Collage

Above our sofa Рthe focal point of our apartment, basically Рwe had two prints: an artsy map of Austin, and a print I love by a Brazilian printmaker, José Miguel. They are both odd measurements, so we just pinched them together between some wood pieces. But something was lacking.

Then, of course, I discovered and fell in love with younghouselove.com, and their frame collages inspired me to do my own.

I started by searching the apartment (this took about 30 seconds) for other frames I had that 1. had something in it I wasn’t crazy about, and 2. I could repurpose.

I took them all outside and spray painted them white to match some other frames I had bought at good old Target. (I kind of liked the look they left behind on the paper bags. If we had a larger place, I probably would have hung them up on their own as a piece of art.)


I then went on the search for art, and discovered I had more art I thought I did. One discovery is that if you have hardbound books with the jackets still on, remove the jackets and you may be able to frame the jacket itself … or the book underneath might itself be a work of art, like Kevin Henkes’ Old Bear I picked up at a Half Price Books a while back. This is what was underneath:

Kevin Henkes

Or like the book jacket off of my personal favorite, The Giving Tree.

The Giving Tree

Or a nice birthday card, like this one:

Happy Birthday

Other unexpected art came from some vintage Spanish vocabulary cards I got for $1 apiece at Uncommon Objects (due to which, Austinites, we are thankful they were not $300. Uncommon Objects, we love you. Why don’t you love us back?) I framed some of them in semi-phrases…

Spanish Vocab Zoom Out    Spanish Vocab Zoom In

paired another one, la mitad, (the half) with one amazingly enthusiastic earring I bought while studying abroad in Rio (because I had lost the other), and put another one, el par, (the pair) with a pair of creatures Daniel and I had put on our Christmas tree a year ago, as you can see in my Recycled Christmas post.

La mitad    El par

Even a 3D object, like my grandmother’s trivet (I just had to look up that word) I realized could be art!

Gma Jessie

Anyway, Sherry and Peter have a great tip for arranging and hanging a frame collage. But I was impatient and had not paper to follow the instructions, so I just laid them out on our bed (the only flat surface big enough in our apartment) until I had the arrangement I wanted.


I think just used my tape measure and level to hang the pictures one by one, starting from the center and working my way out. The before and after  pictures are pretty fun to look at!


BEFORE: sans art


AFTER: collage complete!

And if you’re wondering who illustrated this amazing postcard my wonderful friend Alyssa sent me …

Eric Carle

It was Eric Carle. (Yes, children’s literature is a theme. It would be for you, too, if it was your job to be obsessed with children’s books.)

And if you’re wondering who is so awesome that they would MAKE and WEAR a pi√Īata costume for Halloween, then send out a card printed with a picture of herself with a heart for Valentines Day to her friends …


her name is Carter. And yes, she is as awesome as she looks.

And if you’re wondering what I’m doing with policemen in Mexico, I’ll tell you some time.


And that is our frame collage! It makes our space so cozy when we walk in the door! I love it.

frame collage from door

Closet Intervention

This is the story of a two closets gone astray. Instead of looking like orderly places where belts, pants, coats, and shoes have their place, they looked like the aftermath of a war zone. Piles of shoe rubble. Shirts thrown by some explosion out of their home and onto other furniture. Dresses shoved into place without care or attention.

Daniel and I each have a reach-in closet, Daniel’s about 2/3 the size of mine, but with one door entry versus my accordion door opening. But to make matters worse for him, I had baskets too big for their shelves full of all my craft and photo stuff crammed into the upper shelves, leaving his T-shirts and shoes to fend for themselves near the floor.

Here are our before and after pictures…


Daniel’s Closet BEFORE (yikes)

ImageHere you see the casualties of a grenade. (Take note of the piles upon piles of children’s books in the background we had no place for. That will become important later.)

ImageDaniel’s closet AFTER (wiping sweat off brow)

This was accomplished merely with the help of a hanging sweater rack from Target (which is less than half the price of the cheapest at the Container Store). Also, notice that the upper shelf is now free for him to use, because I took back my sh** and organized it in my own closet!


My closet BEFORE


  • shoe rubble, lower right (also very difficult to get at beyond the low-hanging dresses, skirts, pants, etc.)
  • Purple boxes of mystery files, lower left, that have accumulated for the last 3 years
  • Sweatshirt sleeve hanging down disorderly from the highest shelf, because I can’t reach and literally throw things up there that I don’t wear that often


Step 1: Clear out the unwanted … clothes to Goodwill. Unnecessary files in the trash and consolidated into (count ’em) ONE purple bin in the corner where you can’t see it.

Step 2: Hunt for 1.5 hours at the Container Store for bins to keep your crafts in that fit the very awkward measurements of closet shelves (and finally settle on transparent ¬†shoeboxes). Stack one more shoe rack for extra shelving (though take note that Target has one identical for cheaper and I just chose this one because I couldn’t take fluorescent lighting and crowds any longer).

Step 3: Organize other storage spaces in apartment to maximize all space…


Our toolboxes had been sitting out in the open in our bedroom for forever, because we had all sorts of cleaning supplies cluttering up under the kitchen sink. So … I moved that stuff into one consolidated basket under our bathroom sink, moved our toolboxes under the kitchen sink, and added two paper bags for our recycling that overflows out of our normal recycling bin.


Under our bathroom sink

Here you can see those cleaning supplies in a basket (which I used to have my crafts in). The rest of our stuff got organized into the sides. And the things we didn’t use that often, I moved into cabinets in the bathroom, where we keep linens. (I also Goodwilled some things from there to make room. You need only one, not two, white bedspreads, correct?)

So this is the end of our organization story … for now. There is certainly lots of room for improvement, but for now I’m enjoying the resulting sanity and cleanliness of the open spaces.

How it all began …

My name is Anne. I am an elementary teacher and lover of books, art, and trashy music. I live with my boyfriend, Daniel, in a small apartment … a very small apartment. 425 sq ft to be exact.

When I selected this apartment carefully of all the places my central Austin locator showed me in the part of town I wanted and the price range I needed, I was pleased that 1) it didn’t look like either drug dealer or drug user had inhabited it before me, 2) it did not have carpet (or a mysterious blue stain on said carpet), 3) it did not smell of mold, and 4) it did not require me to drive over 9 speed bumps through a labyrinthine apartment complex parking lot. Rather, it was in a small 9-unit building, adjacent to my favorite Austin neighborhood, painted a sunny yellow color (even if it was peeling), had nice (imitation) saltillo tile floors, and most importantly — let in lots of light from the windows on¬†the east and west sides.

ImageThe fact that it was small (very small) and very imperfect did not bother me, as I was simply setting out to live on my own, completely unaware of the fact that I would soon unexpectedly reunite with an old teenage love (with whom I had not spoken in 7 years), that I would fall in love with him (both of us all grown up this time), and that he would leave his life in New Orleans and come to live with me in Austin just 3 months (and seven years) later.

We are now presented with two challenges:

First, we were 2 grown people living in the same small (very small) space. And despite the fact that Daniel gave away a truck load (and I mean a truck load) of books in order to fit his life into the back of one Ford Explorer and drive here, he still had … a lot of books. And so did I! And we had all those other things … like clothes … and shoes … and dishes.

Second, I seem to have an unending itch to design (and redesign) the space around me. However, I also operate on a tight budget, limited patience, and unfortunately,  and only so many small (very small) walls to adorn with frames, bookshelves and the like.

Thus, a little over a year after move-in, I feel inspired to start this blog to document our progress in this small (very small) apartment – even if the most dramatic “before” pictures are no longer possible at this point. And so this is how it begins.