Let’s face it; academics move a LOT.

Between my M.Sc. and my “permanent” job, I’ve moved 5 times.

One thing that keeps me grounded is having an organized, well-decorated living space (hey, I’m a nester).

But it can be hard to justify buying permanent pieces when you don’t know where you’ll be next (or where your funding is coming from).

Here are some tips that helped us gradually build our home over my academic career without breaking the bank.

#1 – To decorate your home, choose a “color story” and stick to it

Settling on a neutral palette with pops of soft color helped our existing items fit various apartments without repainting.

Not all landlords will cover painting costs.

Consistent colors also help tie your rooms together and look polished.

Our main colors have been black, dark grey, and white, with pops of gold or green.

None of our wood pieces match exactly, but are all warm in tone and within a few shades of each other, so they look harmonious.

Our painted wood pieces hit the lighter ends of the color story.

decorate your home 2

#2 – Think about the “re-usability” of your pieces

Since none of us have a crystal ball into what our next housing situation will look like, your stuff should have some degree of flexibility to fit in different living spaces.

For us, re-usability has meant a modular sofa that can be reconfigured, double beds (to fit in almost any bedroom), white book cases and cabinets that work in the same room or separately, and no large rugs (they never seem to work in the next space).

Also, think about if the pieces you’re investing in can withstand your current – or future – life style (i.e. dogs, cats or kids!).

For us a couch with washable, removable covers was a must (here, the Vimle sofa from IKEA).

“Re-usability” also means getting creative with how you use your pieces to their best advantage in a new space.

If you’ve stuck to your color story, shifting pieces around should be relatively easy.

The re-purposed wooden TV stand we picked up at a flea market? It became a shoe cabinet once we realized our new house didn’t have a front closet, but we DID have a new shoe-stealing-puppy.

The IKEA bookcase with storage baskets that was in our office? Now our dining room hutch.

#3 – Don’t rush the small things when you decorate your home

As much as it’s tempting to buy a bunch of stuff from home stores to finish your place quickly, it’s actually gifts from friends or art with special meaning that survived moves and added uniqueness.

Our favourite pieces include a framed sheet of un-cut hockey cards my husband bought at a garage sale, and an old window frame we saved from our land-lord’s dumpster in Ithaca NY and mounted as a wall hanging.

While you’re building your collection of special items, don’t underestimate the simplicity (and cost effectiveness) of used books for decoration!

I put them everywhere – on shelves, stacked under tables or chairs. Old postcards are also a great quirky option to frame.

#4 – Mix budget items with a few higher-end pieces

Some of my favourite, more budget-friendly furniture stores are IKEA, Target, Winners and Canadian Tire; you can even find decent stuff at Walmart.

A lot of these places now sell more distressed items that can be hard to tell from “real” refurbished items at first.

What can really make these work is having a few, strategic, “expensive” pieces around as focal points.

These days, you don’t necessarily have to go to an auction house or estate sale to find reasonably priced quality furniture, either.

I found our dining room table on Kijiji (Canadian Craig’s list) for $75!

We paired it with cheap IKEA chairs, but the resulting, all-around look is classic and clean.

Does all of this still seem past your current budget?

One final tip is to find furniture and appliance stores that make use of layaway plans. OMG, so helpful.

We never could have afforded a couch or TV stand when I was in grad school without this.

$2000 is WAY easier to swallow in $80/month increments, and there’s usually very little interest accrued.

I hope that with these few tips of mine you are well-equipped to decorate your home, or at least get started with pinning on your inspiration boards!


The Closet Moth loves fashion and is passionate about a career in Science. She is based in Canada.

Follow The Closet Moth on Instagram on: @theclosetmoth.

You may also like to read: De-clutter your wardrobe in 3 easy steps – Stylish Academic