I will never forget the kryptonite-flare irradiating from the bedroom down the stairwell casting green shadows on each and every step.
It instantly gave me a super-headache and made me weak in the knees…crippling to the ground feeling inevitable defeat after we.just.painted.the.entire.room.
I can’t even believe I actually tried to see if we could make it work for a hot minute. But, the green glow was blinding.
The worst decorating “advice” I ever received was from watching an HGTV Dream Home rerun. I swooned over an apple green guest bedroom and made a snap decision to turn our undecorated guest room green. I think I even used the exact same paint color.
But, oh, it looked nothing like that pretty and relaxing room on TV. On our walls it turned into Superman’s worst nightmare!
After quickly admitting it had to go, I mean the glow was turning the neighboring rooms green, I realized choosing paint colors by TV is a bad, bad, bad idea.
There is loads of free decorating advice everywhere, or as many well-meaning sources like to call it “inspiration”. But how do you tell the good from the bad?
I used to think I wasn’t qualified to give decorating advice, despite the fact I had a constant flow of ideas and I am pretty sure I was born with a decorating super-gene. I felt like I had to have a degree or a certification. Why would anyone want my advice? So, instead I just started sharing what I was doing in my own home. Soon after, family, friends, and you all started asking for my advice anyway.
That’s because good advice isn’t really about the advisor, as much as it is about the advisee. Good advice can come from anywhere, but there are some traits that separate the good from the bad.
Turns out my other superpowers, like good listening skills, honing in on what makes a person unique, and being totally relatable (because I am not better than you and I don’t have a degree to prove it), makes me pretty darn good at giving decorating advice. It’s all because I focus on you and your needs. Giving advice in my online workshops and in one-on-one chats is one of the most fulfilling things I do.
So, here is what I have come to realize is the difference between good and bad decorating advice, no matter the source.
Good decorating advice:
- Is personalized and specific
- Considers your decorating style and interest, not that of the advisor
- Encourages you to follow your gut and stick to what you love
- Doesn’t talk you out of things you really want to do or talk you into things you don’t want
- Doesn’t make you reconsider ideas by using fear tactics (with phrases like: “What if you don’t like it?” or “That might not look so good a few years from now.”)
Bad decorating advice:
- Is one-size-fits-all and generic
- Makes you think because it worked for someone else, it will automatically work for you
- Pushes a certain style or rules
- Talks you into things you aren’t sure about
- Says “just get it, you can always return it”
- Feels nosey and unwelcome
The thing is you and your home are not one-size-fits-all. Finding good decorating advice for your specific wants, needs, and constraints is tough. Many of the mainstream sources of decorating advice, aka inspiration, (like TV, magazines, books, and Pinterest) are trying to appeal to a broader audience with advice that anyone can relate to. But, it usually can’t go so far as to help you with your specific situation.
But, we all love it. Bad advice is cheap or free. Bad advice abounds, making it easily accessible. We badly want to believe we can take the generic advice and easily apply it for our specific needs. But, figuring out just how to do that is where we get stuck, over and over again, in our homes.
Now besides me, you are probably getting decorating advice from a few other places. That’s totally cool. I love a good second opinion, too. But, beware of the 10 worst places to get decorating advice!
I’ll admit I am totally hyping this up. The advice or inspiration from these sources isn’t all bad. The problem is our willingness to believe and follow both the good with the bad can make these sources a dangerous place to get advice on your journey to a home you love.
The 10 Worst Places to Look for Good Decorating Advice
Let’s start closest to home and work our way out.
1. Your Hubby During the Big Game
A distracted advisor never gives good advice.
Sometimes our hubbies feel under duress to give advice, like when you stand in front of the TV during the big game and hold up two paint swatches demanding to know which one he likes better. He will instantaneously blurt out the one on the left to get you to step out of his line of sight to the TV.
Then, when you say something like, “But are you sure, I was leaning towards this one?” He will just as quickly change his tune and agree…anything to get you to move out of the way.
He also probably won’t remember the conversation later (the dreaded “I never said that” or “you never asked me”). He’ll plead ignorance and wash his hands of the bad paint color decision, even though it is the one he picked.
What to Do Instead: When you want him involved in an important decision, schedule some undistracted time you can talk about it. (First, make sure #2 below does not apply.) If either of you is easily swayed by the other’s opinion, start with a secret ballot. You each write your choice on a scrap piece of paper and reveal your preferences at the same time and then talk it through.
2. Your hubby That Couldn’t Care Less if He Still Lived in a Dorm Room
Decorating is just not that important to him.
You want him engaged, but if he’s just not that into it, you are going to get little more than shoulder shrugs.
If you push him to share opinions when he really doesn’t care, you might not like the ideas. And, your dislike for his ideas will only alienate him further. No one likes to put an idea out there and then have it squelched.
If he is not interested in decorating, it’s best not to push it. Just like the groom who doesn’t want to help plan the wedding, you are better off turning to your mom and bridesmaids to fill the void. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about your home (or wedding), it’s just not his passion.
What To Do Instead: Find someone who cares about decorating that you can chat with. Maybe you have a stylish friend, a design-loving mom, or want to work with a professional whose sole purpose is to help you decorate a home you love.
3. A Mother-In-Law That Always Over Stays Her Welcome
(Or your own mother, or anyone else for that matter, that sticks their nose in where it isn’t welcome and tells you how they think you should be doing things.)
She gives unsolicited advice when you are most vulnerable…while she is in your home and you are trying to put your best foot forward to be a good hostess. Her passive aggressive remarks undermine all the work you put into getting your home ready for house guests. But, she just can’t hold her tongue. (Phew! I am so glad my mom and MIL are nothing like that, but sadly too many women have to deal with this.)
Admit it, you spent the entire week before your MIL came cleaning and sprucing up the place trying to please her…and it still didn’t work. Trying to please someone else’s wants for your home is a losing battle. So, you’d be far better off doing it the way you love and learning to ignore her snarky comments. See also: Fix the 3 Things That Make Your Home Unwelcoming
What To Do Instead: Stay strong and remember it is your house. It is more important it make you happy 24/7, than someone else who is only there for a brief time. You can clean the guest room and fluff up the pillows, but never go to extremes to redecorate just for house guests…always do it of you.
4. The “Yes-Man” Friend
We all have one. We go to her when we need a good pep-talk and really want to be talked into something.
But, in decorating this can go south real fast. She is telling you whatever she thinks you want to hear. And, you’re letting her “advice” override your intuition.
You call her up or text her a pic saying, “should I?” or “would you buy this?”
Just by you asking, your well-meaning friend assumes her job is to convince you to buy whatever it is, because she thinks that will make you happy. Then, you get it home and you aren’t sure.
So, you text the same friend or maybe a different friend (or a whole army of yes-man friends) saying, “what do you think?”
Your well-meaning friend(s) seeing as how you already bought it and brought it home, thinks its her job to convince you it looks good and to keep it. She wouldn’t want you to regret your purchase or go through the hassle of returning it. She’ll probably say things like, “you can make it work” or “maybe it would look better somewhere else” or “you just need to find something to go with it” or “you’re overthinking it, I think it looks fine”.
And, you keep it…along with the nagging feeling that it just ins’t right. (A few months or years from now it will end up in the donate pile or garage sale.)
What To Do Instead: Get in touch with your gut…no one knows you like you. If you are hesitating in the store it might be your gut telling you it feels off. If you decide to buy it and get it home, and that icky feeling is still there, it’s a sign not to be ignored. You’ll feel better returning it, than trying to make it work (no matter how many friends tell you that you can). See also: Love vs. Appreciation
5. She That Hired a Designer
You know the neighborhood housewife that just had a designer to do her whole place. And, now she doles out the decorating advice at every turn, parroting what her designer told her.
She that hired a designer is not a designer. Second-hand advice is rarely ever relevant to your situation. And, the person giving out the regurgitated advice might be getting it wrong (ever heard of the game telephone or the phrase “lost in translation”?).
What To Do Instead: If you like how her home turned out, ask her to refer you to the designer. If you don’t like it, be polite and keep your mouth shut (it’s her home not yours).
6. The Dust Collectors, Some of Which Pre-Dated the Internet
Sometimes I think design books are better for decorating with, than for decorating advice. I’ve got a pretty little stack in my office. Each one I thumbed through once or twice. There was a few gems in each, that I probably never actually put into practice. Now, they are shelf-fillers…another thing to dust around. But, they do look pretty.
You buy them one by one, so the investment seems small. But, I just went and added up the cover price on the back of all the books hanging out in my studio. And, my eyes about fell out of my head. This little pile above is over $125. As far as books go, that’s not bad for 6, mostly hardcover, books. As far as decor goes (which is what these have become), that’s a pretty pricey section of my book shelf decor. And, as far as decorating advice goes, that’s pretty cheap, but worthless if it’s bad advice (like I said above, one-size-fits-all and generic) that you can’t actually take action on in your home.
What To Do Instead: Hone in on a particular decorating topic or a particular decorating style. My favorite, and most useful, decorating and design books fall into one of these two categories. Like the deck design book that was laser-focused on building a deck, which helped us work through exactly what we wanted for our deck. Or, my Happy Chic by Jonathan Adler or I Break for Yard Sales by Lara Spencer, two of my favorite designers whose styles resonate with me and what I love in my home.
7. Home & Garden Show Marathons on The Idiot Box
You aren’t really getting counseling advice by watching Dr. Phil, right? You shouldn’t be getting decorating advice from TV shows either.
Kryptonite walls, need I say more? Okay I will.
Here’s the problem… you can’t believe everything you see on TV. Particularly that backyard crashed in one day, the kitchen remodeled in a weekend, or the master bedroom overhaul finished just in time to surprise homeowners that were gone for the night. Unless you have an off camera production crew and weeks to months of upfront planning, that sh*t doesn’t happen. And if you think you can pull it off, you are up for a major disappointment.
The other big, and glaringly obvious (ugh…I will never live down the kryptonite green), decorating-by-TV mistake is choosing things for your home based on how they look on TV. You should always test paint samples in your own home on the actual walls to be painted. You should always try to see big purchases in person or get fabric and finish samples to see in person. Nothing is ever exactly the way it appears on your TV, computer, or phone screen. (See also: Why I don’t like flash sale sites with limited pictures and a no-return policy)
What To Do Instead: Remember, most TV shows are entertainment. Just think of the hours you enjoy spending shouting at the home buyers on House Hunters…their comments drive me up the wall, but being in the peanut gallery is pure fun. The shows that are educational, show you how something can be done, but not exactly how to do it in your own home. Make sure you research elsewhere for how-to information, test out swatches in your own home, and create a plan before tackling anything you saw in a 5-minute TV segment. Not everything is as easy as it looks (especially if it is your first time trying it).
7. Junk Mail
Oh, the catalog dream world. Everything looks perfect and this goes with that and wouldn’t it be dreamy?
Until you get it home and realize it doesn’t quite looks as awesome in your space….because who really needs a cluster of 45 vases as their dining table centerpiece. (West Elm I love you, but nobody is really doing that.)
You just don’t have to have all.the.things. Despite what the catalog pictures would lead you to believe, you (and your budget) don’t need to buy multiples of everything…your house will start to look like a furniture store stock room real quick.
By that measure, you need way more pillows and comforters on your bed, too. You know, for that catalog look…never mind the cursing when you try to find you mattress to sleep on every night! See Also: Do you struggle with this too? Practical vs. Pretty
What To Do Instead: Don’t copy catalog looks, plain and simple. Real-life isn’t like the catalogs. Real homes are livable with a big beeping spoonful of down-to-earth practicality.
Did you know that most photographed rooms in magazines aren’t even useable? This confession from a master interior stylist blew my mind. In a nutshell, “you can’t live in a styled space.” Whoa, right?
What looks good in a picture, doesn’t always work in 3-dimensions, aka real life.
Also, magazines scout the best of the best of the best to showcase in the magazine. Which means any comparison you draw is pitting your home against a whole other level. That’s like comparing your son’s high school baseball career to Babe Ruth’s pro career…there is not way your son can’t look bad in that comparison.
What To Do Instead: Soak in the color, furniture style, and decor inspiration, but don’t expect to get practical arrangement or styling advice for everyday living. The pictures look perfect, but the words are where the real advice lies in the glossies. When it comes to arranging, do what they say, not what they show.
9. That Always-Up-To-Something Home Blogger You Can’t Get Enough Of
The theme of some design and DIY blogs seems to be Decorate. Redecorate. Repeat.
This perpetual decorating is in the name of creating content to inspire others (and to generate traffic followed by ad dollars). But, I can’t help but notice how empty, unrealistic, and excessive this approach to decorating a home becomes. As the reader , it can feel overwhelming and exhausting. How can anyone keep up?
What To Do Instead: Realize what these bloggers are really saying with their content is
- I want to share a whole variety of ideas, so I can be a people-pleaser (which brings me more traffic)
- Do what I say not what I do
- Make a home you love (not make a home like me that I am constantly re-decorating to show you ideas to make a home that you love)
Just keep it in perspective and be thankful your home is not a business and showing how you decorate it is not your money-maker (been there, done that, and felt icky about it).
10. Free-For-All Photo Sharing Site
You know the one. We love it, but we hate it.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” (And, if you search that on Pinterest you will see thousands of art prints immortalizing those words.)
But, Pinterest has made a mindless time-wasting game out of it.
This unstoppable source for visual inspiration, makes it hard not to see everything as better than what you have. Secret to life: The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. What you might not realize is the person that posted that amazing jaw-dropping kitchen remodel, might have the rest of their home in shambles. See Also: What Is Just Outside The Camera Shot
If you feel inadequate about your home after trolling pinterest…step.away.from.the.screen.
Pinterest is not a list of things you should be doing in your home. A pretty picture doesn’t always translate to a project that can be recreated. Pinterest is a conglomeration of millions of peoples ideas…don’t measure yourself one against millions.
What To Do Instead: Personally, I uninstalled the Pinterest app from my phone…I was immediately grossed out when I realized my preference to scroll through random pictures rather than play with my family (not really how I want to show up in the world). I use Pinterest now to pin things I love that I want to be able to find later (duh, it’s really good for that) and to search for specific things. I call it my pinsearch (pinterest + research). Instead of mindless scrolling, I look for something specific related to something I am doing in real life. Like, how to stencil on fabric, when I am about to tackle a project stenciling on fabric and need tips.
Bottom-line: When it comes to advice, always consider the source.
Your turn, comment below and tell me what’s the worst piece of decorating advice you’ve ever followed and where did it come from? (Bonus points if it was so bad it might be lethal to a superhero.)
The cool kids are hanging out before school in a private FB group swapping decorating advice. Want to join us?
Hi, I’m Jackie
I believe your home should be a reflection of you. My home style is DIY Modern…handmade, simple, and fun, just like me!
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