We spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the small decisions.  In the grand scheme of life, what color you paint your walls is a very small decision.  But many of us probably spend more time thinking about wall colors, then we did about choosing which college to go to.

There are lots of things that get in the way of making these small decisions.  Mostly we get in our own way.

You say you want a second-opinion, but it’s really because you don’t trust your own.  

You say there are too many colors to choose from, but you’re the one that brought all the samples home.  

You say you haven’t had time to think about it, but it’s really all that’s been on your mind.

We toil over the small decisions, because they don’t need to be made.  We can sit on them forever.  Think about them endlessly.

I used to think it was a form of procrastination.  Now I know it is self-doubt.  Doubt that impacts my ability to choose.  When I can’t make a decision, I feel stuck. I feel useless. I feel unsure

7 Strategies for Making Better Decorating Decisions | www.tealandlime.com

I finally realized indecision was a symptom of self-doubt when I noticed myself asking for second-opinions.  How many second-opinions I asked for was equivalent to how much I doubted myself.  I thought asking someone else–essentially to make the decision for me–would help.  It didn’t.  It made the next decision even harder.

With thousands of small decisions to make in your home–everything from what color to paint the walls to which way the bed should face–you need confidence.  You’ll never get anywhere filled with self-doubt.

The only fix is to figure out the source of self-doubt and eliminate it.  Validation from others will not restore your confidence or guarantee a good choice.  The only way to do that is to build decision-making confidence.  Which really only comes with making more decisions.

7 Strategies to Make Better Decorating Decisions

Because the better decision is always the one that gets made.

1.  Gut Check

If you are waffling on a decision, stop and do a gut check.  Is your indecisiveness really your gut telling you the option you’re leaning towards is wrong?  Get in tune with your gut.  Trust it.  Which choice is it settled with?

Trusting your gut isn’t about playing it safe or neutral.

It’s about following your instincts, both when something feels right or wrong.  If your top choice leaves an unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach as you mumble through clenched teeth, “Gah!  I just can’t decide” it probably doesn’t pass the gut check.

2.  Let Go of the Past

Every choice we make in life has consequences, good or bad.  We are programmed to learn from those consequences.  Touch a hot stove, you get burned and you learn not to touch a hot stove again.

The same thing happens in less dire situations.  Buy a crappy sofa, you get burned (metaphorically).

But the lesson learned from a bad decorating choice isn’t always as clear.

Should you try out more sofas next time?  Should you never buy anything from that store again?  Should you just not buy furniture ever again?  Maybe you shouldn’t trust yourself to decorate?  Snowball effect.

When the lesson learned isn’t crystal clear, it’s more important than ever to make another decision.  Because past decisions don’t always predict success or failure of future decisions.  Sometimes you have to let go of the past to move forward.

Just because you chose a crappy sofa, doesn’t mean you are unable to choose a good dining table (or even another sofa).  Focus on the new decision at hand and make one.  Because the worst decision you can make is no decision at all (while eating dinner around the coffee table every night perched on the edge of your crappy sofa).

3.  Be Yourself

Do you ever feel the pressure to be someone you’re not?  Maybe you are really drawn to a funky teal apartment sofa, but all your friends have overstuffed, white slipcovered living room sets.  You might feel like you should do what everyone else is doing.

The thing is, no one else has to live in your home.

You have nothing to prove.  Imagine you are making this change for you and only you, then what would you do?  Stop thinking worrying about the outside influencers.

4.  Don’t Look At All the Options

Have you given yourself too many choices to be successful?  Too many choices might make you freeze up.  

Paint samples are a good example. You cannot be successful choosing a paint color in the paint store with thousands of options staring you in the face.  Narrow down what you want before you even look at paint chips (try my 7-Steps to Create Your Whole House Color Palette).  Then, only look at the relevant samples.  Ignore all the rest.  

Same thing with price options.  If you have less then $1000 to spend on a new dining table, don’t even look at anything over that amount.

Looking at all.the.options introduces erroneous choices your mind has to deal with.

If you find yourself hoarding options, you need to step back and establish criteria for what you want.  With color, I always say it starts with a feeling.  With furniture, style, size, and price are great starting points. Use your criteria to ruthlessly weed out the non-options.  It will be easier to choose from only the select few that meet your criteria.

5.  Never Force It

Too few choices can be as bad as too many.  Are you trying to force something to work when you don’t like any of the available choices? 

If you don’t like the available options, choosing one seems impossible.

Don’t choose from bad options.

I am notorious for knowing what I want, but forcing myself to find it locally.  When I don’t see exactly what I want, I agonize over what to choose instead. What I should really do is expand my options or look elsewhere (like online), instead of trying to force myself to settle.

6.  Don’t Rush It

Are you rushing a decision?  There are few decisions in life that need to be made immediately.  

Rarely is a decorating decision urgent.

If you need more time, take it.  You may want to get the project done tomorrow, but if it means forcing a decision prematurely, you will be less satisfied with the result even though you got it done.

7.  Don’t Overthink It Either

Taking too much time is as bad as too little.  Are you overthinking and taking too long to decide?

Often times your first choice, or instinct, is what you wanted all along – no extra thought needed.

The more time you give yourself to overthink and second-guess a choice the harder making a decision becomes.  Give yourself the time you need, but no more.  Set a deadline.



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19 Responses to How To Make Better Decorating Decisions

  1. I often give myself too many options like you say in 4. And no. 7 is true for me, too.

    My last project was painting one wall in the living/family room. I had a dark teal color that I painted on a piece of wallpaper and put it up the wall to see if I liked it, then (quickly) noticed that I didn’t. Now I painted the wall a different color, a dark navy blue – and we all love it. I’m glad I followed my instints even if it meant to put another unused paint can in the attic and pay for new paint. ;)

    I am luckily not a person to be influenced by others very much. I thought that many of my friends wouldn’t like my wall, because everyone around here is on the shabby chic train, which I find boring. ;)
    Actually many complimented me on the wall and liked in IN MY HOUSE even if they would not paint THEIR walls blue …


    • Jackie says:

      Jule, I love this story. It’s great that you took quick action to help you make the decisions and followed your gut. Just because you buy the paint and put up a sample, doesn’t mean you have to follow through if it doesn’t feel right. So glad you found a color you love. And that others see how great it is, because it’s you and your home is part of you!

  2. Leslie says:

    I am paralyzed by “but what if I don’t like it when it’s done”. Between that and trying to find color/styles my husband and I agree on, I tend to just get frustrated and give up.

    • Jackie says:

      Leslie, That is a common fear. But if you want to change something you already don’t like…you have to make a decision to move forward. Try doing something to approximate what the end result will be like. Paint a sample on the wall, make a mood board, or Photoshop what it might look like and decide from there. Those same approaches – making the decision visual – can be helpful when getting someone else’s buy in.

  3. Margaret says:

    I try to follow my mother’s advice when I make a mistake – “don’t throw good money after bad”. When I make a mistake with a color choice I think New curtains will make it okay, or a rug, or something! Now I just admit I made a color mistake and move on and choose a new color. I appreciated reading this article; it reminded me of my mom’s advice!

    • Jackie says:

      Best. Comment. Ever. I love your mom’s advice. “Don’t throw good money after bad” is a real problem. I think we’ve all fallen in that trap…that maybe it just needs something else to look right. It really just takes recognizing the original mistake. When we painted our guest room kryptonite green, my first thought was to paint a beautiful wood four-post bed white to tone down the green. So glad we came to our senses and made the right fix…banishing the glowing green. Thanks for sharing a piece of your mom’s advice with us!

    • Erin says:

      That is awesome advice!!

  4. Erin says:

    Also have to add to that, so often we get caught up trying to come up with a design for the things we already have that we can’t change or can’t afford to change. Things like flooring, carpet, cabinets, etc. It paralyzes me.

    Then I just started asking myself, “How would I design this room if I COULD change that one thing?” and it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I found that I could implement 90% of what I really wanted. If my new design clashes with the thing I can’t change, I can save up to change it in the future, or find a way to downplay it (like throwing a large rug over the ugly 80s tiles in my entryway). And sometimes I find that the thing I thought was going to clash really doesn’t look as bad as I thought and I can live with it.

    • Jackie says:

      Erin, Yes, Yes Yes! That is such a great point. There are certain constraints that you should account for, but there are some you should ignore…at least for the time being. When you are in the midst of transitioning styles, it sometimes gets “worse” before it gets better. If you know you’ll change it in the future, I say decorate around it. If you know you won’t ever change it, then you gotta find a way to work with it. Thanks for sharing this tip!!

  5. Lisa says:

    I resonate with #4. Once I “found” interior design I loved everything and couldn’t decide what to focus on. It’s taken a few years to narrow it down, but then I change my mind. I need to take your class I think. :)

    • Jackie says:

      Lisa, Totally an occupational hazard. I think the people that most often say, “I don’t know what my style is” or “I like sooooo many styles, I can’t choose” are designers or decorators. What’s really happening is you appreciate all.the.styles. But, which ones do you actually want to live with everyday? (Would love to have you in class and dig deeper on this!)

  6. Honey says:

    Mine would be “Be Yourself”, I am forever struggling with this. I love color, and go to some of my friends homes that are beautifully decorated but more on the traditional side and love it, and I think this is the way to go. But as I said I love the bright greens, red and turquoise colors. I love distressed wood, but don’t want it to look country. Thanks and love your blog.

    • Jackie says:

      Honey, It’s wonderful that you love your friends homes. But also great you recognize it’s not exactly your style. Try to see how you could capture the essence of what they are doing, but in your colors and your style. Make it your own. Thanks for reading and sharing :)

  7. Gwen says:

    I don’t know which rule this falls under. I get a vision I’ve never seen anyone else do. I get excited. I get hubby on board. We do it. And then I’m not 100% happy with the colors of the molding turned frame on cabinet ( things look differently up than flat on the floor of the sunny great room!!) and I can’t climb to tweak it and hubby’s in love and I’m embarrassed. Now I’m doing a few things in a bedroom and yes, got a vision for a headboard to play off my grandmas charcoal portrait in an ornate frame (circa 1900) and I sprayed oil rubbed bronze yet now it’s looking black. I want to add brown. Just paint a bit over it kinda not solid. I know how. I’ve done this before. Hubby’s so proud of it and loves it. We went looking for the antique mirror and I had repeated to you, ” Keep your vision and do not buy out of your vision”. Hubby fell in love with a very very heavy old wooden unusual mirror but not in my vision. So my point? I get disappointed if everything is not perfect as my vision planned. Also, I never buy without looking at the price tag. Ever. Except couches and my oops chair. They were for function to accommodate my head. So I guess my dilemmas would be: 1)being too rigid with my visions in my head or maybe not explaining where I’m going with this idea since someone else has to help to accomplish it. 2). Being my own worst critic. Hard to take compliments. 3) looking at options when on sale. Eg. New duvet for bedroom do over found so inexpensive on West Elm clearance site. Refused to look at full price

    • Jackie says:

      Gwen, I get it. I hold strong to my visions too. I think one thing that might help is explaining the elements of your vision. Like being able to explain why you wanted an antique mirror, instead of a wooden mirror. I think that will help your hubby understand. Then, within your explanations you have to remain flexible. Because exactly what you dream in your head may not exist for you to find. But if you know why you are looking for certain features, I think you can keep an open mind to find other things that fit the criteria and still give you the desired effect.

      This is definitely an area I am working on too. Especially as I have realized I don’t want to have to DIY everything, just to match my vision.

  8. Barb says:

    I realized I need to listen to my gut about the paint color for our bedroom. We tested a dark sample back in February and I realized it was too dark. Those four sample areas have been haunting me for 6 months! My husband wants to just lighten it up a bit, but I’ve realized I want it much lighter. I’m going to listen to my gut and go with the lighter shade. Jackie, thanks for sharing the quote “The worst decision you can make it no decision at all.” It is the kick in the behind I need to finish my bedroom and in several other areas of my life.

    • Jackie says:

      Barb, I’ll be excited to hear how it turns out. Can’t wait for you to confidently paint over those haunting swatches on the wall!

  9. Jane says:

    I just read this and your post on why you quit DIY and I think I might cry. This is so me. I am one of those people that turned my DIY repurpose furniture hobby into a part-time business and I think I hate it. There I said it. I’ve done it for a couple years with a full time great job and my hobby business has really taken off and I feel like a work horse. There is no way I can keep up with both, or I don’t want to. I have started turning away custom work. It has taken the fun and creative process away from the hobby I loved. And I have not done a DIY for my own home in over a year. Now that I am involved in it and see so many ideas, I am consumed with self-doubt if what I want for my home is good enough, if it will be out of style next week, what other decoraters, repurposers will think of it, etc. And who has time to work on their won stuff? Uggh!! OK thanks for letting me vent.

    • Jackie says:

      Jane, Please don’t cry! It is totally okay, and more common than you think, to realize you don’t want your hobby to be your job. I hope you get a chance to step away and do a project just for you (if you want to)!

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