Buyer’s Remorse? Purchasing Paralysis?

Q: “How do you know when you’re investing in the right piece for a room? I’m paralyzed to pull the trigger and then later realize the table, curtains, or rug I’m currently eying aren’t ‘the answer’ for my room and then spend years regretting them.” – Melissa

We get a lot of questions like this one. So after around six years spent decorating two houses on a pretty modest budget, with a nice heaping portion of mistakes and trial and error worked in there, here’s what we’ve learned. We definitely don’t get it right every time. Sometimes we’re too risky, and sometimes we’re too safe, and sometimes the proportion or the size of something is wrong and we just can’t see it until we get it home and stare at it for a while. Sometimes there’s an item that we think will be functional and it ends up leaving much to be desired. In short: you win some and ya lose some when it comes to making your house a home. So if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And again.

Mistake #1. The fluffy green rug in the living room. Cost: $425 (it’s an 8 x 10′ wool rug).

We moved into this house and had never even attempted to decorate a giant 25 x 15′ family room (for comparison’s sake our first house’s family room was tiny, just nine feet wide) so – surprise! – we didn’t get it right the first time. We bought a super shaggy rug that was way too small for the room and while the shag was nice for a baby, it was terrible for a food-spilling’ toddler. So we did the only thing we have ever found to fix issues like that. We course corrected and decided that we don’t need to be married to our mistake and invested in a better rug for the room (more on that here).

I think everyone has those oops moments when they’re decorating a house – even if you’re going slowly over time and doing your best to only choose things you think will work well for your family. You just can’t see the future – and we’re certainly no exception! The end result is that we love the living room a ton more with our new much-larger short weave rug that adds pattern without dwarfing the living area. And we’ll either reuse the first rug in another room (it could work in our guest room and then the yellow rug in there could end up in the sunroom) or we’ll probably end up selling it on Craigslist if we can’t find a spot for it. So knowing there are other options besides “just use the wrong rug that we hate forever” takes the sting out of it a little bit.

In general, reusing things in other spaces or Craigslisting them if they just don’t work is a nice little backup plan that allows us to just figure things out along the way without being completely out of luck when we don’t get everything right on the first try. And recognizing those two alternatives allowed us to go for it (instead of being shaking-in-our-boots-scared) when the right rug came along. So if it took a buying one item twice (knowing we can craigslist or reuse the first rug somewhere else) to get to the end result of this room, we’re 100% cool with that. I actually don’t think we’ve ever redone a room without switching something out along the way. So getting everything right on the first try is akin to seeing a unicorn in the front yard to us.

Mistake #2. The stools in the kitchen. Cost: around $150 including four stools plus primer and spray paint to later make them blue.

After we accidentally found stools that we loved more (seriously, they came out of nowhere) we actually sold the original stools on Craigslist for the entire amount that we spent. So one hundred and fifty beans are back in our pocket, and we have new stools that we love for $140 (so I guess in the end we made ten bucks, haha). The only thing we’re out is the time it took to spray paint them, but that’s totally worth the opportunity to essentially “test drive” two pairs of stools to us – and then land on the right ones that we love to pieces. Bonus: they swivel and are contoured so they’re the most functional/comfortable as well as the purtiest.

Mistake #3. The chairs in the dining room. Cost: $400 for eight chairs (including the $25 chairs themselves, the slipcovers, the dye, the spray paint, etc).

You guys probably remember this switcheroo, but we eventually realized (after about a million attempts to make them work that included slipcovers, die, and spray paint) they just weren’t The Ones. Sometimes we’re dense and it takes a while. So instead of continuing to spend money and time struggling to make them work, we finally cut our losses and set them free. Guess how much we got for them on Craigslist? $200. Yup, we recouped the entire original cost of the $25-a-pop chairs. We considered listing them for $50 each to try to get back the entire amount, but we thought that in order to sell them quickly and just cut our losses, $25 each was a fair price.

It was nice to know that they went to a loving home (their new owner is a reupholstery master and is planning to recover all eight of them!) and we ended up with six loungier super-on-sale Target chairs that we love to pieces. We’re so glad that the table is a lot less cluttered (99% of the time there are just three of us sitting here) and we even got two extra chairs in that new set that we couldn’t use (there were eight but we only wanted six) so we craigslisted those for their original cost of $62 each. We weren’t even turned off by having to buy too many of something that we thought would be perfect because we knew we could always Craigslist those two extras for the full price (there are many much uglier chairs on craigslist for $75+ so we knew ours would sell).

So the $400 chairs ended up being a $200 mistake (since we only earned 50% of that back) but in the end we love our dining room, and if it took that mistake to get us from here…

… to here, we’ll take it.

Sure, we lose sometimes (and you have to hand it to us, we really bomb on occasion) but it pays to keep trying and not just give up and settle for something that doesn’t work until you finally get those “this is IT!” butterflies… even if they don’t come easy. In the end, we’re just happy that we also made a bunch of big purchases that we love without needing any do-overs. So although a few things don’t work out for us, many many things are great from the moment we get them. For example, we love:

  • our Corian counters
  • our cork floors
  • Ed the bed
  • the big patterned rug in the bedroom
  • the upholstered headboard we made
  • Karl the sectional
  • our giant living room storage ottoman
  • our kitchen appliances
  • our laundry appliances
  • a bunch of new lights that we made/bought
  • our new dining table
  • our craigslist buffet
  • all of the curtains we’ve made/bought throughout the house
  • the console we built in the living room
  • our thrift store media cabinet
  • our Ikea bookcase in the sunroom
  • our office built-ins
  • our office chairs
  • the round jute rug in the office
  • Clara’s secondhand dresser and chair in her nursery
  • Clara’s crib
  • our new craigslist dresser for Clara’s big girl room

So even with the loss that we took on the three mistakes that we detailed in this post (including all of our desperate attempts to save them) in the end we’ve loved far more items than we’ve bought and regretted. I think sometimes you just have to try the wrong things and live with them to learn that you didn’t want to live with them. Haha. It’s like how you have to get that glittery purple eye shadow to learn that no (NO!) it’s not gonna work, and you should probably try something else. Heck, I rocked some winking airbrushed jeans for a while as a teen. And then realized… uh, not good. That’s course correcting at its finest.

And actually, when we remember that we had a yard sale last fall and made $350 as well as selling $750 worth of old kitchen stuff on craigslist to earn money to put into that remodel (we got $90 for the old black microwave, $60 for the old fireplace insert, $120 for our old dining table and chairs, $90 for our old bisque dishwasher, $350 for our old granite, $40 for our old bisque wall oven) we’ve definitely used resale opportunities to the fullest. So those three mistakes above hurt less when we look at the $1,100 that we’ve made by not being married to a bunch of other things that we no longer want to live with.

Hopefully this post makes it easier to see how no purchase has to be forever, and things like reusing them in other spaces (be flexible!) or Craigslist can be awesome alternatives if you’re not exactly rolling in money for a million do-overs. In short: don’t sit there paralyzed with fear, afraid to get something. Obviously try to think things through and only buy things you can afford, but just don’t torture yourself by believing that mistakes aren’t allowed. If you do that you’ll never buy anything and your house will never move forward. Not only are mistakes allowed, they happen to everyone. The odds are that you’ll probably love most of your choices and regret a few of them. But that’s normal, there are ways to remedy it, and it’s completely worth it in the end.

Creating a room that you love thanks to some obligatory trial and error can really be way more “valuable” than committing to a few items ten years ago and desperately trying to decorate around them (even though you no longer love them) instead of letting them go. Sometimes getting new curtains and pillows and other little accessories to “accent” a piece that you don’t even like can cost more than just biting the bullet and switching the bad item out for something you love, you know?

And the good news is that the whole house-sprucing journey usually has a happy ending if you keep on keeping on. So try to keep the faith, get back on the ol’ horse, and remember that there are always returns if the pillow that you thought you’d love ends up being the pillow that you loathe – and there’s always Craigslist and yard sales (along with tax-write-off donations) for any of that non-returnable stuff.


  1. KathyG says

    One thing I learned too is about balance. When I get stuck with something that I feel doesn’t work and I’m bummed because I don’t feel like I got my money’s worth, I look around at something else that I have used over and over, and gotten wayyy more of my money’s worth. So in the big book of checks and balances, it all works out.

  2. Caitlin says

    Thank you!! This post is SO helpful! I wrestle with both of these issues–especially since my husband and I just bought our first house in September. I get so anxious about actually buying something since we save up for it and I get too worried about what will be the “perfect” piece to the room. It is a good reminder that ultimately, we can still change things around or resell, we aren’t married to it forever! (That’s just the hubby- and I am thankful for that one! :))

  3. says

    Great post. I will be sending it onto my husband to remind him that trial and error is natural ;)
    P.s. I saw the same swivel stools on the twin cities Craigslist for $600 for a set of 4! So according to the Midwest Craigslist you found a major steal. :)

  4. Christine says

    Another mistake: the net full of stuffed animals in the background of your teenage picture. My two sisters and I all hung those over our beds as tweens and thought they were the coolest, even though in hindsight, they now look more like creepy installations straight from a horror movie about a carnival. You live, you learn!

  5. Wendy says

    Hi Sherry and John,
    I was wondering if there are some items that you wouldn’t purchase online? I think I would have trouble buying a sofa without trying it out first. Also I love your new kitchen stools – were the first ones uncomfortable or just too plain?

    • says

      Oh yes, a sofa online would be too hard! We had to drive to Ikea and sit on Karl to be sold. We have had luck buying rugs and chairs online though (we just try to read all the reviews that we can, even across multiple websites if they’re selling the same product) so that helps clue us in if something’s awesome… or not! Haha!


  6. Laura says

    It’s good to see that the list of items you love is longer than the list of items you don’t love!

    Have you ever thought about doing a photography post?(maybe you’ve done one and I couldn’t find it). Do you just stick with the auto settings or do you venture into manual settings to make the most of your camera?

    • says

      We shoot in A mode (so we set certain things but it still auto focuses, etc). We like adjusting the exposure and placing the focus but aren’t fully ready to shoot in M!


  7. says

    I once picked out a truly atrocious color for my then two-year-old’s bedroom. I saw the color as “cheerful bright green,” but it turned out to be more “store brand chocolate chip mint ice cream green.” And sadly, it wasn’t until my husband painted two coats on the wall that I realized my mistake. I came home from work to find my husband all proud of his hard work, only to have to tell him he’d need to repaint it.

    We did keep the color on the inside of the strangely angled closet though, as this was the part my husband was most bummed to have to repaint.

    Poor guy.


  8. CandiL says

    I have a question about Karl…I have been wanting a sectional for my living room since I moved 2 years ago. How is he holding up? Will it take the wear and tear of two rowdy boys? Is it comfy? Just unsure about buying online and not being able to sit on it! The closest ikea to me is 5 hours away!

    • Hilary says

      We have a Karl sectional too–same as John and Sherry, but in a different fabric/color. Though the slipcovers are removable and washable, we haven’t yet even had to do that to keep it clean. Just a wet cloth. We bought it two years ago, and it has held up amazingly well, with a baby (now toddler) and a large dog that both spend quite a bit of time on it. One thing that had me worried at first is that it much “harder” than our prior sofa, and it took some getting used to. But, I think the firmness of the cushions will serve us well in the long run. And, it turned out to be just the right level of firmness during my pregnancy-induced exile from our plush mattress.
      Good luck!

    • Kim says

      Another Karl owner here! I agree that it holds up really well (though we’ve only had ours about 8 months) and stains are easy to remove with upholster cleaner (or if you have to remove and actually wash, which I haven’t done yet).

      The only thing that drives me nuts about it is how the cushions slide. I have to push them back into place at least once a day and it’s so annoying. But I know this is an issue with a lot of sofas, so take that info as you wish. :)

  9. says

    I am famous for having buyers remorse…what is in my head doesn’t always work when I bring it home – drives me nuts.

    I have to say, every room looks so bright (almost like it glows). Just love that. And it is amazing how the smaller chairs in your dining room made the room look smaller while the larger chairs makes the room look bigger. I would have thought it would have the opposite effect.

  10. says

    Great advice! I’m trying to keep the “big picture” in mind as I make my house my home so I don’t wind up with a bunch of stuff that I can afford right now but won’t love in a year or two.

  11. Carrye C. says

    I agree- the shaggy green rug would look great in the guest room. Or, if you have a boy next and don’t want to use the purple rug in the nursery, the green rug would look good in there with those green and blue curtains!

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