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. Kate says

    This is an excellent post! I think people really beat themselves up about choices gone wrong. There are plenty of ways you can try and avoid mistakes when it comes to decor — but, in the end, it’s a process. Some of it will be trial and error, or you can just think of something that’s not your fave as a stepping stone to what you really want!

  2. Christi says

    This post is why you guys are awesome. I wanted the Pottery Barn red shag rug circa 2003 and it was hot mess. It shed more than our pets, but it cost over $400 I would not part with it even though I hated it after 2 weeks. 10 years later {older & wiser} I would now return it.

    Now looking at a lot of our stuff we bought in the early 2000’s I am more confident to let things go. Plus, we are looking to buy a home in Phoenix and several have fireplaces and wood paneled walls and I am sooo excited to use your tips and experiences!


  3. Ellen says

    I buy most of our furniture used on Kijiji (Canadian Craigslist) and generally only buy what I know I could resell for more. :) I’ve made a lot that way and my husband is now quite open to my ‘shopping sprees’! I think the biggest factor in all of this is patience. If you are going to tweak and do it economically, it will likely take months.

  4. Barbara L says

    Ohhh do I feel your pain on the rug. I made the same exact mistake regarding size…for the same reason. I have nowhere else to put this rug and I need to upsize. I also need more color. So here it sits – seems perfect when I saw it on Overstock.

    Maybe I will garage sale it.

  5. Mary says

    I remind myself that on HGTV the designers don’t achieve those results on their first try. They might bring in 100 items and mix and match until they get the best possible result and then return 85 of the items. We can’t really expect to achieve that on our first try.

    • says

      I think we’re oddly blind most of the time (we don’t always “see” what you guys see since we’re standing in the space and it might be much clearer to you guys months before it’s clear to us!). We definitely listen to every last comment, but even though folks might say “I don’t like those” sometimes we say “hmm, they don’t like them?” and we stare at something and we still like them. Haha! We’ve learned that we have to come around for ourselves, sort of like how you can’t make someone else dump a man because you don’t like him, they have to come to that realization themselves! Hahah.


  6. says

    I love this post! Nobody’s perfect. It’s ok to make a mistake and nobody should have to live with it forever if it’s really the wrong choice.

    Sometimes a choice is right “for now”, but needs change over time. Or sometimes taste/style changes and something that works now won’t be the thing you love in 2 years.

    Craigslist is a great way to recoup some costs and a way to get rid of something without sending stuff to a landfill!

  7. says

    We haven’t had as great luck selling things on Craigslist etc here (just not as great a market, I guess?), but I’ve still had to come to terms with just getting rid of things that didn’t work any more. It’s not worth me looking at it EVERY day and wishing it was different. Admit defeat and move on!

    We’re still trying to rectify the (more expensive to fix) problem of having bought furniture for our tiny bedroom that is WAY too big right after moving in (always measure, especially in a tiny house!). sigh.

  8. Stacey says

    I loved the look of the kitchen stools (sheer perfection!), but loved the blue, too!! Meanwhile…the blue chairs went to Craigslist? Did I miss a post where you decided they weren’t working in the sun room?

    • says

      We just chatted about how we didn’t need additional seating in there with the daybed and the chair and were more looking for storage, which we got with the bookcase from Ikea (which we hung under those bike prints).


  9. Kim says

    Are you in my brain? Because I think I needed to read this today. Good advice not just for home decorating, but for pulling the trigger on other life decisions! Sometimes you just gotta make mistakes in order to figure out what works. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. MelanieL says

    Thank you for this post! My husband and I have had buyers remorse many times but we’ve always kept trucking along and it gets fixed in time. I’ve noticed that our big ticket items like flooring, countertops and furniture have remained so looks like picking the right accessories might be my problem. Hey, that’s why I’m here visiting I guess:)

  11. says

    But what about the objects that you just love but you know they dont work??? We spent months searching for art for above the sofa. Finally, we found a picture on allposters that we just luuuuuvvvvvv, and we though it was the right size and everything. It wasnt, its too small but i just love it so much I cant get rid of it, even though i hate how it looks above the sofa. And the same happens with other objects around the house. What do you do with those things?

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