Living Creatively

March 3rd

The great couch makeover

I am reading one of those rare books in life that leave your copy so dog-eared, you wonder how you’ll ever remember everything you are learning. It’s called, “The Soul of Money” and before you roll your eyes, know this: I am not a huge fan of non-fiction and am characteristically an ostrich when it comes to finances. A nonfiction book about money sounds about as much fun as a trip to the dentist, but alas — I don’t have dental insurance, and so the latter isn’t an option at the moment.

The book was recommended to me by one of the nation’s most renowned fundraisers, who I had the pleasure of meeting for coffee a couple weeks ago. Within an hour, she had my perspective on work and life completely uplifted.  Let’s be honest, our collective money woes are frightening at best. My anxiety has been through the roof and I’ve found myself weighing new options, such as — do I really need to get email on my phone for another $20 a month? Do I really need a gym membership for $30 a month when I can run in the park for free? Do I really need to send a gift with a birthday card? The luxuries of life six months ago — lunches out at my favorite ethnic restaurant and a movie at Camelview, pedicures, car washes, new music, the occasional $200 run through the local bookstore — are fleeting memories. While my income hasn’t changed, my expenses have. {Did I mention I ran my car into a parking garage pillar this weekend? Costly, silly error that is adding to the “to pay for list.”}  I am just truly thankful I have a job, not to mention one I love.

This book is also reminding me to be exceptionally appreciative for all I do have. I am so exceptionally blessed. I have a home that meets all of my needs. I have a car that works great, while a bit dented. I have a family that is healthy and happy. I have a circle of friends that is tightening and becoming that much stronger as we encourage each other through this time. I have a church that I couldn’t love more. When I stop to think about the incredible assets I do have — ones that no amount of money could buy — I see that silver, quite fortunate, lining.

Can she be saved?

So, what’s with the photos of the couch? A quick story: I was given this couch second-hand by my friend John more than 4 years ago. The cushions have been flipped so many times that the zippers have torn a bit. The cover is filthy, but I am afraid if I wash it, it will be in pieces. The couch underneath is a 1980s disaster of black and teal. I love this couch just the way it is — I simply wish it were quite a bit cleaner. I’ve been “saving” for a new sofa for two years and regularly dipping into the fund for gifts, flights, a new bike, etc. Needless to say, there is little money there now and a new dark purple wine stain in the center of the couch. It is time for action.

Before starting this book, I was headed to Ikea with plans of a new 0% credit card and a couch that could be delivered and paid for eventually. Now, I realize that my character requires otherwise. I don’t want to have a daily reminder in my home that I have things I cannot afford. Instead, I want to come up with a temporary plan to fix what I have (new cushions? Sew a new cover?  Find some lawn chairs at a Goodwill?) until I can afford a sofa I love, have paid for and earned. This one would do nicely.

And this one is fabulous too.

I'm thinking a handwoven rug

I am also considering learning how to make a braided rug for the floor while I’m at it.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your couch transformation ideas and any others you are using to creatively make ends meet. Let’s help each other save a bit more, pay off a bit more and live a bit more appreciatively.


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28 Responses

  1. I have never had much luck at saving a couch – but I have two pieces of advice. First of all, a few times a year, all the furniture at Cost Plus goes on BIG sale – I have seen that couch you linked to for something in the $190 range. And I think it would look really nice in your room – so keep an eye out for that.
    My other piece of advice is that when do finally buy a “real” couch – buy a good one. Otherwise you’ll be right back in this same predicament in a few years. I’ve decided that my current couch is going to be the last cheap couch I’ll ever own – the next one I buy I am going to spend A LOT more money on it, and have it forever. I am sick of cheap disposable furniture that looks terrible after a few years of use.
    I’ve got my eye on this one…
    But just like you, I am saving up for it, and NOT putting it on a credit card, so it’s a few years away from coming to live with me.
    Also, I am sure you’ve tried Craigslist, but just throwing it out there…

  2. I do not have any couch salvaging tips, sorry. I just wanted to say, I know it is hard to live with a piece of furniture you would love to replace, but it is so worth it to save for something. Good luck!

  3. It’s been a while since I’ve said “hello” but I just wanted to say that I am so proud of you for making that decision. My husband and I have been feeling the burn to pay everything off and grow up financially speaking. We have been attending a financial seminar through our church that has been incredibly eye opening and encouraging for us. The new perspective on what we have and deserve or don’t deserve has been incredibly refreshing. I’ll have to check out the book you are reading. Thanks for sharing. I just love your blog even though I don’t comment as much as I used to.

  4. Maybe you could dye the fabric so it “looks” clean? Or, how about more pillows – bright and colorful and if you have enough (I’m sure you could make them) then you won’t be able to see the dirtiness… LOL! CraigsList!

    Great post. I’ve often caught myself lately thinking “do I REALLY need this?” It’s important to prioritize and separate your wish list into “Needs” and “Wants”. Now, even more than ever! And, I try to never buy anything unless it’s on sale!

  5. Use a very nice throw blanket over the cushions … tuck it under the cushions (you could even safety pin it down for security) then do a little tuck at the back and throw the rest over the top of the couch. It’ll make it cheerful and be fairly easy to throw in the laundry every month or so.

    That would be a quick and inexpensive fix. 🙂

  6. Great post. I was planning a similar post this week! I am recording my expenses this month again just like we did in Oct.

  7. Debbie March 3, 2009

    Several years ago I had an old sofa and no money for a new one. While I was saving my money for a new one, I made a throw and covered the cushions with coordinating fabric fastened by safety pins. I made some pillows to match. When I bought my new sofa, the old one was perfect for the sun porch! Instead of making a throw, you could use a bedspread or a pre-made furniture throw.

  8. For the stain, I’d say try out Shout Wipes. I, too, have a white couch (in the office) and while I KNOW white is a stupid color for a couch, I love white couches and, so, have learned to deal with the stain issues. Shout Wipes let me spot clean without having to machine wash the covers.

    Speaking of washing the covers, the white couch I did buy was an Ikea couch (that converts horizontally (SO SMART) into a bed and has removable cushion covers that are easy to get on and off and wash up in the machine like a pro.

    I highly recommend this couch, as it is actually pretty well made and SUPER efficient for small spaces as there’s a storage compartment underneath for bedding, includes a mattress cover and has a lot of little extra touches that make it really smart.

    Plus, it’s white, which I love.

  9. One of my resolutions this year is to use what I have. I just made a quilt from my stash of fabric and have tried to be better about using my library card, note cards in my collection, watching movies I already have, and eating food from my cupboard. It’s not easy but it’s a good thing to do. Maybe some pretty pillows would help your couch!

  10. You’ve already gotten some great advice. If you took the cover off and restitched the seams, would it make it through the wash? I think I’d try to get the stain out, then dye the cover a slightly darker color. I also like the idea of using a throw and/or some brightly colored pillows. Something to draw your eye away from the cover itself.
    Good luck!

  11. Neal and I have new couches bought this summer after, well, all of my adult life on second and third hand furniture. Like you, we bought what we could pay cash for, and it’s a pleasure to know we own every bit of them. When we still had the old, beaten to bits couches, we used blankets on top that we could wash weekly. It cheered them up and made them feel cleaner and newer.

  12. All great advice…a throw, or covering the cushions yourself with a coordinating fabric. Or, one step up from that, order a slipcover. I got one from SureFit about three years ago that is holding up really well, and totally transformed an ugly couch for $60.
    I love your taste in furniture, but can’t help thinking “she obviously doesn’t have boys!” Or little kids of any variety. If you do spend the money on a high quality couch that you loooove and want to keep for years, it might pay to think about whether you plan to have kids on it. 🙂 Some couches are easier to clean than others!

  13. Happy Tuesday Kelli! I could hug you, dear girl! I have been mending, re-using, rethinking a lot myself lately. Since October, I’ve sewed up holes in our feather pillow (courtesy the dog), mended jeans, used leftovers to make soup, hand-sewed gifts…the list goes on. You and I, I swear we are on the same universal frequency, gal! Sorry I’ve been silent of late, my friend, I’m still learning to juggle with inspiration from world class maestros like yourself. RE your gorgeous (albeit stained) couch: Can you get some fabric on sale that you like and make a slipcover? (Howzabout a Scarlet O’hara–buy some old curtains, or throws on sale?) I thought the blanket/throw idea was a good one (I use that one myself for the hole my old roomate’s cat dug in one arm of the couch). Isn’t it funny when eating out used to be de rigour, and now taking the car to the carwash is a luxury… and you are deciding if you really need mustard, or maybe you can make the toothpaste last one more week? LOL Hang in there, Honey! You’re doing great–I hope you are loving “the simple/frugal life” as much as I am. I can’t tell you how good stitching up Mika’s dog toys makes me feel. Much more self-reliant than buying another one at Target for 5.99 each week. Weird, huh? LOL…Thanks for the book recommend! I’m going to check that one out!

  14. I have two ideas, which may have been said. First, you could try having the couch prof. cleaned. There are often coupons in those val-pack mailers. Or, I have a quilt wrapped around my bottom cushion because I like the way it looks. I folded it in half to make it thick and less slippery. Then I tucked the excess under the back cushions. Works pretty well.

  15. When I came to the US my husband (then boyfriend) adn I went to buy a microwave for his apartment and for $15 more we got a couch as well. It had a wooden frame and cushions, and after my desperate try to clean one of those, realizing that water would come out brown no matter how many times I washed it, we decided it would be better to ditch the cushions. That was when I discovered Joann’s, and back then I was clueless about the coupons and their sales, so we spent a lot of money on foam, but managed to cut it and I sew by hand (no sewing machine back them) nice cushion covers that still today I use and I’m able to take off and wash every once in a while. I think it’s fun to change your couch, it changes your living room a lot, and you can be very creative.. I would add some color to your couch, but you know me! I’m all for the colors 🙂 And yes, it is possible to cut down in expenses, before I buy anything I always think, do I really need this? and even as students we did save a lot of money, it’s all about what you value and what makes you happy. And very simple things and many things that don’t require money, do make ME happy.

  16. I’m with you on the reuse, refresh, wear out, save mentality. I like the earlier idea to try restitching the seams, but if that seems like more effort than it’s worth or if the cover doesn’t make it through the wash anyway, I’d go the Sure Fit route. Or some slipcover option.They don’t always have separate covers for the cushions (or are super expensive if they do), but you can get some industrial strength velcro to attach them to the bottom of the couch if you are worried about them sliding around.

    Good luck!

  17. Hmmm… Maybe you can get new foam for the cushions and sew some new covers? Just for the cushions you sit on, not the rest of the couch (which looks to be in ok shape) – I’ve seen that look pretty cute before. I guess I can check it out in person in just a few days!

  18. Our big dog Elvis has his own loveseat. He pretty much ruined the fabric, but we couldn’t get rid of it. It would be like taking away Linus’ blanket…so, I got a slip cover. I picked out the one I wanted at and then found it much cheaper at or, sorry I don’t remember which one.

    It’s like a brand new loveseat, and the best part is the cover is washable! It’s looks so nice covered we moved it from the basement to the library on the main floor and saved money not having to buy more furniture for that room.

  19. I have one suggestion that I don’t think I read mentioned. Resolve Multi Fabric, now I usually use homemade cleanser with the occasional splurge of Mrs. Meyers that is the one not natural cleaner I have in my home. I own a beige micro suede sofa, with three kids, dog, cat and husband. I HATE that Sofa, but it’s ours and the resolve cleans it right up. Elbow grease, patience, five bucks and a dry evening to dry looks like new every time.
    I wish you luck with the couch redo, and think it’s awesome that you are using it.

  20. You could recover it?

  21. You might also enjoy: Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash
    by Liz Perle. It moved me and made me all freaked out to the point that I really buckled down and started saving and 5 years later I own my house free and clear. And just for the record, I’m not a millionaire.
    Good luck.

  22. sharon in Sugar Land March 3, 2009

    Kelli, You are way too creative not to paint the couch! You have a perfect blank canvas. Get some acrylic paints and go crazy. You are so talented. Abstract designs and fill in the spaces with lots of color. Have your friends write a message with a sharpie. What could be the worse thing…you were going to replace it anyway. Just have fun with it.

  23. Before changing my couch I covered the old ones with a colorful cover, it was fitting just wonderfully. If the structure of the couch is fine, why spend so much money?

  24. I just put the book on my “wish list”, thanks. It looks like a great book to read! I recommend

    I have been reading this blog and learned alot not about just saving money but the psychology behind it. It’s not too scary and very encouraging.

  25. pink sky March 4, 2009

    I made slipcovers for some seriously ugly furniture I got at goodwill and yard sales.

    You could also check Craigslist to see if there are any better couches. 🙂

    Another good money book is Your Money Or Your Life. Really changed my perspective on my earnings.

  26. humm. I really enjoyed this post. I think a slipcover would be fun, cuz then you can pick out some fun fabric and get creative….and save up for a quality couch that you can enjoy for a long time.

  27. Have you been to the Ashley Furniture wherehouse on Ray and I-10, I think.
    Ashley puts its furniture in other stores and the stores have to mark it up. If you go thru Ashley you’re taking away that middle man and saving 25-30 percent. I bought a couch there for $350, and love it!

  28. Since the stock market crash wiped out most of my retirement funds I’ve been cutting back big time too. I won’t give up the cleaning lady or the pedicures though, that would be torture for me. I have an old sofa at the cottage like yours and I sewed new covers. I bought some foam to wrap around the stuffing and made the covers a little larger. Works fine and there won’t be a new couch in future any time soon…ciao