How to Furnish a House for $1500 (AKA Interior Design for Vagabonds)

After so many years of being a rambler, a traveler, a backpacker, a transient, and whatever else you want to call it, something big has changed. For the first time in my life I am living in a real house with a real guest room. In DC, the hubby and I rented a tiny studio that needed only a bed and dresser. In Korea our 250 sq. ft. box came with the bed and dresser built in. Even when I worked in finance in Charlotte, NC, I still rented tiny studios and furnished them accordingly. But now, after moving to Whitney, TX where two-bedroom houses grow on trees, I have found myself in a wholly unfamiliar situation: I had to figure out how to furnish a house.

$10 at the thrift store well spent

$10 at the thrift store well spent

After selling all of the nice things I used to own oh-so-many years ago, and then selling them all again before moving to Korea I have developed a strong aversion to owning things. Knowing they all will either be sold or trashed again some day makes it seem like such a waste. But what is a once-backpacker to do when faced with two years in the same place? Just a few months? I’ll live out of a backpack and sleep on a mattress on the floor. But knowing this little yellow house is to be our home for the next two years, and knowing that we will be having guests come and stay, changes everything. And something about getting older makes living comfortably just that much more important. And so I set out to do the impossible: furnish an entire house and make it feel like a home for $1500.

It’s been almost three months now since we moved in and after scouring craigslist daily, visiting local thrift stores weekly, and driving to the “by the pound” Goodwill in Waco whenever I needed some kitchen supplies, I thought it time for an update. As I contemplated each purchase I made over the last few months, the same question struck me again and again:

how much do we really need?

Where is the line between form and function? Which cooler makes an acceptable table, and which one doesn’t? What do I really need to live, what do I need to make this place my home, and what don’t I need at all? With each day that passes in our little yellow house, I feel more and more comfortable I got the answers right. So without further ado, I give you the house that the thrift store built.

Living Room – $435

I spent the most money here since this is where we spend most of our time together. In a small town like Whitney with one bar and just a handful of restaurants, there isn’t much reason to go out. Most of this room is really the Roku TV, which was worth every penny because we loooove movies and video games and this thing does it all. Plus we don’t have to pay for cable, so it’s a BIG win.

cheap living room furniture

a $6 purple velvet tufted chair!

cheap living room furniture

$25 loveseat is also a pull-out!

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Purple Chair – $6 at Goodwill
Retro End Table – $20 at vintage shop
Rocking Chair – $20 at vintage shop
Lamp – $2 at Goodwill
Rug – $50 from Walmart
Coffee Table – is an awesome Coleman cooler we got as a wedding present
Storage End Table – FREE on C-List
Yellow Velvet Couch – $25 from vintage shop (came with pillow)
Afghan – $1 at thrift store
Curtains and Rods – $52 at Dollar Store
Owl Painting – $1 at thrift store
“Shrimp Cocktail” – Gift from a long long time ago
“Louisiana Strawberries” – Poster from New Orleans, plastic frame $8 at Walmart
TV Stand – $50 from IKEA
Roku TV – $200 from BestBuy

Guest Room – $128

As soon as I knew we were going to have a guest room, I started inviting guests. I’ve never had anyone stay at my place before that didn’t crash on a couch or an air-mattress so I couldn’t wait to start hosting. And with the pull-out in the living room it means we can have 4 guests at the same time! SO EXCITING! The guest room also doubles as my office, which I’m still trying to iron out. Obviously the printer shouldn’t be next to the bed, but I’ll move it just as soon as I find another $5 table.

cheap living room furniture

Still a little work to be done…

Full Mattress and box spring – $35 at thrift store
Super Comfy Down-Alternative Comforter – $50 on Amazon (but only $20 because we had a giftcard)
Pillows – $3 each at Walmart
Decorative Pillows – Gifts
Sheets – Gift
Bedside Table – $5 at thrift store
Other Bedside Table – Box the printer came in with a tapestry on it
Curtains – $60 for two sets (4 panels) on Amazon + $12 for rods at Dollar Store
Frame that wants art – FREE at thrift store

Mini Office – $20

tiny home office

Tiny Home Office

I work from home so it’s important I have at least something resembling an office. After two years of living in Korea working with my laptop sitting atop a printer on top of a nightstand, even the most basic desk is a huge improvement. Plus I get to look at my maps all day and dream of new destinations. Still in the market for a side table to go next to the desk to house my printer and paper and other such office-type things.

Desk – $15 on C-List
Wall Art – Maps and photos I’ve collected over the years
Chair – $5 at thrift shop

Kitchen – $419

After over a month of searching for a bargain kitchen table that was the right size to fit in the little nook where a washer and dryer would go, I eventually gave up and bought something new on eBay. Everything on C-List that might have worked was still well over $100 and a 45 minute drive away. I definitely wish I had the chrome chairs to match the table, but the most important thing is eating together in the kitchen instead of in front of the TV. The only other reason the kitchen was expensive is because I’ve included all those tiny things you forget you have to buy like sponges and forks. Oh, and cause we had to buy a fridge. Seriously, what rental comes without a fridge?

retro kitchen table

Awkward kitchen nook

Retro Kitchen Table – $110 on eBay
Chairs – $5 each at thrift store
Fridge – $100 at vintage store because our house didn’t come with one
Rug (not pictured) – $4 at Walmart
Bowls and Plates – FREE on C-List
Coffee Maker and Toaster – Wedding presents
Random other things you need in a kitchen – About $200 from Walmart, Goodwill, and thrift store

Patio – $52

When we first moved in I seriously wanted to class up the patio and maybe make our house look a little less white trashy than it does now. But after realizing that our broken chain link fence and FOUR useless satellite dishes weren’t going anywhere, and that patio furniture is like twice the price of regular furniture, I accepted the patio’s fate. Now I think I might try to make the front yard look even MORE white trashy. I’m thinking a fire pit made of old coffee cans. Hey, when in Rome.

furnish a house cheap

Little Yellow House

Chairs – $5 each at thrift store
Table – $4 at thrift store
Hanging Plant – $6 at Walmart
Potted Plant – $22 at Walmart
License Plate – seriously needs to be mailed back to NC to get my registration refund

Bathroom – $46

Didn’t feel the need for a picture, but a bathroom is a great place to save money. You really don’t need a matching toothbrush holder-waste basket- soap dish set. I promise. Spending a little extra on a nicer (read: not the cheapest you can find) bathmat, however, is totally worth it.

Bathmat – $14 at Walmart
Towels – $20 for 4 at Dollar Store
Toilet Bowl Brush – $4 at Walmart
Shower Curtain – $8 at Walmart

Master Bedroom – $282

This room is by far the least finished of the whole house, but once we got a bed in there, we felt like there wasn’t much else we needed. The wide windowsill has negated the need for a nightstand thus far and our clothes were remaining in (mostly) neat piles on the floor. For the last three months I have checked C-List every single day for a dresser and never found anything decent under $100. So we stuck with the piles. Then finally last week, a $35 miracle showed up at the thrift store. With just one more dresser and mayyybe a nightstand this room will be complete. Maybe one day Jim Beam will come down too, but for now he does a great job of reminding us that we were once in college. And of stopping the neighbors from staring directly at our bed.

cheap bedroom furniture

We’re working on it…

cheap dresser

$35 and it came with a slutty hooter’s t-shirt in it!

cheap bedroom furniture

You don’t need much to sleep…

UPDATE!!! The bedroom is now finished!


Dresser – $35 at thrift store
Runner for beat-up top of dresser: Gift from Indonesia
Queen-size pillow-top mattress and box spring – $125 at vintage store
Comforter – $50 on Amazon
Duvet cover – been carting that thing around for years
Pillows – $33 ($30 for mine at BB&B, and $3 for the other one at Walmart)
Sheets – $20 on Amazon
Window lace – Purchased in Korea for our wedding in the Phillipines
Jim Beam curtain – Free, duh.
Weird country art – $4 at thrift store
Cool animal art – Custom made by World of MIM
Fan (we have no heat or A/C in the house) – $15 at Walmart

The Grand Total Is: $1382

As we still have a dresser or table or two to buy, this works out just perfectly. And I can maybe even afford a couple boxes of wine to go with our shitty little wonderful little house.

Many people may look at these photos and think, “What a dump!” Or “I can’t believe you spent $1500 to live in that shithole.” But as a traveler I know exactly how much I need to be comfortable, exactly how much I need to be happy. And it’s not a lot. Finding a balance between living on the run and creating a home that really feels like home isn’t always easy. The most important thing to remember is that no one’s opinions matter but your own. We’ve never cared if our second-hand couch had a stain on it or that our $35 dresser has a busted drawer. Some people do, and that’s ok too. Just try to remember that the only thing that really matters is if you’re happy where you are. And the hubby and I are most certainly happy in our newest of home, sweet homes.

The #1 rule for vagabond interior design is do whatever makes you happy, and remember that the less you spend, the more you have for your next adventure.

Disclaimer: Some links on Wanderlust Logs are affiliate links, which means I get a little money if you buy something. Nothing will cost you any extra though, so don’t even worry about it. I’m just sad I couldn’t provide links to all the awesome thrift store gems I found!

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