How to Decorate Your Home for the Holidays on a Budget

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As home decor enthusiasts, the holidays are an opportunity to swap out our everyday decor for pieces that add some magic of the season to our homes. You could even say that decorating for the holidays is kinda like our Super Bowl!

New to holiday decorating? Go to the store and it might seem intimidating and kind of expensive to transform your space from top to bottom. But we are here to reassure you that you don’t have to go out and buy tons of new decorations to give your space that extra sparkle. Instead, there are plenty of budget-friendly (and free!) ways to deck the halls.

First, Choose a Color Scheme

If you want to make a big impact without buying tons of new items, we recommend starting with a color scheme. It can be gold and red, blue and silver, or honestly any color palette that you personally like. Choosing a few key colors/metallics will make decorating a lot easier.

Stick with your color scheme and we promise you’ll end up buying fewer items to decorate your home for the holidays. You can leave a lot of your everyday decor up in your space, but add these key colors for a pop of holiday glam that will really make your space look different from the everyday.

Wrap Faux Gifts

This tip may seem a little silly, but it’s actually a great one! If you’re an Amazon Prime enthusiast like us, then you probably get packages on the reg. Save a few of these shipping boxes, then use them as holiday decor.

It’s as simple as it sounds. Wrap the empty boxes with pretty wrapping paper and ribbon – in your color scheme, don’t forget – and use them throughout your home.

We both use these “gifts” as bookends on our built-ins, and place them strategically throughout our homes for a budget-friendly holiday touch! It doesn’t get much cheaper than that!

Use Grocery Store Finds (Food!)

One of our favorite holiday crafts is using fresh cranberries in glass hurricanes with candles throughout your home.

Cranberries are inexpensive and they add a colorful touch to your space. We especially love this idea, where you use water, faux greenery, cranberries, and floating candles to make a gorgeous centerpiece for your dining room table.

While you’re at the store, grab some cinnamon sticks too. You can group a few of these together in a mug and display on a shelf for a decoration that looks and smells good! You can also pick up some branches from the grocery store (or even better, your backyard!) to place in a tall vase in your home. This brings a winter touch to your home’s decor.

Get Cheap Faux Greenery From the Craft Store

During the holiday season, we’re at the craft store just about every weekend. (Seriously.)  And the one thing we recommend everyone picks up is some faux greenery. You can buy a bunch of small pieces for a steal and this greenery can be used all over your home.

Drape it on your mantle, put it on your dining room table, and add small pieces to your bookshelves. While you’re at it, pick up a few scented evergreen sticks. We love sticking these in the faux greenery to add a fresh winter scent to our spaces. Nothing says the holidays like the smell of fresh evergreen!

Gather Up and Display Your Holiday Cards

One of our favorite parts of the holiday season is all of the snail mail we receive. Instead of just throwing your holiday cards in a pile on your kitchen counter, get creative!

In the past, we’ve used a big chicken wire frame to display all of the cards we receive and we hang them up with clothespins. This acts as wall art and it’s fun for guests to see all of the cards from loved ones everywhere.

Another cool thing we do is save our holiday cards every year to make a little booklet of the many cards we receive. We display these booklets on our coffee tables so guests can flip through them when they visit. Plus, it’s a fun way to look back and see how families have changed over the years as this booklet gets bigger and bigger!

Go Crazy With Glass Ornaments

Glass ornaments are a major protip. You can buy a giant pack of ornaments for a few bucks. These always come in handy when we decorate our homes because they’re so versatile. Add some to a festive bowl, place some in a clear vase, and place a few next to holiday items on your shelves to add a sparkly touch!

Frame Special Holiday Moments

Don’t forget to change up your picture frames for the holidays!

We love the idea of framing special holiday moments and places that matter to you during the season. Want to save the most money? We channel our inner photographer and head around town to snap photos of favorite winter spots. The local ice skating rink, the big Christmas tree in town, a snowy tree … there are so many photo ops you can use to fill those frames! Or to make it easier, start a tradition now to take a special photo every year that you can use to display when you get out all of your holiday decorations.

We hope you feel inspired after reading this list to get in the spirit of the season. We promise you don’t have to spend big bucks to make your space feel special during the holidays. Turn on some holiday music, heat up some hot cocoa, and enjoy yourself as you deck your halls!

If You Have Kids, Test Your Home for These Things Right Now

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I recently moved while pregnant and let me tell you, the struggle is real! Although there were some unexpected perks (it helps to have a literal built-in excuse not to have to do the heavy lifting), there were also a slew of concerns and precautionary steps I took to keep me and Baby Mac safe throughout the process. (In case you’re wondering, he’s due in February!)
I’m definitely not here to scare any future moms. We all know there’s plenty of material available that can do that. But I also didn’t want to go into my move blind to the potential hazards that a new house can pose to you or your baby’s health.
So as an expecting mom and a special education teacher who sees the effects of these household dangers far too often, I’m here to share important research so we can be diligent in taking the necessary steps to keep our babies safe.

You Need to Get Your New Home Tested for Lead

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), 1 in every 38 kids is impacted by lead poisoning. Exposure to lead at a young age can come from many things, but usually include these lead-based sources:
  • Lead paint
  • Lead in a tainted water supply
  • Lead fumes during construction
When a child is exposed to this dangerous toxin, they are at high risk of developing a learning disability, a lower IQ and/or damaged organs. In some extreme cases, it can even cause death.
We can all agree that we would never want to expose our babies or young children to lead, but the scary part is that sometimes we do so without even realizing it. That’s why with just a little research and the right tools, you can arm yourself with the resources you need to test for lead products. And often times, all you really need is yourself!

How to Test for Lead

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Large companies, such as 3M, sell DIY lead checking products (some for under $10!) that you can purchase and use to test the paint in your home. The directions will coach you on how to swipe the painted surface and almost instantly identify whether or not that paint is contaminated.

If you are an avid DIY-er like us, be sure to use these strips to test any furniture you may be giving a makeover for the new nursery, too. You definitely don’t want to sand down an old dresser that was previously painted with lead paint. That dust can be extremely dangerous when it becomes airborne. You also don’t want to paint over it since your little one could peel away that paint some day and ingest it. There are plenty of old dressers that need a lot of DIY love (so don’t ditch this creative idea entirely!), just be sure to choose one that doesn’t have a history with lead.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 10-20 percent of our exposure to lead comes from water. This is especially dangerous because we may not even realize we are mixing lead-infused water in our baby’s formula and potentially causing serious damage in the process. To test the water in your new home, simply contact your water supplier and ask for it to be tested. If this is not a service they provide, the EPA has contact information for approved testing labs you can reference right here. Just click on your state and search your state government’s resources!

What to Do If Your Child Has Already Been Exposed to Lead

If you have little ones and are concerned that they may have already been exposed to lead (sometimes it can be inhaled through contaminated dust without you even realizing it), don’t freak out – you can often get their lead levels tested at your local pediatrician, just make the appointment today.

Take the precautionary steps to avoid this contamination, and you are your little one will be safe. Just be sure you use the resources available to confirm that your new home is clear of any risk before it’s too late. The bottom line is that lead poisoning is extremely dangerous and fetuses and small children are unfortunately at the highest risk of the side effects.

Get Your Home Tested for Radon

Who knew some old houses could have a dangerous build-up of radon lurking within? I had no idea until right before I moved into my new house and did some investigating. I’m definitely not a pro on the topic, but here’s all the info I found out through my moving experience.

Radon is a dangerous gas that radiates out of the soil over time and is more prominent in some areas of the country versus others. Those areas’ homes catch these gases, trapping them inside and increasing the levels of radon to a point that can be dangerous to live in over long periods of time. According to the American Lung Association, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer … right behind smoking! I don’t want my baby exposed to second-hand smoke and I don’t want him exposed to high radon levels either.

How Do I Get a Radon Test? How Much Does it Cost?

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The great news is that high levels of radon in your home don’t need to be a deal breaker because there are solutions to lower the levels of gases. Each state’s EPA shares resources on which companies you can call to test your home for radon right here. This test costs a couple hundred bucks (depending on location, house size, etc.) and it takes a few days to complete. To test for it, a tracker is placed in your new home, usually in the basement. Note that the longer the tracker can stay in the home, the more accurate the read will be.

For reference, the average level of radon in households across America is 1.3 picocuries per liter and according to the EPA, you need to take action on reducing radon on or above 4.0 pCi/L. Talking to the company who tested your home will be the best resource to start identifying what specific steps you can take to decrease these radon levels now and eliminate them from rising in the future.

Other Harmful Chemicals to Consider

Okay, the two biggest chemicals that may lurk in your home prior to moving in are out-of-the-way, but we don’t want you to forget about the ones that may pop up throughout the moving or nesting process. Here’s a list of other common products that could be useful as you get settled in, but ones you need to take precaution so you are not exposed to:
  • Rodent/Insect pesticides
  • Landscaping pesticides or fertilizers
  • Paints with VOC
  • Polyurethane finishes for floors
  • Paint removing liquids
  • Spray paints (it’s better to roll/brush no-VOC paints if possible!)
  • Arsenic (which is a substance that a lot of outdoor decks or wood is treated with)

Especially if you’re pregnant like me and someone in your home needs to use these listed products, be sure to use proper ventilation, steer clear, or even see if you could stay at a friend’s place until the fumes are gone. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry, right?

Overall, I went into my move feeling a lot more at ease about these potential dangers because I invested a little time and money into having my house tested for both lead paint and radon levels. Also diving into these topics a little deeper helped me identify how I can take steps later in my pregnancy (or in future pregnancies) to stay safe, which I’m very grateful for. If you’re looking to move while pregnant, I hope you too can find peace of mind by getting your home tested (and cleared!)

The Must-Read Guide to Prepare for Your Home Inspection As a Buyer

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Let’s back up to right before you schedule your home inspection.

Chances are you just signed a contract, which means the lender, realtor and lawyers are probably already approaching you with their list of requests. You need to get your current home on the market, you probably have a busy job and a few kiddos at home, and life has officially taken a turn to Crazytown!

But just because things are busy doesn’t mean you should neglect your obligatory home inspection. Not only can not giving attention to your home inspection impact the sale, but the results could cost you well into your future if you’re not prepared. This must-read guide gives you all of the facts you need to have for scheduling your home inspection, with helpful tips on how you can make the most of this tedious step … even amidst the chaos of buying and selling!   

What will a home inspection cost me?

Home InspectionA quality home inspection will cost you, the homebuyer, about $250-$400 depending on the size of the home. As much as these unexpected expenses seem endless during the moving process, this is one expense you do not want to skip. Hiring a quality inspector can make such a significant difference to highlight the good, bad and potentially dangerous components of your new home. You want to make sure you hire an inspector who is licensed and knowledgeable … even if that costs a few extra bucks. This tiny investment can save you thousands of dollars (and a lot of heartache) in the long run.

How do I find a quality inspector?

Home Inspection

So you know you want to invest in a quality inspector, but you’re not really sure where to find one. You’re not alone! The best place to look is your realtor. If you really trust your realtor, she probably has some recommendations. Usually, realtors come to their buyers’ inspections, so chances are they have met a lot of inspectors and have seen which ones are thorough and which ones aren’t.

Says Lexi Newman, a real estate agent heading Lexi Newman Real Estate out of the Los Angeles area, “I’ve observed countless inspections over the years, and while some inspectors spend hours examining every nook and cranny and then doing additional research at home, others breeze on through doing the bare minimum.”

Again, you want to squeeze every bit of usefulness you can out of every step of the process. Continues Newman,
“Your realtor attends inspections day in and day out, knows what constitutes a quality inspection, and can point you in the right direction … Find out if the inspector is certified with the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Ask them how long they’ve been inspecting, if they come from a construction or contracting background, and what they did professionally before becoming a home inspector. Also, find out what sort of report they put together and how fast they are able to send it to you -this is a crucial part of repair negotiations during escrow, and a quick turnaround time is extremely important so your realtor has time to negotiate.”

And if you don’t love your realtor? Try speaking with friends or neighbors for their recommendations. The bottom line is that you should always go with someone who has good “cred” with someone else you trust and respect. There’s too much riding on the line to go with someone who hasn’t proven to be anything less than amazing.

What is HireAHelper.com?

HireAHelper is a nationwide marketplace where you can compare and book local movers to help you pack, load and unload your moving truck or container.

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How long will the inspection take?

The time for an inspection varies based on the size of the home you are purchasing and how thorough your inspector is. On average, we suggest allowing for at least two hours, but on the long end, it’s usually not any longer than three hours. 

What should I bring to the inspection?

Home Inspection

Some inspectors expect payment at the completion of the inspection, so be sure to have an approved payment method ready for the cost of the inspection on hand. Beyond that, we suggest wearing casual clothes in case the inspector wants to bring you into the deep nooks and crannies of the basement or attic to educate you about future maintenance. This is not required of course, but it is a sign of a great inspector!

We also think it’s extremely important for you to bring these things:

  • Notebook
  • A pen
  • Cell phone camera
  • Measuring tape

And here’s why …

What else can I do while the inspection is happening?

This may be the last time you have access to your new home until the final walk through (or even closing day!), so be as prepared as possible to get the most out of this critical time. Of course, your first priority is following along with the home inspector and listening to them as they relay observations, maintenance tips or stats on any of the home’s mechanicals. There will be a lot of information coming your way, which is why the pen and notebook will come in handy to jot down all of these tips.

However, there’s another important opportunity here!

Your homeowner’s insurance company will request information about your new dwelling in order to prepare an insurance quote over the next few weeks. Usually, they request information about the mechanics and age of specific parts of the home (like the roof) for the end proposal. Sometimes they even have discounts available if parts of your home were recently replaced, so getting all this information while your home inspector is with you is a great way to be ahead of the game for the insurance team.

What should I do if the inspector doesn’t want me tagging along?

Home Inspection

Sometimes home inspectors don’t want you following them from room to room taking notes while they create a detailed report. In that case, we still think you should keep busy doing the following things. First, take as many photos as possible of the home, and specifically, these things:

  • The layout
  • Outlets
  • Doors
  • Anything you want to change when you move-in

The last one will help you calculate how much time you’ll need in order to have everything you need by moving day.

Because you probably won’t have access to the home until the day (or day before) closing, these photos will be a very helpful reference. If you have enough time, we also recommend taking your phone and creating a simple video of the home. Why? We find that if we forget to snap a photo of something, we can still find the information we need by looking through the video footage. Plus, having this video for your memory will be fun to look back at someday!

Also, take measurements now!

Do you love the size of the current homeowner’s dining room table, TV, or sectional couch? Measure these items so you can start furniture shopping without problems! Rugs especially can be a tricky accessory because they are often too small for a space. If you find that a previous homeowner has done the rug sizes correctly, take a measurement and make note. Virtually anything you think looks good (or bad for that matter), get it jotted down so you don’t forget. (Trust us, you will forget.)

What should I make sure I get from the inspector?

After the home inspection is complete, you should receive a detailed written report from the inspector. You will need this report to negotiate improvements with the current owner, or in extreme cases, to back out of your original contract. Save this report in your files even if you plan on moving forward with the sale with no issues. 

Is there anything else I should probably know?

Home Inspection

If you really like your home inspector after the inspection is over, don’t be afraid to ask them for referrals for other professionals in the industry.

If you are looking for someone to eventually come fix the HVAC or maybe update the gutters after you move in, inspectors often have some really great contacts to share. Or at the very least, be sure to grab their contact information so you can follow-up later when you’re looking for referrals for just about any job around the house.

Also, don’t be afraid of asking too many questions! These people are professionals and often have an endless wealth of knowledge when it comes to all things home-related. Some important things people often forget to ask:

  • Inquire about all specific mechanics in the home (e.g., furnaces, vents, switches, attic fan, etc.)
  • How often you should be servicing, cleaning or updating these specific items
  • The most updated codes to uphold
  • Routines of services providers (e.g., cable, water, electrical companies, etc.)

It’s overall just smart to ask too much versus too little. Remember that inspection time is mostly for you, not the inspector, so make use of this important moment in your home buying journey!

Lifehack: Get the Stuff Under the Kitchen Sink Organized With This $7 Tool

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We consider ourselves to be fairly organized people, but there are certain places in our homes that just don’t stand a chance against clutter. Underneath the kitchen sink is definitely one of those disorganized spaces. How can you own so many cleaning supplies, and yet the one place that stores them is never clean?

Check out that “before” photo. Supplies were everywhere, and finding the right spray bottle for a particular task was always an adventure.

Not only did we want to get this cabinet organized, but we wanted to put a smart organizational method into place so it wouldn’t ever get back to that scary before photo.

Like every organization project we tackle, we started by clearing everything out of the cabinet, as shown below:

This is a great time to purge and ditch old items you rarely use. It’s also an opportune time to give the cabinet base a deep clean.

Once we were left with a clean cabinet and fewer items to store, we picked up a few organizational supplies. The first may confuse you…

…it’s a tension rod! Yep, a small tension rod just might be the key to your organizational problems. We found this rod for $7 on Amazon and placed it right under the kitchen sink.

This tension rod now holds the four cleaning supplies we use most often. When cleaning the counters or quickly wiping down a mirror, we can easily grab the right cleaning supply for the job.

It’s also a good spot to dry out wet gloves used from washing dishes. Who knew a tension rod could be so handy?!

We picked up a double-decker basket too. This maximizes the tall cabinet space under your kitchen cabinet because you can fit double the items in the same small footprint.

To take things up a notch, we used washi tape and a permanent marker to label the two bins.

A spot for your wet sponges is always a good idea. A small container with clear command strips fits perfectly on the inside of the door. Again, this uses the vertical space in the cabinet so not everything has to take up space on the cabinet floor.

Overall, this kitchen cabinet looks a heck of a lot better. All it took was a little bit of purging, some storage solutions, and a $7 tension rod to give this hardworking space a new life. Happy DIY-ing!

These Things Should Always Be Deal Breakers While House Hunting

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We’ve talked before about things you should overlook when house hunting, but being flexible and seeing past a home’s imperfections isn’t always the thing to do.

Don’t get us wrong, there are a lot of things that should be overlooked because they can easily be changed down the road. However, some things should never be overlooked. We like to call them “deal breakers”.

Making a list of your deal breakers is essential to finding the perfect home for now and well into the future. That’s why the things on this list should be non-negotiable. Seriously, don’t get emotionally attached to something that will create resentment down the road. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your family to create your own list of deal breakers before your house hunting adventure begins, but we’ve compiled a list of the most important ones in order for you to jump-start the process!

A Real Potential for Water Damage

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Water Damage

A lot of household problems can be fixed, but being subject to water damage is one that is not even close to an easy fit. Before committing to a house, be sure to research if it’s in a flood zone. (FEMA has a handy website that can search all flood areas by address.) Also, take notice of its elevation on the block compared to other homes. Is this house at the lowest point on the street? Will your basement constantly be at risk of flooding and causing you large problems and even larger repair bills? Make sure you look very closely for any signs of water damage.

Do your research so that you know exactly what you are getting into, and are not surprised by a flooded basement after the first rain in your new home.

(All Different Kinds of) Safety Concerns
House Hunting Deal Breaker - Safety Concerns

Safety concerns are a very broad category, so it’s important that you get as specific as possible when creating your house hunting deal breaker list. Safety concerns with electronics can be caused by amateur workmanship, such as plumbing or electrical problems. But this could also be caused by other household issues, such as:

Check the links for helpful ways to test for common safety concerns. Before you buy any house, let alone a suspect one, make sure to hire an inspector. If they report any problems, know exactly what issues result in you walking away from the deal and which ones you are willing to deal with (and potentially pay for!). Having this information clear before the home buying process will allow you to remain objective during this emotional time.

Below Average School District

If you have kids, be sure to investigate the local school district before you buy a home in that district. Niche.com provides a comprehensive look at most every school system in the country, including elementary, middle and high schools. You can also look at schools individually!

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Poor School District

Even if you don’t have kids, we still encourage you to do the same because that school district will impact the resale value of your home in the long run and should be considered before you purchase.

Structural Damage to the Home’s Base

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Structural Damage

Structural damage in a home can cause some serious problems down the road, not to mention what a nightmare it would be to try to re-sell a home that has these large issues. It’s important to consider this when house hunting in order to avoid large project costs down the road. Look for shifting of the home in cracks, uneven floors or a drooping roof to identify potential structural damage. If you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to Google a contractor or professional so they can assess the situation and reassure you the house is a safe long-term investment.

Unless you are buying a foreclosure for pennies on the dollar, structural damage is certain to massively impact your investment in a negative way.

A Floor Plan That Doesn’t Work for Your Family

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Bad Bones aka Floorplan

All rooms can be rearranged, redecorated, repainted or even switched around, depending on your family’s needs. However, don’t trick yourself: a sweet overlook may be cool, but the layout of the home or the square footage of the home is not so easily changed, especially without a massive budget and an extra-large construction project. Are you looking to double your investment by knocking out walls?

It’s okay to look past the cosmetic upgrades in a home, but don’t look past what the pros call “the bones” of the house: the layout, the number of rooms, the number of bathrooms or again, even simply the square footage. The bones are permanent and will directly impact your lifestyle. Are you willing to change your life just for that sweet view?

House Hunting Outside of Your Price Range 

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Over Budget

Buying a home out of your price range is a slippery slope and a financial decision that can put a lot of stress and pressure on you and your family.

It is also the most common deal breaker people ignore!

If you have a strict budget you need to follow, adding this deal breaker to your house hunting checklist will be a great way to “check yourself” and make sure that you are coming in under budget and not putting an unnecessary strain on you, your marriage, or your family. Besides, it is almost always better to invest in a cheaper property than to live with what you cannot afford.

What’s on Your House Hunting Deal Breaker Checklist?

All of these may fall on your house hunting deal breaker checklist, or maybe some of them… or maybe none at all. Technically, the most important thing is shedding light on the fact that people don’t often consider deal breakers ahead of hunting for a house. That’s why a house hunting checklist is crucial to avoid getting emotionally invested and making an impulsive decision that you’ll regret later on.

Remember the biggest rule: once you agree on which deal breakers gets added to the checklist, you cannot purchase any home that has even one of the things on it, regardless of how adorable it may look! This cute house may look great now, but it probably isn’t the best investment for the long run. Hold strong, the right one will come along… it always does!

Prioritize These Things for Your Rental, They’ll Be Following You to Your Future Home

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We often get questions from readers who are renters and they’re ready to upgrade their hand-me-down furniture pieces for “grown-up” ones. They’re usually hesitant to spend too much money out of fear that it won’t fit or go with the look of their next home.

While we don’t suggest that everyone go out and buy a ginormous sectional, there really are pieces you can buy now! Here are home decor items that you can (and should) invest in now, because they’ll most likely be able to find a place in your next pad. (more…)

Every Place You Can Get Free Moving Boxes

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People say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, how about a free box? We hear a lot about those, but where are they?

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How to Use a Moving Dolly Like the Pros

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Moving house without a hand truck – or a moving dolly – is like riding a bicycle without a seat. It’s technically possible, but honestly, who does that?

A sturdy, reliable hand truck is any mover’s best friend. Used properly, it saves you time, rescues your back and it can singlehandedly keep your stuff from getting damaged.

(Thinking of a square furniture dolly?)

But they’re not as easy to use as they look, provided you are using them in the proper way. With that in mind, here are tips compiled by moving pros as to how to optimize that hand truck you found in the back of your moving truck, or that one your friend let you borrow and you don’t want to return broken.

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5 Hidden Benefits to Decorating With Mirrors

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If you’re itching to decorate your rental or your new home, then we urge you to consider using mirrors as your figurative paint brush. Mirrors: they’re not just for the bathroom anymore! As long as you restrain yourself from lining them across every last surface, supplementing mirrors in your living space is a key way to make your place feeling super open.

Knowing that, here are five things that a mirror can do super easily for you!

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