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I recently received a desperate email from a friend. For a variety of reasons, school and work related, she and her husband and two little boys had been bumping around the globe for years. They had just moved back to the States and bought their first home. As excited as she was to be close to family and settled down, she was also exhausted from the move. In her email she wrote, “I am feeling crazy because I need to furnish a house and pick paints and it is all so overwhelming for me. I’ve been a nomad my entire adult life. Do you have advice?”

Most of us don’t know what it’s like to change continents with a family. But a big home project can feel like too much for anyone starting out or going through a big life change. Adding to the pressure, in this age of instant everything, it’s easy to think that you ought to have a perfectly appointed home within seconds of moving in. I think we’ve all seen the before-and-after articles in which a designer gives a house a makeover in less time than it takes most of us to buy a can of paint. If you are in my friend’s shoes, looking around your place worrying and wondering, this is what I recommend.

Assess conditions

Before you try to do a thing, take a deep breath, look around and then decide what needs to be done. “Everything!” may be the immediate answer, but really think about it. Are there any repairs that need to be made? Is it “just” cosmetics, such as new paint? Whatever it is, can you do the work yourself or do you need to hire it out? What are your skills? (It’s OK if you don’t seem to have any.)

Determine your energy level

This a way of assessing conditions on a personal level. Most people never consider this, but if you have just made a big move or have experienced a major life event, it’s absolutely imperative.

When you are worn out, you need to acknowledge that and give yourself a break. Decide you are going to set things aside for a few weeks or months, even years. It’s important to make it a conscious decision; otherwise all the projects will be hanging over your head.

Most things can wait, and there is a very real benefit to living in a place for a while before making any changes. I know several people who have bought houses knowing what changes they wanted to make but couldn’t do the work right away — and in the end were thankful for the delays, because they were able to see other, better possibilities.

Look at your budget

This is where it can get discouraging. You may be brimming with plans and excitement but can’t even afford a can of paint, let alone a room full of furniture. When I was a new homeowner, I read a magazine articl showing an incredible budget for $871.

The point was how little money was spent, but for me it may as well have been $100,000, because our renovation and decorating budget was $0. It can be disappointing to wait because of money, but accruing a lot of debt to do a house project will not feel good.

Make a master plan

Once you know what you need to do, decide how you want to execute things. Do you want to go room by room, or would it be better to do a big overall project, like giving everything a fresh coat of paint? This is where it’s important to be clear on your energy level, budget and personal style before you dive into anything.

It can be tempting to focus on the public spaces in your home, but consider making your bedroom a haven before you do anything else. It can be a relatively inexpensive project with a huge return.

Still thinking about ways to spruce up your home? Read our article about energy efficient fixes you can make to your home to save money.

Photo credits: Rebekah Zaveloff from KitchenLab