Arlene Wright-Correll

How to “Make it Nice” on a Shoe String©

By Arlene W. Correll

It was getting towards the end of the month and even though I did not need a thing, nor did I seem to want a thing, I realized I was getting low on money.   What brought it to my attention were all the sales flyers that were coming into our post box.

This got me to thinking of our younger days when we were just starting out and really did want or need things and quite often were low on money.  How did we manage with 5 kids and ourselves?

My father-in-law used to say that necessity was the mother of invention.  I took that to heart and really got quite creative with it.  With that in mind, I took a stroll down memory lane as to some of the things we did to “make it nice”!  “Make it nice” was and still is a family saying in our house.  “Make it nice, Make it nice” was what Carl insisted upon whenever we decided to so an ordinary project.

I recalled the time we really needed bookshelves and the only thing we had were long barn boards and a bunch of old cement blocks out in the barn.   Well, there you go. We used those shelves for a very long time in one of our homes.  We lay the cement blocks so the holes showed out and we used those little openings for knick knack display areas.

For book ends we filled quart mason jars with marbles.  You might use colored sand, beads, buttons, or shells.   On one shelf we used 2 duck decoys for bookends.  Don’t throw away those old beer steins.  They make great bookend. You might have to put some sand or small rocks in the bottom, plus you can stick pencils, etc in them also.  These were quite handy when we needed to grab a pen or pencil.  You might use some baskets that have some nice gourds in them. (Remember to shellac them.) Or some nice pebbles.  How about a couple of piggy banks filled with change, or any kind of old antiques or dolls.  I remember one shelf had old antique flat irons on each end.

I also recalled one time when we were decorating a bed and breakfast we were building.  Money was always a problem then.  This place had lots and lots of rooms and lots and lots of windows that needed drapes and curtains.  We just did not have the dollars to take care of the problem.  The solution was to buy pretty, but inexpensive flat twin sheets. However, we could not buy just the flat sheets; we had to take the fitted ones with them also. We used the fitted ones to make the valances and used the flat ones to make the mid-length sides hanging down.  They really looked nice and cost about a 10th of what drapes would have cost.  Matter of fact they looked so good, we never did replace them with regular drapes.

In the event you only needed to cover a few windows, you could probably find some nice sheets at your local Good-will store for a really reasonable price.  I found some for only $1.00 and $2.00 each.  You may not even need to turn over a hem.  Your curtain rod may well fit though the folded top part of the flat sheet.  A nice tie-back could be made from a pair of old leather shoe laces, with a cup hook in the wall to attach it to.  For a real dramatic flair, tie them back with some colorful scarves.

No money for curtain rods?  Well, if you live in the woods or have access to the woods, a fairly long and straight limb will do and it will probably surprise you on how well it will look in your rustic homestead. 

In the event you like the country or antique look, use an old, but now longer functional, long handled spade, rake, or household tool for a curtain rod.  Leaving the utility end on the handle will make an interesting wall decoration.

During the time in TN, when we were still dealing with the B&B, we needed luggage racks for the guests.  Too expensive!  So, I scrounged up old piano benches and painted them so they matched the room décor.  They made great luggage racks and would still do well for a guest room in your house.  Besides you could store your guest’s towels in them and just whip them out before the company arrives. In your guest room you could install a couple of hooks on the back of the door. Just ask your guests to return their towels to the back of the door in order to dry, that way your bathroom is not overloaded with extra towels. 

One of the things I like to do is to save all the little soaps, lotions, shampoos, conditioners etc that I find in the hotel and motel rooms we stay in now and then.  When company is coming, I put them in a little basket with the face cloth and put the whole thing on their bath towel. Then I place it on their bed.  It is so thoughtful looking and always gives you an A+ on the hostess side of your universal report card.

Back in 1967 we quit our jobs and moved to a farm we bought in Northern New York with the last of our resources.  We got quite creative back then.  We took one old shed down and we re-salvaged enough barn board to make all our kitchen cupboards with it. It was very nice with the grey weathered wood. Our only expense was the black wrought iron type hinges and handles we had to buy.

We used old copper pots with holes in the bottom as waste paper baskets.  Old galvanized pails that no longer held water were utilized as magazine holders in various rooms.  Boys, did people think we were clever!  An old copper oval wash tub we found in the field was recycled as a wood holder next to our fireplace. Sometimes I did nothing more than shine them up and put a sealer on them.  On the old galvanized pails, I spray painted them flat black and did a tole design on them.

An old steamer trunk found for $2.00 became a great coffee table.

I made some great throw pillows from a huge box of old ties that I bought one time at an auction for 50 cents. I opened the ties up, ironed flat, laid the wide ends next to the narrow ends in a style or color that I could live with.  Sewed them up and when I had a long enough piece, I folded it over, sewed up two and a half sides, stuffed them with batting and hand stitched the remaining opening. We got lots of compliments on those pillows.

One Christmas we really wanted to give some spiffy gifts without the spiffy price tag.  We had just acquired a big box of junk at an auction. It had every thing from horseshoes to old silver forks and spoons in it. All for the enormous sum of $1.00!  Carl fashioned some really nice money clips out of those antique spoons.  He cut off the bowl end, grounded it down, bent the handle into a money clip, and I shined them up. They were beautiful. Each and everyone was a different lovely design and many people are still using them today.  For the ladies we took the old knifes and forks and fashioned some great wind chimes. I know several that are still out in people’s gardens after all these years.  For kids we knew, we spray painted the horse shoes flat black and painted Jamie’s (or whatever name was needed) room on them.  We attached instructions to each one suggesting they put the horseshoe open end up, so their luck would never run out! Plus, we added additional instruction telling them to ask their parents whether or not they could put these on the outside of their bedroom doors.

Carl likes things neat.  That includes in his workshop.  “Make it nice”, always the key words prevailed there also. 

No matter whether we were flush or flat, each new place we started in had a long 2 x 4 with jar lids screwed onto it.  The jar was then filled with assorted nuts, bolts, screws, nails, etc and screwed on to the lit.  Prior to screw the jars onto the lids, the 2 x 4 was screwed into the ceiling rafters in the garage or workshop.    Screwed, not nailed. Because when we were ready to move onto the next place, Carl just unscrewed the whole thing from the ceiling rafters and moved them to the next place.

Don’t throw away those old straw hats.  Or if you get a chance to buy a bunch of them for 10 cents each, do it!  They make great hanging planters. Old work shoes and boots became charming planters in our garden.  Just remember to put a hole in the bottom

for drainage.   Stuff the toes with pebbles or if the toe has a hole in the top of it, try putting in some hens and chicks and a nice geranium out the top of the boot.
I remember one time we only had enough money to buy a van with 2 front seats.  This made it hard to deal with 7 people and only two seats.  Carl made to boxes with a space towards the back to slip another board into it.  I cut up an old twin mattress into 4 sections and covered it.  With the boards in the slots we had two good seats.  When the boards were down and the 4 sections were put back together, it was a great place for the kids

to sleep while we drove.  Of course this was back before the buckle up law.  However, if the problem came up today, one can still find a junkyard and get cheap seats with buckles when one needs them.

One time we needed 3 kitchen lights over our island counter. No extra $$ in the kitty for that deal. I purchased 3 large aluminum colanders for $1.98 each, 3 small tart (pie) pans for $1.50 total and Carl electrified the colanders, installed them in the ceiling, (using the tart pans as the ceiling plates) over the island, and he did one extra thing to “make it nice”. He put a dimmer switch on the wall.  So at full on, we had lots of light and when we wanted atmosphere and dimmed them down, we got the most wonderful pattern of light on the ceiling, not only in the kitchen but out into the dining area of the great room.  Talk about a conversation piece. This never failed to charm anyone who came to the house for the first time. Plus we loved it!

I could go on and on.  I guess what I am getting at here, is that the universe is full of abundance and all you need to do is to think 360 degrees about things and your world will start filling up with so much stuff, it will be amazing.

As I reflect on all this, I realize that those things we did in the old days out of necessity are things that are considered charming décor now. 

The next time you need something and start to make it, remember to “Make it Nice.”


About the author,

Arlene Wright-Correll (1935-    ), free lance writer, award winning artist and avid gardener is mother of 5 and the grandmother of 8.  For almost 40 years she was an International real estate consultant and during the last 20 years of her career traveled to many parts of the world.  She has been a cancer and stroke survivor since 1992.  While working and raising her children she had many hobbies including being a very serious home-vintner for approximately 14 years while residing in upstate New York in St. Lawrence County producing 2,000 to 3,000 bottles of wine a year.  She was the president of the St. Lawrence County chapter of the American Wine Society in Potsdam , NY .  During that time she wrote a Home Vintner column for the Courier Freeman and the Canton Plain Dealer.  In 1975 her hearty burgundy won first place at the annual American Wine Society meeting in Toledo , Ohio .  This home vintner created many formulas or recipes for not only still wine, but sparkling wine and beer.  She enjoyed the friendship and fellowship that was created by working with other home vintners during those years. She is an avid gardener, an artist, and a free lance writer of many topics including, but not limited to “The ABC’s of Making Wine and Beer©” by Arlene Wright-Correll   this jam packed information CD includes 15 chapters on how to make your own wine and beer. This CD has loads of tried and true recipes, easy instructions, equipment identifying photos and it includes three bonus articles “How to Host a Wine Tasting Party”, “How to Build an Underground Wine Cellar” and “ Everything You Wanted to Know about Wine, but Were Afraid to Ask”.   This $19.95 value is on sale today for only $14.95 at

"Tread the Earth Lightly" & in the meantime
may your day be filled with...
Peace, Light, and Love,
Arlene Wright-Correll

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