Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget

How I Spent $50 to Not Spend $22,000 Remodeling Our Laundry Area

Yes, splurging on $50 of pretty storage boxes at Michael's helped me decide against an extensive and expensive laundry room remodel. Here's how I transformed a cluttered, outdated laundry area into something both functional and pretty by understanding our goals and sticking to a small budget ... plus how it's streamlined the laundry routine for our small household.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

How to Refresh a Laundry Area on a Small Budget by Identifying Goals, Understanding Needs and Embracing Reality. Our Laundry Products & Tools.

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Call Me Giddy

For days I kept repeating to my husband, "Did you know? We have a pretty new laundry room!" The Q&A was rhetorical but soon became our private joke because yes, of course he knew but mostly because yes, I felt positively giddy about our laundry room's transformation into something both functional and pretty.

Technically, the space is not a laundry "room" at all, more of a laundry hall and a "hyphen room" between the main living area and a mother-in-law's suite (where my dad lived for three years) that we use as a TV/family room along with my desk/office space.

The narrow hallway is bookended by two pocket doors (rarely closed) plus there's a door to the basement and a narrow dark closet. Add a washer, a dryer and, well, this is no luxury laundry area.

But who cares? It works. And it's working even better with some recent changes, all born – you guessed, right – of the pandemic.

And yes, it's pretty.

Have you heard?

We have a pretty new laundry room!

And Here It Is!

Let's take a quick look at how this no- to low-budget laundry room looks and works now, after the refresh.

This page is for anyone who looks longingly at pictures of fancy-pants laundry areas, all white and organized and styled, bigger than many kitchens. For most of us, that much space, that much budget, is beyond our means and great news, unnecessary. It's laundry, right? That means the important function is as simple as dirty clothes and bedding in, clean clothes and bedding out.

Keep reading for more photos and more detail.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥
Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥
Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥
Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

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My "Dream" Laundry Room

Now that you have an idea where our laundry room refresh ended up, let's back up to where we started.

Mine is a long-time fraught relationship with laundry.

Clothes and bedding got washed and even dried. But folded and put away? Ha.

Procrastination ruled. (Yes, my littlest kitty approved.)

My sister would come to visit, roll her eyes and present a "housewarming gift" of a basket or two of folded laundry. (Yes, I won the lottery in the sister department.)

That means my "dream" laundry room is one where the laundry magically sorts, washes, dries, folds and puts away itself. Ha! See? A dream with no hope in reality.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

I needed a "refresh" in behavior as much as in design.

So instead of jumping straight to paint color, I had to come to grips with not only where we were but where we'd like to be.

I truly believe in first understanding your goals, your passion points, your frustration points then narrowing them down to what's most important. I did this years back when we remodeled our kitchen and it so helped turn big questions into easy decisions. (Want to know more? See Ten Things I Love About Our New Kitchen.)

Step 1: Identify My Overall Goals If Time & Money Were No Issue

Close proximity to bedrooms and dressing areas. After all, this is where 90% of the laundry (sheets, clothing) originates.

OFTEN A GREAT IDEA Proximity does make sense when kids are little and/or when bedrooms are also in proximity to one another.

HMMM BUT MAYBE NOT But during the years my father lived with us, I was very very glad the laundry area was more central to the house because the caretakers who came in a couple of times a week also washed his sheets, towels and clothing.

A work counter. For folding clothes; collecting stuff being moved to the basement storage area; holding travel containers/lids etc. when friends and family arrive with food to share for potlucks.

A way to air-dry some clothes. This not only avoids the expense of a hot dryer but also extends clothing life, lingerie and other delicates but also cotton sweaters and tops, even pants that would otherwise go to the dry cleaners.

Storage for laundry supplies, cleaning supplies and other household needs. This needn't be separate, it could be accomplished within a pantry.

A functional pantry. When we redid the kitchen ten years ago, we gave up a small, inefficient pantry. Our laundry area is one room away from the kitchen so I had already turned a couple of small cupboards and a narrow closet there into pantry space. It works okay but I definitely have visions of pantry space that's bigger, more functional, more contemporary and yes, more pretty.

Update the "look" to something lighter, brighter and more contemporary. The old laundry had a brown plaid wall paper with a border featuring horses and carriages. Pretty once? Sure. Outdated? Absolutely. Not my style? For sure.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

Step 2: A Mood Board

I started collecting photos for a mood board, form and function both. They were all remarkably similar.

This step didn't add much value for me, I know mood boards work for others, especially when pulling together a lot of new concepts for the first time. Here? This was more of a "glow up" than a big reveal.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

Step 3: How to Not Spend $22K

The thing is, money is always an issue.

The independent builder who's done so much work on the house for us, including our kitchen (please see Ten Things I Love About Our New Kitchen) gave me a bid for $22,000 to re-do the laundry area.

To be fair, it was a much bigger project, new cabinetry, creating a pantry, removing some duct work, adding some electrical. But I just didn't see that number coming and well ... that wasn't happening! The answer was a hard "no thanks".

At the same time, the $50 expenditure at Michael's helped me fully embrace something else. While we could have invested $22K in a brand-new full remodel, we didn't need to.

A laundry room refresh would not only be "enough". (Side Note: "Enough" was my "word of the year" that year.)

But really. Have you heard?

We have a pretty new laundry area!

Step 4: Embrace Reality.

A big laundry room remodel was not going to happen. We might have chosen to go forward but really, it wasn't the right choice, not financially, not functionally, not aesthetically. And I knew this, even before I got a $$,$$$ bid from a contractor.

I needed a Plan B. A refresh not an overhaul. A low-budget, quick-finish, uncomplicated, spit 'n' vinegar new space.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

Would a Laundry Area Refresh Achieve All My Goals?

Nope. Let's just say, our new laundry area delivered 1.5 out of 6.

And yet, I'm still thrilled. In this house, in this time, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Knowing my goals made decision-making easy, even when my identified goals weren't achieved.

That's because once I articulated my goals, it became easy to make cost/benefit decisions.

  • How much would it be worth, really, to change the location of the laundry area? Zero.
  • How much would I spend to air-dry maybe 6 pieces of clothing once a week? Ummm, not much.
  • How much pantry storage did I actually need? More would be great but ...
  • How awful was that wallpaper anyway? Okay, pretty awful. It had to go.
Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

The New Plan: Refresh the Laundry Area.

Plan B suddenly felt very reasonable. And I wanted to start, stat.


THE GOAL Remove the dated wallpaper and wallpaper border.

WHAT WE DID I was so happy for this wallpaper to go! But even in such a small area, wow, taking that paper down was a three-day job. It sure makes me think twice about using wallpaper ever again.

Switch to Paint

THE GOAL Choose a "happy" paint color to brighten the room, leaning into saturated color in keeping with the rest of the house.

WHAT WE DID I knew I wanted a color in the green family and despite all the hundreds of choices, didn't deliberate long before choosing Benjamin Moore (so sorry, I've lost track of the color name and the paint store can't find the purchase). Why such an easy choice? It was a saturated color, as are other painted rooms in this house. Moreover? It looked good with those $50 cardboxes boxes from Michael's! :-)

Luckily, we already had painters at the house, working outside, so they moved inside to work in the laundry room when it got way too hot midsummer to work outside.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥


THE GOAL Keep the upper cabinets and closet pantry. Build or buy a small cabinet or bookshelf with open shelving for laundry supplies.

WHAT WE DID Keeping the existing cabinetry was an easy choice. I did look at other hardware but quickly realized the existing door knobs were real brass and for the first time, noticed how much real brass is throughout the house. Easy call.

We also refreshed the paint on the open shelving, cupboards and doors. The paint color is Benjamin Moore "Wood Ash". We use this lovely rich cream color throughout the house, it's one of the choices to unify the entire house. If "cream" can be a saturated color, this is it. I just love it!

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

Trim & Moulding.

THE GOAL To unify the house with paint color and wood accents. Consider adding chair molding to continue lines from the family room into the mother-in-law suite.

WHAT WE DID We repeated the Benjamin Moore "Wood Ash" paint in all the existing trim and moulding. We stained wood light switches and electrical plates to match the wood in the family room. We decided against adding a chair rail, it just wasn't needed.

Attacking Three Pain Points

This was an important step. I took a look at my "pain points" in the laundry area to identify no-budget or low-budget ways to relieve that pressure. What could I do, on my own, to make things better on a minimal budget?

Inspiration for what Plan B might look like arrived, at all places, at Michael's while I was re-thinking the junky shelves, cupboards and narrow closet.


THE BEFORE Above the washer and dryer was some open shelving. The shelves were a real mess, always looked bad, we couldn't find anything, etc.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

THE GOAL Make these open shelves more useful in function and more attractive in form.

HOW IT WENT First, I cleared out all the open shelves. Some things were re-homed but a lot just got thrown away. At the same time, I identified the motley collection of things which are useful to keep handy.

THIS IS WHERE THE $50 GOT SPENT Then I found some pretty cardboard boxes on sale at Michael's. They had a "look" I liked and at minimum, would corral everything.

I hoped that the boxes would satisfy my yen to renovate the laundry room. The boxes definitely did their job. Re-organizing and re-purposing and re-thinking the shelves and the existing upper cupboards and pantry closet really made a big difference. This was huge!

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

THE BOXES All purchased at Michael's, the specific ones are no longer available but every year, there are new cool designs. The boxes themselves are quite sturdy and have magnetic closures so the lids open and close really easily.

  • BOTTOM SHELF This box belongs on the bottom since we both go into it so often, it's a real workhorse, it holds an electric screwdriver, a phillips and plain screwdriver, a set of tiny screwdrivers, a small wrench, kitchen shears, masking tape, packing tape, a tape measure plus picture-hanging supplies including a small hammer, level, small nails and small pieces of wood we put behind pictures to avoid cracking plaster and paint when a nail goes into the wall.
  • MIDDLE SHELF The middle box holds batteries of all sizes. Oh so many batteries, life now requires.
  • TOP SHELF Dog supplies, pills, nail clippers and other dog things I get into maybe 2-3 times a month go here.


Since the boxes don't completely fill the shelves, there are three small spaces to "style" a bit.

  • BOTTOM I re-purposed a plant pot to collect loose change from pockets.
  • MIDDLE There's a small melamine tray from Finland that depicts the country's beloved Moomintrolls plus a miniature green penguin from 21C, the small boutique hotel chain with ever-so whimsical bigger-than-life-size penguins.
  • TOP A fake plant since much to my regret, there's no natural light here so a real plant just doesn't work.
Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

When the laundry room was first finished, I promised myself that I wouldn't obsess over styling it to fit the seasons and holidays as I do elsewhere in the house.

So much for good intentions.

Because the charging station is right below and this spot is at eye level, it gets noticed! And because we stand quite close, I can use small things that would otherwise go unnoticed.

So I'm having fun with it! (And still promising myself to not go overboard ...)

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥
Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

PAIN POINT#2 Storage for Laundry Supplies

THE BEFORE We kept a small rolling cart full of laundry and other cleaning supplies, a fire extinguisher, an iron, a quick vac. What a mess.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

THE GOAL Provide easy access to laundry supplies.

HOW IT WENT First I re-homed everything except the laundry supplies, the iron and fire extinguisher. Just that made a huge difference.

I hoped to find a vintage cabinet with doors for laundry detergent, bleach, dryer sheets. After a couple of stops/hours at antique stores, I gave up and started designing a custom unit and finding a cabinet-maker.

But then? HomeGoods to the rescue. I found a shelving unit for $99 that was the right size and bought it on the spot, no doors but oh well.

WHAT WE DID The HomeGood shelving unit works really well!

It helps that I have simultaneously edited our laundry supplies, eliminating dryer sheets, switching to laundry detergent sheets. Everything fits on one shelf! With fewer items, it works perfectly and never gets messy. That leaves room for other functions!

See that big ugly laundry detergent? Since I took this photo, it's g-o-n-e gone. Laundry sheets for the win! They're stored in another one of those pretty cardboard boxes, just smaller. While I'm doing laundry, it goes right on top, reminding me whenever I walk by that the laundry needs booting.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

PAIN POINT #3: Lighting

THE GOAL Brighten the lighting in the laundry area.

WHAT WE DID LOL, basically nothing.

So far, I've kept the single "boob" light fixture. I do have a small, re-chargeable lamp that adds light to the area at night. It's a very handy lamp so moves around but I tend to put it in here with at night when we have guests who might walk through this hall to get to a guest bath in the mother-in-law suite at the other end.

I considered adding a nightlight to the hall, I use these LED Dusk-to-Dawn Plug-In Nightlights (affiliate link) in outlets throughout the house to illuminate passage for my roving nightowl but so far, it's not been needed, especially since switching security systems: the base unit is lit and provides just enough dim light to walk through here without worry.

Maximizing the Laundry Top

THE BEFORE With a front-loading washer and dryer, their tops were a dumping ground, rarely cleared off and 100% messy. The top culprit was "stuff" on the way to the basement.

THE GOAL You know that community truism that if the litter gets picked up, people will start fixing up their houses? Same here. I wanted to make the top both functional and attractive, so that while it might be briefly used when "stuff" was in transit downstairs, mostly it would be neat and tidy.

WHAT WE DID I'd hoped to add a counter to the laundry area so once I decided against that, I was surprised at its evolution.

Charging Station

THE GOAL Let's just agree up front, this is a brand-new requirement for well-functioning homes. Since the laundry space is in the center of the house, it just makes sense to keep this function right here, supplemented by other chargers, at least for us, on bedside stands, our master bath, both our offices and for me, one for occasional use in the kitchen. It's also a spot for security system base units, charging spots for rechargeable roombas, quick vacs, lamps and more. If I were building this space from scratch, I'd allow space for plugs, electrical, USB and more, a homemaking attempt to future-proof.

WHAT WE DID We kept this function in the laundry area but I corralled the devices in a flat basket atop the washing machine.

There's room for a couple of phones, a tablet or two, even more if needed though at the moment there's two cords plugged in behind.

One unexpected benefit! The left basket is tall enough to hide the heavy washer/dryer electrical in the gap between a panel that lifts up and the washer/dryer tops; before, an older washer/dryer set was a few inches taller so there was no gap then.

LEFT BASKET This is my designated spot for a low-tech charging station.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

Go Blond? At first, I tried a blond-colored basket and tray set from my mom. The color was good but neither basket was big enough to hold a tablet.

Or Go Gray? Then I found a couple of inexpensive baskets from HomeGoods, a coordinating set in gray.

We have zero gray color in the house so at first I hesitated to add another neutral color to the house palette. But since the open shelving unit for the laundry supplies was also gray, using gray baskets meant the brand-new shelves wouldn't need painting.

In addition, this laundry space really isn't visible from elsewhere so gray doesn't look out of place and it's easy to keep the color contained here.

So I kept the gray baskets!

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

RIGHT BASKET The right basket remains a kind of a free space, errant woolen laundry balls, a piece of pretty green glass that was my mom's. I'm still on the lookout for a pretty container for dog treats for this basket.

THE REAL BREAKTHROUGH As excited as I was about the new paint color, the laundry area didn't really start to click for me, visually, until I thought to cover the back of the washer/dryer unit with a simple table runner, a pretty green and white buffalo plaid.

What a difference a little extra color and pattern made!

Suddenly, I no longer missed having a counter. That big expanse of metallic white top area all of a sudden felt "finished" – and for exactly $0 since we already had the tablerunner but even to buy one, well, what, maybe $15 or $20? Priceless.

Have I mentioned?

We have a pretty new laundry room! Tee hee ...

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

My Favorite Thing of All: The Family Photo Wall

THE BEFORE How have I not mentioned this before? When I first joined my husband in this house, I started collecting family photos on the long almost-empty wall opposite the washer and dryer.

And to my great pleasure, it's become not just fun for us but a "destination," especially pre-Covid, when friends and family visit. On their own, people go there, just to check for new photos. Once, a grand-niece added a photo of her first-born son, it was a few weeks before we even noticed!

So I definitely wanted to keep the family photo wall.

At the same time, lots of photos were out of date and all the spots I'd kept open for annual school photos for the grandkids just hadn't worked out. And I needed to add photos of my family, not just my husband's. And the frames were a real mishmash of color and size and more.

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

THE GOAL Create an intentional photo wall that gathers favorite and current family photos in similar but not identical frames, different sizes and shapes, unified by cream-colored frames that would really stand out against the fresh new green paint.

WHAT WE DID To remove the wall paper and paint, I took down the whole photo wall. I did take photos of where everything had hung, before, but vowed to rethink the wall.

Most of all, I switched to using frames of the same creamy color, often just by spray-painting existing frames. Filling the wall with new photos remained a work-in-process for an entire year. I worked on it in fits and starts.

But I finished it just before (like an hour before ...) a big family gathering last summer. So it's done now! And I totally love it!

Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥
Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

Our Laundry Routine

The laundry refresh prompted me to rethink and retool how we laundry gets done.

THE BEFORE I used try to do a load of laundry every day, my god, it was like e-n-d-l-e-s-s laundry.

THE AFTER Now we do (well, LOL, I do ... ) laundry just once a week, about 7 loads in a day: sheets; towels & whites; two for my clothes; two for his clothes; a load of kitchen towels. In summer, there's an extra load for clothing treated for ticks and bugs from Insect Guard. But winter and summer, one day, the laundry is done and I don't have to think about it again.

And that's just for two of us! Honestly, how families with kids and diapers and sports teams and ... and ... and ... keep up with laundry ... wow, I applaud you.

HOW IT WORKS We use the same sheets and towels, week in, week out. There are backups just in case but clean sheets go back on the bed, clean towels go right back on the towel rack. You wanna quit figuring out how to fold fitted sheets? This is how.

We "presort" dirty clothing in three tall laundry plastic baskets (plastic with air holes, so they can be washed and dirty clothes can still breathe) that take up space in the master bath, this works better for us than in our closet.

  • His clothes, all dark.
  • My clothes, a mix of mostly dark plus some brights.
  • Whites, a mix of his undershirts and my whites.
Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

My sister tells me that with today's detergents, you can really throw all your clothes in at once, without sorting. Okay ... this would require breaking a life-long habit. But on second thought, I sort not for color/dye issues but for body odor. My husband's clothes just are dirtier (gardening, paint, etc.) and he has oilier skin, they washed with extra water. My clothes aren't as dirty, I can usually get away with using the delicate cycle for at least one load.

My Laundry Tips & Tricks

I may have a tortured relationship with laundry but it's not without some insight. Let me pass along a few things that really work for us and might inspire your own re-thinking.

Battling Strong Body Odors in Clothes You know how body oils get embedded in the upper back and shoulder area of some clothing? I looked at various products for athletic gear, then thought to try something really basic: more water aka smaller loads. It mostly happens with my husband's casual clothes made with synthetic fabrics, so now his clothing is done in two loads vs one; each load dries in one dryer cycle so the washer runs more often, the dryer does not. Mostly, this eliminates all those odors! If not, I pre-treat with a little Spray n Wash, it finishes the job.

Color Code Sheets and Towels Our towels are white, our sheets are white. The towels are wonderful, thick cotton from the small boutique hotel chain with the weird name of 21C, much recommended, get on the mailing list and you'll get word of a sale two times a the year. We do love the towels and also the down coverlet from 21C.

The guest room sheets and towels are blue. The kids' "sleepover room" has striped sheets and gray towels. You get the (color) picture. There's never any question, where towels and sheets belong.

We ask guests to NOT make up the guestroom bed when they leave, to leave it a mess or to undo the sheets. I want it obvious that those sheets need washing!

Stop Folding Clothes! I'm the first one to fold t-shirts, jeans and towels in neat bundles. But undershorts and everyday panties? No way. The go straight into a drawer, no folding required. (Except sets, matching bras and panties get folded into a single unit.)

Moldiness Who designs washing machines that are so freaking hard to clean??? To avoid moldiness, I wipe down the washer at the end, paying special attention to the door and inner gasket, dang that thing gets mucky. Then I let the washer dry out for 2-3 days, propping it open with this wonderful magnetic door holder (affiliate link). If only the dog didn't love it!

Laundry Supplies

DETERGENT Toss those tubs! Last year I switched to hypoallergenic laundry detergent sheets (affiliate link) and I'm never-ever looking back. They're light, they're small, they dissolve, they WORK.

DRYER SHEETS At the same time, I gave up dryer sheets! No problem, no transition! I'd always liked their sense but after a few washes, I didn't miss them at all.

SPOT CLEANER Spray 'n' Wash, all the way.

BLEACH I do keep a small jug of bleach and add just a tablespoon to loads of whites and kitchen towels.

DRYER BALLS These wool dryer balls (affiliate link) make such a difference in drying time. They do tend to disappear, the dog, perhaps?

WASHER CLEANER Once a month or so, I clean the washing machine interior by using the "Clean" function with a small cleaning pod that's expressly for use as a washing machine cleaner (affiliate link).

LINT I also dig down below into the lint trap with this inexpensive tool set, a lint brush and vacuum attachment (affiliate link).

More Household Projects

Ten Things I Love About Our New Kitchen (After Ten Years!) ♥ Surprisingly, seven don't require a remodeling budget or construction dust.

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Laundry Room Refresh on a Budget ♥

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Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.