How to survive in Africa when you still want your home to look nice


I feel like I’ve been flexing my muscles of resourcefulness since moving to Kenya. I was impressed by the resourcefulness of the African cultures that I experienced in Cape Town — people in the townships made do with so little, creatively repurposing many things for different uses than those for which they were intended. But because of all the affordable Western amenities in South Africa, I wasn’t forced to be resourceful myself.

Not so in Kenya.

The Western lifestyle is expensive here. Looking in a store for a shelf to mount on the wall? Super pricey. Find a local carpenter to custom make you one? Very cheap. Want curtains in Western styles (hence, imported from the West)? Crazy expensive. Find a local seamstress to turn local African kangas into curtains? Cheap.

I still want my home to feel comfortable and look nice, but I don't have the moolah to make my home look like the Pottery Barn catalogue here. And we've got another challenge to this because we’re also waiting on our household goods to be shipped from South Africa. So we’ve been reluctant to spend money on household goods, furniture or decor, because we have all that stuff coming. But the arrival of our goods has been held up by the major delay of our Kenyan work permits. We've been here six months and are still waiting on our proper documents. Once we get all our paperwork here, in theory it only takes three weeks to get our container. But every week we’re told the papers will be completed “next week.” After being in Kenya some months, I decided I couldn’t just wait for our stuff to get here to start making a home out of our duplex. Is it just me, or do empty walls make you feel like your just camping out somewhere? Like you're not settled? Well, that's how I felt and it wasn't helping the transition to a new country!

So I’ve tried to learn from our Mennonite mission partners and our African neighbors, and make things myself from scratch, repurpose found objects, and generally make do with what’s available. I think we’ve done a pretty good job, and I wanted to share some of these projects with you. Maybe you also don’t have any money in the budget for decorations? Hopefully this will give you some ideas to help you too.

Brandon and Mikayla play in the lounge

This is one of my long-time favorite ways to cover a large space for as little money as possible. In our home in Cape Town, I strung a string along the wall of the staircase. Here, I put up two strings, then used mini clothes pins to clip on photos Brandon has taken. I also included some quotes that I rubber stamped on pretty paper.

Painted chalkboard

Have an office or play room with a big blank wall? Paint a chalkboard on it! Not only does it create a pice of art on the wall, it’s also functional. This is Brandon’s office, and he was looking at stores here for white boards in order to be able to jot down notes and mind map. I had no idea white boards were so expensive though — $150 was the cheapest we found (for a fairly large one). Are they that expensive in America? I was shocked. So instead we paid $6 for a liter of chalkboard paint. I also used the paint to create labels on some jars for kitchen storage. That brings us to our next project:

Mason jar cashe

I was blessed to be allowed to take some things that weren’t being used in the Mennonite storage rooms on their property here. I found some treasures, which I’ve used around the house. These glass canning jars now serve as storage for sugars (with chalkboard-paint labels), vases, etc. Here’s a display that I made for the top of the bookshelf in the lounge.

Decor at the top of the bookshelf

I think it turned out pretty nice, and since I used things I was given the only cost I incurred was the printing of the pictures. Speaking of pictures, I am really proud of my husband’s fantastic photographs. We haven’t gotten any printed in years, even though he takes great ones. So we thought we would finally get around to doing that here, so our walls wouldn’t be so bare. I wanted to create a photo wall, but pictures frames are really pricey in stores here. So I found a bunch of used ones being sold by someone who was leaving the country. They didn’t all match, so I spray painted them “matte black grey,” and then let them dry like this.

Frames drying outside after being spray painted

We printed five nice big pics, and then I printed out two free printables I found online (cheaper than getting two more photos printed). And here is the final art wall:

The final product

One final idea, which was incredibly cheap to make: a branch on the wall, with origami birds.

Zoomed out look at the art

Close-up look

I searched for just the right branch outside, then mounted it to the wall with command hooks that my mother in law sent me from America. Then Brandon folded birds out of simple construction paper, and I created loops by which to hang them with needle and thread.

I feel so much more peaceful in my home after getting things up on the walls. I no longer feel like I’m waiting around for something, but feel okay without our stuff for now. Although I am still praying every day for our paperwork to get sorted out soon!

What are your favorite ways to decorate on a budget? I’d love some more ideas! We still have a lot of blank walls in the house.