• Lifestyle  • Cheap is not a Dirty Word, so why are we Scared to use it?

Cheap is not a Dirty Word, so why are we Scared to use it?

Look through your latest interiors mag. I can assure you that you won’t see the word ‘cheap’ used anywhere.

Look in catalogues from your fave brands. They too won’t use the word cheap. Even I’ve been asked by businesses I’ve partnered with in the past to refrain from using this word on the blog or in videos.

Use ‘affordable’, they say. Use ‘budget-friendly’, they’d recommended. You can even use the word ‘bargain’. But never cheap. Because something about the word cheap is off-limits when it comes to design and decor.

I’m quite frankly over fearing the word ‘cheap’. And I want us all to start embracing it again.

cotton on home charcoal sofa with yellow pink and plum cushions and guitar on timber floorboards

Why are we down on the word ‘Cheap’?

I’ve written on the blog before about bargain homewares shame (you can read that post here) and I think it has something to do with why the word cheap is a no-go for brands.

Many of us seem inherently (even subconsciously) ashamed of the bargains we’ve scored from our fave stores. We’re keen on low prices, but there’s something almost forbidden about admitting that some of your fave decor finds cost you as little as $12.

I’ve been in many circles in the design world where people have frowned upon the likes of Kmart, IKEA, Target and Typo. And I think that’s where this fear of using the word cheap begins.

If we say something was cheap, somehow we are inturn cheap. And the very word ‘cheap’ is so often followed by the words ‘and nasty’. And nobody wants to be cheap and nasty. Especially when the world of design is constantly wanting us to aspire to own expensive pieces for our homes.

cotton on home 2017 girl drinking tea out of pink ceramic teapot with blue mug and grey cosy jumper

The Great Design Divide

In my time in the interior design industry (writing this blog, decorating for clients, and so on) I’ve found that this industry is fast becoming a bit like the world of fashion; elitist in many ways.

You either exist in a top tier; where you only buy one-off, expensive design pieces. Or you slum it in the lower tier; shopping for budget, ‘cheap and nasty’ homewares and furniture.

To exist in the middle is almost frowned upon by both sides of the fence. The who’s-who of the design world finding out you bagged some cushions from Kmart would be utter blasphemy. And the cheap-and-cheerful shoppers would be mortified to discover that you spent a few grand on an armchair.

And so the shame of buying something cheap is perpetuated. As is the use of the word. Because to buy ‘cheap’ is to instantly put yourself in the lower tier. And brands don’t want you to feel that you’re in this tier. They also, most certainly, don’t want you to think of them in this tier. Even if they are.

Cotton On and Mark Tuckey - Mugs and Dinnerware

Cheap = Poorly Made?

The quality connotations associated with the word ‘cheap’ are also to blame here. The notion that cheap means poorly-made is also a huge issue. And in some instance, there can be truth to this. But not the majority of the time.

It’s not fair to say that a cushion that costs $30 won’t stand up in quality beside one that costs $100.

I’ve purchased expensive jeans in the past that has been dodgier than cheaper alternatives. So to say that ‘more expensive’ means ‘higher quality’ is so often not true. But it’s a myth we’re fed as consumers – both in the world of fashion and the world of interior design.

Cotton On and Mark Tuckey Homewares Cushions The Life Creative

Celebrating Cheap!

I am on a mission to rid the word ‘cheap’ of its negative connotations, and I hope you’ll join me.

There’s nothing wrong with being cheap. There’s nothing wrong with bagging a bargain. I believe that a home should be a mix of statement pieces (that you’ve invested more money in) and an array of cheaper items you’re happy to rotate through your space over time.

To buy cheap is not bad, and to be cheap is not bad.

You can’t buy everything you want (unless you earn buckets of cash), so you’ve gotta skimp somewhere. And I, quite frankly, don’t mind doing it on decor.

Call me cheap anytime. Just don’t call me a bad interior stylist!

What’s your take on this? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Is cheap decor a no-no in your home, or do you love to embrace it?

Images in this post are via Cotton On Home

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He's also spent time on TV, on Channel 10's Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7's Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you'd like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

  • Val Buchanan


    You are soooooo right Chris. I give myself a mental pat on the back, when I bag a cheap and cheerful design piece.
    I am always on the lookout for something in this catagory.
    KMart and IKEA have improved beyond recognition, in my book.
    Find myself there very often.

    30 May, 2017
  • I don’t have an issue with the word ‘cheap’, but I do have concerns that cheap is then associated with ‘disposable’. If people are more likely to throw away products and consume thoughtlessly because an item was ‘cheap’ that becomes a real issue sustainability wise. I do think consumers are more likely to value a product and hold on to it for longer if they paid more for it (regardless of the quality). It’s a mindset that needs to change.
    I agree with you that good design can be ‘cheap’ or expensive, but the main point is that good design is timeless.

    Great topic.

    2 June, 2017
  • Monique


    Well said ! Reminds me of a conversation I had with a colleague many moons ago when discussing pricing on furniture for a high end client. They wanted to be able to say that their sofa was expensive, so a more costly supplier was chosen. A cheaper one would have provided the same quality in this instance. But there you go !

    23 December, 2017

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