Q: I just moved into my first home and want to make it my own. Money is tight, but I don’t want to take the chain store route. How can I find cool touches that are good for the Earth and won’t stretch my budget too much?

A: Welcome to the world of home ownership. Home décor magazines offer a world of possibilities to turn your new house into a home. But I will start by offering words of wisdom that my stepfather gave me as a new homeowner: You have 30 years to decorate; take your time and get it right. Here are a few tips to help you get the most of your space in the world.

Turn 'trash' into treasure: Call me cheap, call me frugal or just call me smart. I love shopping at second-hand stores, resale shops, the Salvation Army and flea markets. You can find plenty of quirky treasures to outfit your new home without spending a bundle. Another benefit: You know the items are built to last. I scored a cherry dresser with a swivel mirror for $230 and two perfectly upholstered chairs for $70 at a flea market. Recycling furniture is a much greener option than purchasing chain store cheapies made with pressed particleboard.

Embrace garage sales: Warm weather signals the beginning of garage sale season. Cash, the classifieds and a strong cup of coffee are the tools you need to get started. Just remember: the early bird gets the goods, and be prepared to negotiate.

The ’hood is good: As a new homeowner, it pays to invest in local stores and boutiques. Indie shops also tend to carry unique items that will truly personalize your space. In my neck of the woods, a home décor outpost called Traders Neighborhood Store helps Atlantans hook up their homes with stylish touches. Co-owner Shawn Engle pointed out some sustainable home décor items such as a biodegradable coir welcome mat from Tag that uses coconut fibers. I picked up the colorful “Sarah’s Garden” version. (I have to research the products before I recommend them, right?) It is also available at Amazon.com. Design Ideas also carries chic green touches, including coasters and placemats made from cross-sections of tree branches that would have been discarded. Scour your ’hood for a store filled with similar treasures.

Visit festivals and artists markets: It’s time to ditch those framed Monet posters and invest in original artwork. Again, this doesn’t have to be a costly move. Embrace the festivals in your area, and support local artists who display their work. Don’t worry about finding pieces that will gain value over time. Look for artwork that moves you and start collecting.

Bookmark green sites: I’m a fan of green sites that carry fun and funky gear. Uncommongoods.com is one of my favorites because it truly lives up to the name. I fell for Walter Jacobus’ handmade vases made from downed chestnut trees. Ten Thousand Villages is another go-to site. The fair trade retailer carries home décor, jewelry and artwork from artists in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. I have my eye on a cut metal Tree of Life wall sculpture created with recycled metal drums. Ecofabulous.com also scouts the Web for great green products.

Let the smart shopping begin!

— Morieka

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Photos: Ten Thousand Villages, Traders Neighborhood Store, Uncommongoods.com, Amazon.com

How can I find cool home decor that is good for the Earth and won't stretch my budget?
Morieka Johnson knows that good taste doesn't have to be expensive or bad for the planet.