Decorating Paralysis – What Causes it? And How to Fix It

Hi Everyone,

The other day, I got a comment on Wednesday’s post about small kitchen details that can make a huge difference.

It’s about something that plagues most of us at some point, professional or not.


It is decorating Paralysis. It’s a horrible thing when it happens.

Here’s what Jennifer had to say about her decorating paralysis:


We, too, are working on a kitchen remodel along with bathrooms. The home we are purchasing is my great grandparent’s home on family property. So far, we have been doing lead paint mitigation, put the original French doors back in on the exterior, and rebuilt the porch.

Now that it is time to start the “real” renovations, I’m paralyzed with indecision.


I’m afraid any decision I make is going to be the wrong one.


How do you decide where to start? I have been reading your blog obsessively for a year and have Pinterest boards for weeks. Happily, we also have a great contractor. But, I just can’t make a single decision on anything!




Design and decorating paralysis sucks.

Yeah, it’s like that moment when your jeans get caught in the bicycle chain, and your bike lurches to a sudden stop.

Only instead of a bike, it’s your home that you’re trying to furnish, renovate or build. It’s a fear that grips you like you’re being chased by a bunch of hungry rattlesnakes.

I know; I’ve been there. You can read all about some of my indecision here. And, it occurs most commonly when I’m decorating for myself.


So, first of all, why does interior design and decorating paralysis happen, and then we’ll discuss what to do about it.


  • We don’t have a clear vision of what we want our space to look like.
  • There’s too much choice.
  • We’re deathly afraid of making costly mistakes.
  • What if we end up hating it and feel embarrassed to have people come over?
  • Or, what if it begins to look dated after a few years?


This is when the anxiety of decorating paralysis grips us, and we find ourselves awake at 3:00 AM, obsessing.


So, what should you do when decorating paralysis takes hold?


It’s the same advice I gave in the post about mixing fabric patterns.


chill - with your decorating - decorating paralysis


There, doesn’t that feel better already?

No? That BIG black and white CHILL isn’t doing it for you, huh?

Well, me neither.

But, really, try to relax. Staying in a state of tension and fear is not going to help.

Then, I’d like you to go back and read this post that gives a No-Fail 12-step decorating plan that works every time.

I have refreshed the post some, even if you have read it before.


The 12-step decorating plan applies to any room in your home.


That is because everything in your home is connected, beginning with the house.

The style, age, and design of the house will help narrow down the choices.

But, some choices may be dictated by the rooms that are adjoining the kitchens and bathrooms.

This is an example of what I’m talking about if it isn’t clear.


Remember this charming galley kitchen done by the super-talented interior designer Philip Mitchell from Toronto?

We also saw him here.


Philip Mitchell - fabulous galley-Kitchen - great example of design flow and how to avoid decorating paralysis

This is actually Philip’s apartment from a while back. I ascertained that from his fantastic Instagram Account.


I read somewhere that this kitchen is only six feet wide; however, that’s impossible.


We know that the counters must be two feet wide each. And, that goes for the built-in fridges on the left. Then, there must be a minimum of 36″ between the two counters. So, a galley kitchen must be at least seven feet wide unless it’s L-shaped. But, then it wouldn’t be a galley. ;]

I very much recommend looking at this video from Canadian House & Home, where Philip goes over the details of his apartment. What I love is that the building was built in the 1970s. So, we know it didn’t look anything like it did after the renovation.


#PMD914YongeStreet - Phillip Mitchell - old Toronto apartment

Philip is an expert craftsman when it comes to creating classical details with mouldings. I wish there were some before pics. Unfortunately, however, I can’t find any.


Philip-Mitchell-Holiday-Party-bar-table-via House & Home

The above photo is of the dining room. This image is also from Canadian House & Home. Again, we see fantastic classical detailings in the mouldings. You would think this apartment was from the 1870s, not the 1970s.

Interestingly, this shade of blue is quite popular right now in 2021. It is in the same neighborhood as Benjamin Moore’s color of the year 2021, Aegean Teal. However, this place was decorated at least ten years ago.


photo Tim McGhie - Philip Mitchel Design - fabulous moulding detail

And, another great shot from Philip’s Instagram of moulding detail in the built-in closets in the master bedroom.

If you’d like to see more photos of this apartment, please go here.

Of course, Philip is a professional interior designer and has the eye and training, and experience to carry out a gorgeous, cohesive design.


But, what if…


modern galley kitchen decorating paralysis

What if Philip had put in a kitchen that looks like this?

It wouldn’t look so great. At least, I don’t think so.

If Philip had wanted to do a kitchen like this, he wouldn’t have bothered with all of the moulding details. duh


I realize that some of you are probably rolling your eyes. This is basic stuff.


Yes, it is. And yet, over the years, I’ve seen many instances of kitchens along these lines installed in very traditional homes. Anyone who loves to look at the real estate has most likely seen some really wacky interior design.

One seriously bad decor snafu was this huge white and green Poggenpohl kitchen in a classic Victorian home in Bedford Village, NY. It was a horrifying sight. But that was about 28 years ago. Anyone living in that area knows exactly which home I’m talking about as it’s in a prominent position as you drive into the village on Rte 22. (Those people moved out long ago)


So, how do we get past our decorating paralysis?


First, be sure to read the 12-step decorating program. This will help you narrow down the choices.

I also recommend getting my 333 Decorating Rules & Tips You Need to Know. Unfortunately, there isn’t a section about kitchens and bathrooms. However, figuring out the colors, style, and design of the rest of the place will help cure decorating paralysis.


If you are still stuck, and even if you aren’t, I would hire an interior designer to consult with.


I also recommend reading these posts:

Help I Hired The Decorator From Hell

My Interior Design Client Is Giving Me Sleepless Nights

How To Tell If Your Decorator is Ripping You Off

OMG! My interior Designer Just Fired Me. What Did I Do Wrong?


Most designers enjoy doing consulting work. And, many can help you virtually. So, that means if you live in a place where you can’t find anyone who jives with your aesthetic, you can go outside of your local area for help.

I would probably not approach one of the A-List designers unless you’re prepared to spend a hefty sum with an assistant. Instead, I would look for a talented designer who is up and coming.

Find a designer whose work makes your heart beat a little faster.


How much will this cost?


I would be prepared to spend at least $500.00 for a two-hour consult. But, it might be more. And, you might need more than two hours. Still, even if it’s four hours and the cost is $1000 bucks, isn’t that better than tossing and turning all night long? Or, making a $100,000 mistake that can’t be undone.


Is there anything I recommend not doing?


Yes. There is. :]

And, that is, I don’t recommend asking for “help” from family members and friends. That is unless your friend knows what they’re talking about. I also don’t advise asking for free help if your friend is a pro unless they volunteer to help you, gratis.

In Jennifer’s case, she already has a contractor that she likes.

This is HUGE! In fact, it’s crucial. A great contractor may very well be able to recommend a designer in your area. But, ideally, an in-person consult is most likely the best.


To prepare for the consult, please do your homework.


Go as far as you can with your ideas so that the designer has a better chance of seeing your blind spots. I’ll be willing to wager that your designer will come up with ideas you never dreamed of and wouldn’t have in a million years. Also, perhaps ask if you can record the consult. I highly recommend that.

Sometimes the stumbling block causing decorating paralysis is something small. A designer will see it instantly, and that right there will be enough to get you moving again.

In any case, when doing a kitchen, I very much recommend working with a kitchen designer. Or, an interior designer who’s experienced with kitchens. These professionals will automatically be looking at the entire home as well as your needs and budget.


I mean, would you operate on your own brain?


No. So why is it that people think they don’t need help with the inside of their home?

The inside is just as intricate as the building of the outside. And most folks don’t build their home.

You don’t need to hire a designer to do everything. But, of course, you can do that too.

Then, you can REALLY sleep.


Let your designer be the one tossing and turning.


By the way, many people still ask me to help them. I so wish I could do that. Unfortunately, however, it’s impossible.

After all, I have my own decisions to make. But, believe me, I’m going to be enlisting help for some of it.

And, thank you too. So many of you gave me some great advice.

In the meantime, I’ve been researching mirrors like crazy. I’m mirror-obsessed. lol. And, then I came across this exquisite beauty, the Gleneagles Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland.


Lorna Luxe Gleneagles Hotel

Lorna Luxe Gleneagles Hotel


I hope this helped some of you who are undergoing decorating paralysis.



PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES. There’s a surprise there. A new brand that I’m very pleased to be able to include in the widgets you’ll find on each page.


PS: Several of you have asked me about my patio. I’m not doing anything huge this summer. Right now, I’m still focused on settling in. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Next up is working on the renovations.


30 Responses

  1. Great post – but, unfortunately, none of the decorators with truly amazing taste comes with a $500 price tag for a consultation. The reality is that great decorators don’t consult (like you, Laurel). Or charge a very hefty price and expect that clients would buy furnishings from them, so they will earn their
    mark-up. I have noticed that great taste comes with great profit margins and quite a big ego, so all the people whose taste I admire, wouldn’t agree to a consultation for $500, because it’s not profitable.
    This is the real reason for decorating paralysis – to be honest. Not that I feel that decorators are dishonest, but I dream that they consult via the internet, via emails, because it’s so convenient, no pointless meetings or phone calls. If I don’t buy furnishings from them, they wouldn’t have problems with delivery and project management, they wouldn’t even have to even talk to me – just write an e-mail. I see it as a win-win for me and for designers. But I noticed that no designer would like my idea.
    So, I still admire their taste and am anxious, because this industry is so complicated in terms of communication. I don’t hate it, but I dream about something like a kitchen from one designer, a bathroom from another, consultation on finishes from a third, etc. – like a candy shop. And I value designer taste and design expertise, but all that comes with so many complications. It’s not easy at all! Maybe I’m not 100% right and I can be convinced by another view easily…

  2. I moved to a new house last year that was gut renovated 10 years ago by someone who clearly had great decorating skills but I would like to add my style to it and as your blog clearly states I also have decorating paralysis for all the reasons that you have listed. How or where can I find a designer that would be interested in doing consulting ? I live in Orange County NY.

  3. Hi Laurel! I just want to say… I love your blog! When I discovered it, a few months ago, I just had to go back to your very first blog post from years ago and read ALL your posts until now. Many many comments too! Now that I’m all up to date, I celebrated by finally subscribing, haha. Like many commenters said before me, you have moulded my taste and opened my eyes to a brand new world in design and decorating. Thank you for everything you teach us so generously.

  4. I am in the midst of a kitchen remodel myself and I’ve certainly suffered from design/decor paralysis. I believe Pinterest is the primary culprit…so many rabbit holes to go down over there.

    To your point of continuity and design “flow” between rooms and through out the house, I think we can often become entrenched in what we think we want and dig in our heels, even if it’s not what’s best suited to the house. The problem with this approach is that the house itself should get at least a say in how it all unfolds. Ultimately, the design and decor don’t belong to us…they belong to the house.

  5. About 5 years ago my husband and I purchased a horrifically decorated home. Because the sellers were wine lovers the living, dining, kitchen and family rooms were embellished with wine crate sides and four “Italian wine country” murals. The rest of the walls were painted as faux, nicotine stained bricks and the fireplace was covered floor to ceiling with glued on wine corks. The master bedroom and bathroom had pink and green cabbage roses on all the walls, in the floor rug and bedspread. My husband loved the exterior of the home, but walked through the front door, looked around and said “No way!!”

    However we did purchase the home, did a renovation and the home is now our favorite residence of all time. I struggled to find an interior design professional that understood I didn’t need to purchase more rugs and furniture–I had a three car garage full. Three professionals were hired and later fired. So, most of the vision and design choices were mine.

    The “plan” was sort of organic and evolved over time. (Yes, there are some things I would love to change) Anyway my husband is an impatient man and would often ask “what are you going to do here, or there, or?” My standard answer was “It has yet to reveal itself”. He heard that so frequently that it became an acronym: I-TRI. So, after 2 months of hearing I-TRI, he said to me, “No, no–it’s now IFTRI or “its frigging time for it to reveal itself”.

    So 10 months later we had the good fortune to live in a beautiful French Country home that has large spacious rooms, cream travertine floors, a dining room that seats 12, a cooks kitchen and no more huge pink cabbage roses anywhere.

    Good things come to those who can be patient enough for the beauty of a home to be revealed.

  6. “Unfortunately, there isn’t a section about kitchens and bathrooms. ” Sounds like this will be Laurel’s next project!!!

  7. Patti fire the decorator after you get your money back Omni the fabric and rug. An experienced decorator would only pull fabric suitable for upholstery, and the rug was her mistake because her eye was not trained.if you can’t get money back back get your fabric backed by the upholsterer. They should’ve have told you that as an option

  8. Per usual, excellent advice and very timely. I am currently in the midst of my own decorating paralysis. 😉 Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. I had an excellent experience with a kitchen designer when we renovated our 1964 depressing but functional kitchen in 2013. Although I had previously planned our main bathroom, a complete gut job, kitchens are so complicated that I knew I needed help. The best idea she came up with was making a small wall change that permitted a refrigerator surrounded by cabinetry. She handled all the measurements, which would have given me the willies, ordered the custom cabinets, worked with the stone people, and planned the lighting. She knew the best place to go for stone and cabinetry. I did everything else, working with a fantastic contractor. It was a great experience.

    One thing people don’t talk about much is the ability, or inability, to visualize what a completed space will look like. Ninety percent of people cannot do this. The ten percent who can need much less assistance in pulling together a space that works and looks beautiful.

  10. Maybe Philip Mitchell used standard
    24” depth cabinets on the side of the kitchen that we see while using 12” upper depth in the lower position on the opposite wall. 72-24-12=36

  11. Patti, years ago a friend had a designer–who had worked in her house for the previous owner, so she was very familiar with it–who suggested a TV cabinet for the master bedroom that my friend agreed to. It was very pretty, but alas it simply would not fit up the stairs! Friend got the designer to take it back and issue a refund.

  12. I have found that the #1 roadblock is MONEY. And there really is no way to get around it sometimes. I have desperately wanted to renovate my kitchen for 20 years. Making aesthetic choices is no problem for me. But there is simply no way to come up with the $$ to do it the way it should be done according to my cooking/storage needs and the aesthetics of my 110+ yr old house. The existing layout and cabinetry are such that you can’t change anything without ripping half of it out. $$ And the cabinets are honey oak that I hate. And the floor is horrible old sheet vinyl that I’ve lived with because I need to change the floor plan. Paralysis!
    Right now I’m looking at a new plan that would involve major compromises. Luckily I Have a pair of great guys who have worked for us on several jobs, one of whom has great cabinetry/kitchen skills. We might be able to come up with something my H would agree to, especially if I paint the cabinets myself and forgo the more drastic changes.

  13. I enjoyed this post and went back to read some of the earlier ones you had written about interior designers. I have a question that maybe you or a reader can weigh in on. We hired a person to help us redecorate our 1929 home that had 1980s furnishings/color schemes. She is young and gifted with colors that I like and has done a great job with selecting things I love. However, we have had several issues along the way. We ordered two rugs she recommended that did not look good in our rooms when they arrived. The rugs themselves were beautiful, but just not the “right” thing when placed with the furniture. One company let us easily return it, the other company refused. We are now out the money for that rug and it was not cheap. Our decorator just suggested we use it in another room but does not seem to think it is her problem since I gave the okay for the design. Then today I learned from my fabric upholsterer that the fabric chosen for two club type chairs is not suitable for upholstery. This fabric was a second choice when our first choice was not in stock when it came time to do the reupholstery. Our decorator found this out when she went to the store to purchase it so she selected the second fabric and emailed me a picture for approval. I said yes but did not see the actual fabric. Am I responsible for the cost of the fabric that the upholsterer does not think it will “hold up” to the usage of the chairs? I have used other interior designers in my life and have not been faced with these issues so I would love to know what others think and what the usual course of action is. Thanks for all you do to enlighten us, Laurel!

  14. Thank you, Laurel. I really enjoyed this post. And, Philip’s work is like eye candy for me.

    My husband and I started building a new house some time ago. About midway through the process, we got hung up on paint colors for our family room. Although we, each, had a favorite color, we could not get past agreeing on one. And I had read your blogs about painting and was so concerned that what we chose would work with other house areas that were visible from the family room.

    We have stayed close with the architect who worked with us to design our house and he recommended an interior designer in our area.
    This interior designer was and continues to be the greatest resource for us. Both my husband and I rely on his opinions. He was just what we needed to move on.

    We work well together even though we do not always agree with his first recommendation, He has helped us better understand what works well together.

    I love your blog and look forward to all your posts. Thank you so much.

  15. Oh Laurel you are always spot on with the basics and the beauty! I’m in desperate need of curing the paralysis, and was thrilled to re-read your 12 Steps. I’d like to print it, before I commit it to memory! Could you tell me how to print it without all the ads?
    Many thanks.

  16. Our paralysis was due to the fact we had two opinions involved.

    Decorators must often be well versed in marital counseling. Lol.

  17. You refer to:
    “One seriously bad decor snafu was this huge white and green Poggenpohl kitchen in a classic Victorian home in Bedford Village, NY.”
    Is there supposed to be a link?

  18. Good morning Laurel,
    I have recently been made aware of a new way to get excellent advice from A-list designers. It’s called The Expert. the
    You can book a video consultation for 25 minutes or up to an hour. They have some great advisors available.
    I think once you have a jumping off point the rest will follow.

  19. I think practical constraints like time, hassle, and money can be your allies and friends in disguise. It’s always helpful (to me) to ask what a really extensive project is worth to me (never what it will cost in the above, not to mention alienating my long-established neighbors in my condo building), and then – this is the fun – how I can creatively work within the constraints. My latest is a big green rug for my bedroom that I love — that solves my problem with the room at a stroke- but that I am deeply embarrassed by because it is made of polystyrene. Laurel wouldnt put it on her patio let alone in her house. I comfort myself by thinking that if I can’t pass it on as an heirloom for my grandchildren, it will someday come in handy for a graduate student.

  20. Yes, we’ve all been there, and professional decorators/designers are not immune from decision paralysis! You are so right Laurel about being your own client–those are the most difficult decisions, since you know too much and have access to too many options. What I do when I’m confronted with indecision is to call on a very good trusted friend whose style and taste is very much like my own. She helps me focus in and make decisions that I’m always happy with! In return I never hesitate to help her out gratis when she has a project.

  21. Well, Laurel, that was written for me, even though the backstory is different. I’m in the middle of a project that needed an architect AND designer but alas, wasn’t allowed the luxury. It’s the vision I’m still trying to conjure up. Your books are great—I do wish the 333 book had had a kitchen and bath section!!! That would have helped🤣! Good luck to you with your kitchen. Love your plans.

  22. First of all, Laurel, I must say that each day I look forward to your emails and devour each word.

    Secondly, I am in the process of remodeling one bath in its entirety, updating another bath and completely redecorating the master bedroom. I do all the design work myself and hire the sub contractors as well. It is not difficult, however, the time involved to complete the projects is lengthened considerably by a few months. And the mess in the rest of the house created by clothes taken out of the dressers and closets, mattress and box spring, etc., new boxes of bathroom and bedroom items is exhausting just to look at.

    The best advice I gave myself is to go to decorating sites, magazines, books, etc. and clip/copy everything I loved. I found that after months of compiling a stack of photos that there was definitely a pattern and I went with it.

  23. Loved this post. Gets down to the bare bones of the problem. In some cases perhaps like mine, there are so many fixed things that changing the things you don’t like and accessorizing are the only options. Mine is getting rid of the new wall to wall carpet, (home just purchased – it is some realtor’s idea of how to sell a house) Paint it all a beautiful white in every room. (it is now grey and I do not like grey. Strip out the old ugly kitchen. Yes, white again. Had it before in previous home and loved it. Had Caesar Stone counter tops iin a marble look. Will do again, the wear even when rented to a not caring tenant was minimal. I feel so good. I am on the track I want to be on. The rest of the decisions I either like, or don’t like. May have a decorator if I choose. And may not too. Again, thanks for the post

  24. I think choice paralysis (as well as decorating paralysis) sets in inevitably at some point during a major renovation. I found at the later stages of our total renovation of an eighteenth-century house that I simply didn’t want to have to take decisions about which model of electrical sockets and switches or taps and things like that. Having to choose absolutely everything is tiring. Some decisions the house will take for you, for reasons of budget or structural elements or practical difficulties.
    I agree with Patti that boards of things you like is a good idea, but only up to a point. I’ve learned the hard way that in gardens, you can’t borrow someone else’s ideas because you don’t have someone else’s garden. The most you can do is pick up plant associations, and techniques. Similarly in houses: you might pick up associations (mixing colours, fabrics, etc), but you can’t have someone else’s room because you haven’t got their house. I’ve got tons of pictures filed on my computer of rooms I love, although I know many of these ideas are unsuitable for me. But I can analyse why they work, and quite often I think of possible variants, so that helps me with my own space. Jennifer says “defining one style” — perhaps this is a bit limiting. Our ideas and enthusiasms change, and I think one needs to allow for this down the line.
    Practical ideas? I would make sure that any hard finishes you install are reasonably neutral (by that I mean not too busy), so that you have more latitude to do the fun part of adding and tweaking later on, and for most of us amateurs, a room gets “done” very slowly as we add the things we find, which are often not quite what we thought we wanted. Dithering may feel inefficient, but it’s also part of the process!

  25. Patti – thank you so much! Complicating the whole process is the emotional ties to being the 4th generation living in this home and wanting to update and also bring out the lovely character that is already there! The kitchen is already pretty easy from that standpoint because there was a horrible and cheap renovation done about 12 years ago that just needs to be completely re-done. But it took me 6 months to decide to paint and lighten up some wood work in the small but beautiful den to make it inviting and not a dungeon. In reality both my great grandmother and grandmother would tell me to make it beautiful and make it my own!

  26. Jennifer, I can so relate to everything you are feeling. We built a large home which took almost 4.5 years from planning to completion. Our biggest mistake was not doing better research on an architect making the project much more stressful as not only did I take it on as a design project, I had to redesign the space to fit the way we live and use the space. It was probably the two worst (and stressful) years of my life, however, I am so happy with how it turned out and how well it functions with the changes I made with the plans. I bet you have some gut instincts – things that stick with you – colors, cabinet styles, your favorite bathrooms from pinterest, etc. I found it really helpful to create pinterest boards as you begin to see what you really like as usually the pics have many things in common (or at least mine did). I really wanted the project to be mine, but also needed to have someone come in and say “you are right – you are on the right track, or maybe you should think of something else”. It is hard to find someone who you can connect with that is willing to do that as so many designers want a bigger piece of the project than that. I was fortunate as I connected with someone who I valued her opinion, and trusted her. She agreed with 95% of my choices, and like I mentioned earlier, the house came out great and it was all worth it in the long run. Laurel’s recommendation of hiring someone for the $1000 or whatever the cost is as it will give you peace of mind, you will be able to sleep better, and feel comfortable with your decisions. You sound like you are really knowledgeable, but were like me and didn’t want to make a costly mistake. I have no doubt that it will make you feel much better and get your project running on schedule as all these decisions can hold up a project which is very costly as well. Good luck.

  27. Thank you so much!! That was so helpful! And can I tell you that I was just tickled pink to see a post around my comment!!! I have been working on defining one style that really speaks to me and is in keeping with the character of an old southern home and stays true to my roots – and then I’m hiring a kitchen designer to figure out how to bring that to life! I have the name of someone local down there that I’m going to bring in for some decor and placement ideas to keep the house cohesive!

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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