The spirit of Zen is humble, direct and peaceful. Uncomplicated decor, simple lines, empty space and natural materials belong in a Zen bedroom. Lots of decorative touches, loud colors, and an excess of consumer goods are the antitheses of a Zen retreat. But a Zen makeover isn't an invitation to use your entire savings in pursuit of serenity. Spend little to nothing; let go of everything you don't need. Find space to breathe and to meditate, using mostly what you already have.
Clean and Clear
The cheapest thing you can do to create a Zen bedroom on a budget costs nothing and may make you some money to pay for the paint. Clear it out. Zen decor is spare, bare, calm, uncluttered and clean. An uncluttered space imparts a sense of spaciousness and is always the epitome of order. Blitz the room for the fastest clear-out possible -- also the most painless, as it is a quick surgical strike. Take everything out, including the contents of closets, the dresser, under-bed storage, the curtains, wall-hung art, even the bedding. Clean the room. Determine the absolute minimum of furniture to go back in -- you need the bed and some light; everything else is debatable. Cull your closet and donate or sell the clothes you haven't worn in the last year. Anything that goes back into the room should have a designated place; which, for most things, won't be the floor.
Neutral is so Zen. Paint the walls, ceiling and trim the same non-color or a soft shade from nature. White, gray, beige, blush, pale straw, whitened jade, a mere hint of sky-blue, the most subtle hues are soothing, not distracting, and change with the shifting light in the room. Cover the floor with a handwoven rug or rush mat, or refinish a plank floor and consider wax rather than glossy polyurethane. A bedroom is low-traffic enough to make a rich wax finish practical. Replace bedding, if possible, with plain white sheets and pillowcases in a high-thread count, an investment in quality that looks as good as it feels and lasts longer than cheaper sheets. Wait for an annual white sale to get bargains on better bedding. Leave off the throw pillows, fancy bedspreads and other patterned and decorative touches.
Blooms and Branches
Bring some nature into your Zen retreat with a healthy green plant or a curated collection of objects found on contemplative walks -- cost: minimal to none. A simple stand of green bamboo in a plain clay pot adds a vertical note to decor, thrives fairly hardily indoors, and will rustle softly when windows are open to catch a breeze. A hanging spider plant in the window is graceful and cleans your air at the same time. A single blossom in a clear glass flute vase invites meditation. A small basket of woven grasses holding a few polished beach or river rocks merges found and handmade art. An interesting branch is an angular sculpture anchored in a glass globe. Leave walls bare or hang just one unframed brush painting -- elegant black calligraphy on linen or rice paper.
Breathing With the Buddha
The focus of a Zen bedroom may be your spiritual practice, and your private space is the perfect place to set up an altar and meditation station. A Buddha statue doesn't have to be large, gilded and bejeweled, or an obsidian antique. A symbolic Buddha sandal is enough for an altar centerpiece; tuck a fresh blossom into it to honor the deity. Place your statue or symbol on a low wood platform or carved altar. Make an inexpensive altar with a wine crate covered by a clean linen or embroidered silk cloth. Repurpose a bedside table or lay a clean cloth over a low bench or stool. Add a tea light, vase for a flower, incense holder, brass bell or crystal. Cover a spare pillow with plain cotton canvas or splurge on a supportive meditation cushion to place in front of the altar.