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Cheap Dorm Room Decorating Ideas and Tips
by Susan Johnston

Whether you are a freshman feeling anxious and excited about college or a seasoned senior who can't wait to graduate, your dorm or apartment room will be a home away from home for a good two thirds of your year.

It should be a place where you can study effectively and provide safe sanctuary from outside stress. Your abode should be a place where you can host movie nights or curl up with a good book.


Of course, there are a few obstacles to creating the perfect oasis of collegiate bliss.

Most college students are not made of money, so finding inexpensive items at department stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Zellers or a thrift store is a plus. If you live far away from your college, you may have to pay for shipping or storage over the summer, which can also drain your resources.

Then there is your roommate. Definitely ask what she has in mind, but don't feel pressured to coordinate exactly or let his or her design concept prevent you from expressing yourself. You will both be happier if you respect each other's right to decorate your spaces however you want. If you both agree on a color scheme, that's great, but otherwise don't diss her Britney Spears poster or plaid comforter. You both need a space where you feel comfortable to express yourself and your personal style.

Dorm decorating can be daunting, but it can also be a lot of fun, much like the first year of college. I can't help you study for a chemistry or history mid-term, but I can offer some suggestions for making your dorm room a comfortable, stylish place.

The Basics of Bedding
One of the first things to pick out is a comforter. The bed often doubles as a coffee table, couch, or study area and is the largest piece of furniture in most dorm rooms, so it's key to choose a comforter that reflects your style and won't immediately show the dirt.

Finding a comforter you like will also help determine the color scheme for the rest of the room. Will it be romantic pastels? Classic school colors? Vibrant floral patterns? Basic black and white?
Reversible, solid colored comforters are a good choice, because they offer twice as many design options and can be dressed up with lots of fluffy throw pillows, but patterns like leopard prints, sunflowers, or stars are fun, too.

When buying bedding, keep in mind that most colleges have extra long beds, so regular twin sheets are too short. If this is the case, look for extra long twin sheets at Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, or Linens' N' Things.

Think Storage
Space is tight in most dorms, so maximizing storage is a must. Here's how:

  • Raise the bed with cement blocks or RackRisers to make space for extra clothes, books, laundry, luggage, or whatever else under the bed.
  • Stack plastic crates in your closet, under your bed, or next to your desk. They are cheap and come in a variety of colors. An alternative to plastic crates is a wire storage system, which lets you assemble your own crates and dismantle or reorganize them later. Or buy some decorative hat boxes in varying sizes for extra storage.
  • Buy closet organizers for shoes, skirts, accessories, or makeup to ensure that you will always be able to find those cute black sandals or that peach lip gloss when you need them.
  • Invest in some cheap plastic hooks. Stick them to your closet door to hold a bathrobe or jacket, or find a metal towel holder for the back of your door.
  • Don't forget your computer. If you are planning to use a computer remember you need to have space for this as well. Tables can double for TV's and computers...make your furniture dual purpose. Make sure you have adequate lighting where you will be working.

The Wall Is Your Canvas
Once you have the basics, it's time to go crazy decorating the walls. Well, not too crazy. Check your school's rules before painting, punching holes, or even using tape on the walls. Luckily, you can buy special poster adhesive at decorating stores to customize your room and avoid paying a fee for chipped paint.

Posters are the most common way to decorate, and some colleges have a poster sale at the beginning of the year where you can snag some highly unusual and inexpensive finds. But posters are not the only way to go. Here are some other ideas to adorn your walls:

  • Colored chalk will easily wash off most surfaces. Or use butcher paper and colored pencils. Unleash your inner artist and draw a new mural or work of art once a month or whenever you feel inspired.
  • Frames are essential for holding photos of home or new friends at college. Buy them almost anywhere or create your own with a cardboard matte and glitter, buttons, feathers, beads, or any other decorative knickknacks. Or you could use funky memo holders to display favorite photos on your desk or bureau. Re-using Old Picture Frames
  • French memo boards can hold a whole bunch of pictures, ticket stubs, or magazine cut-outs. Buy one at Bed, Bath and Beyond, Linens' N or make one out of cardboard, fabric, and ribbon.
  • A laundry line is a great alternative for you to string up pictures or ticket stubs on the wall or across the room us. Urban Outfitters has a laundry line with suction cups for easy use.
  • Magnets are useful and decorative on any metal surface. Customize that Micro-fridge and display your praiseworthy papers with magnets of flowers, superheroes, butterflies, or Magnetic Poetry (also a fun distraction from studying).
  • Dry erase boards on your door or in your room are handy for communicating with friends and roommates and making notes to yourself. Or get a dry erase calendar at an office supply store and keep track of your busy schedule.
  • Sheer fabric draped across the window or over a bed creates a soft, romantic look. Or if you have an open closet, put up a colorful shower curtain to individualize your space or hide dirty laundry.
  • Lights are fashionable and functional. A desk lamp for late-night studying is a necessity, but adding mini-lights strung across the room can create a more personal atmosphere. White lights will complement any décor, or choose colored lights in funky shapes like stars, cactuses, or hearts.

So you get the idea. There are oodles of ways to transform your plain Jane dorm room into a vibrant reflection of your style and personality. All it takes is a few dollars and a little creativity. If only Chemistry were that simple.

Reprinted with  permission of Susan Johnston 2004.
Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer who currently shares a lovely 2-bedroom apartment with one roommate and one very sneaky mouse. Contact her at SusanEJohnston@gmail.com.

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