By contributor Shaleeta Harper

Okay, campus dwellers: you’ve been in class for about three weeks now, so it’s time to put away the suitcases and personalize your living quarters. I’ve never actually been blessed with life in the dorms, but from the ones I’ve visited, I’ve found it’s not so different from the teeny apartment I decorated. Here are some tips to make perking up your space a little easier on your wallet. Good luck—and have fun!

1. Work with what you have. 

The cheapest things to decorate with are the items you already own, so let’s start there. Do you have an amazing hat collection? Great costume jewellery? Gorgeous scarves or bow ties? Put them on display! Not only do they make unique and interesting decorations, but you’ll conserve valuable storage and counter space. Plus, they’ll be handy to grab when you’re heading out. This is just one type of gallery wall you can create.

2. A what wall?

A gallery wall is one wall (or section of a wall) that you pick to display an assortment of images and/or items. It can cost a lot less than finding a large piece of artwork and is often more interesting. The best gallery walls you find on Pinterest usually have a wide variety of items, from mirrors and hats to giant letters and framed fabrics. If you have a bunch of loose photos, hang them up with cheap frames from a dollar store or thrift store. They’ll really pop with a coat of spray paint in one of your favourite bold colours. (Don’t use the spray paint in your dorm room though!)

3. Cut the clutter.

Let’s be honest—we always have more junk than we know what to do with. The best decorating tip is to keep the clutter out of sight. The more paperwork and socks on the carpet, the more dingy the rest of the place is going to look. Use every space you can to put things out of sight. A long, shallow tote box can be an excellent catchall that slides under the bed, and a laundry basket can fit snugly into the closet. If you really don’t have space to hide things, pick up some decorative storage boxes and stack them in a corner as a makeshift table.


4. Make your furniture work for you.

 If you bring in more furniture, make sure it’s useful. Anything you add to your already small quarters has to work hard. An example of a productive piece of furniture is an ottoman: it’s an extra seat when friends come over, a table when you need another surface, and if you find one with storage in it, that’s even better. If you don’t want to bring more furniture in, that’s probably best.  Instead, try moving around the pieces you have to make the layout work for you.

5. There’s nowhere to sit.

To make more seating in your dorm without adding furniture, consider getting some extra pillows and turning your bed into a lounge area while people are visiting. The pillows are an excuse to show off your style and brighten up the room, and you gain a comfortable place to sit while you chat or watch movies. If you can’t find affordable pillows, a local fabric store may have a solution. Google “no sew pillows,” and you will get great tutorials about how to wrap fabric nicely around a pillow form. Or really impress everyone and sew one youtself.


6. What about the windows?

You may find that your curtains are less than inspiring. Luckily, they can be an inexpensive upgrade, even new (though you can find dozens at thrift stores, or easily make your own). Hanging curtains from the floor to ceiling—even when the window is smaller—will draw the eye up to the ceiling and make the room appear larger, which is a handy trick for very cozy quarters. Just make sure you don’t throw out the curtains that came with the room because they’ll want them back—put them away in those pretty boxes we talked about earlier.

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