College Life: Cheap Dorm Room Decorating Ideas


Decorating decisions are easy, major life decisions are hard. If you’re facing a fork in the road, talk to a mentor. We can help.

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 s/he 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.

devo-interact-icon-42x42Dorm life. Does it make you feel alone in a crowd? Talk to us.

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 colours. 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.

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.

– 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.


46 thoughts on “College Life: Cheap Dorm Room Decorating Ideas

  1. Demelza Robins

    This was not good at all – all it told us was “do it yourself” and no good advice!
    I could’ve been better off with without it! LOL!

  2. Sarah Hausarah

    I agree, Drew, this article does have good ideas, but you might want to consider anger management classes. D didn’t have to say much to burnt at the stake.

    D, what kind of advice did you want? Ya, it does say to do it yourself, but the article gives countless specific, measurable things to do. Advice doesn’t mean excuses or ways to get what you want without having to do anything. I disagree that you would be better off without it. You don’t have to follow it or even agree with it but I think gathering information and then deciding what you will and won’t apply to your life makes you a more informed person who can make better choices. You won’t know if something will be helpful for you unless you read it, right, so I don’t agree that the process is a waste of time.

    Give people a chance to learn, DK, shredding them doesn’t help them see your point or make you sound wiser than them.

  3. aelisha

    poor Susan Johnston. I’m sure she was only trying to help and that she never wanted her article to arouse so much unnecessary drama and emotion…

  4. taylor

    honestly yelling at each other is pointless, considering the other person will probably never see your comments again.

    anyways i thought it was a good article, i got a lot of good ideas. and i’m fine with “do it yourself” i’m going to college anyways i need to do things myself.

  5. Lauren D.

    Interesting article – I agree with above comments! It could have been a little more helpful than “do it yourself”. So – I found this really cool website called – its a 3D virtual room creator. Everyone should take a look, it’s really helpful!

  6. L

    I disagree with the chalk idea. I’m sorry, but I’d rather keep my lungs cancer free. But I appreciate the other ideas.

  7. Stephanie

    Great article with some creative ideas. My daughter is headed off to college in a few weeks and this article helped to offer some finishing touches that I may have forgotten (like the French memo board and the closet hooks). I love the idea of the laundry line and THANK YOU for telling me where to find it. Sorry to see that some of our college-bound youth are having such difficulty with appreciating FREE ideas and with expressing themselves in an articulate and appropriate manner. I’m hoping that some of these skills will be acquired in college. Aelisha and Taylor- thanks for expressing your thoughts as intelligent young women.

  8. Pingback: DIY: 10 tips for decorating your dorm room, plus more ideas | Atlanta Bargain Hunter

  9. Caitlin

    hey there! I’m an art major, so the way i decorate my dorm room is vital to my sanity. i am going into my 3rd year, and have figured out a lot of what you have said, but one thing has stuck out that i never would have thought of: butcher paper!!!! excellent!

    also, i would like to mention that putting up old CDs that no longer play is a great way to play up the walls. they can be put up with the command strips. this way they can be easily removed and applied! woot! also in the past i have put up post cards i have gotten from around the world (my friends travel) and i have found that that, along with a couple paper parasols from cost plus of chinatown, adds a certain eclectic nature that is quite pleasing to all those “indie kids”.

    all in all, great advice:)

    btw, the art of decorating your dorm is trial and error. you win some you lose some. it just takes guts to be bold and try something. and, depending on your roomie, you may not be able to do everything you want to do. no one can tell you specifically what to do for your dorm. what fun would that be? just be grateful for the advice that is present, and let the things that annoy you go.

    oh! one more tip: to cover up minor nicks in the walls, put some colgate toothpaste over the small holes nails or thumb tacs make. this only works on white walls, so be warned.

    good luck! and do try to be excellent to each other…

  10. Caitlin

    oh… if you get the non toxic cryola street chalk, it will keep you cancer free. it’s kinda designed to keep little kids safe…. so you should be too. (duh)

  11. Cat

    Jeez…I’ve never seen people get this worked up about decorating–and I live in the Village!

    I’ve never had a dorm, choosing to rent rooms and later my own apartment (both cheaper and more convenient than living on campus, in my case), but all through school I’ve found book-lined walls to be both attractive and functional. And the brick-and-board shelves are cheap to construct, and they look good, too.

  12. momof2

    Hello, you should check out They offer vinyl wall decals which are perfect for dorm decorating – they wont ruin your wall, but will add you own personal style while you are living there for the year. I especially like the circles vinyl wall decals, the oval wall tatoos and the explosive star wall decales

  13. Bee

    I found this article helpful actually, cuz I’m always looking for help on ways to make my room a place I want to be in more often. ^_^ Thanks so much!!

    And to add, I really am disappointed (as others have pointed out) at the way some people are reacting. The comments are for people who appreciate this, and have other tips. There is no need to leave a rude comment.

  14. Robin

    Make decorating a dorm fun and creative. You’re right.. it doesn’t have to be expensive but needs to reflect your sense of style. Add custom headboard for comfort and pizazz. Inexpensive wall art… check out the
    collage frames in fun shapes and colors at
    as well as other creative dorm decorating photos and ideas!
    Have fun with it!

  15. Chelsea

    I thought this was alright advice, but I was looking for specific hints and tips… Lights are great and all, but i was hoping for more of the design prospect… plus this was the exact list of things on 4 other websites I’ve been to today; words and all.

  16. Katie

    I found this article intresting, it gave me alot of good ideas. You should all stop being so pathetic and do it yourself! What’s so bad with that?

  17. albina

    Good article , thanks for ideas. As an art person who didn’t get damage deposit back last year I want to give a piece of advice : never paint anything on your walls unless it’s your own house :) Paint cost money+time+effort and the result is rarely appreciated by landlord.
    At the same time bold walls are bit depressing, so this year I found an innovative solution – creative wall decals. There is a great variety of them that will suit any taste just surf the web. Decent price, easy to apply and (!) no permanent damage to walls :D
    I got mine at cause they have 50% off back to school sale. use DORMTAT50 as a promo code during check out.
    And of course be creative and always trust your own gut, cause you are the one who ‘ll live in the room!

  18. Metal Wall Art

    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. thanks for the advice.

  19. ramsha

    you lolllllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!! suich lenghthy and complicated comments will never be seen again by any one–
    anyway if sm bdy likes it is afoollike you

    iam realllyy sorry for my comments———-but still i am correct

  20. dorm bedding

    I thought it was good advice, but I was looking for specific advice and guidance … The lights are great and all, but I expected more from a design perspective … and this was the exact list of things, 4 other sites I’ve been today, the words and everything.

  21. ali b

    i feel that this was a very helpful article. though it doesnt say specifically what items to purchase or give step by step instructions as to how to hang a curtain quite frankly i dont need any of that crap and at 20 years old i should be able to figure it out on my own. i love the idea of hanging a shower curtain in front of the close to jazz things up!
    thank you for your advice

  22. Hanna J.

    Not a bad article, though pretty basic. But I’ve always been an arts-and-crafts kinda gal, so maybe these ideas actually would be new to some folks… Anyway, I thought I should make you aware that many colleges have a policy against fabric/flags/shower curtain-y type things, considering them a fire hazard. I’m a rising senior, but I still remember with horror the videos they show freshman during orientation about dorms that catch fire and flags that burn, dripping fire!

  23. Doris BeckDoris

    It’s always interesting that those areas where we are gifted come easy to us so we assume that they are easy for others too. So for you Hanna this is pretty basic and for others it is amazing! thanks for the heads up on the potential fire hazard issues though….good thing to check out before someone spends money and finds out they can’t use them in their room.

  24. Beverly

    Consider a bunk bed hugger for your bed. These fitted comforters come in twin XL and they look neat and tidy. Add a few throw pillows and you have that couch like look.

  25. Shelley

    I am sorry that I never had dorm lifestyle. I guess my advice is to work together with your roomate. You are both individual people and need to help eahc other out. I pray that all will go well for all of you in dorm lifestyle.

  26. Aubrey

    Butcher paper !!! Sweet !! With that you can hang anything up and not have the problem of the paint peeling or damaging the wall in any other way. I use it in my own room at home because I am not the kind of person that likes things to be the same way for very long. I am always redecorating =]. I’m only starting my college life, so yeah I hope me and my roomate get along.

  27. Tenant

    Before I moved out of the dorms and into my dream apartment, I remember the smell of dirty clothes more than anything. My roommate would leave his dirty socks laying out on his side of the room which stunk the whole place up….Not that hard in a 10×10 dorm room. My point is to make sure you have a solid hamper for those dirty items!

  28. Doris BeckDoris

    Great idea Tenant!! I also told my son when he went to college that he needed to make sure that those dirty socks were dry before putting them into the hamper or they would get moldy and smell even worse!

  29. JamieJamie

    Hey yasee garu, why don’t you take some pictures of your dorm room and post some links for the rest of us can see. Or take some shots of some of your favorites rooms on campus and show us what people have been able to put together. That would be cool!

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