How to Decorate a Dorm Room on a Budget

Congratulations, you made it into college. But that dorm room isn't going to decorate itself. You've got some work to do. See more college pictures.
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College is your gateway to independence. You set your own schedule, eat what you want, hang out with whomever you want and generally just live it up (well, except for those pesky classes you have to attend and prepare for). It's also possibly your chance to do something else on your own for the first time -- decorate your personal abode. Those four walls and that cement floor are now home sweet home, a blank slate for you to bring out your inner Candice Olson or Nate Berkus. Best of all, there's no interference from mom on what is or isn't appropriate for your space. It's all up to you. Of course this also means you're the one financing this design project. And, if you're like most college students, you don't have much of a budget for anything beyond books, parties and the occasional iTunes download. Fortunately, dorm room décor doesn't fall into the luxury category of interior design. Here are some tips to get you started:

Don't look down on hand-me-downs. Cheap is good, but free is better. If you're on a budget, reconsider your dad's old bookshelf or your aunt's ancient armchair. You can always paint wood furniture you want to update or throw a slipcover over outdated upholstery. Before you buy anything -- even small appliances and electronics like a microwave or alarm clock -- see if your friends or family have anything extra you can have for free.


Be crafty. Make things yourself. Not only does this let you really personalize your space and create great conversation pieces, it allows you to save money as well. Spend a little bit on supplies and, depending on your skill level, you can create anything from lampshades to curtains to your own artwork. Some other easy do-it-yourself ideas include enlarging one of your favorite photos to hang on the wall as a poster, or using sidewalk chalk to create an indoor mural.

When shopping, think thrift. Warehouse stores, dollar stores, discount stores -- there are a number of places you can find useful, stylish and even trendy products without paying boutique prices. You don't want to invest too much into what you buy for your dorm room. Over time, your taste and style will change. For instance, you don't want to spend $200 on a bedspread that will end up in the back of your closet within five years.

Used can be useful. One way to find reasonably priced furniture and decorative items is to shop yard sales, furniture consignment stores, charity stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army and online classifieds like Craigslist. Often you can find quality items priced a lot less than they're worth simply because they're used and the owner (or store owner) is looking to unload them quickly. Just be careful of scams and things that are broken or don't work properly. Unless you're a risk-taker, avoid dumpster-diving and curb-shopping for furniture. The items you find could have any number of hazards, from fleas to bedbugs to exposed screws or nails.

We have some gender-specific design tips on the coming pages, so keep reading.


Budget Dorm Room Decorating Ideas for Women

Allow us to indulge in a bit of a stereotype: By and large, women are much more interested in decorating than men are. Sure, it's a generalization, and it doesn't always hold true (for either gender), but it's typically a pretty safe conclusion to jump to. So with that in mind, let's look at how young ladies -- or design-minded guys -- can add style to a dorm room without breaking the bank.

One of the best ways to decorate on a budget is to accessorize. For a relatively low cost, you can make a design statement. Think of your dorm room as a simple pair of jeans, and the items in your room as apparel accessories. There are many styles you can create; it all depends on what you choose. If you want a sophisticated look, you can wear a sweater and heels with your jeans. If you want a more casual look, just go with a T-shirt and ballet flats. The same principle applies to decorating: Invest in small, inexpensive touches to get the look you want. And, when you're ready to change things up, you can redecorate on the cheap by once again focusing on small items. Here are a few accessories you can look for when decorating your dorm room:


  • Picture frames
  • Candles and candle holders
  • Organizational baskets
  • Decorative pillows
  • Throws
  • Lamps and lampshades, string lights or paper lanterns
  • Vases
  • Mirrors
  • Wall décor, such as stick-on decals or inexpensive artwork
  • Rugs

Many of these items can be found at relatively inexpensive retail stores like Wal-Mart, Target and IKEA. If you're looking for something more unique, browse yard sales and furniture consignment shops.

Those are our tips for women. To find out how guys should decorate on a budget, see the next page.


Budget Dorm Room Decorating Ideas for Men

Let's face it, guys, you're not exactly known for being neat and organized. And chances are, having a clean, welcoming space is probably going to be your biggest decorating challenge. Fortunately, there are many stylish and affordable ways you can spiff up your space.

Start with laundry. Make sure you have a hamper for dirty laundry and a basket for freshly washed clothing. Your floor, chair and bed aren't appropriate storage places for your wardrobe, so put things away. If you don't have enough drawer and closet space, use canvas storage boxes and under-the-bed boxes for out-of-season clothes and shoes.


As for your school supplies, anything from cardboard photo boxes to canvas totes can help you keep your learning tools ready when you need them, but out of sight for your next party. Plastic storage containers with drawers are also an option that can help you make the most of your space. Memo boards give you a place to organize to-do lists and reminders, but also provide space for creative flair such as photos and quotes. Stackable shelves offer a place for media like CDs, DVDs and video games. And if you're still running out of places to put things, look for a storage ottoman or two. Not only will these small pieces of accent furniture provide containment for more of your stuff, they'll also add extra seating to your space.

All of these items can be purchased inexpensively anywhere from a drugstore to a warehouse store -- and a lot of places in between. These days, storage items are as stylish as they are utilitarian. You can probably even find boxes and baskets that match up with the color scheme of your bedspread and other items in your room. The main goal of purchasing such decorative containment is to create an orderly, visually pleasing space that will make your dorm room more inviting to you and any visitors you may have -- particularly those of the opposite sex.

Continue reading for lots more information.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Cash, Rana. "DIY: 10 Tips for Decorating Your Dorm Room, Plus More Ideas." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Aug. 12, 2009. (Nov. 29, 2011)
  • Cash, Rana. "Dorm Room Decorating on a Budget." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. July 28, 2010. (Nov. 29, 2011)
  • Eldor, Karin. "Decorating Your Dorm Room." AskMen. (Nov. 29, 2011)
  • Keller, Des. "College Chic." (Nov. 29, 2011)
  • McGrigg, Kim. "Budget Decorating Tips from the Dorm." Money Management International." May 07, 2009. (Nov. 29, 2011)
  • MoneySmartLife. "College Dorm Room Décor Ideas -- How to Decorate Your Dorm on a Budget." Aug. 12, 2008. (Nov. 29, 2011)
  • Reynolds, Susan. "How to Decorate a College Apartment." San Francisco Chronicle. (Nov. 29, 2011)
  • Towns, Shelly. "Off to College: Dorm Room Decorating on a Budget." SayCampusLife. Aug. 10, 2010. (Nov. 29, 2011)
  • Walbaum, Michelle. "College students need to handle debt, credit cards wisely." USA Today. Aug. 14, 2009. (Nov. 29, 2011)