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 You can always paint wood furniture you want to update or throw a slipcover over outdated upholstery.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.