There are lots of awesome things about living in a dorm—the room itself is rarely one of them. Stark fluorescent lighting. Icy linoleum floors. That one guy masturbating in the shower of the communal bathroom. It’s hard to feel at home when your personal space is just one glorified cardboard box amongst many. Here are some tips for making your dorm feel a little more like home.
1. One of the worst things about dorm living is how cold and sterile everything feels—a coldness that only whitewashed cinderblock walls, unflattering industrial lighting, and grimy tile flooring can create.
The likelihood that you’ll be allowed to paint your dorm walls is somewhere between shark attack and state lottery. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make your space feel homey, though. Rugs and curtains are some of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to warm up a room. Fabric brightens up a space and absorbs sound, so you won’t have to be subjected to the dubious musical tastes of everyone on your hall. Check out thrift stores or Ikea for good deals on cool-looking textiles. I made these curtains for my bedroom out of a set of $2 vintage sheets. Few things make me feel at home like the buttery light that streams through them every morning.
2. Speaking of light, don’t buy this lamp.
Nothing yells, “Someone is moving into a corny dorm room!” like a mom and a daughter loading a rainbow multi-headed medusa lamp into the back of an SUV in the parking lot of a Bed Bath & Beyond. Have you ever seen this lamp out in the real world? Probably not. This lamp is the mainstay in all hideous dorm-decorating schemes. If you want your room to feel like a place where a real person lives, and not the set of some terrible movie about college, get creative with your lighting. A string of twinkly lights gives a room a lovely ambient glow. An iconic desk lamp is classic in a not-at-all-boring way.
I bought this floor lamp for about $15 from Ikea. It lights things up and makes me feel like a classy coed at a women’s college in the ’60s.
3. One of the most exciting things about moving into any new space is personalizing it. For a lot of college students, decorating means a poster for The Hangover and a row of empty plastic booze bottles atop the dresser. This is fine in an “I’m-embracing-the-most-disgusting-years-of-my-life” kind of way, but if you want your room to feel less dorm, consider upgrading your wall decor to a cool print. I found these at a local craft fair, but sites like Etsy and 20×200 are also great for picking up cool art on the cheap.
Decorating your walls with pictures of friends and family also looks great, and it can serve as a daily reminder of home. Instead simply smashing your photos onto the wall with Blu-Tack, try clipping them onto a clothesline. The clothesline setup is a decoration in and of itself, and it’s super customizable, so you can continually add new photos and bits of ephemera related to the adventures you’re about to have in your new life away from home.
4. My favorite thing about being at my parents’ house (besides, of course, hanging out with my loving parents) is loafing around on the couch. When I lived in a dorm, I missed having an extra place to lie around. My bed became my only living space. When I studied, I studied on my bed. When I had friends over, my bed was the chill spot. It’s super tempting to loft your bed—that is, put it up on pegs so you have storage space underneath. My theory is this: any stuff that you need to pack under your bed in plastic tubs is stuff that you probably don’t need. Pare down what you bring to school and keep your bed unlofted so you can flop onto it after a long day of classes.
So-called “real” homes have more than one place for relaxing and entertaining. If you go to some sprawling school in the countryside, you might have room in your dorm for a sofa or a comfy chair. I go to school in the city, though, which means I lived in a tiny mouse-hole of a room. Having a few folding chairs to pull out when guests came over made dorm living much more comfortable. Nobody had to lie on my bed unless I ~invited~ them there (if you know what I mean and I think you do). Collapsible camp chairs or folding chairs are cheap and can stored under your bed or in your closet when not needed.
No matter what you do to your dorm room, college is always going to feel a little foreign. Learn to embrace the strangeness, the newness, the sense of adventure. At the end of the day, though, it’s nice to come back to a place that feels, even a little bit, like home. ♦