Some Place Like Home

How to make your dorm room feel a little cozier and a little less gross.

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.

Via, L-R,, Ikea

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. ♦


  • Toilets December 27th, 2011 7:42 PM

    I was already excited about going to university in September but now I’m excited about my prison-cell-sized-room, which I hadn’t really thought about before!

    eeeeeeeh (/excited noise)

  • Marguerite December 27th, 2011 8:18 PM

    My sis has a couch in her dorm and apparently it’s the best thing ever! – some of her friends come over just to sleep on their couch.

  • megberb December 27th, 2011 8:54 PM

    Nice post! The poster of the midwest is fantastic!

  • Bean December 27th, 2011 9:05 PM

    I just had my first, and only, dorm room experience this semester. And i agree, those rooms are depressing, bland, and so not inviting. And about half the size of a standard living room. But people are creative, i’ve seen it.

  • Bug December 27th, 2011 10:07 PM

    I have a New Pornographers poster in my dorm room, for some reason, no one in my hall knows what the New Pornographers are. They’ll walk in and be like “uuuuu whaaat is that?? Is that like…. porn? oooh my goood”

    and then I die.

    But really that poster rules, and so does my room. I suggest hanging your necklaces off the walls on those sticky hooks. Garlands you can wear!

    • julalondon December 28th, 2011 7:01 AM

      I do the necklace stuff as well!! Its like the best idea ever because it looks sooo pretty and you dont have to search hours for this special necklace you need for this special outfit..=)

  • Rawrin23 December 27th, 2011 10:58 PM

    Love this. I’ve lived in a dorm for one semester and still haven’t adjusted to it very well so I will definitely use a couple of tips to at least try to make it seem a little more homey.

  • Cerise December 28th, 2011 12:04 AM

    One of the best things I’ve seen in one of our larger dorm rooms (3 person) was a sort of DIY canopy. The girls pushed all their beds together and then used some 3M hooks and a couple lengths of cord to hang fabric across the ceiling. Combined with Christmas lights, it looked really pretty magical.

    Also, I’m seriously considering making some of these to hang on my wall:

  • Chloe Elizabeth December 28th, 2011 3:43 AM

    Yeah… what? Me? No, I definitely DON’T have that exact same lamp… awkward…

  • happyjoy23 December 28th, 2011 11:16 AM

    what if you already have the multicoloured medusa lamp and its proudly displayed behing your bed? i really like it!!!!

  • fullmetalguitar December 28th, 2011 2:31 PM

    My hint is to buy actual lamps :x You know, with pretty soft lighting and lampshades and the whole nine yards just because small ones cost barely anything in most home decorating stores! My room is eternally lit in golden lighting, just like home~

    Granted, it means my rooms is also eternally set to sleepy time or romantic time, which isn’t conducive to work, but I love it!

  • Nishat December 28th, 2011 5:06 PM

    Just make sure you’re ALLOWED to bring string/fairy lights to college. A lot of schools don’t allow them for fire hazard purposes. My boyfriend got called out on his lights, but he knew better and his were LED’s.

  • Chimdi December 28th, 2011 6:07 PM

    I have that lamp. I hate it.

    The multi-colored Medusa one…I OWN THAT

  • Anaheed December 28th, 2011 6:57 PM

    We need to start a Medusa Lamp Owners support group.

  • Rachael December 29th, 2011 12:20 AM

    Whatever. I have a pink-and-white medusa lamp in my apartment and I love it. :p

    I used the space on top of my dorm room dresser as a sort of ‘altar’. I would redecorate it for the seasons with meaningful knick-knacks, seashells, tarot cards, and a mirror centerpiece. It was really pretty and everything on it meant something to me.

  • Tyknos93 December 29th, 2011 12:20 PM

    This would’ve been great at the start of the school year! I want to go out and return everything I brought now.
    Can there be an article on how to deal with less than savory roomates???

  • insteadofanelephant December 29th, 2011 11:44 PM

    i love the photos on the string! that way you can change or update them as the year goes on. i know i definitely got sick of my pictures halfway through the year and had to make a whole new poster. i also suggest a nightstand…great for having your phone next to you, lamp, puke bucket…whatever.