Dorm living can be fun, but outfitting a dorm room can be expensive if you’re headed to college for the first time. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, college students and their families planned to spend $5.9 billion on dorm or apartment furnishings in 2017.
The last thing students need is to spend a fortune on dorm decor, especially given the high costs of college. It’s probably your first home away from home, so you might want your dorm room to be a space that resonates with you. By following these tips for decorating on the cheap, you can end up with an awesome, affordable space that you’ll be happy to call your own.
1. Buy the minimum
When you’re shopping for a dorm room, here’s the first and most important thing to remember: Your space is extremely limited. You don’t want to buy unnecessary stuff that will end up getting in the way.
“Keep it as uncluttered as possible,” advised Francis Toumbakaris, an interior designer with Francis Interiors who was featured on HGTV’s “Brother vs. Brother” series. Your school probably will provide the basics, including a bed and dresser, and will send you a list of dorm room essentials to bring. Avoid buying anything that’s not on the list, at least until you see how much space you have.
You also should coordinate with your roommate to make sure you don’t end up with duplicate items.
2. Get double-duty furniture
When buying dorm furniture, make your items serve double duty to make the best use of space.
“Trunks, open crates, and other storage items make great TV stands, and often are available in fun colors and patterns,” said Claire E. Tamburro, an interior designer who is the principal at Tamburro Interiors LLC.
Ottomans with interior storage are great because they serve as extra seating when friends come over while also providing a place to put your stuff. Toumbakaris recommends bringing a tall table you can stand at while preparing meals or sit at while eating or studying.
3. Invest in storage solutions
Dorm rooms provide limited storage, so be smart about shopping for storage solutions. Tamburro recommends storage crates that fit underneath desks, as well as wall-mounted storage to free up floor space.
See if your dorm dresser will fit in the closet. “Most closets will then allow for shirts to be hung on the clothes rod over the dresser, and longer items such as coats, suits, pants, skirts, and dresses to be hung in the open space,” she said. With the dresser tucked away, you’ll have more room to move around or place other furniture items such as your TV stand or desk.
4. Turn trash into treasure
One of the best ways to keep your budget for dorm decor low is to find free items. Dumpster diving or looking for discards is a great way to get cool stuff at no cost.
“Find out when people take out furniture and larger items as garbage for the city to pick up,” advised Toumbakaris. “Having been a New Yorker for 18 years, during my first years in the city, I was able to find some incredible treasures that people were getting rid of for garbage collection.”
Tamburro said dumpster diving, which might be a dicey option, could help you outfit your dorm if luck prevails. “Many apartment complexes with high turnover are an incredible resource of discarded items,” she said. “Saturdays and Sundays are the days to ‘shop.'”
Toumbakaris and Tamburro agreed a coat of paint could spruce up the items. However, Tamburro said you should clean all discards thoroughly and stay away from certain items such as mattresses and box springs.
5. Light it up
In small, cluttered spaces such as dorm rooms, it’s important to make the place feel airy and open. Making your dorm bright and cheery can help.
One obvious way to brighten up your dorm is to invest in a good lamp. “Good strong lighting is very important,” Toumbakaris said. “Many times, dorms have weak overhead lighting, and people in dorm rooms try to supplement it with short desk lamps alone.”
Tamburro also recommended being strategic about the colors you select for furniture, bedding, and other dorm decor. “Dark colors protrude into a space and light colors recede,” she said. “The smaller the space, the lighter the color palette should be to feel more open.”
Her advice: Pick your favorite color and use different shades to create depth and interest while keeping visual noise to a minimum. “Monochromatic color schemes make a room feel less cluttered,” she said.
6. Shop smart online
Shopping online for dorm essentials can be another way to keep costs down because you often can find bargains. Toumbakaris said students could shop for online deals on websites such as Craigslist, Ikea, Kmart, Overstock, Target, Walmart, and Wayfair.
Comparison shop carefully before you buy to find the best bargains and use sites that help you save money when shopping online, such as RetailMeNot, which lists coupon codes. Flyers about sales during the back-to-school season can help you find bargains as well. You also can set up alerts on deal sites such as Slickdeals.net to receive an email when a deal is posted for something you need, such as a dorm fridge or extra-long twin sheets.
By shopping carefully and being strategic about which items you buy, you can keep your spending low and end up with a dorm room where you love spending time.
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