Dorm room decorating on a budget

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Feel right at home in your dorm room by making a few, small touches. Photo credit: Rana L. Cash, AJC

Bare walls, cold floors and flat mattresses do not provide the essentials for an engaging learning environment. On top of that, a boring dorm room is likely to make homesickness even worse. But before you slip into a freshman funk, take action. Whether mom and dad are sparing no expense in your college send-off, or you’re braving your new world on a tight budget, you can add splashes of decor to the place you’ll call home for at least one year.

There are countless dorm decor companies out there. Dorm Suite Dorm is just one. Owner Sheri Corey, who attended Dunwoody High School before moving to Birmingham, stopped by Agnes Scott College in Decatur to turn a drab space into a model of comfort.

“When you’re sending your girls off for the first time, you want it to feel like home,” said Corey.

Corey said parents spend an average of $600 through her company on bedding and other decor. However, she acknowledges it doesn’t take that much. While Dorm Suite Dorm sells handmade bedding and signature items, you can get the same effect by shopping at stores like Wal-Mart, Target, The Container Store, Garden Ridge and others.

Before and After:


Every room has them: boring desk chairs that appear neither inviting nor comfortable. Dressing the chairs in a slipcover won’t make the study hours rush by, but at least it will brighten your study environment a bit. Get a slipcover that will match your overall dorm decor. You can get one made in your school’s colors, or simply your favorite colors. For a basic one, expect to pay about $20 and up to $70 for a custom made style.

Before and After:


Leave your furniture at home. In a dorm room, you have to work with what you have. That includes making the most of your desk or tables. Picture frames and decorative lamps go a long way in sprucing up your new home. Frames can be picked up rather cheaply at a Target, Wal-Mart or Garden Ridge. You can even find a digital frame at Wal-Mart for $49. Yard sales are also good places to look for lamps and frames for a fraction of what you’d pay at a department store. I found this funky, cool lamp at IKEA for $16.99.

Before and After:


Want to bring some life to an otherwise dead space? A plant — faux or real — will do the trick. If you’re on campus, you might as well show off some school spirit, too. Pennants and posters displaying your school mascot or emblem will remind you of the important step you’ve taken in your life — and the fun you’re having along the way. You’ll have plenty of college textbooks, but bring along a couple of your favorites to display on your book shelf as well. If you’re allowed, an inexpensive gold fish can be fun, too.

Before and After:


It’s bad enough the beds are small and the mattresses are average, at best. Throw only a sheet on top and you’ll be miserable in no time. You don’t have to do the Ritz-Carlton, but you can upgrade your bedding with snazzy comforters, pillow cases and duvets. On this front, it’s important to figure out your price range early. You can spend hundreds on bedding, or go ultra-cheap. There’s a comfortable place in between that won’t cause you to lose any sleep. Most important, pick a color scheme that suits your liking. For instance, don’t go with blazing red if you’re an earth tones kind of person. JC Penney and Macy’s are among the stores that sell dorm bed in a bag sets. Here are some more quick tips on bedding: Avoid white, since you’ll spend most of your free time in your room; invest in a mattress pad and buy extra long twin sheets — they’re the only size that fit most dorm beds.

Other nice touches: A rug is a must-have — something comfortable and perfect for keeping your feet from freezing when you wake up and put them on the floor in January. Dorm Suite Dorm also sells wall decals that will match well with your bedding. If the price is too steep, retail stores sell the same products that easily peel away from the wall without ruining the paint.

Click here for 10 Do It Yourself dorm decorating ideas for schools that allow its students to go all-out.


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9 comments Add your comment

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July 28th, 2010
1:19 pm

You can also make your own decals or wall murals using contact paper. No fear of damaging the paint.


July 28th, 2010
4:08 pm

When I moved into my dorm my freshman year, decorating consisted of a comforter from Wal-Mart clearance. My roommate and about 4 friends happened to have the same one. Some textbooks and a computer rounded out the decor.


July 28th, 2010
4:11 pm

Bring lots of pictures to decorate the walls.. if you aren’t allowed to nail anything, you can put them up with the putty adhesives that teachers use.. here are some other tips for what else you should bring to furnish your dorm room.. not as much fun as these ideas, but very practical: plus some good ways to save money on your textbooks too.


July 29th, 2010
8:27 am

My mother helped decorate my room my freshman year. It made a big difference in what the room started off as and what it looked like after adding personal touches. Most of my friends preferred visiting in my room long periods of time instead of their rooms because it was so bright and comfy. We just used a kiddie bed in a bag, a large bath size mat for a rug, jcpenney sheers (the kind that start with an L, generally pretty cheap) for curtains and a plant. Big difference!

Emily Chapman

August 1st, 2010
3:50 am

Don’t use putty adhesives or sticky-tac–it’ll take off paint or refuse to come off the walls, which means Res will fine you. Do use command strip hooks and sticky strips–they’re designed for dorms and are not horribly expensive.

Jack Booted Thug

August 2nd, 2010
8:24 am

One thing I ve found that is very convenient and decorative is to hammer a nail into the wall, hang a wire coat hanger the nail then attach pictures to the bottom half of the wire coat hanger. Properly done one can get about 3 3X5 pictures hung for only one nail hole.

Another way to save money is to plant some indoor tomato plants. Have some fresh produce and sprinkle in a few MaryJane seeds for color and profit.

Ole Guy

August 3rd, 2010
1:18 am

What’s with this floo floo dorm room decorating crap?! A hooch is a hooch…what’s going on…is today’s student expected to be always ready to entertain the Queen of Sheeba? Is it mom and dad’s responsibility to, not only fund Little Lord Fontleroy’s education, but also to fund the lifestyle to which he/she desires? For cryin out loud, people, get with the program! Four walls, a cot, a desk, and maybe a little “toddy for the body” for those nocturnal visitations.

What in hell has happened to youth? The guys are turning into marys and nancys, and the girls…well, I don’t even want to think about it!

[...] to outfitting a dorm room, the strategy is as much about efficiently utilizing space as it is about saving money. And in some cases, those things go [...]