I still vividly remember decorating my freshman year dorm. I lived in one room with two other girls, but had packed enough to fill a large apartment. I obsessed over making sure I hung up pictures of everyone in my extended friend group, and cheap decorations attracted me like a bird to shiny objects.
After being hired as an Resident Assistant the following year, I was given a single. I became a self-declared “dorm-zilla” and treated decorating like an Olympic sport. I scoured Pinterest, attempting to make my room better with each passing year.
When the first semester of my senior year rolled around, graduation and adulthood became impending realities for me. I started feeling caught between the teenager I was when I first arrived at college and the classy adult I aspired to be. I wanted my room to reflect this sentiment, so I made it my goal to keep the decorations I loved while also trying to achieve a more mature look.
If you find yourself wanting to spruce up your dorm or apartment, here are 5 tricks I learned while attempting to add a touch of sophistication to my room.
#1 When it comes to photos, less is more and frames are a must.
I used to run to CVS the night before each move-in day to print out hundreds of pictures of my friends and I. I would attach all of them to a string and hang them around my room or use blue tape to cover my walls with them. Although they made me smile, they also made my space look cluttered and immature.
For my senior year, I decided to order 8 frames in colors that matched my room and picked the pictures I liked most to go in them. Organizing my photos this way allowed me to give my walls a cleaner look and prioritize only the pictures that truly meant something to me.
#2 Antiques and souvenirs are great ways to make a room stand out.
Like most college students, I am a sucker for the little knick knacks Target and other chain stores sell. While they are usually inexpensive and cute, buying from these large businesses means that you have the same decorations as thousands of other people. It also means you’re consuming from companies that participate in fast fashion.
I love antiques because they each have a story and are more earth-friendly to consume than new products, so I started mixing some in with items I had from larger brands. My favorite things to buy are small figurines, signs and paintings. If you live in New England, Boothbay, Maine, Boston’s SOWA Open Market and Bittersweet Blessings in Chester, New Hampshire (my hometown!) have great antique options. It’s also easy to find things at thrift stores.
While studying abroad in India a few summers ago, I also bought handmade decorations and pieces of art from small businesses. These have become some of my favorite items in my room. No matter where you travel, it’s always great to support small businesses because it directly helps families and individuals rather than corporations. It also gives you decorations that are more authentic and unique.
#3 Add plants, real or fake.
One of the best ways to bring a fresh and calm energy into your room is to start a plant collection. Succulents and Cacti are great options for college students because they are on the low-maintenance side. If you’re too nervous about remembering to take care of plants, there are also a lot of realistic-looking fake plant options.
#4 Contact taps is your new best friend.
While researching dorm decorating ideas last summer, I was inspired by Her Campus’s article “This Marble DIY Dorm Room Transformation Will Blow Your Mind”. It explained how college students can use contact paper to transform their standard dorm desks and dressers into unique, trendy furniture. I ended up buying contact paper with a print slightly different than the one in the article and was impressed by how inexpensive and easy-to-use it was. Giving my furniture a new appearance definitely made my room feel more put-together.
#5 For a more organized look, have one decoration that displays many small mementos.
My approach to displaying cards, prints and small pieces of art was very similar to the way I used to put up photos. I wanted every inch of my walls covered with small sentiments, but as I mentioned previously, I eventually grew overwhelmed by this look. For my senior year, I decided to buy a framed board to put above my desk that I could hang small mementos on using pins. This helped my space look more organized and gave me a vision board I could look at while I was doing work.
You deserve to come back every day to a room that makes you feel inspired and relaxed. Whether you’re in the process of planning out a new living situation or executing a room makeover, I hope these tips help you create a space that represents both who you are and who you’re becoming.