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Dorm Décor on the Cheap: Free and Low-Cost Ways to Spruce Up Your Room

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If you’re one of the lucky few whose dorm room is of the quaint and picturesque variety, this discussion isn’t intended for you. If, on the other hand, you’re one of the millions of college kids across the country who got saddled with the kind of dim, dingy cinder-block cell that would make a death-row prisoner feel right at home, we’re here to help.

Let’s face facts – on a college student’s budget, you’re not going to be able to hire an interior decorator to add some pizazz to your pad. In fact, for most of you, even a $50 spending spree in the home décor section of your local Wal-Mart would probably be pushing your budgetary constraints.

But take heart, dorm room denizen. Even if you’ve got nothing but lint in your pockets, you can “de-institutionalize” your room and add a few basic personal touches that will make your place feel more like home. Here are a few cheap and free decorating ideas to help you get started.

*Get crafty. If the word “crafts” makes you think of the popsicle stick-and-Elmer’s glue monstrosities you used to create back in kindergarten, think again. Crafts are all the rage these days, and there are hundreds of cool how-to sites online that are a great source of inspiration. Use the cheap and free ideas at hip sites like Make, Instructables, and Craft to spiff up your dorm room with your own unique creations.

*Perk up the place with party lights. Nothing adds instant atmosphere to a room like ambient lighting. The pros may charge thousands to hardwire soft spotlights and dimmers, but you can achieve the same effect for virtually nothing just by stringing up a few strands of party lights. You can find dozens of low-cost options at your local discount store. If you want an even cheaper alternative, ask your parents to let you borrow some indoor Christmas lights until you come home for the holidays.

*Turn the floor into seating. Most dorm rooms lack adequate space for seating, so it can be tough to invite friends over without having everyone just stand around awkwardly. But with just a cheap area rug and a few floor pillows, you can turn your floor into an informal gathering space or a cozy study nook. If you don’t have enough money to fund that kind of makeover and you’re desperate for extra seating, you can make do in an emergency by using your bedspread and pillows to temporarily achieve the same effect.

*Posters and paintings lend a personal touch. The fastest way to strip your dorm room of that depressing institutional look is to cover up the walls. Hopefully, you brought a few of your favorite wall posters from home when you moved onto campus. If not, most discount stores offer a bunch of popular options for less than $5 a pop. Not into pop culture? Try draping the walls of your dorm room with interesting linens and fabrics you pick up at garage sales for an exotic look. If you’re the artistic type, play Picasso and adorn the walls with your own paintings.

*Hit dollar stores, discount stores, and thrift shops for funky and one-of-a-kind finds. Stores that focus on selling cheap, offbeat stuff are long-time favorites of college students looking to personalize their dorm room. Whether you like wacky vintage advertisements or IKEA’s contemporary style, your decorating budget will go a lot further at establishments that cater to the lower end of the market. With a little ingenuity, you can turn 10 or 20 bucks into a cart full of tacky treasures, conversation-starters, and icebreakers.

What’s your favorite dorm room decorating tip? Is there one decorating element you can’t live without? Tell us your cheapest style secrets in the comments.

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