I walked into my dorm room my freshman year with an entire Pinterest board worth of decoration ideas. I was going to hang twinkly lights, pictures and canvas letterings of my favorite quotes. I was going to fill my bookshelves with adorable little house plants and beautiful old books. I had so many plans for this new space, and I was ready to get started.
Walking down the hall, I located my room and opened the door. Every single one of my plans evaporated into thin air. My side of the room included a pull-out couch/bed combo, a single three-foot board serving as a bookshelf, a desk and a floor-to-ceiling closet with three dresser drawers stacked in the bottom. Sitting on the bed was a note that kindly reminded students that any holes in the wall, including thumbtack holes, would result in fines at the end of the year.
What about my quotes? What about my pictures? How was I supposed to hang things if I couldn’t even use thumbtacks? How was I supposed to string my twinkle lights? And where were my bookshelves?
Once the initial shock passed, I realized I was going to have to refigure my decorating plans and find new ways to hang and display my photos and canvases. Within a few weeks I had made my compromises and done my research; my room felt like a little slice of home away from home.
Whether you’re moving into your first dorm room or your first apartment, it’s exciting to have a space (or at least half of a space) that’s all your own. Those blank walls and empty shelves hold so much potential, but they’re also incredibly intimidating. What are you supposed to do with all this space? Here are a couple of decorating hacks for dorm rooms and apartments that will help make your space homey without leading to end-of-the-year fines.
1. Command Hooks and Sticky Tack
These may seem like an obvious solution to the “no thumbtacks” rule, but I didn’t know about them until college. Command hooks stick to a wall and allow you to hang tapestries, canvases and boards to your walls. It’s always a good idea to use whiteboards or cork boards to leave reminders for yourself and notes for your roommate, and command hooks allow you hang the boards on the wall. If the hooks stick out too much, consider attaching a loop of craft twine to whatever it is you’re hanging, and then looping the twine around the command hooks.
For lighter-weight hangings, such as photos or paper decorations, command hooks might be a little overkill. Instead, a pinch of sticky tack will stick your lightweight décor to the walls. This putty-like substance will quickly become your best friend if you’re hanging lots of pictures or papers on the walls, and it’s extraordinarily easy to remove at the end of the year, which is a huge plus! It can leave a little bit of residue, but it’s nothing that some mildly warm, soapy water won’t take care of.
2. Fabric Tapestries
Big, open white walls are really, really boring. There’s nothing that says “I don’t really live here” like those sad, undecorated walls. One of the easiest ways to fill the space with some welcome color is to hang a fabric tapestry. With three hooks—one on each of the top corners and one in the top middle—a tapestry can become a centerpiece of wall décor. These tapestries come in a variety of sizes, colors and designs, so it’s generally pretty easy to find one that you’ll enjoy looking at for the whole year.
Once the tapestry is hanging on the wall, it’s a great place to display pictures. If you don’t mind poking some holes in the photos (you can always print new copies later if you need to), you can use safety pins to attach them to the tapestry. This way, you can be sure they won’t fall off your wall at any point, but you don’t have to poke holes directly in the wall—you can poke them into your tapestry instead! This also allows you to add, remove and rearrange your photos easily at any point during the year, and at the end of the year you can even leave the photos attached to the tapestry so that you can simply rehang the entire fabric if you change rooms in future years.
3. Wooden Crates
If your situation is anything like mine, your space is seriously lacking in organizational storage. When I realized that my single pathetic bookshelf wasn’t going to cut it, I went out and bought four wooden craft crates. Laying these on their sides, so that the tops of the crates face out, they become excellent stackable storage containers. In the dorms, I used mine to display my books and organize my school and craft supplies, and when I moved to an apartment I set a TV on top and used the crates as a storage/entertainment stand combo.
Another great benefit of wooden crates is that they’re easy to move, reorganize and reshape. I generally stack my four into a horizontally-oriented 2×2 grid, but they can also be positioned into a vertical grid or, in narrower spaces, into a 1×4 tower. I use four crates, but you can always include more or less depending on your space; the choice is yours. Crates can also be painted and repainted to add color to the room, which adds to their versatility. Regardless of how you decide to use them, they’re a great investment.
4. Mason Jars
Once you’ve decorated your walls and taken care of storage, it’s time for some final touches. Because you’re a student and you’re sure to have books to display, your shelves shouldn’t be completely empty, but it’s always fun to have other décor around the room as well. Fortunately, a lot of everyday supplies can be used as decorations.
Pencils, pens, coffee grounds, tea bags, cotton balls and even silverware can be displayed in Mason jars. To make the most of a small space, Mason jars are a fun and decorative way to store items you use every day. These jars can be purchased or made into a variety of colors and sizes, and can be used as decoration with or without their lids. For a slightly more original twist, they can also be used as flower pots for small succulents or herbs.
Ultimately, no matter how much or how little decorating you decide to do, prioritization is a must. Even with my extra crate storage, I didn’t have enough room for rows of beautiful old books. I decided to choose content over covers, displaying my current textbooks and my favorite novels instead of books with beautiful bindings that I didn’t necessarily care to read.
Similarly, I didn’t have space to display all eighty of my Sharpies, so I picked my favorite colors to stick into a mason jar and kept the others in a box in my closet. A lack of space forces prioritization, so regardless of what you decide to do with your room, you’ll have to choose what matters to you and use that to guide your decoration.