Dorm Room Decoration Ideas You Need to Try

by Jalen

Moving into your new dorm room as you start the school year comes with its own set of challenges. Maybe your roommate isn’t who you originally chose, or your room isn’t as big as it seemed in the pictures. Either way, you’re going to have to call that place home for at least the rest of the year. Coming back to a blank room may make you feel like you’re stuck in a cell after a long day of tiring lectures or midterms. Your room’s condition can play a significant role in your mental health—it should be a place where you can feel comfortable enough to relax, and decompress. 

A good way to make your living space feel more welcoming for you can be through decorating it! Decorating your dorm or apartment may seem like the last thing on your mind when you consider much more important costs like rent and tuition, but what if I told you that you can jazz up your space without splurging all your savings? This post will cover fun, creative, and wallet-friendly ways to transform your room into a cozy retreat. Let’s get started!

Creating a Comfortable and Personalized Space

Buying decorations for your living space can be as simple as throwing a few posters on the wall. It’s your canvas to express who you are. Whether you’re a minimalist, a vintage enthusiast, or someone who loves a splash of colors everywhere, you can personalize your living space to your specific tastes and needs. Personal touches like photographs, favorite quotes, or your favorite trinkets can add character, transforming a generic dorm room into your personal haven. 

Furniture and Layout

Thrift Store and Secondhand Finds

Buying furniture from thrift stores like Goodwill and The Salvation Army or from online sources like Poshmark and Ebay can be a great way to find quality pieces for considerably less. Keep an eye out for sturdy, well-made furniture. It also would be a good idea to try to steam clean any second hand furniture you find as you don’t want to run the risk of bed bugs or other unwanted critters. Some of the pieces you find might have a few scratches or an outdated finish, but all it takes is a bit of elbow grease to get that sorted out. You’d be surprised how much a disinfecting polish can do for older furniture.  

Moreover, a wooden table could benefit from a fresh coat of paint or some new patterning to it. If you found an old rug, you could try to repurpose it by cutting it up and using it as upholstery or a wall hanging. Applying your creative skills can be crucial here. Sandpaper, paint, fabric, and some scissors would be sufficient to dress up most blemishes on items you may find. You can go even further with your customization to reflect your style and preferences, adding more personality to the piece.  

Multi-Functional Furniture

One of the best ways to add flair and functionality to your living space is buying furniture that has multiple uses. Sofa beds can be your comfy study nook by day and your resting spot by night. Not only do you save on space, but you also spare your wallet the pain of buying multiple pieces of furniture. It’s about getting more bang for your buck and making the most of every inch of your dorm room. You can buy furniture like this from local thrift stores or online marketplaces as mentioned before, but IKEA might be your best bet. IKEA’s great for finding budget-friendly, chic, and space-conscious furniture designs. Plus, everybody loves IKEA. 

Here are some multi-functional furniture items from IKEA tailored for limited room sizes and how they can be useful for your living space:

  1. KALLAX Shelf Unit: A classic from IKEA, students can use it both as a bookshelf or a room divider. With the added choice of baskets or drawers, it’s perfect for organizing textbooks, supplies, or even clothes.
  2. HEMNES Daybed: This furniture piece offers a dual function as a couch for daytime lounging and study breaks and extends into a bed for sleeping. The storage drawers underneath easily store  bed linens and off-season clothes.
  3. MICKE Desk: Compact-yet-spacious enough for a laptop and books, this desk comes with built-in storage. It’s a solid workstation for any student working from their room.
  4. NORDEN Gateleg Table: With its adjustable size, this table can be a study table one minute and a dining table the next. When not in use, it folds down to save space.
  5. LACK Wall Shelf Unit: Given its narrow design, this unit offers vertical storage which is great for saving floor space. It perfectly displays personal items, books, or even storing school supplies.
  6. BJURSTA Wall-Mounted Drop-Leaf Table: This compact table can be folded down when not in use. It’s fantastic for students who need a temporary workspace but can’t afford to give up floor space permanently.
  7. VITVAL Loft Bed: Ideal for those sharing rooms, this bed maximizes vertical space. The area beneath can house a study desk or a relaxation nook, offering dual functionality.
  8. BRIMNES Storage Bed: Besides being a comfortable bed, the drawers underneath can house anything from books to shoes, helping keep things organized.
  9. FINTORP Rail: Originally designed for kitchens, this rail can hang utensils, but in a student’s room, it can hold stationery, keys, or even jewelry. A great way to keep essentials in reach without cluttering a desk.

Additionally, keep an eye out during move-out seasons for furniture put out on the street for others to possibly use. Many students sell or give away items when they graduate, which presents the perfect opportunity to furnish your dorm on a deal.

Wall Decor

DIY Artwork

Making your own artwork for your living space is a great way to customize your space for less, and you don’t need to be the next Van Gogh either! 

One cool project you could do is make a string art piece. All you need is a piece of wood, some nails, and string. Create your design with nails and then weave the string around them. It’s simple, it’s therapeutic, and the result is a truly personalized piece of artwork that screams “you.”

Tape art is another great medium of expression. Using washi or painter’s tape, you can create geometric designs directly on the wall. Once you’re happy with the look, grab some paint and fill in the sections. Peel off the tape, and voila! You’ve got a mural that didn’t break the bank.

For those who like a bit of rustic charm, pallet art is a great option. Use a wooden pallet as a canvas. You can paint it, stencil it, or even just stain it for that rugged look. It adds texture to your walls and can be an incredible focal point in your room.

Last but not least, you could try making photo strings. This is a very popular and relatively low effort way of decorating. You could use fairy lights or plain string and some clips to hang your favorite photos of you and your friends and/or your significant other. This also works for  postcards, or any lightweight memorabilia as well. You’ll be making a string of memories that lights up your space, literally and metaphorically!

These are just starting points; let your creativity run wild and make something that makes your space feel like yours. 

Wall Decals and Removable Wallpaper

Any place where you’d be renting likely has a policy around not permanently altering the rooms, and for good reason of course. But that doesn’t mean your walls should remain bland. This is where wall decals and removable wallpapers become your best friends. These are essentially stickers for your walls—a simple yet effective way to show off your style without leaving a mark.

Wall Decals: These nifty beauties come in a plethora of designs, from motivational quotes to intricate patterns, even dreamy landscapes. Applying them is as easy as peel-and-stick. Clean your wall, ensure it’s dry, peel off the decal’s backing, and smooth it onto the wall. Voilà! Instant decor without any mess. And the best part? When you’re moving out or just want a change, peel them off with zero fuss.

Removable Wallpaper: This one’s for those who want to make a bigger statement. Unlike traditional wallpaper that’s a pain to install and remove, its removable sibling is much more forgiving. The application is straightforward: align at the top, peel the backing gradually, and smooth out as you go down. It’s like applying a giant sticker. And the transformative power? Immense! From a brick wall illusion to tropical jungles, your choices are vast.

A quick tip for application: Use a squeegee or an old credit card to smooth out any air bubbles. And always, always follow the provided instructions.

For affordable options, definitely check out online marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, or the clearance section at the big retail stores near you. Your local craft stores may carry them too. Just remember to read reviews, especially about ease of removal.

Textiles and Soft Furnishings

Budget-Friendly Bedding

Buying new and unique bed sets could be another great way to display your personality in your living space. These are most accessible at places like Target, Walmart, or IKEA as mentioned before. Big retailers are a goldmine for stylish yet affordable bedding. Plus, they’re always updating their collections, which means there’s a good chance of stumbling upon a sale section!

But what if you want your bed to represent ‘you’ and not some generic catalog’? You can add an element of uniqueness by mixing and matching your bed sets. This can be done by buying individual pieces instead of full sets. Grab a solid-colored duvet cover as your blank canvas. From there, you can introduce patterned or textured pillowcases, a funky throw, or even a contrasting fitted sheet. The beauty of this approach is that you can curate your bed to reflect your unique style, and often for a fraction of the cost of designer sets.

For extra savings you could also visit your local thrift stores. Often, you can find gently-used, high-quality bedding for pennies on the dollar. Just make sure you give them a good wash before you sleep on it. If you want to buy them secondhand, you will have a higher likelihood of finding unique patterns or vintage styles that no one else will have.

If you’re willing to do more hands-on work, consider adding embellishments to plain bedding. Sewing on patches, adding lace trims, or even a splash of fabric paint can elevate a plain bedding set to something personal and stylish.

Throw Pillows and Blankets

Throw pillows and blankets are perfect for quick and affordable room makeovers. They can add pops of color, texture, and warmth to a room, all for a decent price. 

Using inexpensive pillows and blankets is a good way to start. What’s important is that they’re comfortable enough for you and in good condition. From here, you can start adding your personal touch.

No-sew pillow covers can be made using fabric glue and something like an old shirt or scarf. You can regularly change these out based on your mood or the season with themed patterning.  Alternatively, you could try creating painted pillow covers. Grab some acrylic paint and stencil in a cool design or try freehanding something that you think is cool. Here’s a good example of a personalized pillow cover.

Upgrading your blankets by adding fringe or tassels can be a way of elevating its look. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try adding a tie-dye to your blanket. This can be a fun project and result in a one-of-a-kind piece that’s bright and playful if that’s your vibe. 

Making hand-knitted or crocheted blankets are timeless options as well. If you have the skills, or the willingness to learn, creating a cozy blanket with your choice of colors and textures can not only be a fulfilling project, but it also makes a good conversation starter every time someone visits your dorm room.


Thrifted and Discounted Lamps

Few things can transform a space as quickly and dramatically as the right lamp or lighting fixture. Garage sales or discount retailers often have a treasure trove of unique lamps that ooze character. Don’t turn your nose up at the first dusty lamp shade you see, what you’re after is the potential. Does it have a unique shape? A nice texture? Perhaps it’s a vintage piece that’s back in style? With a keen enough eye, you could score pieces that might rival a high-end boutique.

Once you’ve bought your ideal lamp or light fixture, you first need to make sure it is safe and functional. Old lamps might have frayed wires or outdated plugs, and you don’t want to start an electrical fire. Rewiring a lamp is actually simpler than it sounds. Basic lamp kits are available at hardware stores and come with easy-to-follow instructions. However, always remember the golden rule when working with electronics: unplug everything when they’re not in-use. If you’re unsure about something, consult a professional or watch reputable online tutorials.

But maybe your lamp works just fine and just needs a style update. With just a can of spray paint or maybe chalk paint, you can breathe new life into a dated lamp. Don’t forget the lampshade either. Changing out an old shade for something more modern can instantly elevate the entire piece. Alternatively, you can also personalize the old shade with fabric, ribbons, or even paint. The most important thing is to have fun with it!

Making Custom Lighting Solutions

Lighting can indeed work wonders in transforming a space, and the charm of DIY lighting solutions is that they are as distinctive as they are functional. You don’t need to be an electrician or have to buy any expensive equipment either.

One timeless idea is the Mason Jar Pendant Light. With a simple lighting kit from a hardware store, a mason jar can be transformed into a rustic pendant light. Depending on the tint or design of the jar, the light can cast a soft, colored glow that can be both calming and stylish.

Ever tried making cheesegrater lampshades? Vintage or even new metal cheese graters can make for a unique pendant light. When illuminated, they project interesting patterns on the walls, creating an ambient atmosphere.

If you’re really looking to tap into those crafty vibes, consider making Stenciled Lampshades. Take a plain lampshade, and using a stencil (or freehand if you’re brave), paint or draw designs using fabric paint or markers. This not only customizes the light but also embeds a piece of your personality into the decor.

Lastly, for those with a knack for origami, folded paper can become a striking lampshade. Whether it’s a Paper Starburst Pendant or a simpler cube design, origami offers a low-cost, high-impact solution. Just ensure you use LED bulbs and not incandescent bulbs to prevent any risk with the paper catching fire. 

Storage and Organization

Floating Shelves and Wall Organizers

Trying to work with limited space may feel like playing a real-life game of Tetris, and It’s not like you can buy more closet space. If you’re looking for effective, unobstructive and low-cost storage solutions, floating shelves and wall organizers would be the most ideal for the job. 

Floating shelves are very aesthetically pleasing as they appear to levitate off the wall, giving the effect of adding depth without taking up floor space. You can display your textbooks, make a mini photo gallery, or even host your funko-pop collection if you’re into that sort of thing! Many basic floating shelves can go for as little as $10 to $30, depending on size and material.

Wall organizers offer a slightly more structured approach to decluttering. Whether it’s a fabric-pocket organizer for stationery or a chic metal grid panel for notes and reminders, these tools ensure everything has a place. A simple wall organizer will run you anywhere from $15 to $50, with more quality options being on the higher end. 

Be mindful of how much weight your shelf or organizer is rated to hold. Balance out your heavier items with lighter ones, and make sure you use a level when installing anything on your walls!   

Plants and Greenery

Low-Cost Plant Options

If you’re looking to add vibrancy to your space, houseplants are the way to go. They freshen the air and can even boost your mood. Your local nursery, while tempting, might offer plants at a premium. Alternatively, consider checking farmers’ markets or plant swaps. Often, you’ll find small starter plants for as little as $5 to $10. Succulents, spider plants, and snake plants are typically affordable, hardy, and perfect for those still honing their green thumb. 

Once you’ve got a healthy mother plant, many species can be propagated by either (a)sexual reproduction or by cutting—the process of growing a new plant from a piece of a mature one. For instance, the pothos plant, with its trailing vines, can be multiplied by snipping a vine right below a node (where a leaf joins the stem) and placing it in water. In a few weeks, you’ll witness roots shooting out. Once the roots grow sufficiently, transplant it into fresh soil, and now you have a new plant!

Maintenance isn’t that complicated either. Most indoor plants thrive on indirect sunlight. Overwatering is a common mistake, so make sure your pot has drainage and water only when the soil feels dry a couple of inches down. While giving your plant direct sunlight might sound like a no-brainer, it can actually harm some types of plants. Instead of doing this, place your plant near a window with sheer curtains or a few feet away from direct light. In a shared dorm space, also be sure to place your plants where nothing—or nobody—can bother them, in any case.

DIY Planters and Pots

While you can go out and buy pots for your plants, you also have the option of making your own by upcycling household items into a planter. An empty ravioli tin can can be made into a little plant pot just by washing it out, removing the labeling (a heat gun would work best), and painting a fun pattern over it. Neglected teapots and mugs would make great plant pots as well. You could even go as far as hollowing out the middle section of an old book and lining it with plastic, which is sure to grab attention. 

If you want to repurpose an old t-shirt or canvas bag, fabric pots or hanging planters are a great option. With a bit of sewing, any unused textiles or fabric can be fashioned into breathable plant homes. Not only do they add texture to your space, but these are also super handy when moving plants around, ensuring they get the best light throughout the day.

Decorating with houseplants is always a great idea. They’re easy on the pocket, aesthetically pleasing, and you could grow your own mini jungle if you wanted. Plus, there’s nothing quite like the joy of seeing a plant thrive in a home you’ve crafted just for it!


As we’ve explored throughout this post, it’s entirely possible to craft a stylish and cozy oasis with a blend of creativity and resourcefulness. From finding treasures at the thrift store to making your own artwork, the options for dorm decorations are as limitless as your imagination.

The true essence of any living space is the story it tells, the memories it holds, and the personality it broadcasts. You don’t need to overspend to achieve a space that feels uniquely yours; often, it’s the little, personal touches that make the most significant impact. So take pride in each choice you make, each penny you save, and every corner you transform. 

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