Dorm Room Ready: Our Top 10 College Essentials

The average college student will spend $3,184 per year to furnish their dorm room. That adds up to much more than a couple of posters from the campus bookstore. Making the transition from high school student to college co-ed does take planning. But costs can be controlled with creativity and communication.

A dorm room needs functionality first. With a plan in place before even the first desk lamp is purchased, money can be saved by avoiding items that don’t fit the budget, room size or theme.

A dorm room is a college student’s haven; it serves many purposes beyond sleep and study. The best way to assure that it will meet and exceed all the functions is to establish a color group and theme.

Color is often the most difficult decision. By choosing a color or finding inspiration from a pillow, painting, nature, etc. the entire room can be designed and unified. Once this decision is narrowed down, visit a paint store for paper color card samples. Keep the samples handy when shopping. 

The theme is the next choice. Any decorating magazine is a starting point to find a style that conveys the mood. Shabby chic? The Simpsons? Architectural? Even in a tiny room these elements can make a big difference.

Armed with a color and theme preference, it is time to start shopping. The big three, walls, windows and floors are the place to start. 

Colleges often have lots of restrictions about the treatment of the dorm walls, including no nails and no tape. Creativity comes in to the rescue. Colored chalk can be applied to many cement block walls and washed off at the end of the school year. Hanging Kraft paper with poster putty can be either a blank canvas to be added to through the year, or painted with a mural, design or solid color. Fabric is inexpensive at mass merchandise stores. Applying fabric to walls with liquid starch is fast, looks great, and leaves only a wall to wash when removed. Canvas stretchers available at craft and artist supply stores come in all sizes. Stretched and stapled fabric on the frame gives the illusion of a colored, 
finished wall. Clothes line can hold panels of paper, photographs or posters suspended from ceiling to floor.

Floors are cold on feet headed to an early class. Many colleges have carpeting for sale. Another alternative is to paint a canvas drop cloth and varnish the finished product for a one of a kind design. Area rugs are easy to find in almost every color. Even if the room is already carpeted, layering another rug is effective for tying in the preferred colors.

Windows may be furnished with curtains. If the curtains are passable, personalize them with trim added with safety pins or removable Velcro®. Scarves or fabric can create temporary swags and accents. If there are no curtains, make a rod from anything the right length…a bamboo pole, baseball bat or lacrosse stick, or PVC pipe. Dress with ribbons in various lengths, ropes of artificial ivy, old neckties, sheets buttoned on to the rod. Or purchase curtains or blinds, purchased to fit the window width and length.

Walls, windows and floors complete, the beds are the largest objects in the room. If the cost of a new comforter is prohibitive, sheets make a bed in a bag with just straight seams sewn or glued, to refresh an old comforter. Whether buying new or creating new, consider a reversible comforter for two different looks and quick camouflage for spills. Many schools use extra-long twin beds, be certain that sheet sets will accommodate the extra length.

Storage is biggest hurdle in most dorm rooms. In addition to purchased closet organizer systems, do-it-yourself storage can make sense. Heavy duty cardboard boxes with lids (copier paper boxes or shipping boxes) can be covered with fabric or paper to make storage for sweaters or old class notes. Hat boxes from thrift shops are great even unadorned. Plastic hooks are readily available, but the only limit is imagination for alternate hooks and hangers. Old drawer pulls, catcher’s masks, even bent silverware makes unique holders.

Lighting is key for studies. Lamp kits can turn any heavy base into a functional lighting source. Keep with the theme of the room and create an accent lamp from a childhood toy, garden statue or sports souvenir. A store bought lamp is transformed with a shade embellished with ticket stubs or photos. Holiday mini-lights can be festooned across a ceiling for accent lighting.

Accessories for the room are endless. Keep a list in mind of what is needed first, then add accents as the budget allows. The best and least expensive place to shop is at home. An existing lamp or bean bag chair may be just right for the dorm. Summer garage sales and thrift shops can uncover unique finds for lamps, storage and electronics. Internet shopping gives a fast and thorough overview of available items.

Without spending the big bucks of the average college student, a dorm room can be a place of refuge after a hectic day of classes that really feels like home.
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