Dorm Life: The Number One Essential + DIY Décor

by Caitlin Kelch

By this time, most college students are back on campus and struggling to come to terms with life in a small room that feels nothing like home. I’m actually going through this right now, minus the small room. I just bought my first house and I am in the process of making it my “home.” Adding some simple décor and making sure you have the basic essentials at hand can make you not only more comfortable, but perhaps a bit inspired, too.

Let’s face it, dorms can be drab, unwelcoming places with ghastly lighting, noise pollution and bathrooms that are in desperate need of a major makeover. While you can’t redecorate the entire building, you do have some control over your personal space. When it comes to dorm life and even my new house, there is one element that can drastically change your space immediately. Once you remedy this one glaring issue, you’ll quickly feel more at home and ready to tackle a few DIY projects that will further transform your dorm into your new home. Can you guess what it is? 

Click through to see our favorite essential and visit the slideshow for six DIYs to brighten your space and your mood! And college graduates, take note. This tip can work for your space, too! –Caitlin

Here is the one thing you need to transform your space!

Thoughtful Warm Lighting 

This is your number one priority. Overhead fluorescent lighting is the worst. Keep these lights off at all times! There are tons of affordable options out there — like string lights, pendants and task lamps — that will be a vast improvement over your dorm room’s built-in lighting. To save space, a hanging pendant lamp would be the way to go, but even a desktop task lamp will add a warm glow to the room and wipe out that hospital feel the overhead fluorescents cast over your space.

String lights can provide a surprising amount of light, so don’t feel like you need to use premium desk or floor space to remedy the situation. In my new home, I used two strands of string lights above my dining area instead of a floor lamp, which felt really out of place there.

Place your primary light in the darkest area of your room and other sources of light in areas where you’ll be reading and studying. If that’s your bunk, clip-on lamps are a great option and can provide some secondary lighting in the room to give it some dimension.

Here are some of our favorite, playful lighting options. Bonus: Most of these options are on sale.



Lighting clockwise:

Floor Lamp from Urban Outfitters (on sale!)

Hanging Pennant Light (on sale!) from Land of Nod

Dotty Lights (on sale!) from Target

Task Lamp (on sale!) from Target

Desktop Storage Lamp from Urban Outfitters

You can actually make the floral bedding shown in this image. Click here for the full instructions. Another trick to customize your dorm space is to use double-stick tape to hang a roll or a few sheets of your favorite wrapping paper and voila, wallpaper!
This bright pillow, inspired by Josef Albers, can be made with a few simple materials. Choose your favorite artist and create yours. Full instructions here.
This super easy DIY is pretty much a no-brainer! Washi tape frames not only add color to your space, but you can swap our your art any time! Full instructions here.
We've all seen the exotic tapestries, flags and sheets hanging as curtains in dorm windows. This update plays with geometric forms to add a modern take on the old standbys. Full instructions here.
There's not much privacy in shared dorm rooms, so having a secret book for storage is a great idea. Create your own with these instructions!
Lounge in style with your own custom bean bag chair! If sewing isn't an option, I've created the same version with multiple safety pins hidden on the bottom and backside of the chair. As long as you're not sitting on the pins, they can add a certain punk rock feel to your space. Full instructions here.

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