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Whether you’re starting your first year at college or are a returning student, you may have already begun planning and shopping for the new school year. I’ll be a senior this year, but I’ve made the rookie mistakes that probably everyone has when they move into their first dorm room: overestimating the size of the room, spending too much on unnecessary items and overthinking the decorating process.

Your dorm room will not only be your bedroom for the next year, it’ll also be a study space, a living room and, sometimes, a kitchen. Your dorm is your home, and you’ll want to feel comfortable in it.

Pinterest is a great resource for dorm room ideas, but if you’re like me, the first glance at your new place might kill all the expectations you’ve built up from the beautiful pictures you’ve found. Don’t fear! Here are seven ways you can make your dorm room awesome while sticking to a budget.

Savvy Storage

Dorm rooms are notoriously small – even smaller than what is shown on “Tiny House Hunters.” It can have all of the same fun aspects, however, if you make the most of it. Storage is an essential part of dorm living, and adding some simple items to your shopping list can help you get organized after moving in.

Small storage cubes are great additions to any dorm room. Not only do they give you a space to keep your books, movies, snacks or other miscellaneous items, but they also double as seating when you have friends over. Collapsible closet organizers are also helpful, as they can be packed up easily and organize anything from food to shoes.

Rugs and Pillows

If you are already in contact with your roommate, it’s a good idea to coordinate what items each of you will bring. One of these items should be a rug, which can instantly make your room feel homey. If you can find it in your budget to get a shaggier rug, do it. You and your friends will probably spend a lot of time sitting on your floor, so the more comfortable it is, the better.

Decorative pillows also make your dorm cozy while adding some flare. Your bed will likely turn into a couch from time to time, and having pillows down the length of your bed will allow you and your guests to comfortably lean against the wall. If buying a small collection of pillows isn’t your style, you can always opt for a long body pillow.

Alternative Lighting

When it comes to dorm room decorations, lighting is more of a necessity than anything else. Dorms often have one or two overhead florescent lights, so you might want to ditch some of your unnecessary items and pack a desk lamp and some string lights.

Extra light fixtures not only open up your small space, but they also allow for some warmth and downplayed lighting when you don’t necessarily need your room to be bright. String lights, a staple of every college checklist, can do just that. Hanging them across the ceiling can look pretty cool, but you won’t appreciate it when they fall down on you in the middle of the night – this has happened to me.

To use string lights like a pro, consider making a desk light by putting them in a clear jar, or you can drape the lights from just one corner of the ceiling. They’re both simple ways to instantly upgrade your room.

Temporary Pops of Color

Unfortunately, most colleges and universities do not permit drastic changes within dorm rooms. Even if a bit of paint gets chipped, you’ll most likely have to pay for it at the end of the year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any options out there. Wall decals, washi or crafting tape, magazine cutouts, etc. can take your room from drab to fab without causing damage – just make sure you carefully remove everything off the walls.

Washi tape is my personal favorite because it’s relatively cheap and you don’t need to have artistic abilities to use it. You can create polka dots, stripes and shapes on anything from your door to your desk. Mix and match patterns, and have fun with it!

A Chalkboard

It’s common practice to have a dry erase board either in your dorm or right outside your door. You can write notes to your roommate, or friends who pass by can leave you notes. However, I’ve found that a dry erase board is great until you stop cleaning it properly and then it always looks like there’s smeared marker on it. Chalkboards are old school, yet somehow modern. And, they’re easy to clean.

If you choose to keep a chalkboard inside your room, you can use it to write up your assignments for the week, create a weekly calendar or communicate with your roommate in between conflicting class schedules. Although technically you can do the same thing with a dry erase board, it’s much more fun and aesthetically pleasing to have a chalkboard.

Succulents

Little plants are bound to brighten up any room, but they often require frequent maintenance. Succulents look just as nice, and they only need some attention every few weeks, depending on the kind. You can dress them up with a terrarium or use an inexpensive clay pot. Just one cactus could do the trick, or you could add some smaller succulents as well. No matter what you do, the addition will surely add a cool factor to your room.

Wall Décor

The finishing touch of all dorm room décor is photos of friends and family. Hanging up photos and posters is a great way to set a vibe and add conversation starters to your room. A mistake I used to make, however, was printing out a bunch of photos and not knowing what to do with them next. Many students will just tape them up, but you can do so much more than that without much effort.

A wire grid or photo clothesline both provide an organized area to clip photos or artwork in a way that makes it look like you’re a wall-decorating master. The best part is everything you keep on it is temporary! You can quickly swap out any photo or piece of inspiration for another at any time. You don’t have to be stuck looking at the same decorations all of the time.

Transitioning to dorm life can be intimidating. Luckily, that intimidation quickly fades once you settle in. Loving your dorm room is the first step to a good experience, so take these tips to heart, pack accordingly and enjoy the ride through college life!

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