Decorating on a budget

By Shawn Bradford

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Decorating on a budget is a must for college students, who can’t be spending their hard-earned summer cash on decorating cramped dorm rooms and small apartments. Luckily, there are many ways to decorate in style without digging too far into one’s wallet. Stores such as Home Goods, Target, IKEA and many others are great places to bring out your interior designer side even on a strict budget.

These name brand stores are great places to find some of the necessities needed for college living, but there are still other places to look. Flea markets, yard sales and thrift stores are where students can find some of the best stuff for the best price. Decorating in limited space can be tricky, but there are a few things that can be done to completely transform a room. Here are some simple, yet inexpensive ways to creating a home away from home.

Wall Space

Think of a dorm or apartment’s typical cold, blank white walls as wide-open canvasses, which can be altered in unlimited ways to create a more attractive living space. Pictures can be downloaded and printed off the Internet, amounting to an endless supply of art to jazz up any empty wall.

Remember, sometimes less is more. Sometimes too many pictures can make a room look cluttered and chaotic, so pick out your favorites intelligently and don’t go overboard.

Posters have always been a college student staple for novice decor. Because most college students can’t afford fancy artwork, posters are a great way for students to display their personality through images of favorite bands, nature scenes, movies, etc. Not into posters or pictures? Is it too time-consuming to rifle through the Internet’s archives of photos or is it too cliché to hang the same posters seen in most college dorms? Well, then tapestries are the quickest and cheapest way to revamp a room. They come in thousands of different colors, patterns and sizes and can be found at local stores such as Northampton’s trendy, hipster-paradise Faces or Amherst’s Mercantile, which also sells a great deal of Asian-inspired trinkets to spice up wall shelves.


Lighting serves a functional purpose in any room, of course, but also can be used to further display one’s decorative personality. Candles are often sold at flea markets, and bring a soothing ambience to any living room or bedroom. Because open flames are not allowed in the dorms, flameless candles are a great way to obtain the same effect without breaking the rules.

Offbeat lighting fixtures can be inexpensive at stores like Wal-Mart and Target. Chinese lanterns  create a fun, festival-esque atmosphere to the room and will match the mini Asian trinkets sold at the Mercantile. Sometimes, it is important to think in themes, but try not to overdo it or rooms can start to transform into Chinese tea shops. Also, borrowing Christmas lights from neighbors or out of Mom and Dad’s basement can add light to a porch without the expense or danger of tiki torches or outdoor lighting. IKEA also features a great selection of inexpensive standing lights with multiple, movable lamp heads to light a room from every angle.


Generally, a bedroom’s centerpiece is usually the bed – so think out how the bedding should look.  Don’t just get any miss-match of blankets and sheets and call it a day. There are some cheap shortcuts to creating an eye-catching bed. Try finding a versatile comforter and add fun and colorful sheets and pillows to dress it up. Home Goods is the best place to find name brand bedding without the name brand price tag. Tie-dye is a great way to make sheets stand out and make a statement without the costly expense of sorting through patterned fitted sheets. Grab some white linen from Mom’s closet to keep material supply costs down.

Limited space

Not enough room? Mirrors are a cheap and easy way to create the illusion of a more spacious room. They are available in all kinds of shapes at Marshalls, where full-length mirrors can add functionality and depth to the bedroom and round mirrors can bring delicate beauty into the living room.

Dormitories should not feel like jail cells. No matter the size of a room, there are always fun and inexpensive ways to creating your own personal haven.

Shawn Bradford can be reached at [email protected]