I love being in college, but I don’t love my living situation. Sometimes it’s great to be in close quarters with roommates and friends, but at other times, my dorm room can feel way too small. Even worse for me is the fact that the room always looks so cheap and run-down. It’s not that my dorm room is dirty or anything, but we have the typical college-kid posters up and don’t really have any nice decor.

I’d like to fix up the room a bit, but I’m not sure how to go about it. I know I care about how places look, but I don’t have any experience with interior design or anything like that. Plus, I know I can’t just repaint a dorm room without my school’s permission. Experts, do you have any advice?

Dorm living is an experience like no other, and you’re sure to look back on it fondly. But you can’t deny that dorm rooms can look a little less than beautiful. Typical dorm rooms are small, and typical college students decorate in much the same way as you have — with a few cheap posters from the school poster sale. Happily, though, you have alternatives.

The first thing you should do is stop thinking so much about how you don’t like your space and start thinking about what sort of space you would like. Check out blogs, magazines, and home goods shops to get some home design inspiration. Don’t worry just yet about what would or wouldn’t work in your tiny and temporary space; instead, just get a sense of your own tastes and preferences.

Eventually, of course, you’ll have to think about the size and shape of your space and how it might affect your decor options. High-quality furniture is one thing that sets apart homes of distinction, say experts in luxury homes, but you may not be in a position to drag a big armoire or dining room table into your dorm room. Perhaps, though, you could add a chair or a stool, or a space-efficient storage solution.

You can also change the space itself — within reason, of course. You won’t be in this space for all that long, and your university likely won’t let you undertake any big projects. But you can borrow techniques from home design enthusiasts who rent apartments and houses. Renters can decorate with things such as carpets and temporary wallpaper. These sorts of touches can really transform a space, but they’re also easy to pack up and take with you when you leave. Your decor won’t leave a trace, so you won’t have to worry about the university calling you to demand that you pay to repaint or spackle the walls.

As a dorm-room denizen, your wall hangings are going to be at the heart of your decor plan. With more permanent changes rules out and with floor space too limited to do much more than the basics with furniture or rugs, you’re going to have to make sure that your wall hangings do a lot of work. So ditch those boring posters and consider hanging something decent and framed. Or, enhance your space with different textures by hanging a tapestry or a quilt. Just be careful not to get a too-cheap one that looks a little too collegiate-hippie — unless you really want that look.

Decorating a small and temporary living space like a dorm room can be tough, but there’s a lot that you can do even considering the limitations. Plus, the lessons that you learn from this decorating challenge will help you do even better with next year’s dorm room or suite, and with all of the apartments and houses that you’ll live in over the years after you graduate. You’ve got a lot of exciting design choices ahead of you. Good luck!

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