tarting a decorating aesthetic from scratch has got to be one of the best things about moving into a new place. The dorm room plan has you make this move about once a year; that means every fall semester brings a new opportunity to let your inner interior designer run free. Yet, many of us don’t move into a solo dorm room our first year, or maybe ever over the course of a college career. How will having a roommate change your plans for your room decor?
The answer to this question will change from person to person. Some people move into dorm rooms with a randomly assigned classmate, while others join up with a best friend from high school. These two situations make for completely different roommate experiences, and therefore will have different joint decorating processes. If you choose to work together with your roommates to make a cohesive, polished room, you can achieve amazing aesthetics. Spoiler alert: a lot of it has to do with managing how much space your stuff takes up. But it doesn’t have to be boring; a well-organized dorm room and an amazingly beautiful dorm room are often the exact same thing.
Either way, there are some basic concepts to keep in mind in the planning stages of decorating:
- Using decor that is beautiful and functional
- Involving your roomine in the planning stages
- Be prepared to adapt your plans
Use your decor to your functional advantage
Shared dorm rooms are almost always going to yield less square footage per person. This means every piece of floor space and wall space is that much more valuable. When it comes to bringing large items of decor into your dorm room, some things just aren’t worth it. However, if you see decor as an opportunity to incorporate functional pieces into your space, you’ll make a room that utilizes space much better.
Use your decor for more than just looks. Make storage. Make seating. In the example shown above, a sturdy storage box can serve as storage, seating, and a decor piece. This kind of bench could be perfect next to a window dressed up as a reading nook or slid under a lofted bed as a pull-out step stool. There are a ton of other pieces of compact furniture that can make your room more aesthetically pleasing and streamlined, like this ottoman that doubles as a storage box or this shelf that can display decor and daily necessities.
Focusing on storage is key in this department. The sheer volume of one person’s clothes, bedding, school supplies, and possessions adds up; it’s even more unmanageable when two or more people are sharing a bedroom. For a shared dorm room, we highly recommend taking inventory of how much room you’ll need for storage and making a plan ahead of time to have pieces that will make things easier to find and grab. If you do it right, these storage and organizational tools will make your room look more polished and less cluttered.
Make your space your own but make a plan for layout together
Bringing new furniture into an already furnished dorm room can be risky if you don’t plan ahead. When it comes to a dorm room, it’s pretty easy to know who has dominion over the various areas to decorate. For example, you’ll know pretty confidently that your desk, bed, and dresser are your personal areas. Things get trickier when there’s extra room on the wall begging for a cute painting or a corner left open that can only fit one roomie’s hamper. This problem never has to occur if you make a plan with your roommate about layout and furniture ahead of time. When in doubt, remember that your space will always be yours. You have complete control over your own bed, desk, and dresser, so don’t be afraid to pour a little extra love into these areas if space in the room is tight.
String lights like those shown here add a lot to the decor of the room, but don’t actually contribute much light. Keep this in mind when planning out your ceiling and wall designs. Image courtesy of Natalie Luna.
Clutter is an issue. Keep in mind, two people coming and going from classes, dining halls, extracurriculars are going to have a lot of possessions needing to be accessed daily. As tempting as knick-knacks to take up space on the tops of desks and dressers can be, it may be a good idea to refrain from these in a shared room. That little piglet statue is cute to look at, but it’s taking up space on your desk where you may actually need to keep a stack of textbooks. Try focusing instead on walls and ceilings for decoration. When it comes to lighting, be conscious ahead of time in figuring out your roommate’s sleeping schedule/lighting expectations and try to stay practical with how you’ll be using something like a string of fairy lights. Will you keep the lights plugged in at all times? How often will you plug them in? Do you keep them on after bedtime? These are things to consider with lighting sources like string lights that only serve as decor and don’t otherwise have much of an illumination purpose.
Be ready to let the vision change
Aesthetics are important, don’t get us wrong, but they aren’t everything. Dorm rooms are extra susceptible to aesthetic-obsession, mostly due to saturation of Instagram and Pinterest pictures of elegant, cutesy dorm rooms that just look so perfect. Don’t you want a perfect dorm room? You’d have to diligently color coordinate every single piece of furniture or fabric you or your roommate bring into the space. Your theme is charcoal grey and baby pink? Well, I guess your roommate is going to have to throw their purple duvet in the dumpster.
That’s the thing. There is no such thing as a perfect dorm room. No matter how badly you may want to achieve a precise aesthetic for your room, that usually just isn’t feasible in a shared space. You and your roommate both deserve to express individuality in how you decorate the room. Upholding functional relationships with roommates is hard enough without also trying to manage a finely manicured picturesque aesthetic. Set reasonable expectations for how much control you’ll have over a space you share with another person. And as we mentioned before, your space is always yours. Take advantage of the things you can control and let your roomie do what they want to do. That’s the kind of mutual respect that breeds healthy cohabitation.
The Big Picture
Decorating, organizing, and personalizing your dorm room can be the most exciting activities ever when moving into a new place for school. While sharing a room provides more space overall than a single room, you’re often going to get less square footage per person. It’s all about managing your space and making decor interactive for your daily life. The best pieces of decor in your room don’t have to sit on your desk, never to be touched. They can be pillows on your bed or storage containers that double as seating. When space is limited, it’s useful to rethink what ‘decor’ means for you. It’s not just for looking, it’s also for using.
When a second personality is brought into the designing process, your vision is inevitably going to have to be altered. That’s okay! Human beings are social creatures; our ideas are made to be shared and evolve with feedback. You can make your design experience a cooperative effort if you so choose. If not, boundaries are even more important. By designating what’s yours, what’s theirs, and what’s shared, you can eliminate a lot of awkward headache down the line. When it comes down to it, decorating is meant to be fun. Express yourself, don’t overthink it, and you’ll be golden.