You’ve thought about it and you’ve decided you are not about the dorm life. They feel way too small and if you have to spend another whole year with a roommate in that tiny space, you might just scream. Having your own off-campus apartment means you get to have your own space when you need it… which means you can decorate it however you want. Goodbye, clashing color schemes and drab white walls: It’s finally time to get your perfect room.
Here are 10 shabby cheap decorating ideas you can use to make your apartment uniquely yours.
1. Removable Wallpaper
“If you can’t hang art or paint, removable wallpaper is the next best thing,” said Apartmenttherapy.com advisor Caroline Biggs. If you don’t know how removable wallpaper works, don’t panic. It’s a lot easier than you think. With some adhesive alternative, you can paste a small section on your wall as statement or cover everything in sight, including the ceiling. Choose whichever classy, cheesy, or just plain "you" design you want. Whatever wallpaper you find, just paste it up to watch the magic happen.
“I like rugs because, when I roll out of bed, my feet aren’t cold,” says University of Washington junior Xochilt Sanchez. Aside from cozy practicality, most people don’t think about the floor when they decorate, but a rug can definitely bring life to your apartment. “A good rug makes a big impact in tiny room. Opt for a brightly patterned one if you want to dress up your apartment with a little color or a shaggy one in a neutral one if you’re more of a minimalist,” said Biggs. While rugs can be expensive, it just means you’ve got to search a little harder for ones that fit your budget. Whether you go with bright patterns or thick shags, the right rug will spice up your living room just the way you want it.
Knobs don’t count as decorations, right? Wrong. This just goes to show how decorating doesn’t have to be an extravagant affair that leaves your wallet traumatized. It can be something as little as adding a touch of personality to your furniture. Your bedroom and kitchen cabinets don’t have to remain lifeless. Just unscrew your boring old knobs and twist on brightly colored knobs with cute decorations.
Most apartments won’t let you have pets, but who says that means you have to live devoid of companionship? Psychological studies have shown plants boost your mood and productivity (a.k.a. the college essentials). “They’ll help purify your apartment air,” said Biggs. Even if you’re a first-time plant parent, never fear. Just pick up some plants that don’t require too much work. Options like snake plants, heartleaf philodendron or any kind of succulent will enliven your space.
5. Throw Pillows
In an apartment, you can finally make sure your workspace stays your workspace and your sleep space stays your sleep space. In other words, if you let your room get stressful and uncomfortable, you won’t have a space to relax. “If your budget won’t allow for all new bed coverings, a couple of eye-catching throw pillows will still do the trick,” said Biggs. You can get throw pillows just about anywhere, with all sorts of decorations, no matter what color or shape you want chilling on your bed. If you are unsure where to start looking, take a look at the CM Shop’s throw pillows. For those who don’t usually study at home, Sanchez has some advice for you: “They are useful if you can afford them. But if you study outside, then maybe skip the throw pillow.”
6. String Lights
Pinterest has helped plenty of college students decorate their bleak dorm walls in the past—who’s to say you can’t do the same in your apartment with Pinterest-worthy lighting? “Ambience is everything in a small space,” said Biggs. String lights can help you wind down after a long day, especially if they are your primary light source in your room at night. “It makes me feel as though I’m sleeping in a fairy garden,” Dammarell shares. Whether you get a string of pineapples, fireflies or another shape, your room will always be lit up in style.
If it turns out your new apartment room wound up being just as small as your dorm room, that doesn’t mean it has to feel as cramped. Open up your room with strategically placed mirrors. “Not only do they create depth and dimension, they help open up a small space so it appears bigger,” said Biggs. In other words, small spaces don’t have to be small. You just have to know how to make it work. Max Dammarell is all for mirrors. “I like mirrors because I like to look at myself,” he said. “That, and you can make the room brighter if it’s dark.” Get an oversized mirror and treat your space like the dance studio you always wanted, or scatter small mirrors throughout the room so they look artistic AF.
If your window looks east, it can be a pain trying to sleep in when your 8 a.m.’s gets cancelled. Standard blinds just look so… blah. Liven up the place (and get that extra sleep) with some curtains. Get some gold-colored panels to make your room look a little more expensive, or find something cool and dark to give your bedroom the mysterious atmosphere it needs. With curtains accenting each room in your apartment, your house will start to feel a lot more like home.
9. A Cool Chair
After all, everyone needs a statement piece, but you also need seating. Why not merge the two and get yourself a sweet chair that stands out to your guests and makes you want to sink in forever. “Just because your tiny space (and budget) won’t allow for big pieces of furniture doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with smaller ones,” said Biggs. Fair warning: Once your friends sit in it, you might have to fight them for your own furniture.
10. Storage Baskets
You definitely want to figure out how to maximize your space in the most stylish way possible. “If you are a hoarder and keep hold of your textbooks or extra materials, you can put them away and out of sight,” Sanchez said. Fortunately, even storage can add flavor to your apartment. “Cheap and chic, storage baskets are awesome for stashing books, magazines, and other dorm room miscellany in a pinch, and hardly take up any floor space,” said Biggs. Whether you’re looking for rustic woven baskets or cheery totes, just strategically scatter them and your apartment will be organized and chic in no time.
10 More Decorating Ideas to Add Chic to Your Shabby
Written by Brooke Miller
11. Plant terrarium
Anything eco-friendly proves the best decoration for anyone whose apartment needs a little more life. “For my roommate Ellie's birthday we got her a cute plant terrarium that we use as a centerpiece,” Pennsylvania State University sophomore Rachel Haak said. “It’s nice giving gifts that will benefit you just as much as them.” Have your roommates pitch in for various plants or choose to fill your terrarium with something that requires less care, like succulents.
12. A “Christmas” Tree for All Seasons
If you strive for something a little quirkier, think about using a Christmas tree for yearlong décor. “My roommates and I all got a fake Christmas tree, and we keep it up and redecorate it with different things for each season [or] holiday,” Miami University sophomore Theresa Brinsky said. “We use it all year as decoration in our living room.” Buy some ornaments or decorate with small things that you find in your apartment. Either way, keep the most wonderful season going all year.
13. DIY Shell Crafts
Any student on a budget can appreciate a good DIY. Not only do you end up with cheap decorations, but everything you have will be marked with a wonderful personal touch. “One cool thing I did was buy a cheap mirror and repaint [and] decorate it with shells because I like that beach theme,” Rollins College sophomore Kaitlin Snyder said. Take to the stores to buy the cheap materials you need, and then get crafty.
14. A Cheap Grill
Though a grill might not seem like the perfect aesthetic center piece for your apartment, it holds lots of unexpected potential. “I put Christmas lights on a grill to celebrate my first Christmas,” Virginia Technical University junior Jack Tappert said. While it has awesome practical uses—who doesn’t love steak or delicious cooked veggies?—it can serve as an amazing and subtle decoration for your first apartment.
You’ll never have to fret about keep those air fresheners filled again. “I love candles. They’re beautifully colored and smell so nice, so it works on so many levels to make my apartment great,” the Ohio State University sophomore Pooja Chaudhry said. Buy a couple to place around the room or stick with one signature scent to fill your home. Then sit back and enjoy the warmth and relaxation.
If you love the idea of a mosaic hanging on your wall but don’t want to spend the big bucks to make it happen, DIY. “I’m very crafty so I would have some colorful bottles and do a glass mosaic out of it,” Grove City College junior Stephanie Grindley said. Use glass materials you have or stick to a safer option and buy some glass tiles online. Either way you’ll have a fun art project to work on while you destress from all your midterms.
17. Place Mats
If you want something a little more practical but still unique, find some place mats to jazz up your kitchen table. “Some of the first things I bought were placemats to add some color,” Virginia Tech junior Alexa Vergelli said. Pick a design that speaks to you and relish in the compliments from all your dinner guests. If you really want to take it up a notch, invest in some machine washable mats, so you don’t have to feel extra, extra careful when chowing down.
Everyone loves to surround themselves with photos of the things they love—family, friends, dogs or even just artsy shots you take on your own. Use easy-to-print film in order to quickly (and cheaply) add that personal touch to your home. “I decorated with Polaroid pics. You just buy some twine and clips to hang it up,” College of Charleston sophomore Anna Caruso said. If you can’t do the trademark Polaroid pic, opt for printouts of your favorite photos from your phone.
19. Make-up holders
Every makeup lover knows the importance of great makeup holders, because—let’s be honest—we all live for that satisfying display of all our beautiful brushes. “I got cheap makeup holders and spray painted it with gold spray paint so it looks better,” West Virginia University sophomore Halle Guzolik said. Buy a simple set and decorate it how you want. Or for the lazier folks among us, just keep it as is. Either works; we won’t judge.
20. A bookshelf
Bookshelves prove a must have for college students. Not only can you use them for all your textbooks, but having one in your home makes you look grown AF. Keep them filled with novels and notebooks, or for those not particularly into reading, use it as shelving for anything else you need to store. They come in all different colors so you’ll never have to worry about finding one that perfectly fits into your aesthetic.
**Updated on May 2, 2018 to include list items 11–20 by Brooke Miller
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