Creative Dorm Room Decorating Ideas on a Budget

It is that time of year again… back to school and college. Here are the best – tried and true ideas to decorate a dorm on a budget along with ways to keep the small space organized with these creative dorm room decorating ideas. 

college dorm and decorating ideas

In this post I am going to share the dorm room essentials, quick and creative dorm room decorating ideas, tips and tricks that I know work and won’t break the budget when it comes to getting a dorm room or college apartment set up. All of these ideas make the grade!

So get ready to move the furniture around to create the best use of space so that everything you bring to decorate your dorm will do double-duty – EVERYTHING!  Organization and smart accessible storage is key to making the room both attractive and livable.

Creative Dorm Room Decorating Ideas

How can you decorate a doom room cheaply? With creativity and planning before you even arrive on campus.

A few months before college starts, most students get excited and think about the color and style of the bedding, lamps and cute organizers they will need for their dorm room, but the number one thing you need to have with you on move- in day are a few tools!

Having a tool box filled with basic tools will make everything you do on moving day much easier. Trust me! If you bring one, you will be the most popular person in the dorm as everyone will want to borrow your screwdriver, hammer or glue gun. 

Decorator's Toolbox

On move-in day a toolbox gets packed in the car last so that everything from a screwdriver to fabric glue is ready to whip the room into shape as it gets placed in the room or at least done on move-in day. You will find the contents of my toolbox in this post:

Pick the Bedding First

When decorating a dorm room, the first decorative element you need is to pick the bedding. The bed is so important – it serves as a sofa for friends to sit on and a place to relax, do school work, eat, and sleep.

Dorm Decorating Ideas. Student sitting at desk in messy dorm room
  • Look for a comforter that you can put a colorful duvet on that will hide stains and will be easy to wash when needed.  The room’s color scheme or half the room’s color scheme can be based off the color of the comforter/bedspread.

Get Creative With Fabric

College dorm or apartment design ideas.

When decorating a dorm room on a budget, there are many inexpensive fabric options to choose from.

  • Fabric added to the room in the way of window treatments, chair covers, wall hangings, and art will add a lot of style and color to the room.

If you want to add some color to the plain walls,  buy some fabric yardage and hang it on the wall using the Command Brand mounting strips across the top of the fabric and along the ceiling line. Two or three of the strips is all that will be needed.   Let the fabric hang freely. It will look like wallpaper.

How to Hang Art on Top of Hung On the Wall Fabric: Use Command Brand mounting hooks on the wall under the fabric. Once hook is placed, cut a small slice in the fabric where the hook is so that the hook can fit through the slit. Hang your photos or art on the exposed hook.

Other Fabric Options to Consider:

How to decorate an ugly dorm desk chair.
  • Colorful Sheets: Head to the thrift store or stores like HomeGoods and TJMaxx to find colorful or patterned sheets that can be used t cover a window or an open closet.

Use Command Brand Hooks To Style Window Treatments:

College apartment showing a creative DIY idea for a window treatment and bed.

Most of the Command Brand hooks are pretty self explanatory, but the utensil hooks – have a moveable hook and are perfect for tying drapery panels to the wall with twist ties. I did this in my daughter’s apartment bedroom one year.  I used colorful ribbons to hide the twist ties. 

Everything on the wall was hung using the Command Strips.

Loft the Beds

Lofting the bed gives the room double the space.

Create a Clothes Closet Under a Lofted Bed

To make the space under a lofted bed into a place to hang clothes, attach a tension rod along the front side of the bed to hang a curtain on a tension rod.

Use “U” clamps to attach a closet rod or curtain rod to the underside of the box spring. When the curtain is closed, clothes will be out of sight. 

  • You can also use the space under a lofted bed for a desk and or chest of drawers.

Make a Lofted Bed Organizer

Dorm bed storage and organizing idea using flat backed baskets.

Hang a flat handled basket on the bed in a color to coordinate with the room.

  • Tie it to the bed rail along the top of a lofted bed for easy access to a phone and charger, book, tissues, etc. This way you won’t have to jump down from the bed.

Create Extra Seating

Double duty milk crate seats for dorm rooms

Space is at a premium in a dorm room so it is nice to have a few extra seating options for when friends are hanging out with you.

These storage and seat-in-one ottomans made from milk cartons serves double-duty.

Create a Bedside Table

DIY Dorm room storage ideas using stacking wicker baskets that you make lids for. An easy DIY.

Make lids for square baskets. It is easy to do with cardboard from boxes and fabric.

Stack the baskets on top of each other to create an easy to reach storage spot as well as create a little bedside table

Decorating a Dorm Room Essentials to Pack

Buy these dorm room essentials ahead of time so you won’t have to run to Walmart 5 times on move-in day.  You can find most of the items needed in this list at Ross, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Bed Bath and Beyond, IKEA, Target, and Walmart.

1. Command Brand Strips Hooks & Hangers

3M-CommandBrand Products

The biggest innovation in dorm room or rental decorating since I went to college is 3M Command Strips – Hello! Wonderful. They are amazing and can be used for so many things.  Spray a little bit of rubbing alcohol on the walls, doors, sides of a desk, bed frames, chairs – you name it and you can hang just about anything easily.

When it is time to move out – they are a cinch to remove and leave no damage. 3M even has replacement tapes and tabs so you can use the hooks and hangers again the following year.

2. Clip-On Light, Floor Lamp & Backrest Pillow

My oldest didn’t understand why she needed these when she was a freshman. It didn’t take her a long time to figure out why – comfort and task lighting while studying on the bed.

A back rest pillow that is a must when buying what you will need to take to college and decorating a dorm room.

If lofting a bed, the clip-on light can easily be clipped onto the bed frame or even mounted on the wall with Command Brand strips.

A multi arm adjustable floor lamp.

This style floor lamp with adjustable arms works well in a dorm.  Each light can be directed where needed – on the ceiling for ambient lighting, on the bed for task lighting = double duty.

3. Power Strips & Extension Cords

Power Strip tower for plugging in a lot of electrical cords in a dorm room.

There are never enough outlets in a dorm room for all the electronics you use.  One or tow power strips and long extension cords are needed.  Throw in a few 3-prong adapters, too.

4. Over-the-Door Hangers & Organizers

Over the door hooks that will help organize college rooms.

These types of hangers are perfect for hanging not only over doors, but they work over the bed rails as well.

  • Use two or more so you will have plenty of storage. They are great for bath towels, handbags, coats, and hats.

Hanging TIP: If you place an over-the-door hanger over a door and the door doesn’t close – get a pair of pliers and bend the top section that goes over the door to mold it to fit – works every time.

5. Closet Organizers

Some rooms have nice closets, others have only an armoire.  Making use of a variety of closet organizers will increase the storage.

Closet Organizer DIY: Use shower curtain rings on a hanger to hold scarves or belts.

6. Stackable Storage

Stack, stack, and stack some more.  Easy accessible stackable storage is the best way to hold stuff – from books, toiletries, food, etc.

IKEA makes small shelf units and these may work well in one room, but not the next year in a different room.

I have found that classic milk crates are the best. The reason – versatility.  They can be stacked and used in many different ways. One year they may be used in a closet, the next – across the shelf on the desk or dresser to hold food and/or dishes.

What can you do with a milk crate?

Stacking Organizing Idea: Cut a square from dollar store foam boards to fit inside milk crates. This gives the crate bottom a level surface to place items on so they won’t fall through.

7. Tension Rods & Cafe Clips

Tension rods and clips holding up a white curtain that can be used when decorating a college dorm room.

Tension rods and cafe clips can be used on windows, under lofted beds, and in closets.

Window treatments-ideas for college dorm rooms.
Photos: BH&G and Martha Stewart

As long as the window is inset you will be able to create easy no-sew treatments using a tension rod and café clips. 

Photo Above: On the left are two scarves that are folded over along the top edge of the scarf and simply clipped on.

On the right, use fabric glue to make finished edges on fabric that is cut to fit the size of the window, then clip on the rings and hang.

Don’t forget that shower rod tension rods found in the bath department are much wider in diameter and when two are placed about a foot parallel to each other a pine or mdf board can be placed on them to create a knock down portable shelf for a closet.

8. Bed Risers

Dorm room bed risers with electrical outlets.

If the bed doesn’t loft, then use bed risers. Buy the extra tall ones so that you can get as much extra space as possible.  They even come with electrical sockets now – smart as there are never enough outlets.

9. Rolling Storage & Bins

plastic rolling cart with drawers for dorm rooms.

This style of rolling cart with drawers can hold extra toiletries, school supplies, and/or clothes.  They move around the room easily when needed which is a big plus.

Use the rolling drawers as an end table to hold a clock, phone or lamp. 

10. An Area Rug

Check stores like Target, Walmart and HomeGoods for an affordable area rug. A 5 x 7 usually will fit. It will make the room feel cozier and decorated.

If you have gotten to the end of this post, then you now have a few more creative ideas on how to decorate a dorm room on the cheap, but these ideas are really only a starting off point.

Once you get on campus you will see just how creative and resourceful students can get when it comes to making a dorm feel like home sweet home.

College student sitting at desk in a dorm room figuring out where to put everything in the small room. Text overlay says Decorating My Dorm Room creative ideas.

More Budget Decor Ideas for Dorm Rooms:

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  1. Lecrishia says:

    It’s that time NOW at our house. I will be moving my son into his freshman dorm on Saturday, and it is already Monday. I am taking a few ideas that i hadnt considered yet, from your post so thank you. I guess I’m slightly glad yet also regretting that my son doesn’t want any type of decorating done in his room. I think I’ve got most of the storage handled and since I’m a couponer getting his toiletries, cleaning supplies (because I’m honestly expecting him to clean…haha), etc. was as easy as walking into my stockpile room. Let’s do this!! UAB bound!

  2. Great article. Fill your dorm with love

  3. Angie Hall says:

    I am SO glad I found your blog! My daughter is freaking out because in the fall, she’ll be entry college. The dorm that she was assigned to is HIDEOUS! Super ugly in every way.

    Thankfully, her new roommate has agreed that I should decorate for the girls. Thank goodness they both like the same colors…teal and well, teal. So, I will be incorporating some of your budget-friendly fab ideas next month, for sure!

    Wish me luck. I am concerned that her school might be picky even about the use of Command strips. But if they allow those, we are set to go!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Angie – I am sure you are going to do a great job that both your daughter and roomie will love. With each year, you will see new ideas and can help her implement them when she moves each year to a new dorm or off campus apartment. I was the mom with the tool bucket on move in day. After 3 years of practice with my older daughter, we had my youngest rooms organized and decorated before noon on her Freshman move-in day. Many students had not even arrived yet. That is a good tip – be waiting outside so as soon as the dorm opens you won’t have a crowd or have to wait for the elevators for each trip from the car, plus if the dorm doesn’t have an unloading zone – you get a good parking spot. Enjoy!

      1. Angie Hall says:

        Thanks so much, Diane! We are all set to schedule our move-in date. We are trying to get a good spot so we can be as close to the dorm as possible on that day. I am actually scared and anxious at the same time! Just yesterday, I was decorating the child’s nursery, and now THIS? I will be sure to have my own tool kit on hand that day. Wish us luck! And War Eagle…she’s going to Auburn University. Lots of Orange and Navy Blue.

        1. Diane Henkler says:

          I have fond memories of helping my daughters each year – which made a total of 8 dorm rooms/off campus apts under my belt. My oldest’s went to Bucknell University where orange and navy are the school colors, too. Enjoy the move in! Bring tissues for the ride home.

  4. Another idea for dorm décor: check out Etsy! A Different Sun on Etsy sells décor items that resemble things from Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie but are much more affordable!

  5. Kelly @ Eclectically Vintage says:

    6 more years til my girls head off to college! You win mom of year for your fab decorating skills!

  6. This is fabulous! I will be pinning it for reference next year when my son goes off the college. Very well done, Diane!

  7. Terrific ideas! I am having too much fun with this according to my college-bound daughter. I had to stop mid-read to cover some shoeboxes with coordinating Contac paper for storage. Will definitely be using the bedloft curtain idea and the over-the-door-hooks on a bedrail. Thanks, Diane!

  8. Idea overload but fabulous!! Thanks for sharing

  9. Hello Diane,
    A wealth of great ideas and info! I came across a product that combines a few of your ideas into one, allowing your college student to organize scarves, jackets, backpacks, and the like, while showing some school spirit with colored panels–an over the door, customizable, storage unit at

  10. Thanks for all the great tips! And I can’t wait to hear all about your tool bucket. :)

  11. Shoni Freeman says:

    Wonderful post. I got ideas from this post which I can use around the house. Thank you!

  12. Love this post! It’s chock-full of great ideas! I rent so I have to be careful what I do. I added a couple of links to the party with some thrift store makeovers for my girls and a DIY chair mat for a desk using duct tape. Thanks!!!

  13. Anna Starner says:

    Some great reminders here.
    I would love a list of items you keep in your decorating bucket.

    1. Hi Anna – That is going to be my next post :) This post was getting long, so I decided I would share what is in my tool bucket in my next post. :)