Design on a Budget: Trendy & Quick Dorm Upgrades

Move-in day is almost here! You’ve done your shopping and packing, scoped out the classes and browsed the clubs and organizations. All that’s left (for the most part) is to move in and get cozy in your new home-away-from-home. If you’re already thinking about how to decorate your college dorm, keep reading to explore affordable dorm room decorating ideas.

Maximize Your Space

Elevate Your Bed for Extra Room

Elevating your bed frees up plenty of space, allowing you to tuck away valuable items or belongings you don’t want out in the open. Students also use this area for extra storage, cleaning supplies, snacks, laundry baskets and shoes.

Pets also love to use this as a little hideaway. Did you know JWU has been recognized as one of the best pet-friendly universities in the U.S.?

JWU dorm in Xavier Hall

Arrange Your Beds Into an L-Shape

To really maximize space, positioning your beds into an L-shape gives both you and your roommate a lot more room to host friends, have a game night or exercise.

Stick with a Traditional Layout

JWU dorm at Snowden Hall

If you aren’t comfortable with the L-shape layout, there are still plenty of ways to make a standard dorm room layout feel open. The traditional layout consists of a bed and desk placed along opposite walls so each roommate can have their own side of the room. You have the entire half of the room to decorate as you please and show off your unique style. Add a divider in the middle of the room for some extra privacy.

Incorporate Storage Into Your Décor

Storage solutions have evolved from clear tubs and bins to intricate ottomans and stylish baskets that can be used to liven up any room; tucking your belongings away also creates significantly more space.

Here are some of our favorite dorm room storage ideas:

  • Storage ottomans or cubes with lids. Offered in a variety of styles and colors, storage ottomans and cubes can be used to hold extra blankets, bedding, games, notebooks…just about anything!
  • 3-tier rolling carts. Convenient and affordable, 3-tier rolling carts make it easy to tuck away belongings and grab them at a moment’s notice. You can also use this as a nightstand or accent table and fill it with décor! The Container Store has a selection of colors to choose from including blush, mint, teal, silver and gold.
  • Corner shelves. Purchasing shelves that are designed specifically for the corner of a room is a clever hack that many people use to open up small spaces.
  • Cubby shelves. Positioning cubby shelves near the door will prevent you from forgetting small items on the way out such as keys, wallet, phone or school ID. From rustic farmhouse to shabby chic, there are an assortment of shelf styles to choose from.
  • Hanging bed pouches. Bed pouches are designed specifically for items you want close to the bed. Tucked between your mattress and bedframe, you can easily access your book, phone or headphones and there are hundreds of designs to choose from. Another way to enhance the aesthetic of your dorm!

bed in dorm with hanging bed pouch

Brighten Your Dorm with Bursts of Color

Incorporate Light Colors for a ‘Larger Dorm Room’

Gray, beige, white and tan are often used to make small spaces appear larger, but you can always opt for more vibrant colors such as pale blue, lavender, light pink and light green to create the same airy feel. Once you’ve chosen your desired color scheme, tie this into your bedding, accent furniture, décor and area rug.

female roommates chatting in colorful JWU dorm

Add a Pop of Green with Indoor Plants

Not only do house plants add color throughout your college dorm, they also offer tons of health benefits including improved air quality, reduced stress and anxiety and increased creativity and productivity.

indoor plants on desk

Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

Some of our favorite plants for the dorm room are:

  • Air plants. These are a low-maintenance option that are quite versatile. They’re often found in adorable mason jars or you can have a DIY night and create your own air plant holders.
  • Succulents. They can be conveniently placed near the window or right on your desk. Home Depot has an assortment of succulents, some of which include vibrant hues of orange, purple and blue.
  • Anthuriums aka “Flamingo Flowers.” The waxy red and pink blooms create a pop of color that make any dorm room feel warm and inviting.
  • Aloe Veras. These succulents deserve a category all of their own. With the proper care, Aloe Veras can last up to 12 years, so if you plan on additional schooling, you can bring this versatile plant to your new home. They also have some pretty interesting uses that might surprise you.
  • Lucky Bamboos. The beautiful shade of green adds a fun pop of color to any room. Lucky Bamboos are also known to bring good luck, perfect for helping to ace those exams.
  • Lavenders. Shades of light purple and blue and sweet aromatics create a relaxing and colorful atmosphere. Lavenders will turn your dorm into a calming environment where you can unwind after a busy day.

Throw On The Pillows

colorful throw pillows

Photo by Christina Deravedisian on Unsplash

Throw pillows are a quick and easy way to add color to your dorm room. Marshalls, TJ Maxx, HomeGoods and HomeSense have aisles and aisles of colorful pillows. If you’d prefer to shop from home, Amazon also has a large assortment of pillows.

Quick Style Guide: Beachy pillows consist of energetic colors like yellow, orange and blue. If you want something a bit more subdued but also encompasses mood boostingcolors, consider floral patterns. These types of pillows often featured dreamy pastels that are uplifting without being overwhelming. For something more earthy, boho designs are filled with natural colors like brown, tan and green. You can also purchase solid colors to create a rainbow pillow creation. When it comes to pillows, the possibilities are endless.

Use Antiques for Statement Pieces

antique shop

Photo by Liam McGarry on Unsplash

Antique trinkets can create an air of elegance and make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. To incorporate more color into your dorm, opt for antiques with funky patterns or loud colors to bring some energy to the room. Spending an afternoon antiquing is also an excellent way to bond with your new roommate!

Related Reading: How to Live with a New College Roommate

Creative Ways to Include Lights

Add a Warm Glow with Moonlit Mason Jars

mason jar lights

Photo by Lily Banse on Unsplash

Whether you buy them on Etsy or create them yourself, you’ll notice a calm ambiance with moonlit mason jars. All you need are some solar or battery powered string lights and a mason jar. You can also get creative and substitute a mason jar for an oversized bowl, vase or any other vessel to hold your lights. Put this beautiful lighting on your nightstand, desk or windowsill.

Wrap Your Bed in Dreamy Fairy Lights

Fairy lights are another excellent way to add a warm glow to the dorm room. These are especially useful if you desire a little bit of light in the evening but you don’t want something too bright. has a massive selection of affordable string lights, some of which have various settings so you can adjust the brightness and colors.

Clip Photos on String Lights

Having a gentle reminder of home and knowing you have a strong support group can really help you overcome homesickness. Students often hang photos of friends and family along with postcards and letters, helping them to remember their wonderful support group back home.

To add a bit more pizazz to your dorm room, we recommend hanging photos on string lights. Clothespins are a cheap and easy way to attach your photos to the lights and if you want to make this a focal point in your room, you can transform the clothespins into their own artwork. Give the clothespins a coat of paint, splash on some glitter, add stickers or hot glue jewels to add your own unique touch.

Highlight Your Mirror Frame with Twinkle Lights

Positioning twinkle lights around the mirror frame is a quick way to add some glamor to the dorm room. Full length mirrors in particular look absolutely stunning wrapped in twinkle lights. If your mirror has a thin frame or basic metallic or white frame, twinkle lights will make a world of difference.

A Few Out-of-the-box Ideas

If you’re looking to add even more flair to your dorm, we have you covered. Here’s a quick list of some not-so typical decorating ideas.

  • Use a colorful 6-outlet surge protector
  • Set up an industrial style clothing rack with clothes organized by color
  • Create patterns with Washi tape to color code your chargers
  • Place flowers in an old perfume bottle, a vintage soda bottle, teapot or watering can as an alternative to a vase
  • Arrange text books by color on an open shelf
  • Create a DIY garland to hang along the bed or walls (check out Dixie Cup Garlands on Pinterest)

flowers in green bottles

Photo by Floreser on Unsplash

Explore our residence halls by booking an in-person tour. If you can’t make it to our campuses, visit JWU virtually

Apply to JWU

Transfer to JWU


Featured Image by Fernando Lavin on Unsplash