Whether you’re in college now, or just graduated, you’re probably looking at a small, difficult to decorate space. Maybe you’re in a small dorm with concrete walls, or a tiny apartment where you can’t paint or put holes in the walls, or maybe, like me, you’re back with your family. Theoretically you should be able to change things at home, but not if your room also functions as a guest room. Luckily over the last couple of years here, I’ve picked up a few tips for decorating spaces you can’t decorate.
- Command Strips
If you’re in college you’re probably hearing (over and over) that these are the only things that you can use on your walls. We certainly did at my undergrad. But since command strips are really quite strong, and they come off clean, they’re perfect for this type of space. I use them to hang my bulletin board, my magnet boards, my calendar, and a few photos. You can’t tear off paint or drywall with command strips, you don’t put holes in the walls, and they even come in a mock-nail form.
- Fun Calendar
While plain calendars are probably a bit cheaper, a fun calendar can add pizzazz and fun to your space. Pick your favorite animal, your favorite artists, your favorite city, and find a calendar of it. You can pick them up from almost any store. Images not really your thing? Try a whiteboard calendar and color coordinating markers. A fun calendar can add some beauty to a place when you can’t add a gallery wall.
- Cheap Frames & Photos or Cards
There are so many services to get your photos printed for less than 10 cents per print. Get a bunch of your favorites printed, then head to your local dollar store and pick up some 4×6 frames. Then you can put them on a surface or hang them with command strips. Framing your photos gives your space a really homey feel. Photos not your thing? Try holiday cards. I don’t know about your family, but when I was at college my mom always sent me cards for almost every holiday (even Halloween). I would stack them around the room or hang them on my bulletin board. Now, I have a graduation card from my Little, a Christmas card from my friend, and a pen pal card from Jordyn on the chest in my room. Once I pull them out of storage I want to use command strips to hang some postcards I got from friends while they were studying abroad.
- Magnet Boards/Bulletin Boards
I have a small bulletin board and two small magnet boards in my room to hold little bits and bobs. The great thing about these boards is that they hold so much. Family photos from my childhood? Check. Fortunes from fortune cookies? Check. Notes from friends? Definitely check. You can switch out what’s hung on a board with no fuss, and it takes only a few command strips to hang each one. Tip: buy a cheap cookie sheet or pizza pan to use as a magnet board, even a burner cover for the stove will work!
- Curtain Ties
I have curtains. I also have blinds. I hate blinds. So I just keep them pulled all the way up and use my curtains instead. But it’s much harder to get natural light with curtains. Some curtains come with curtain ties, mine for whatever reason didn’t. So I made my own out of ribbon. Even if your curtains come with matching ties, making your own from ribbon, yarn, fabric scraps, or some other material is a simple way to make your space your own. They can match, they can coordinate, they can be complete opposites, but they’re your own. For that matter, choosing curtains you like is a great way to personalize your space.
- Using furniture as decor
Maybe you can’t hang anything on your walls, but if you pick furniture you like, which all goes well together, you can make the space your own. A change as simple as a new headboard, or new lamps that match, can change the entire way a room feels. Make sure that your sheets and blankets and pillowcases are ones that you like, and ones that coordinate. I like to mix a solid color sheet with a patterned blanket and pillowcases. Show off your photos or cards on the tops of different pieces of furniture. Add a new lampshade to make your lamps pop. (I totally have my eye on a gorgeous lamp, but I can’t change my lamp). Stack your prettiest books on some extra space on the dresser. Rearrange your furniture until you love the way it looks. Especially if you have a small space, try to open up the floor, it’ll make every room look larger.
- Room Spray
This one isn’t really decorating, but it helps a lot. If you’re unhappy with how your space looks, at least make yourself happy with how it smells. I just switched over to my fall scents (pumpkin spice may not be a great coffee, but it’s a great room spray) and it really livens up my room. Maybe I can’t rearrange all my furniture to the way I like it, but I can make it smell like fall in my room. Room sprays are pretty cheap, don’t take up much room, and can have a therapeutic effect on you. (It should go without saying, if you share your space with a roommate or flatmate, make sure that the scents are amenable to you both).
My final tip is to keep things simple. Too many items in any space will clutter it up. Clutter can make your space look cramped and small, and completely disrupt the feel of your rooms. Whether you believe in feng shui or not, every room has a feel. With decor I’m definitely more on the minimalist side, but I do have a lot of photos around. Even with a lot of items you can keep the space simple by grouping them. Remember the rule of thirds, and that the human eye likes things in threes.
I’ve been making my space nicer little by little but since my room doubles as the guest room (#couchsleeper) it’s tough. I can’t replace any furniture (although I added my bookshelf I’ve had since I was 4, and a storage ottoman), so I’ve had to find other ways. Curtain ties, photos, cards, and a little rearranging helps make my room a lot better. More me. I hope my tips can help you make your spaces more you.
P.S. I’m starting my grad classes today! Wish me luck!