Cheap + Easy DIY Ideas for Dreary Dorm Rooms
Real college students offer their best ideas for planning your fall dorm decor.
If you are headed to college or have a child heading to school, DIY projects can transform bland and boring dorm rooms without eating into your tuition or food budget.
On-campus residences typically are small, so it just takes a few cheap and easy DIY projects, like these, to make a huge impact. Plus, it’s a great way for all types of bonding, between roommates and between family members before students leave home.
Jasmine Weber, a University of Georgia student who won a dorm decorating contest, says discussing and doing DIY projects gave her and her roommate, Gabriella Lanzo, something to look forward to when they moved into their blah space. She also passes along her ideas to incoming students.
“It makes you more excited to move in, if you have all this stuff you made to decorate your room,” she says. “I loved our room and thought it was special and unique.”
Transforming ugly corkboards
“The dorm came with these very ugly old corkboards underneath our (loft) beds. We just covered those with wrapping paper,” Weber says. “It was the cheapest, easiest and best way to cover it up.”
They bought double-sided wrapping paper — black on one side and black-and-white chevron on the back. They used the solid side and tacked it to the corkboards. They used a white paint pen to write on it. They selected Bible verses, but you can choose your own funny sayings or inspiring messages.
On the DIY corkboard above the futon, they hung a distressed gray picture frame with chicken wire. They used mini clothespins to attach notes to the wire throughout the year.
“Honestly, it looks like we had a lot of decorations because the size of the room was so small,” Weber says. “In reality, we only had a few main decorations.”
UGA student Sophie Kim affixed string lights to the corkboard in her room. Both the string lights and pillows on her futon were purchased at a garage sale.
“My favorite part of the room was our futon,” she says. “We first hesitated on how to decorate it because it was a blue color, but after we added the tan—with a hint of gold—pillows and throw, the futon seemed more calm.”
Custom window coverings and more
If you have a room with basic blinds, curtains can beautify the space.
Curtains made of burlap can blend into the room while bringing in texture. The DIY curtains in Weber and Lanzo’s room used burlap that was folded over about 2 inches at the top of a curtain rod. Lanzo’s mom used brown twine to sew the fold shut. Then she used extra burlap to tie a bow and cinch the curtain in the middle.
For her daughter's dorm room, Georgia mom Holley Murray used the white and coral fabric for valances—with blue sheers underneath—and upholstered headboards on the loft beds. The scroll fabric and one in a Greek key design also lines the back of a plastic storage container.
Crafting a message
DIYing also can help create a room where people want to hang out. Weber says her chalkboard “dorm sweet dorm” banner was a simple, quick project that made her think of her room as “home.”
They started with solid black paper and a string banner for less than $5. Using the white paint pen, they wrote out “dorm sweet dorm” in cursive with emoji-like paw prints (fitting with UGA’s bulldog mascot) on both ends. Command strips were used to hang it from the part of the ceiling that dropped down over the desks.
“I think total it took around 20 minutes to write all the letters and hang it up evenly,” Weber says. “It was super quick and easy and cute.”
She and her roommate saw on their shared Pinterest board that they both pinned photos using items like burlap and Mason jars. That was enough of an aha moment for them to go with a rustic look for their room, which had cream walls, industrial flooring and a hulking heating and air conditioning unit on the floor.
The color scheme was black, white and tan, so they painted Mason jars black and used them for flowers.
“We decided on simple colors and decor because we didn't want to decorate with a trend. We knew that neutrals wouldn't go out of style in a few months and that we would still love living in our dorm even when the trends did change,” Weber said.
Another idea is making tissue paper flowers, which can fit any color scheme as well. UGA student Chi Nguyen quickly crafted flowers that reminded her of flowers they used for her high school Spanish club’s parties.
“I just thought my dorm wall needed a little something, and the tissue paper flowers came to mind,” she says.
Nguyen started by folding multiple pieces of tissue paper like an accordion. She cut the edges of the tissue paper to make them look like flower petals and then secured the middle with a twist tie. After that, she peeled each layer of tissue paper outward to form a flower. Then she used pushpins to attach them to the wall.
Nguyen estimates it cost about $6 to make six tissue paper flowers, and less than 5 minutes to make each one.
DIY lap desks
Weber, who enjoyed DIY projects in high school, made lap desks with wood, foam and burlap. She used one-quarter-inch pieces of wood, pre-cut rectangle-shaped foam block, a board of harder foam (like the kind you use for trifold board displays) and burlap. Weber cut the foam board to fit on top of the softer foam and used hot glue to attach them.
She covered the foam with burlap and used hot glue to wrap them together. Then she cut the wood with a jigsaw (her dad has woodworking tools) to fit on top of the foam and stained it with dark brown wood stain.
Weber painted their initial on each desk (one with a J and one with a G) in white and spray painted the wood with a sealant, which gave it a smooth, glossy finish. Then she used hot glue to attach the wood to the foam.
“These were really great for doing homework on the futon. It was like a little portable desk,” she says.