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Design for the Broke College Student

So your room is decked out with more IKEA stuff than you can remember buying. Did you really need that BILLY Bookshelf, LACK Side Table, MICKE Desk, AND MALM Dresser? (Uh, obviously). Don’t worry—we’ve all been there. Love of reasonably-priced IKEA furniture aside, we understand feeling the need to customize your space without exactly having the, ahem, funds to do it. For those who say you can’t have great design on a student budget, here are six little ways to simply and beautifully personalize your college apartment without breaking the bank, with tips on how to go about implementing them. Time to start taking notes: design class is in session.

temporary wall additions

It may depend on where you live, but I know when I was in college I was almost never allowed to paint (or do anything, really) to the walls of my rented apartment. Therefore, it’s really all about temporary solutions to bare, bleak walls. Here, for example, all one would need to do is buy some shiny paper from a craft store, cut out some dots, and bam! Really neat, interesting and affordable wall design.

Worth Taking Note: There are so many variations on this that it’d be impossible to list them all here, but for the busier (or lazier) student there are tons of cool hanging murals and decals available online, or even a thrifted blanket or rug with a great design will do the trick. To look more upscale, try seeking out wall hangings with geometric patterns or abstract art rather than ones that display, say, a single musician or cats. (But if the latter is your fancy, we won’t stop you).

Image via Bloesem

Image via Miss Moss

indoor foliage

Though we have many indoor garden ideas on our Pinterest, the simplest and most affordable ways to add greenery to your space are through setting flowers and plants from a local nursery on a windowsill, or ordering seeds online and growing them yourself. We also like hanging potted plants from a balcony if you are lucky enough to have one. Here, a small tiered rack provides more space to comfortably fit a whole range of greens.

Worth taking note: Pretty succulents are all the rage these days, and very easy to take care of. As another bonus, if you grow fresh herbs, you can use them for cooking and make your meals fancy!

creative library

A lot of great design is about the art of display, or figuring out the best ways to make objects visually harmonize. Since you’re going to have all those textbooks, and need to have access to them on a regular basis, your book collection is a good place to start with items that should be designated as visible in the room (as opposed to being stowed away). As seen here, a visually interesting way to store your books is by arranging them by color and in an unexpected manner, such as horizontally rather than vertically.

Worth taking note: Start by arranging books by color and shape (it’ll at least add some visual order to them). Then, if you want to go the extra mile, there are tons of creative options for book arrangement, from renovating an old chest found on Craigslist or an intriguing item on Etsy, or even by using that IKEA furniture in different ways from their intended purpose (such as, for example, using a laundry wicker basket for storage). The last suggestion is the concept behind the wonderful blog IKEA Hackers, from which you can get tons more repurposing ideas.

Image via It’s Overflowing

Image via Apartment Therapy

all of the lights

Yes—it’s not the first, and certainly not the last, time you’ll see lights as a suggestion for a simple decorating solution, but the variety of things which you can do with them are so endless that it’d be a crime not to mention them. Plus, string lights are so hot in design right now that college apartments with terrible lighting can benefit from both the extra bit of illumination they provide and their chic look. As seen here, spelling type with lights is bordering on genius and something that’s not seen often—one of many possible options with string lights.

Worth taking note: String lights can range from cheap to bizarrely expensive, so start at somewhere like Target, or better yet, look for sales and deals on them available online. Then, go crazy—hang them in your kitchen and living room, around your bedpost, on your balcony. Lights with flowers and all other shapes are lovely, too.

polaroid exhibition

You definitely take a lot of pictures when you’re in college, many of which get relegated to the far corners of the internet and Facebook, never to been seen again (or at least for another couple of years). Therefore, of course some deserve to be printed out and seen every day, as sometimes glancing at just one particular picture can conjure memories of good times and leave you in a better mood. However, we think these pictures don’t need to be reserved for the wall above your bed, anymore. As seen here, more creative ways to display those snaps abound, such as on the fridge or below some glass or lamination on a coffee table.

Worth Taking Note: Think of an appliance or piece of furniture that is usually bare and put your pictures there. But don’t go too crazy—if too many spaces in the place are filled with pictures, your apartment will look both cluttered and possibly like something from a horror film.

Image via The Kitchn

Image via Curly Birds

and some ideas for what to do with all those….bottles

It’s worth it to determine new roles for (all) those empty handles, many of which have cool label designs and typography. Leave displaying them in rows on floating shelves for the frat house, as there are so many other great ways to work with them. Plus, there’s no reason to let your guests (re: parents) know you imbibe that much. As seen here, buying a soap pump at Target is one clever way to use them.

Worth Taking Note: Using empty handles as vases for flowers is a great way to fuse both this idea and the earlier one for indoor greenery, or you can use them as a piggy bank. Really, there is lots of variety to be had here—it’s just something to think about every time you throw them into the recycling.