12 Affordable Ways to Add Personality to Dorm Rooms and Rentals

12 Affordable Ways to Add Personality to Your Dorm Room or Rental

I recently got a great question from a sweet, college-bound reader named Rachel.   She was asking for affordable ways to spruce up her dorm room and I thought, I’ve got to do a little round-up for this!

We all get questions a lot about decorating in rentals and dorm rooms are kind of the same thing.  You want the space to be your own and reflect your style.  You’re going to be living there every day!  Especially when we’re talking about heading off to college on your own.  That dorm room needs to reflect your home and be a little (sometimes very little) haven for you.

But there are major limitations on decorating dorm rooms and rentals.  Often, space is a concern.  Usually they both have very plain, hospital-like walls that you want to spruce up with some art, but you really aren’t supposed to add nail holes.  Oh, and money.  Yes, money is a always a concern!  Most people don’t have endless funds to dress up their dorm room or rental.  We know it’s temporary and we usually don’t have huge budgets for temporary spaces.

So, I decided to put together 12 of my favorite ideas that are CHEAP, EASY, and DORM/RENTER FRIENDLY!  

A few of these are my own projects that I’ve done in the past that I think would be perfect for dorm rooms or rentals.  Some I’ve gathered from friends around the web.

1.) Create Big-impact Art with Photos


One of my favorite projects to date is my Southwestern Family Portrait Art.  I wanted a huge gallery wall of family photos, but couldn’t decide on a reasonable number to frame.  And I wanted it to have a different look.

So, I decided to hang my photos in a southwestern-inspired shape using double-sided tape.  This would be an amazing way to bring a large impact and a bit of home (you can fit tons of photos in here) to your walls! 

Plus, you could do any shape that you choose!  I did find that square shapes are much easier for a project like this.

2.) Bring in Pattern and Personality


For me, nothing says dorm room or fun rental like a little tie-dye.  And the best part?  It’s major bang for your buck and time investment.  By following my super-easy, few step Fold & Clamp Tutorial, you can tie-dye anything.

I’ve tie-dyed lampshades, pillows…

front room

{The left pillow is using my basic Fold & Clamp tutorial.  The striped pillow uses this tutorial.}

…and even curtains!

DIY Fold & Clamp Tie Dye

And the  best part is that it is so cheap.  You are out the cost of the dye and whatever fabric you’re using.  For the pillows and lampshades, I used 99 cent handkerchiefs from Hobby Lobby, so my total cost was about $5.  That’s a great deal for a large impact in your room.

3.) Paint Cheap Items with Neon Paint

Modern Eclectic Office from thewhitebuffalostylingco.com

Neon is huge right now and nothing will brighten a room like it!  The best part is that I’ve found the most amazing Neon paint, so you can have a pop of neon for the cost of a can of spray paint!

Rust-oleum’s Fluorescent line has a great yellow (seen above for my office chair makeover) and a pink.

So grab a chair, end table, or any piece of furniture that you would normally be adding to the room and give it a bright coat of neon.  I promise, it will make you smile every time you come in the room.

4.) Paint Splatter!


I love the paint splatter trend and had the best time creating this super-easy Neon Paint Splatter Tutorial.  This pillow is using Rust-oleum’s Fluorescent Pink.

This would be amazing on an upholstered office chair, pillows for the bed or futon, or even bedding.  Again, this update costs a couple of dollars (cost of spray can) and packs a big punch!

5.) Turn Trim into Garlands


I got this fringe trim for just a few dollars on Amazon and using double-sided tape, hung it as a garland on our mantle.  It took one minute, cost a few dollars, and is one of my favorite things in our home!

Fringe trim adds such a fun, hippie quality to a room.  It would look great hung asymmetrically on a wall over some art.  

6.) Turn $3 Rag Rugs into Stylish Pillows


This is one of my favorite tutorials to date and I will probably use it for every room redo I do.

I love the look of kilim, textured pillows, but often hate the price tag.  I found the rugs above at a local Dollar Store for $2.99 each and sewed them right into pillows.  I actually used pillows I had and didn’t like anymore as inserts, so they were literally $3 each.

I used this same tutorial for my master bedroom pillows.


Both of the rugs above were bought at Garden Ridge and turned into awesome pillows!  To read my full tutorial, click here.

7.) Use Vinyl Decals to Spruce Up Walls


This one is from Cassie of Primitive & Proper.  I love how she took these gold vinyl stars and added so much personality to a blank, white wall!  Make sure you click over to see the before and after.  It’s crazy awesome.

There are so many options of vinyl decals you can get that would add easily removable art and pattern to your walls.

8.) Create a Gallery Wall with Washi Tape


Michelle of Iron & Twine created this awesome gallery wall with leftover fabric, paper, and washi tape.  Super cheap, stylish, and the best part?  It doesn’t damage your walls!  And it comes in cute colors and patterns!

See her tutorial here.

9.) Use Fabric as a Wall Covering

Fabric Wall 2

I love this tutorial from Sarah at The Thriftress!  Using her tutorial, you can take the fabric of your choice and adhere it to the wall as temporary wallpaper.  It comes off easily with no wall damage when you’re ready to leave!

The possibilities are endless!

10.) Give Necessities a Glitzy Update

DIY Gold Desk Accessories

Summer from Simple Stylings killed it with this tutorial!  I love Target’s gold desk accessories, but they can be pricey, especially for those of us on a budget!

Using Summer’s easy paint tutorial, you can take boring, but needed accessories and glitz them up!

11.) Create a Statement Light 

 DIY faux capiz pendant

I adore this cheap and easy Faux Capiz Shell Pendant from Jennifer at The Chronicles of Home.  I love the personality that this could add to your room!

It’s so fun without even being wired for a light.  You could use a 3M Command Hook to hang it down over your bed or futon and it would make a serious statement!

12.) Hang a Gallery Wall with Command Strips

Gallery Wall Hung Only with Command Strips

Gabbi from Retro Ranch Reno did an amazing job on this gallery wall.  And get this, the entire thing is hung with 3M Command Strips!  So normal looking gallery wall, no wall damage!

Check out her full post on it.

 There you have it!  Twelve cheap and easy ways to spruce up your dorm room or rental while abiding by all the rules!

And for a little extra, my friend Ashley over at The Handmade Home has been doing an amazing dorm room series.  Make sure you check it out for even more advice and inspiration.



  1. says

    Love the lighting tip! The fluorescent lights that dorm rooms generally have are HORRIBLE. Don’t get me started on those five armed dorm room lamps either… ugh. I’m still trying to phase those out of our grown-up home. (I hung a chandelier in my dorm room but my boyfriend brought these along and the lack of lighting in our apartment is making throwing them out a huge commitment.)


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