Most freshmen begin their college lives within the prison-like confines of a square box also known as a dorm room. Hasty pre-college shopping trips with the ‘rents have outfitted them with a carload of crap — crisp bedspreads from Wally World’s “back-to-school” line, plastic crates, and cheap plastic dishes — to spruce the place up. And that stuff’s likely to follow them for the next four years of their lives; Even after they move off campus into a “real house,” the vestiges of freshmen dorm life will continue to dominate their home.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just because you’re young and dirt-poor doesn’t mean your home — be it a moldy dorm or a classic Charleston single — has to be boring and cheap-looking. Know where to shop, and you’ll soon be livin’ large in a space you’ll want to show off to your friends.
One of the easiest ways to add personality to a room is with wall art. Most newbies tend to go with band posters, bikini-clad babes, and photo collages of their high school BFFs. (My freshman year roommate was unique — she hung a big photo of George W. over her bed.) If these things make you happy, more power to you, but if you want to show some style, you’ll have to look beyond the poster selection at Mega-Lo-Mart. And no, you don’t have to invest big bucks into paintings from the galleries down on Broad Street. 52.5 Records stocks some affordable, artsy gig posters, or you can find some online for around $10. Keep your eye out for cool art events around town featuring screenprinters like John Pundt and Wolfkid, who often sell prints of their iconic art for around $10 as well. If you’re the creative type yourself, take advantage of living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and have a photo shoot around town, print out the photos, and put them in some inexpensive frames. And don’t overlook the art selection at Goodwill — sometimes art can be so bad it’s good.
Storage is always a challenge when your life is contained in one room, but you can easily turn this necessity into a style statement. Scour local thrift stores and yard sales for creative storage options like antique fruit crates, old file cabinets, and funky old bookshelves and dressers that you can paint any color your heart desires. Believe us, your room will look a lot better when the see-through drawer towers are gone (because no one wants to see your year-supply of tampons Mom got you at Costco).
We don’t know who decided all college kids should have a futon, but that person should be charged to a life of sleeping on one (ouch!). Craigslist is always a good option for finding couches and chairs for under $100, as is the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Meeting Street. If you hold out for a good one, it’s a piece you’ll cling to throughout your college career and beyond.
The ReStore is also a good resource for kitchen stuff. Ditch the scratched-up plastic plates and red Solo cups and spring for a respectable set of dishes — they don’t even have to match. You’ll find everything from basic to kitschy vintage plates, glasses, and flatware, and you probably won’t spend more than a buck on any one piece. If getting rid of plastic in favor of glass makes you nervous, you should probably go back to grade school. Also keep your eye out for fun lamps (key for adding warmth), curtains (adds a shot of color), and essential appliances like coffee makers here. Community Thrift Store and the Children’s Cancer Society Thrift Store are also great resources for little doodads that make a big impact.
While we’re not the biggest advocates for students having pets (unless they’re truly prepared for the time commitment), a plant is a great first step. Head to any nursery and ask for easy houseplants — peace lilies, braided money trees, and jade trees are good bets. It’ll add some life to your room and keep the air clean. But if you really want a pet, think beta. These fish are easy, cheap, and they can become a cool focal point if you get creative with their living arrangements.
Start looking around and pretty soon your room will no longer look like a typical college student’s lair — it will look like yours.