How to decorate when you’re a renter


Delilah Bourque | Contributing Editor

Many students’ apartments are loosely held together by Command-brand adhesive products.

By Delilah Bourque, Culture Editor

When it comes to decorating a rented space, many college students fall into the classic decor scheme of empty Natty Light cans, a sinkful of dirty dishes and furniture they picked up off the curb.

But there are many easy and inexpensive ways to decorate an apartment without losing a security deposit. Though it can be easy to get into a “I’m only living here for a year, why should I decorate?” mindset, plenty of students have well-decorated homes — and they get their deposits back at the end of their leases.

Decorating a rented space can be difficult, since options are often limited by the confines of a lease. Many landlords don’t allow tenants to paint walls, and using nails to secure shelves or decorations to the wall cause damage that may prompt a landlord to withhold a security deposit when moving out. Victoria Cycak, a senior English writing and psychology double major, said that she likes to use alternative methods of adhering tapestries and other wall hangings.

“Command hooks everything,” she said. “Tapestries? Command strips. It sticks to everything and is also easy to take down.”

There are many different ways to get around the issue of not being able to paint or put holes in walls. From hanging multiple tapestries to hide blank walls to stringing white holiday lights across the ceiling for ambient and functional decor, there are many approaches to decorating a new place. Cycak said she starts with a theme, then builds a design around it.

“The one apartment I had like a mandala tapestry and then kind of like a zen theme,” she said. “So then I found some cheap decor at T.J. Maxx, and then also painted myself some buddha stuff.”

Brinda Vaidya, a junior neuroscience and psychology major, has a different approach. She said she likes to start with a few base pieces, staples that will be functional and fashionable when decorating a new home, then build from there.

“I usually start with the basics, like, get like some kind of tapestry or wall art to tie it all together,” she said. “A rug, some throw pillows, a throw blanket and then you’ve got yourself a decorated room.”

Decorating doesn’t have to be expensive, either. As tempting as it may be to look toward high-end stores like Anthropologie and Arhaus, where a dresser may run you almost as much as $2,000, for inspiration, many students look more towards budget-friendly stores. Senior political science major Hailey Roh said she typically shops at less expensive stores after scouring the internet for design ideas.

“First I go on Pinterest for some inspiration, just to see a color scheme I should follow, and then after that I go to T.J. Maxx or Target and buy like, fake plants,” she said.

Some students even make some of the decor for their apartments, relying on their artistic talents or skills with a hammer and nails to create custom pieces. Not only is custom art an extra personalized touch, it is also less expensive than buying decorations straight from a store. According to Cycak, creating her own art is a way for her to be more budget conscious. She said she likes to recreate high-ticket items using her own DIY skills.

“I paint canvases all the time,” she said. “I always try to do it myself before I buy it. Otherwise the art that I’m trying to buy is like $70, when I can just go to Michael’s and pay like $5 for a canvas.”

Pitt even offers a few ways for students to buy new decorations right on campus. University of Thriftsburgh, the University-owned thrift shop in the O’Hara Student Union, often accepts donations of furniture and decorations to re-sell to students at budget-friendly prices. Roh said she likes to shop the annual poster sale on Towers patio at the beginning of fall semester for more ways to decorate without ruining walls or breaking the bank.

“I go to the poster sale at Towers, and then I buy a couple things to tape on the walls, and then I sort of buy, like the only things I can do since it’s rented, I buy bed sheets that could match,” she said.

A lot of inexpensive decor is also personal, especially for those who have special momentos they wish to display, like tickets from performances and nice notes and cards from loved ones. For someone who is missing home, having pictures of friends and family members on their wall can help them feel more at ease in their college environment.

Students can put pictures on walls in a number of creative ways, like arranging them in a gallery wall or searching for different frames to prop up on furniture or hang using thumbtacks to prevent putting large holes in the wall. Personal effects are what help Vaidya feel at home in her off-campus apartment. She said that decorating helps her express herself, just like how she chooses to dress.

“I feel like decorating and just like fashion in general, that overlying thing, it’s just very representative of who I am,” she said. “I love expressing myself in that way and I feel like if I don’t have that I feel kind of lost.”