Eight ways to make your dorm look less like a prison cell


Sarah Demchak | Staff Writer

A dorm room in Lothrop Hall in 2019.

By Sarah Demchak, Staff Writer

When I moved into Holland Hall in 2019, the lack of air conditioning, dusty furniture and terribly painted walls stressed me out. Moving away from family and beginning college is already intimidating enough — your dorm shouldn’t make things worse. Here’s eight tips on how to make your dorm a little more homey this year. 

  1. Ditch the ceiling lights

I hate dorm ceiling lights more than I hate 8 a.m. classes. The bright fluorescents hurt your eyes and simply look ugly. Instead, invest in some string lights or fun lamps. Target sells colorful Halloween string lights for as low as $10. Amazon has a selection of fun lamps for low prices, like sunset projection lamps and Himalayan salt lamps. These softer lights will make the dorms feel warmer and less like a prison cell. 

  1. Explore Goodwill

Saving money is important for your average broke college student. Take the 75 bus and head to South Side’s Goodwill on E. Carson Street to find some cheap home decor options. Cover the bare, thickly painted walls with vinyls. Goodwill sells old, used records for as low as 50 cents. The less you can see the actual bland walls of the dorm, the better. 

Goodwill also has a plethora of glassware. From vases and bowls to beer mugs and shot glasses, there is always a wide selection of cheap, cool-looking containers. Grab a vase to put flowers in to make the dorm more lively, or purchase a fun mug to put pencils and pens in. 

These vintage items can bring some character into a boring dorm room.

  1. Photos galore

In addition to all the vinyls, cover your wall with pictures. Being away from home can feel isolating. Collect photos of family and friends from home to hang on the walls of your dorm, as if they are with you as you cry during midterms week. 

But as the semester goes on, luckily, you will create new friendships. Buy a Polaroid or disposable camera to capture new memories and add these new pictures to the wall. 

  1. Plants over pets

Unfortunately, you have to leave your dog at home when you go to college, but you can adopt a green, leafy friend instead to fill the void. Decorate the dorm with plants. Trader Joe’s on Penn Avenue sells affordable potted plants. Make the dorm homier by giving each plant a name and name tag. Right now, I have bamboo, a succulent and foliage plants named Atticus, Orpheus, Ambrosia and Atlas, just to keep a theme. Get creative with it and make your own plant family. 

  1. Rugs are surprisingly important

Dorm carpets are pretty bleak, and sometimes pretty gross. Investing in a big rug can help cover the carpet. Rugs come in all sorts of colors, which will add more personality in the dorm. They can cover the space’s original floor and give you plenty of room to sit and hang out on the floor with friends. Fun chairs are not as practical in a dorm, so having a rug is budget-friendly and manageable.

  1. Bring teddy along for the adventure

Have a favorite childhood stuffed animal? Don’t be embarrassed — no one cares. Bring your teddy bear to school and put them on the dorm-standard twin XL bed. It is great to have a childhood memento during this major life milestone. College is a completely new journey, and it’s fine to have a familiar face in the dorm to help you along the way. I’ve had my bunny with me for all of four years at Pitt, no shame.

  1. Move furniture

Don’t be afraid to rearrange the furniture in your dorm. There are many variations on how you can have a dorm room set up, even if the space seems too small to change. 

While in Holland Hall, my roommate and I moved the furniture for hours until we liked it. We had our desks next to each other to study chemistry and biology together. The ends of our beds also touched to create a ‘L’ shape. This made it possible for us to have another person over for a sleepover. It also made it easy to have roommate movie nights since we just flipped around to face each other with a laptop on the ends of the beds. Moving our dressers underneath our beds also allowed the room to have a huge open space for having guests over. Moving the furniture to optimize space can give you an opportunity to make the room more “yours.” 

  1. Leave the door open

Everyone says this, but it’s true 一 leave the door open during the day while you’re in your room. The more friends you make at college, the better. You and your floormates will be coexisting at Pitt for the year. It makes sense to interact with each other and get along. Make spontaneous plans, head to the dining hall together and have movie nights. 

Your neighbors are going through the same nervous and excited feelings as you are at Pitt, so make a pal and figure out college together. Ultimately, roommates and floormates are your new family this year. What’s more homey than being with family?