5 Cheap Ways to Furnish a Dorm Room

An empty dorm room.

College is a time of exploration, discovery, and self-expression. It's also a time of really small budgets. Fortunately, furnishing a dorm room does not have to be a costly endeavor. With a little creativity it's easy to create a unique and inviting space full of style. The trick is to look for nontraditional materials and repurpose them in new and exciting ways.

Vintage Suitcase Chair

Thrift shops and antique malls are awash with vintage suitcases that aren’t so great for travel any more, but can add lots of charm to a room. Choose a broad, shallow suitcase in an interesting color. Rest it in a corner or against a wall on four “legs” made of stacks of books or concrete bricks. Open the suitcase and overfill the bottom with blankets or winter wear you’re not using. Stuff the back of the chair (the lid half of the suitcase) with spare pillows or a cushion. Cover the stuffing with a quilt or afghan for a homey, vintage look.

Fabric-Lined Shelves

Fabric-Lined Shelves

After moving into the dorm, you likely have some cardboard boxes lying around. Don’t throw them away -- repurpose them into furniture. Choose the sturdiest boxes with no tears or bowed-out sides. Fold the flaps in and secure with Gorilla Glue so they remain flat. Stack the boxes vertically, for a bookshelf shape, or in cubes to make cubbies. Secure with more glue.

Fabric stores can get expensive when buying by the yard. Check out thrift stores

Fabric stores can get expensive when buying by the yard. Check out thrift stores instead for tablecloths, curtains, or even bedsheets with fun prints. Paint the cardboard shelves with a thin layer of Elmer’s glue, lay the fabric across the surface, and press it flat. Fold fabric around the edges of the shelves and line the inside as well. Work in small sections to keep the glue from drying out. Contact paper is another good option, and comes in a variety of prints.

Make these shelves with tiny boxes for a desk-top organizer, or with bigger boxes for storing sweaters and towels.

Easy Bed Canopy

For extra privacy from roommates, make an easy canopy with some 3M hooks and string. 3M hooks are inexpensive and won’t damage dorm room walls. Attach four of them (three, if the bed is in a corner) to the ceiling directly above the corners of the bed. Tie pieces of heavy duty string, such as packaging twine, between the hooks to act as curtain rods, and throw bed sheets or thrift store fabric over the strings. A sheer, lightweight fabric works best.

Wood Pallet Coffee Table

Wood Pallet Coffee Table

Repurposing old wood pallets is the ultimate DIY project. Pallets can be found on Craigslist, or salvaged from businesses which receive pallet shipments such as farm supply stores. You will need a truck, or at least a station wagon, to transport them back to the dorm.

To make a unique and funky wood pallet coffee table, stack three or four pallets

To make a unique and funky wood pallet coffee table, stack three or four pallets and secure with wood screws or wire. Sand off any exposed rough edges or splintered sections. Tint the wood with wood stain for a natural look, or latex paint in any color. A wood pallet coffee table not only has a huge table top surface, but offers shallow shelves underneath as well for storing books and magazines.

Dressed-Up Bucket Trash Can

Lots of supermarket bakery departments have five-gallon plastic buckets free for the asking. Dress one up by removing the handle and lid and gluing fabric to the outside. Fabric will not sit smoothly against the grooves at the top of the bucket, so tie a fabric sash or a bow here to hide the imperfection and add visual interest. These make great stackable storage bins, too. Another option is to wind sisal rope or jute around the bucket, instead of fabric, for a more natural, bohemian look.

Images courtesy of Ruairi and Erix.