Dorm, Sweet Dorm! Making A Home Away From Home

When I lived in China, my dorm room was basically four cinder block walls and a twin bed that doubled as a couch, table and desk. There was hardly any space, but also everything was a dismal, utilitarian beige color. It lacked any personality! This is typical setup in every dorm I have visited – no matter the country – but there are steps you can take to make your space more inviting, organized and homely.

Photos are a must.

If you don’t have a lot of money, you can print out photos on a laser printer and just tape them straight onto your walls. If you have slightly more money, you can go to a thrift store or something similar and pick up some frames for your laser printed photos. A can of spray paint will really help if your frames are all sorts of colors and styles. This will help create a uniform look to your gallery wall. Ooh la la!

Home Away From Home Photos
2013 was the year for overly filtered, low-quality, artsy dorm room pictures for me.

Plants and flowers help humanize your place.

Filling your room with native plants helps to humanize an otherwise ugly dwelling. I was lucky enough to take a horticulture class in college, so my apartment was full of plants or flowers that I took home from labs for a semester. Growing plants from seeds is very cheap, but buying houseplants or flowers will still be worth it. I have a particular affinity towards spider plants, which grow “babies” after a year. I was given a baby from my mom in my freshman year of college and I have given the babies from my plants to lots of roommates and friends. It is still alive and well at my desk at work, nearly six years later.

Home Away From Home Plants
If you are terrible at keeping plants alive, get a type of plant that thrives on neglect like a cactus or succulent.

Organization is essential.

In college, whether you are abroad or not, your room will most likely be very small. The need to have a multifunctional space is very important, so organization is essential. My desk often doubled as my dining table and my bed doubled as a couch and (if I’m honest) a dresser. Take the time to organize your desk at the very least by using storage units, drawer dividers, cute stationary or whatever works for you! Organization leads to productivity. Productivity leads to more time for fun!

Home Away From Home Organization
I can’t be the only one who did homework on a bed and ate lunch on the floor, right?

But don’t be so organized that your space is barren.

Let’s talk knickknacks. Trinkets. Tchotchkes. Whatever you call them, they are important for your wellbeing if they bring you joy. Pepper your room with little doodads that bring you back to a certain moment of your life. On my desk right now, I have the tiniest jar of Nutella that I picked up in an airport on the way to Iceland and a squishy panda wrist rest that I bought from Hong Kong. A little dragon figurine looks on fiercely as I type this; I received him from a work trip my brother took to San Francisco. Little things that bring joy to you are worth saving and displaying.

Home Away From Home Ghibli
Because Studio Ghibli figurines warm all hearts.

If you can afford it, add luxurious bedding.

When was the last time you bought yourself a new pillow? Did your sheets come from IKEA? If you have the money and IF you can spare it (because this really is not essential), buy beautiful bedding. You wouldn’t believe the affect it can have on your mood and your home. Plus, if you get sheets with a high thread count, it’s like sleeping in lotion. New pillows with silky cases are also heavenly. If you can afford it… do it.

Home Away From Home Bedding
100 thread count sheets are like sandpaper, and you deserve better than sandpaper.

Protect your memories.

I can’t take the full credit for this last tip, but the thing I’ve told every incoming freshman in my friendship group is to create a quote wall. My big brother in my co-ed fraternity created a quote wall when he was just starting school and it is the best idea. Simply tack a poster board to your wall and every time anyone says something funny or memorable, write it down! My roommates and I had one for every semester and summer that we were together. When I graduated, I created a book  of all the quotes for my roommates, and I still cherish those silly quotes to this day. If you aren’t that sentimental, it was also always a great conversation starter for first-time guests!

Home Away From Home Quotes
Here’s my quote wall in all its glory. It brings a tear to my eye! What beauty!!

What are your ways to make your dorm a home? Let me know in the comments or shoot me a message on Instagram @emalicethomas.

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Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a globe-trotting blogger sticking it out in Corporate America until her next big adventure. Her day job is a marketing specialist for a financial technology company in the Chicago suburbs, where she creates case studies, coordinates trade show displays and organizes marketing emails for campaigns, among other creative endeavors. As a strong writer with an eye for design, Emily has also been published both domestically and internationally in newspapers, magazines and other print and online media. She studied abroad in 2013 in Beijing, China, and has been country-hopping since she was a child. Emily holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Purdue University in English and Communication and is looking to pursue a master's degree within the next few years.


  1. I have invested in candles to make my dorm feel more “homey”. I added curtains to the windows and plenty of books which have transformed my dorm into a nice little home for me! I love your tips and I think I will invest in a few plants to tie the room together!

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