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Making a College Dorm Feel Like Home

During my four years of blogging I’ve dedicated several posts to my housing experiences. As a freshman, I offered some advice on living in a triple and during my sophomore year, I wrote about my love for my six-person suite. Now a senior, I could easily write about how my current three-person apartment has been my favorite living situation yet, and how I adore having a kitchen and my own personal bathroom. But I’ve decided to take things in a different direction this time around. As much as the physical qualities of a space and who you share it with matter, I’ve also found that what you do with a space—the way you decorate it and make it your own—is just as vital to making a dorm room feel like home.

Growing up, I loved to decorate (and then redecorate) my room(s) (having two rooms is one of the silver linings of being a child of divorce). I loved to arrange and rearrange my furniture. I loved to cover my walls in collages of artwork, postcards, and scraps of fabric, and then tear it all down after a few months and start over. And I loved that, at least in these two rooms, I could decorate everything exactly how I liked it and change it all as frequently as I pleased. This love for amateur interior design hasn’t exactly subsided in college. If anything, the unique qualities of dorm room decorating have just inspired me to get a little more creative.

Each year of college has corresponded with a new living space and a new challenge to make that space feel like my own. Here’s a look at how I’ve personalized my dorm rooms over the years:

Year One: The year I lived in a triple and had only one wall to call my own

Freshman year dorm
Freshman year


After years of having my belongings and decorative artifacts spread between two rooms, I was confronted as a freshman with the reality that I would be sharing one room with two other people and would therefore have very little space to personalize. As a result, I had to be really strategic with how I used my space.

Lofting my bed was my first decision, which ended up giving me additional wall space and allowed the middle of our room to remain open. My decor was a mix of new items purchased specifically for college (a mini fridge, a microwave, a printer, a lamp that clamped onto my bed frame), and things from home (a blanket that I made out of a tapestry with my mom, a world map I’ve had since I was a little kid, a stuffed animal turtle with magnets in its feet, and an assortment of pictures and artwork I cut out of magazines). While it was certainly different than any other room I’ve decorated for myself before or since, it retained enough of the character of my pre-college living spaces to feel like home while also totally signifying the new chapter in my life.

Year Two: The year I lived in a double and had a wall and a half

Sophomore year dorm
Sophomore year


My sophomore year, I shared a double with one of my best friends and we got a little more creative with our furniture arrangement. I once again lofted my bed, but this time I turned my desk sideways beneath it and added a curtain, which helped to make the space beneath my bed feel more like a cozy fort—the perfect refuge for long nights of studying. Our suite had a number of closets and shelves outside of the bedrooms where my suitemates and I were able to store our food and cooking supplies. The external storage meant that I had more room to decorate in my bedroom so I added more pictures, hung up a necklace organizer, and covered the shelf above my desk and my desk chair in fabric. While these additions were small, they helped to make my sophomore year room really feel like my own and helped to transform a small, plain space into a place I could relax and feel at peace.

Year Three: The year I finally had a whole room to myself

Junior year dorm
Junior year


IMG_6303  IMG_6304

After a semester abroad in Thailand, I came back to Rochester in the spring of my junior year and moved into my first single. My room felt humongous after two years of sharing and it took a while for me to get used to how bare my walls looked.

Thankfully, I had picked up a few decorative pieces during my recent travels to help fill the empty spaces: a poster from Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon (the best book store on earth that just happens to be in my home state), another poster from the Seoul Museum of Art that I picked up during my trip to South Korea, and a woven floor mat that I got while studying abroad.

While the peace and quiet I found in my room that semester was more than welcome (no longer did I have to work around someone else’s sleep and study schedule), it also felt a bit lonely to live completely by myself. I was somewhat surprised by this—hadn’t I had my own room for most of my life? But I quickly realized that having your own room in a house full of other people is rather different than having your own room in a dorm where you don’t know anyone (all my friends lived off campus or in other dorms). While I certainly wasn’t unhappy during my semester in a single, I also wasn’t unhappy to move back in with friends the following year. All in all, it was a good reminder that every kind of housing option in college has its pros and cons.

Year Four: The year I lived in a single and had my own bathroom.

Senior year dorm
Senior year




This year, I think I’ve found the perfect balance. While I have my own room, I also share a kitchen and common area with two of my closest friends. My room this year is carpeted, has walls made of sheetrock rather than cinder blocks, and is a bit oddly shaped thanks to the bathroom that occupies one of the corners. Consequently, it feels very different physically than my previous single.

The smaller floor space also means smaller wall space; this time my posters seem to do a better job of filling the walls. My biggest decorative addition this year was a shower curtain (I spent far too long trying to pick one out on Amazon before I finally found one that was both cheap and visually appealing).

But at this point in my college career, I feel pretty set with my decor. My room still has little things to remind me of my childhood rooms—my blanket, my map, a picture of my brother and me with our two best friends over 13 years ago.

But I find that I no longer associate these items so strongly with my childhood homes.

While I’ll always have a hometown, college has made me realize that home is really anywhere I am. And while that of course doesn’t boil down to anything material, I’ve found that surrounding myself with a few sentimental items (old and new) can certainly go a long way toward making a space my own.

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