What We Really Learned In College

12 Feb

Internet, I have a confession.

I’m not working right now.  My husband and I moved from Texas to Missouri during the end of November to mid-December, and I’m still looking for a job.  Being in this position of living on limited funds has reminded me of college and the years right after, and so I am trying to remember the tenants of decorating when you’re broke.

Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that we all go back to decorating in the ways we did in college, rather than the ideas behind college decorating might be relevant.

1) Be creative. Nothing is more important than this one.  Blogs are a constant source of inspiration for me, as well as looking over Etsy and asking myself what I could do with everything about me.

2) Be resourceful. No one is better than shopping in their own homes/dorms than college kids.   I had friends who moved into an old house with a bunch of doors and windows stored in the basement, and they promptly used one of those doors for a coffee table.  The other thing I remember everyone using was Christmas lights around the top of a room, as lamps were expensive and the overhead light wasn’t always ideal.

3) See the potential. Never were my friends and I as willing to see the best in an object as when we had no money to buy another.  Dresser top scratched up?  Cover it with a scrap of fabric.  Ugly shelves?  Paint them or cover them completely.  Nowadays I feel like we all think we should buy something new instead of improving on what we have, and are consequently unhappy because we can’t afford new furniture.  But everytime I see a before and after posted, I look at everything I have for what it could become. 

4) Think outside the box. Last month, I decided I wanted something for the bathroom countertop to hold Q-tips in, and scoured the bathroom section of Target, continually dismayed to find nothing cheaper than $8-10.  Eventually, I took a minute to think about exactly what I envisioned and really needed, and ended up in the kitchen section, where I found a perfect tumbler for $1.99.  In college, we did this all the time by not thinking about the label of what we needed so much as the function.

5) Use what you have. Why do college kids always have a row of empty alcohol bottles?  (For me, this actually happened post-college with a row of wine bottles.) BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THEY HAVE.  In the same way, if you have magazines, use the photos to decorate a bulletin board or empty frames, or just make a stack of them.  If you have a bike or guitar, give it some wall space.  If you have books, stack them throughout the house.  Find vases buried in your cabinets and fill them with marbles or seashells.  See the beauty and the usefulness of everything you own.

6) Use what you have access to. This is the same as the previous idea except in this instance, it’s not what you have, but what you can get your hands on.  My now-husband’s first apartment was decorated nearly top-to-bottom in movie posters.  He bought a few nice ones, but one of his friends worked at a movie theater and offered him free posters, and it fit him because he’s was also working in a video store at time.  (Oh, remember independent video rental stores?)

Similarly, when I moved into a new apartment my senior year I was musing at work about how I needed some art, and one of my co-workers suggested the book covers we took off new library books.  The library just recycled them, but I started going through the covers and made a few collages, and hung a few of them in cheap frames, on bulletin boards and on the fridge.

7) Steal ideas shamelessly. There was a reason we looked at everyone’s dorm set-up before my roommate and I arranged our furniture.  In the same way, any good idea was worth mimicking if it appealed to us.  Now, clearly you want to do this in such a way that 1) it is not illegal and 2) your friends don’t hate you.  You can avoid the first by not marketing any ideas you rip off, and avoid the latter by asking your friends if they’d mind if you did something of the same sort, and then by giving them credit whenever you are complimented.  But getting ideas from everything around you, whether it’s movies, books, magazines, home tours or IKEA set-ups, is entirely free and no one’s going to be mad!

8 ) Make the absence of something work. The same friends who used a door as a coffee table also used one as a kitchen table.  Since they had no chairs, they propped it only a few feet off of the floor, and put cushions and old pillows on the floor all around it for people to use as a chairs. Separately, but along the lines of absence, college kids use their space, but don’t buy items just to fill the emptiness, as we’re tempted to do the more space we actually have in a living area.

9) Name your house. This one is clearly optional, and maybe all in my head, but I remember having more affection for places I lived (and the same with my friends) when we gave them names, and let ourselves see their personalities and work within those means.  My friends with the old house called it “The Cracked Pot,” another friend’s basement apartment was “The Matt Cave,” and every one of those Italian villas people dream about has a name.  I think the main benefit of a name is that we acknowledge the bones of the house and see it for what it is- and love it for that, even if it doesn’t always conform to what we would have wished for.


Not every one of these ideas might be workable, but even just thinking about how I decorated during my poorest days  was a helpful way for me to find renewed optimism and excitement about my home and what I do have to work with.  And both of those emotions are a welcome change in times like these, when attitude can make all the difference.

P.S. The day I finished writing this post, I got a job. Hurrah!

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