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RU Connection 2023: How to transform your tiny residence hall into your college Dreamhouse

With these tips, you can elevate your first-year residence hall from shabby to chic! – Photo by Ice You

So there you are, in your new apartment (residence hall) in a big city (New Brunswick, if you're lucky). Your family just dropped you off (at least one person cried). It's so hotter than you thought it would be, so you sleep on top of your quilt while the box fans blast. Even though your parents wished you'd "Never Grow Up," the time has finally come, so welcome to Rutgers University!

Home to asbestos-covered ceilings and rooms that feel 1,000 degrees, these residence halls have an unmistakable charm. But turning your residence hall into your new home is more than possible with a little online shopping.

Here are five decoration tips to keep your space functional and comfortable.

Warm lighting

My first-year roommate and I had one rule: no "big light." As in, no one was allowed to turn on the lighting component of our ceiling fan. This ceiling light, with mismatched white and yellow bulbs, made our room look like it was part of a hospital ward.

While we primarily relied on natural light, we used lamps, desk lights and, most importantly, fairy lights to create a relaxing environment. Our resident assistant may or may not have written us up for using ceiling pipes to hang up our lights, so invest in wall-safe adhesive hooks instead. I personally recommend purchasing electrically powered LED lights as opposed to battery-powered ones.

Collapsible storage ottoman 

While my faith in the structural integrity of my $5 storage ottoman was shaky at best, I can't imagine my room without it. Stuffed with snow boots, a beach towel, card games and extra water bottles, it quickly became the resting place of everything I didn't need.

My storage ottoman served as an inexpensive, functional, organizational furniture piece. It was a preferred chair for my guests, a table for Chinese food takeout and a stepstool for my 4-foot-11 roommate when she wanted to sit on my extremely lofted bed.

While I found my storage ottoman at a local discount store, you can find them everywhere at various prices, including this one on Amazon.

Closet curtains and a mini projector 

"Bachelor" Tuesdays and rounds of Jackbox Games after dinner at Fat Cactus Cantina would not have been possible without our white closet curtains and a mini projector. While our room was cramped and hot, the mini projector allowed us to entertain ourselves and others comfortably.

My roommate and I worked the setup to a science, so you don't have to. First, place the projector on top of the micro-fridge unit that all first-years are guaranteed to have. Depending on your perspective, you can balance your laptop and speaker against the microwave or on top of the freezer door. Second, unplug the fairy lights and turn the fans on high to enjoy a relaxing night in.

Remember, you're never too old to bake cookies and watch "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" with your friends.

Posters and photographs

Typically, Rutgers provides a twin-XL bed, a dresser, a desk, an end table and some variation of a closet. With all that standard furniture in the way, it's rather difficult to express yourself. But you know what you do have? Wall space.

Walmart offers inexpensive same-day and 1-hour pickup of photographs and posters. With roughly $0.12 per photograph, you can breathe life into those cinderblocks on a college-kid-friendly budget. While posters are slightly more expensive, it's a space-conscious way to display the cover of your favorite album, whose vinyl copy is safely back at home.

Utility cart

An average three-tier, metal utility cart quickly became the sacred home of my roommate's curated collection of snacks from Kilmer's Market on Livingston campus and Cafe West on the College Avenue campus. The snack cart was a convenient and organized way to hide the not-so-pretty things college kids need: mid-day munches and midnight motivation.

These carts are inexpensive and indestructible, making them ideal for college students. They also can live many lives — this year, the snack cart lives on as a makeup and hair cart in our off-campus house.

So, whatever your style may be, these tips can help you decorate on a spatial and financial budget. If you follow my advice and add your own personal touches, you're sure to make your dorm room a home!

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