6 Hacks for Designing Your Dorm Room for Free

published Aug 23, 2023
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University student having fun unpacking and arranging things in a student's dorm room
Credit: Anchiy / Getty Images

When it was time to move to college and design my dorm room, I felt a distinct sense of self-affirmation … and maybe a bit of impish rebellion. Now that I was out of the house, my parents’ input on how I decorated was (finally!) null and void, and I was so ready to implement over a decade’s worth of ideas into every crevice of my new space. 

With a new set of dowdy walls as my literal blank slate, I embraced the freedom to transform my room into whatever I wanted. (No one could disapprove of my love of hot pink and zebra print anymore!) But there was still one obstacle that interrupted my long-awaited fantasy of creating the room of my dreams: the cost.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to lower the price tag on your dorm room decor. You can thrift secondhand furniture, or shop at budget-friendly stores for decorative knickknacks. But did you know there are also ways to design your space for free? Ahead are my favorite hacks and tips that will cost you zero dollars.

Use Canva to create your virtual room layout.

You can take as many screenshots of dorm decor inspo as you want, but when it comes to envisioning your room, Canva’s free mobile app can help you see it all come together. Start by uploading a photo of your dorm room’s floor plan, which is typically available on most colleges’ housing websites, as a background. Then, upload photos of all your wishlist products — from lamps to rugs to your trusty rolling cart — and drop them wherever in the room you think you might want to put them. You can use Canva’s “remove background” tool on each product photo so the product stands alone in the image and you can see how it will actually look in your room. (TikToker @kaytill has a great tutorial on how to do this.)

Then, using the “move” tool, you can rearrange the items until your space is laid out exactly as you want it; you can even make your products overlap with the “layers” feature, which is helpful when you want to see which futon will look best on top of the rug you want to buy, for example. If you’re sharing a common space or a dorm room, you can send an editable Canva link to your roomies so they can add their input as well. 

Tip: You can adjust the lighting of each image with Canva’s shadow tool for a realistic visualization of your future space. 

Source free printable art.

Art may be considered a symbol of luxury, but you can actually source some great pieces to decorate your space at no cost. With public domain art, you can find artwork that matches your aesthetic and order free digital downloads. Search “open access images” on the websites of the National Gallery of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum, and other digital galleries to find non-copyrighted pieces. If your college tuition includes printer credits (many do), you can use those credits to print these pieces at no additional cost. 

Tip: Print your pieces on cardstock for an elevated look. 

Design your own text-based artwork. 

Word art is all over Pinterest, and participating in the trend is as easy as creating a design of your own with Canva. All you have to do is download a fun font from a free font website (such as Google Fonts or DaFont), upload the text file onto your Canva account, and use it to write out your desired word or phrase.

You can tweak the tracking, line spacing, shadows, and more to further customize the design. Then, you can print your personalized artwork and display your masterpiece. 

Tip: Adobe Express is another free platform you can use for this project.

Credit: svetikd / Getty Images

Create a college gift registry.

Baby showers and weddings aren’t the only celebrations that deserve the financial blessings of a gift registry. With various registry tools like or Amazon Registry, you can create a list of must-haves (and “really wants”) for your all loved ones to shop from ahead of your high school graduation or going-away-to-college party. 

Tip: Print your registry QR code onto your party invitations or on cards to display at your event for last-minute gifters. 

Ask for help in your school’s alumni Facebook groups. 

“Ask and you shall receive” is a good rule of thumb for college students — especially when it comes to your school’s alumni. Some institutions have super-strong school spirit, with alumni who care deeply about the success of the students who come after them. For my school, Florida A&M University, one of the easiest ways to connect with these alums is via alumni Facebook groups.

By posting in your school’s alumni groups, you might be able to find individuals who have hand-me-down items they can pass on to you for free. In super-lucky instances, you might even be able to find someone willing to sponsor your dorm room essentials or send you a donation to buy supplies for the school year.

Tip: Be sure to send a thank-you note to anyone who helps you!

Reuse items from your childhood bedroom.

In the past, I was excited to get rid of any and all relics of my childhood bedroom as I got older. However, with DIY and upcycling becoming so popular on TikTok in recent years, I’ve been able to see the benefit of reimagining my old items into revamped decor.

For example, I changed the knobs on my old dresser and lined it with vinyl to revamp its wooden exterior, and now it looks good as new! Not only does this save money, but keeping some mementos from when you were younger also helps a new space feel like home. Even though college is a time of transformation, it’s nice to be reminded of where you started.

Tip: Your relatives might also have some items they’d be willing to part ways with, such as extra linens or a TV they wanted to upgrade anyway. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Mia Diamond


Mia Diamond is a freelance journalist and cultural documentarian covering everything from fashion and beauty to career and wellness. She is a rising senior at Florida A&M University who loves reality TV, being out in the sunshine, and watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Mia's work has been published in Teen Vogue, Glamour, Essence, and Grazia US.

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