I Spent $600 on My Maximalist Dorm Decor, and I Have Zero Regrets
When I was 17, I made history as the first teenage girl to ever get a Home Depot rewards membership. Well, the first teenage girl I knew, at least.
The first time I dipped my toes into the interior design world was January 2012, when a set of IKEA Ramsta Purple Diamond String Lights caught my 9-year-old eye as I wandered through the store. My room already had a hook sticking out of the ceiling from when my dad tried to hang a canopy above my bed the year before, so I took it upon myself (and what remained of the holiday money I carried in my pink Claire’s purse) to hang the lights from it. As soon as I saw the lights’ mystical purple glow on every wall of my room, I was obsessed — and that’s when I first realized the endless possibilities for transforming my space.
I spent my preteen and teen years decorating and redecorating my childhood bedroom, lining my walls with magazine cutouts, paint splatters, and posters from Hot Topic. As I began dealing with depression and anxiety in high school, decorating my space was one of the few things in my tumultuous teenage life I felt I could completely control. Then COVID happened, bringing all kinds of uncertainty with it, and I channeled even more of my energy into this hobby.
By the time I went off to college in 2021, decorating was more than a therapeutic way for me to express my style and surround myself with things that make me happy; by embracing changes in my living space, I started learning to embrace change in the rest of my life as well. Through the ups and downs of college life, my green shag rug, fluffy pillows, and fairy lights comforted me and gave me a sense of self — and when I decided to swap those items for new decor, the changes only reminded me of my resilience and excitement for the future.
Making these changes to my space didn’t come cheap. I spent about $300 each year on my freshman and sophomore dorm rooms. I was proud to spend the money — which I’d earned at my $17-an-hour summer job as a beach badge checker — on something I cared so much about. I knew it was a privilege to be able to buy these items, but it wasn’t until a TikTok video of my sophomore dorm room went viral and was featured in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post that I realized how my innocuous spending habits pissed off other people.
Commenters on the articles ripped me (and the other students mentioned in the piece) to shreds, criticizing what they called “irresponsible” money habits and suggesting “frivolous” decor is to blame for student debt. (Honestly, it’s giving, “You can’t afford a house because you’re spending money on avocado toast.”) Others said a well-decorated dorm room “defeated the purpose” of having a dorm room in the first place, which I presume means some people believe dorm rooms are made for blandness and suffering — to which I say, no thanks. (FWIW, Apartment Therapy also shared my tour on social media, but the responses on those posts were actually so nice.)
The truth is, the critics didn’t faze me — TBH, I found them funny. Putting some of my hard-earned money into my space did wonders for my mental health. I learned the crucial value of cultivating and taking care of the things that bring me joy — especially in such a hectic, transformative time like college. And no matter how many aggressive comments I receive from internet strangers, I’ll never feel bad for investing in the things that bring me peace and joy.
Since the article was published, I’ve moved on from the dorms and into my first studio apartment — and yes, I’ve gone all-out on the decor there, too. Just like the dorm rooms that came before it, the way I decorated this space brings me right back to when I was 9 years old and full of wonder over my first home decor project.
“You always find a way to make everything your own,” my dad told me more than a decade ago, after I’d first dragged him up to my room to admire the lights I’d just hung. “I like that about you.”
Over 10 years later, and I still like that about me, too.