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How To: Seasonal Decor on a Student Budget

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Waterloo chapter.

The holiday season is upon us! Chilly winter days, baked goods, hot drinks, and celebrations with friends and family. As college students, our holidays tend to be split between exams and finally being able to go home at the end of December. This means planning your ideal winter wonderland needs to start now! Even if you aren’t hosting any festive events, studying in a beautifully decorated environment could spark a bit of motivation. But, because the college budget doesn’t quite leave space for non-essentials, here are my tips and tricks to gorgeous holiday decor (so you don’t have to choose between dinner and a fake tree).

Decorate Using the Space YOU Have

I know this sounds a bit obvious, however, you’d be surprised at how many unnecessary things I’ve bought because I thought it would look good. In dorm rooms especially, it’s extremely easy for things to start looking cluttered. There’s not a lot of storage, and chances are things get a bit messier around midterm/exam season. Don’t add more stress to the holiday season by giving yourself more things to clean. 

I would recommend pre-planning before deciding to go decoration shopping. Have a sketch or pictures of your room, and maybe create a list of items you think will fit. Personally, I use an app called “Room Planner” to make a model of how my room is already laid out so I can move things around when the holiday season comes around. Another benefit of pre-planning is that it’ll keep you on a set budget, so you also aren’t spending more than you have to. 

Just remember: sometimes subtle is better! 

Use Your Resources

Once the holiday season comes around, my screen time on YouTube skyrockets. There are so many great inspirational videos, photos, crafts, and other DIY decor that I just can’t stop looking at. On a student budget, decorations may be too expensive but construction paper and glue are perfect for adding your own festive touch! This could also be a great opportunity to schedule a hangout between you and your closest friends to make paper snowflakes and drink hot cocoa (free labour, am I right?). 

There are also some great craft kits, for those less artistically inclined, that are cheap and easy to figure out. Even a little combination of homemade decorations and ones from the store can create a homey vibe to your place. A perfect touch of comfort until you arrive home after exams!

Pinterest is truly your best friend for times like this, just a quick search of DIY decorations and you’ll find hundreds of suggestions for creating wreaths, ornaments etc. There are plenty of unusual decorations too, if you’re looking to reuse your recyclables. Even things like pop bottles, wine corks, paper plates, and egg cartons can make amazing canvases for your creative endeavours!

Also, make sure you save the decorations you bought/made for the next few years to come! If you have to make a purchase, make sure it’s high enough quality that it could be a dorm room staple for however long you’re there. Nothing is worse than having to rebuy or remake new decorations every year. Put in a bit of effort to store your creations safely and securely!

The Lalasmiling Girl In Mickey Mouse Ears
Her Campus Media

Shop Smart (Or Shop from Home)

There are too many people who underestimate the dollar store, especially around the holidays. I recently took a trip to my nearest Dollarama and was surprised by how many cute things they had, and how affordable most items were. I know that sometimes even five dollars is too expensive on a college budget, and I do admit that the prices have increased since I was a kid, but with your pre-planning and DIY decorations, you will be able to leave without spending 50 dollars. This is definitely a place you visit with direct items in mind, or at least ideas. It’s too easy to get carried away when everything is “only two dollars” and end up not being able to afford toilet paper. I would also recommend checking out your nearby thrift store for a more sustainable way to buy decorations. If you’re looking for a study break, there are also some awesome winter markets to check out and support your local businesses around the holidays. 

Or, as a super secret hack — steal some from your parents. My mother has too many decorations, and most of the time we don’t even see some of them. She’s a big fan of the holidays and would give me anything if it meant I’d be spreading some cheer in university. I usually take things that I don’t really trust from the dollar store, like glass ornaments or hand towels/fabrics. I even brought a small-scale tree home over reading week so I could build it when November hit. 

This is also a helpful tip for people who enjoy seasonal baking. Who would buy a whole bag of flour when you can take a few cups from your parents? When else would I use baking soda or power, so why buy it myself? Whenever I come home, I love to do some “pantry shopping” and steal all the things I may need for the next little bit. I highly recommend this as a great budgeting tool!

Candy Canes Ornaments Christmas
Jocelyn Hsu / Spoon

Go For the Unconventional

Instead of focusing on decorations, use other more unique ways to add a bit of holiday cheer to your space. Take a trip to Bath and Body Works, or even your local Walmart to pick up some of your favourite seasonal scents! This can add a great feeling to your area, without the decor, and it’s incredibly low effort amidst the busy season! For places where you aren’t allowed an open flame, there are also fake candles and tea lights, or the scented wall plug-ins. Dried fruits and spices can also make great aromatics while also being decorative — same with popcorn garlands! There are also many older traditions of baking specific types of cookies to dry out and use as ornaments, or salt-dough for a less “pest-attracting” decoration. To make it even easier, a package of candy canes or chocolate Santas could be cheap ways to add some colour and creativity. 

The holiday season is supposed to be fun and full of warmth, so don’t let decorating stress you out! These tips are low stakes, low cost, and low effort to save you some time during the exam season, while still allowing you to relax a little. Use decorating as a break from studying, and embrace the holidays as they come! And once the season is over, buy some half-price ornaments to prepare for the next year. Think ahead, have a plan and a budget, and immerse yourself in the festivities! 

Rhyanna (pronounced Rye-Anne-Uh) is a BSc Psychology student at the University of Waterloo, with a passion for research and writing. After her studies, she hopes to become a psychiatrist, working specifically with children. She started writing poetry in middle school and has been published in the Young Writers of Canada collections and won awards for her creative literature. Since then, she has made it a long term goal to write a poetry collection of her own. Rhyanna loves all things Halloween and shows this adoration by watching horror movies in cozy pajamas, going to themed events, pumpkin carving and planning an incredible costume every year. She also enjoys playing the flute, reading novels, online shopping, and volleyball. When exam season comes around, you can expect to find her in the kitchen baking endless sweet treats to avoid doing any work.