Before I began college, my Instagram was flooded with pictures of pastel, color-coordinated dorm rooms. Every year, there are dozens of roommate pairs that spend hundreds of dollars making their sides of the room match perfectly, and as a result, they go viral on the internet.
While I was always impressed by these girls’ ability to make sure that every rug and comforter was the same shade of baby pink, I couldn’t help but look at those rooms and think about how sterile they seemed. Of course, they were pretty, like something straight out of a Pottery Barn catalog, but they appeared unlivable. These were rooms that were meant to be ogled, but never entered. It almost seemed like a sin to get into the bed at night and ruin the crisply tucked sheets.
When my freshman year roommate asked if I wanted to coordinate the decor I was buying, it felt really difficult to say no. I distinctly remember my mom telling me to say yes to “make a quick friend,” even though I didn’t like the look of perfectly matched dorms, and I ended up agreeing to stick with my roommate’s proposed color scheme.
The second I walked into the store, I knew that all plans to coordinate were gone. But I can blame my mother and my former roommate for believing that I had good taste, and wouldn’t fall in love with the ugliest comforter in the store. This comforter soon became mine, and ruined all plans for dorm room coordination. But that’s okay, because it was on my side of the dorm room.
Buy what feels the most “you”
In the end, I should have communicated about not wanting to plan my shopping around what someone else had already purchased; but it was for the best. My side of the room looked exactly like what it was — a side of a room, rather than a part of a set, and it felt authentic to who I was.
At first, not having complete control over how they decorate their room might be a bit weird for some people. But being able to completely pick out all your decor for your own side will relieve some of the awkwardness, because your side becomes distinctively yours, rather than a collective space. I liked mint, gray and coral, so my furniture reflected that. College is a hard transition for everyone, so being really happy with the room you come home to is extremely important. Choosing a color palette that you like, but don’t love, just to agree with your roommate will make neither of you truly enjoy the room.
“I’m not going to say that I hated my freshman year dorm — because I didn’t. I just wish there was a bit more “me” in there, rather than my roommate and I trying to create an “us.” We weren’t even friends, so by the end of first semester, it was strange that we matched everything,” says Lauren, a sophomore at Syracuse University.
You both should be able to pick out colors and furniture that reflect what your vibes are — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when you’ll be spending a lot of time in your bedroom. Your stuff should make you feel at home, and really loving your purchases will make you a lot more comfortable in the new space.
Our room ended up being a collection of different styles and colors — she liked modern inspirational posters, while I purchased a painting of Dwight from The Office — but we both were extremely happy with the way our respective sides looked.
To figure out what items are the most “you,” I suggest really browsing and seeing what you like. When I was first buying my dorm supplies, I looked at my own bedroom at home first. I thought about what I really liked about the space and what I wanted to change. That gave me a starting point before I began looking on social media. Check out art, decor, and dorm room accounts, and save the items you most like to better understand the specific colors and vibes that make you feel the most at home. Instagram and Pinterest are the best for viewing a wide variety of options, but going on store websites also gives you a lot to work with.
Moreover, the mood of your bedroom reflects on your mood, so if you’re not 100 percent in love with what you bought, then you’re never going to feel 100 percent. I felt really happy and at home in my room, because it had decor that always perked me up.
Dorm rooms are expensive – make sure the price is worth it
Despite the dozens of coupons stores promote for dorm supplies, it’s still expensive to build a liveable space. Shower caddies, Twin XL sheets, and shower shoes are items you’ll use for four years, and never again. There’s so much stuff you’re expected to buy, and it all adds up to make the already expensive college education even more pricey.
“I really wanted to bring my comforter and decorations from home because I wouldn’t need to pay for anything besides sheets. My then-roommates got really into those accounts where people make these monochromatic bedrooms and wanted to do that. I ended up spending hundreds on stuff I didn’t like and didn’t want to buy,” says Jessica, a senior at SUNY Binghamton.
If you’re going to spend your money on dorm supplies, they should be supplies that truly make you happy. It’s a waste of money to buy new sheets and a new comforter that you don’t even like. There’re so many options out there, and sticking to a coordinated color palette to match your roommate’s personal aesthetic limits you and your ability to truly make the space your own.
Even if you’re buying all your products second-hand, you’re still spending money. Most of the roommates who completely deck out their rooms to match spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on a dorm room.
I really like buying posters and art from Redbubble because it not only supports the creators, but allows you to buy cool, original designs in almost any dimension. Postcards are great to not only give you nostalgia, but can be really dynamic art to pushpin up on any bulletin board. Antique shops, estate sales and flea markets also have a wide selection of trinkets that most likely no one else will have on your floor.
This will be your home away from home
If you haven’t noticed, we’re in a pandemic. Without in-person classes, your bedroom is becoming your place to sleep, study, eat and learn. More than ever, your dorm room must become a home that you want to spend your time in. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in a space for the majority of the day that doesn’t excite you.
“I used to come home and feel weird about all the green in my bedroom. I don’t know how my roommate talked me into doing an all-green aesthetic. It felt like it was her Kermit the Frog fantasy that I just had to sleep in,” says Kate, a sophomore at SUNY Binghamton.
Above all else, the most important reason why you shouldn’t coordinate with your roommate for decor is that you’ll be staring at those four walls for dozens of more hours than you did last year. Many universities have shut down their in-person dining halls, club meetings, and student unions, and all of those spaces are supposed to be replicated on Zoom — which means you’ll be participating in everything from your dorm room.
This isn’t the time to pick out those “meh” blue sheets that match your roommate’s throw pillow. These will be the sheets you sit on for hours at a time, so you should really feel at home because some days, it might be the only thing you sit on. Your art, pillows and posters will be your backdrop for your Zoom calls. Pick products you want to talk about, and want your professors, classmates, and family to see in the background — even if it doesn’t go with your roommate’s stuff.
How to have the talk when your roommate really wants to coordinate
While I encourage you to be yourself in the decorating process, sometimes your roommate may have other ideas. If your roommate really wants to coordinate your dorm room, you should always be up front with her about your intentions. It might be scary — and your first disagreement as roommates — but in the end, you’ll both be much happier.
Firstly, when she brings up the idea, you should let her know that you are not particularly interested in coordinating. You should explain how this is a big transition for you and that you’re trying to make your space feel as comfortable as possible. However, you should also consider her feelings in this situation. She probably wanted to do this because it could be a fun way for the two of you to get to know each other. In this situation, I would ask her if she wanted to pick out some accessories together online.
Buying a poster or two online together not only lets her know that your decision not to coordinate is not personal, but is also a way for you to bond. A small poster can be placed in a communal area and won’t take up a massive amount of wall space in your room. Then, both of you can be satisfied without causing any early tension between you and her.
It’s best to always be open about how you’re feeling, so you’re not leaving her high and dry with a day before move-in. No one likes to feel like they weren’t communicated with, so this is the best way to make sure everyone is on the same page. While you may not necessarily agree, it’s important that you both know what you’re thinking about this situation because you share this room. Let them know as soon as they ask, if not earlier, because then all feelings will be spared.
Not coordinating with my roommate allowed me to be myself, and curate a space that I was proud to live in. While social media might try to pressure you into coordinating decorations with your roommate, in the end, it’s more important for a room that you love than a side-by-side bed Instagram picture.