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How to Decorate Your Dorm or Apartment for the Holidays on a Budget

As the holiday season approaches, it’s easy to get sucked into a never-ending Pinterest vortex of holiday decorations, party favors, clothes and more. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the money for 10-foot artificial Christmas trees and twinkling crystal fairy lights, or the time to DIY reindeer heads and Christmas ornaments. So, I rcame up with some ideas for budget-friendly, easy and adorable holiday decorations that will make your room the envy of the entire building.

1. String some festive lights

Tim Mossholder via Unsplash
Most of us already have lights hung up around our room anyways, so you might have this step completed. If not, stores like Walmart, Target and Five Below all sell Christmas lights for cheap. Use Command strips to hang them up, and soon it’ll feel just like the holidays at home.

2. Use window clings

Paola Chaaya via Unsplash
Window clings are a dorm-dweller’s best friend. They don’t hurt the windows and they look cute on the outside and inside. “My roommates and I always hit up any sort of dollar store or discount store before the holidays,” says Amanda Goecke, a senior at Carthage College. “We always hang up different colored streamers and put those cute little jelly stickers on our windows.” You can find holiday-themed window clings at just about any store, but they’ll probably only last you one season.

3. Hunt around for a mini tree (real or fake)

Emily Nelissen
If you’re living in an apartment, you’re probably allowed to have plants in your room. Those living in residence halls, however, don’t always have such privileges. You can buy tabletop trees — both real and fake — at places like Walmart, Target and Home Depot. These might be a bit more expensive, but you and your roomies can split the cost if you really want to get festive. If that’s not an option, have no fear. 

“One trick I loved doing in my dorm, since trees weren’t allowed, was buying scented pine tree sticks from Target,” says Autumn Dube, a recent graduate from Emmanuel College. “They’re made to go in fake trees to help them smell real, but I would just hide a few around my room and it smelled like Christmas.” If worst comes to worst, snap a branch off a campus tree and call it a day. Charlie Brown made it work, and so can you.

Related: 16 Dorm Decorating Ideas for the Winter Holidays

4. Raid your family decoration box

white couch with star-shaped pillows sits between a gold-framed mirror and a Christmas tree.
Photo by WONDERLOVE from Pexels
Chances are, your parents probably have a huge box in the basement or attic stuffed with holiday decorations. Usually, not all decorations get used, so after your family does their decorations, look around for anything they left behind. You might find some cute reindeer figurines, stockings or even some extra ornaments. Score!

5. Make *easy* DIY decorations

Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash
Most of us have about five minutes to ourselves each week, so we totally understand the struggle of DIY decs. But hear me out — it doesn’t have to be that hard. Try snatching some printer paper and cutting out paper snowflakes (assuming you still remember how to make them from your third grade classroom holiday festivities) with your roomies and hanging them up around your room. Draw winter-y cartoons on any whiteboards you have or make festive paper chains to string across the walls. “Raid the $3 to $5 dollar section in Target! You can get a lot of cute, trendy things for less money. You can also find supplies for a quick DIY session,” says Teri Morgan, a senior at Chatham University. See? You could probably even do these crafts while you’re sitting in your massive gen-ed lecture.

6. Use random things as ornaments

a nicely decorated Christmas tree
Photo by Kevin Bidwell from Pexels
You can find ornaments for super cheap at retailers. “We put up a miniature tree in our living room and decorated it with cheap ornaments you can also find at any dollar store, or with ones from home,” says Amanda. But if you want to add more creativity to your decorations, decorate your tree with random things in your room. “My parents bought me a Justin Bieber Barbie doll as a joke one year, so I took it to college and used it as our tree-topper during Christmas,” says Sarah, a junior at Temple University. “It was hilarious and everyone could see it from the outside of our building.” Have a cute hair bow? Put it on your tree. Too many highlighters? Put them on the tree. There’s no limit to all of the weird things you can use as ornaments. If you’re looking to stay festive, try buying a box of mini candy canes and hanging them on your tree or from your lights. As a bonus, you can eat them throughout the season!

When it comes to decorating your dorm room or apartment for the holidays, it can be tough to get that Pinterest-worthy look on a budget. But, don’t be afraid to get creative; a whimsical, fun room filled with mismatched decorations will still look great. Everyone will understand that you can’t afford to deck the halls with a towering tree and glass ornaments. After all, we’re all poor college students here.

Temple University, 2019. Magazine journalist and editor, fitness instructor, health and wellness enthusiast. Proponent of lists, Jesus, and the Oxford comma. Will do anything for an iced oatmilk latte. Follow my journey: Twitter + Instagram: @sarah_madaus