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7 Alternatives to the Fairy Lights You’ve Had Since High School

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With online classes and online activities, you’re probably spending more time in your dorm room than you ever have before. What was once a place to host guests and sleep has now turned into your space for everything, which can leave you feeling pretty tired of staring at the same decorations you’ve been reusing for years. 

When I left for college, I brought with me the same string lights I bought when I was 13. I loved the soft glow they provided, but they screamed 2014 Tumblr girl. After a few years, I finally invested in a new set of string lights — and they’ve changed my space completely. Not only do I no longer have that boring old strand of rose gold wires, but now I have a set that makes a statement in my room, while still providing the necessary light. 

If you, too, are looking to say something new with your lighting options, here are seven alternatives to traditional fairy lights that will liven up any room, and make you love your space even more. 

Add a classic neon sign

Neon signs are a fun way to spruce up your space with eye-catching decor that still gives off a nice glow. The bright colors are *out of this world* and can be hung up just with a nail or a command hook. Neon signs also make amazing decorations for common rooms, because they don’t take up too much space and really can set the vibes you’re hoping to go for. 

This Saturn neon sign (Amazon, $13) runs on batteries, so it can be hung anywhere in your space. This lightning neon sign from Amazon ($17) has bold colors and can be an amazing piece on any wall. For fans of motivational quotes, this Be Happy neon sign from Target ($25) is the perfect addition. 

Go with a floral

Love those vines that everyone seems to have bought last year? These are a step up from that trend. String lights entwined with fake flowers are the perfect choice for spring. Plus, they look amazing as a decoration even when the lights aren’t on. 

If you’re looking for some cottage core lights that’ll look great with your sundresses and your plants, these are the lights for you. These sunflower string lights from Amazon ($18) will make your room feel like a springtime garden. If you want to live your Beauty and the Beast fantasy, these rose string lights from Etsy ($15) will provide a delicate touch in any room. If your old string lights still work, or if you went all-in on the faux-vines trend this summer, a more affordable and sustainable option is to buy a floral vine and wrap them together. This set of fake vines from Amazon ($16) will make it so you don’t have to throw out your perfectly good, if not old, plain string of lights.

Try a more exciting shape

There’s no rule saying your lights can’t be a fun shape or color! I bought these dinosaur lights ($16), and they make me so happy to look at each morning! The dinosaurs are all different colors, so they’re always nice to look at when you’re trying to go to sleep at night. I guarantee that when you’re on Zoom, these string lights will be something fun that your friends want to talk about.

Another option are these fun star fairy lights from Etsy ($15) which are the perfect lights to spruce up your room. If dinos or stars aren’t your thing, these French bulldog string lights from Etsy ($24) are paw-fect! 

Replace an old favorite with a new color

Your current set of fairy lights probably give off a white light or a warm yellow hue. While those classic colors always make a space feel warm and cozy, sometimes color-changing lights are just the new vibe you need. 

These color-changing fairy lights on Amazon ($14) may look really similar to what you’re used to, but they have 16 different colors you can change to using a remote. Now, you can literally set the mood of the room when you pick a new color. Plus, there are options to alternate colors if you can’t choose!

If you loved the classic Christmas lighting feel from Stranger Things, these multicolored string lights from Amazon ($27) will be perfect for you. If you’re looking for something different, try these multicolored fairy lights from Target ($8) instead. 

Transform your entire wall with string light curtains

What’s better than a few little lights strung up across your wall? Curtain lights. This hot new trend allows you to either hang the curtain on your wall (so your Zoom background will look so much better than everyone else’s) or you can actually set them up to integrate lights into your curtains or any piece of furniture you own. This can range from wrapping lights around your bookshelf and planter to attaching string lights to your translucent furniture to create the ultimate room when you turn the lights off. What makes the curtains so great is that they don’t tangle like many other sets of string lights, so you can try so many different arrangements without worrying that you’re ruining your lights.  

String light curtains give off a really romantic feel, and allow you to change the color and flicker settings for your lights, so you can integrate them into whatever aesthetic your room has. Get these color-changing string light curtains on Amazon for $28, these warm white string light curtains on Etsy for $15, or these cold white string light curtains on Etsy for $15.

Get some hanging lights instead

What’s more whimsical than fairy lights hanging from the ceiling? Hanging lights from the ceiling don’t take up any space on your walls, and allow your ceiling to become a decor piece of its own. 

With these butterfly hanging lights (Amazon, $23), you can lull yourself to sleep when it’s time for bed. Besides the adorable purple color, these lights come in eight different modes — so you can decide when they flash and how bright they are. If you miss camping or the stars at home, these moon and star hanging string lights from Amazon ($22) or these starburst hanging string lights from Etsy ($21) may be the right fit for you. However, if you want to go a bit more classic, these hanging lightbulbs from Etsy ($30) are a chic alternative. 

Accessorize your desk

Sometimes you don’t want something to take up your entire wall or ceiling. Your desk should look just as festive and exciting as your walls, especially because you’re spending so much time sitting at it. 

If you want to buy a light, think about getting a small neon stand light for your desk. These come in hundreds of different shapes and colors, so they can fit any style. This palm tree lamp (Amazon, $14) has bold colors and doesn’t take up too much space, so it’s perfect even if you’re 1,000 miles away from the closest beach. If you’re feeling nostalgic, this Avatar the Last Airbender lamp from Etsy ($26) will bring you right back to childhood. If you want a desk light that’s a bit more personalized, this Etsy shop allows you to customize a LED light with your name (or any line of text) for $37. 

Your space contributes a lot to your mental health and your productivity, and it’s a great way to express yourself. Until the pandemic is over, we will all be spending a lot more time staring at the same four walls every day. However, that shouldn’t prevent you from having a space that you love. Hopefully, you’ll find some lights that make you excited to spend time in your room. 

Elizabeth Karpen

Columbia Barnard '22

Lizzie Karpen is 2022 graduate of Barnard College, the most fuego of women’s colleges, who studied Political Science and English with a concentrations in Film and American Literature. To argue with her very unpopular opinions, send her a message at @lizziekarpen on Instagram and Twitter. To read her other work, check out Elizabethkarpen.com.