Sunday, August 28, 2005

Living in Luxury on a College Student's budget

Live in luxury, comfort on student budget


Going away to college means a lot of change in the life of the student. Classes are tougher, parties are bigger and home-cooked meals become something of the past. There is another major development in becoming a college student, one that is too often overlooked: being in charge of decorating one’s own living space. Too many students default to the stereotypical Animal House style room and only after three or four years begin to grasp the subtleties of making a dorm room both pleasant and sociable. Here are some tips on living in MTV’s Cribs-style comfort on a college student’s budget.

The best place to start with your decoration of your new nine-month home is the desk. You may, after all, actually have to do some studying at some point. Flat screen monitors ($50, most computer stores; $30, will give you enough desk space to fit a textbook, a notebook and your keyboard all at the same time. Wireless keyboards are a pricey but worthwhile way to conserve more space and even allow you to move the keyboard off the desk for more room. A good desk lamp is essential, and the brighter the better. You can save desk space by connecting a clip-on lamp ($8, Walmart) to your monitor or a shelf above your desk, or by using a lamp with a large swivel arm ($15, Lowe’s). As for keeping all those pens and pencils in order, an old cigar box will do the job while giving your desk a more sophisticated look.

Beyond the usual nook for all the beer cans and munchies, storage is an often overlooked part of room decor. Start by utilizing all the space you have; use the closet to hang up otherwise shelved items such as t-shirts and pants, and use the extra drawer space for food, textbooks, glass tobacco-only smoking devices, etc. In addition, a finished wood bookcase ($30 for 6’ x 2’ bookcase, Big Lots) is a great way to store books, DVDs, CD cases and maybe even a couple of souvenirs from trips abroad. Don’t put empty liquor bottles on it, though; they’re not trophies, and no one is impressed by the fact that you drink Evan Williams.

Instead, a framed picture of you with friends or your current significant other is a great personal touch. Wall-mounted shelves ($15, Lowe’s) are an attractive and space-saving way to mount speakers or show off those foreign language paperbacks of which you’re so proud. They look great in the corner or above your bed, but be careful not to over-burden them or they will fall.

Now that you have all your crap stored away, you’re ready to work with the living space. Start with the floors. Almost all campus dorms are furnished with a hard tile that is both dirty and exceptionally ugly. While a large rug is perfectly acceptable, those of you who saved up some money working this summer may want to spring for the ultimate dorm room upgrade: carpeting. Lowe’s has a variety of indoor carpets that, with padding (which is essential), will run you about one dollar per square foot. This adds up to around $80 for a single or $75 per roommate for a double. Though you will have to temporarily move all of your furniture into the hallway, installation is easy enough. Simply lay down the padding, then the carpet on top, using a box cutter to reshape the carpet around any built-in furniture. This will give your room a comfortable, homey feel in addition to making it easier for friends with off-campus rooms or from out of town to crash on the floor. A sofa is essential, though a great substitute is a two-person loveseat or a futon. Just make sure sitting space is available for guests, which brings up an important point: never bunk your beds. It just makes hooking up awkward and making a first move damn near impossible. If you must, lean three or four extra-large pillows ($10 each, Target) against the wall on one of the beds and substitute it for a sofa.

In case you forgot, you need to put something on the walls. What you have displayed around your room speaks to who you are as a person, so try to keep in mind what each poster “says.” Pictures of semi-or fully-nude models imply that you have the sexual and emotional maturity of a 14 year-old. These and any alcohol-related posters go too far to advertise your interests and, as everyone knows, trying too hard to act cool is a big ugly red warning flag.

Your actions and reputation should speak plenty about your abilities at a party or in bed; no one who is good at either needs a poster to tell people that. Instead, try something more tasteful and distinctive. Hit up your art student friends for an oil painting or watercolor. Chances are they have a few extra sitting in their closet that they would be happy to part with for a few dollars or a nice bottle of wine. Any posters you insist on putting up can go from dorm room tacky to penthouse stylish with a mounted frame. Black plastic frames ($8, Wal-Mart) or custom wooden frames ($10 to $100, Home Depot) both look great.

The rest of the room is up to you. Small touches make the big differences -- a few candles can turn a gropefest with some random stranger you met at Phi Tau basement into a romantic encounter worth remembering (votive or tealight candles are less than a dollar each at Target, colored glass candle holders are $10 to $50). An artifact from study or travel abroad is an inexpensive way to add character to the room. A small houseplant gives life and color to the room -- bamboo, cactus or aloe vera plants require minimal care ($7 with pot, Target or Wal-Mart).

Just remember that your dorm room, in addition to being a place you have to live in for the next nine months, speaks volumes about who you are as a person. Try to have it say more than “I’m just another kid who likes sex and beer.”

No comments: