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How to Avoid that “I Just Moved Out of the Dorm” Look

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One thing I have started doing as I’ve become an adult is start decorating with a purpose. What does that mean, exactly? Well, the obvious answer is that my furniture no longer looks like random hand-me-downs from family or like I took it all out of a dumpster. Not everything matches exactly, but at least it looks intentional. I have some nice things (and most of those are hand me downs, it is true) and some things that are probably not even remotely made out of something that you could call wood, but I’m working on it. In the meantime, though, everything looks tied together and nice. I just replace things as I get the money.

Here’s the thing: even if the furniture is a hand me down, you have options. You can sand and paint things so that they match the rest of your stuff. I think it is what YouTube and Pinterest were made for. And if it is something that can’t be painted or stained, you can probably put a slipcover over it. These you can order online (just measure your stuff first) or if you’re crafty, go online and find how to do it. Furniture that matches (or at least is complementary in color and/or style) will look like it belongs together, and that’s really what you want. Nothing says “poor college student” like a roomful of threadbare furniture in three different styles and four different colors. And that’s cool when you are a poor college student, but it’s also not a room you want to invite your fiancé’s parents into. Or the stuff you want visible when you videochat for a job interview. Also—sheets are not window treatments. Stop that right now. Same goes for broken-in-six-places-by-the-cat blinds. If money’s really tight, you can make some no-sew curtains out of fabric (again, the internet will help you). Or you can try getting real curtains from the store. Even fabric shower curtains will work. Get something pretty that complements your furniture.

Another thing that I’ve learned is that there is a right and wrong way to display things. First, you need to be picky. I don’t care if it’s a comic book collection or Fabergé eggs. Collect only those things that are worthy of being collected. In other words, old happy meal toys are probably not something worth your time.Next, use the proper display. Not everything is designed to be thrown on a bookshelf. They make breakfronts, curio cabinets, and various other types of storage that might be more appropriate (unless we’re talking about books. Obviously use bookshelves for those). And lastly—and this is the real thing that separates something from being a horde vs a collection: display things very deliberately. You’ve curated your collection, you’ve got the proper display, make sure that it isn’t overwhelming to the eye either. Make sure there is empty space around items to break up the space and allow people to really see the items you care about. It also makes it easier for you to dust! If it’s important enough to you that you want to be able to see it, you should take care of it.

My last piece of advice is not to scrimp on storage. Seriously, storage is your friend! I have a coffee table that has room for two ottomans underneath, and when you take them out, they’re also storage bins. Genius! Get a low cabinet with doors and use it as a side table in addition to storage. Multi-purpose items are your friend, especially in places like your first apartment or if you have kids and do not want “toy store explosion” to be the theme of your décor! There are lots of options out there, you just have to do some looking—for example, my friend has an end table that is also her dog’s crate!

With a little bit of creativity and some work, you can make even your grandma’s worn and faded sofa look like an expensive custom piece. Now that you’ve read this post, take a look around your room and start thinking about what you can do to really make it great!