Skip to main content

TBT: Apartment Decor, Not Dorm Room Style

Folks are spending a lot more time at home these days. Even before the pandemic--and presumably after it ends--millennials are choosing to stay in more often than other generations do. Whether you're quarantined or just introverted, it's a lot more enjoyable to pass the time at home when your habitat is beautiful and cozy. Back in the early years of the century, during the last recession, when my husband and I still lived in a dirt-cheap apartment on a low income, we used creativity--and one small theft from a Wendy's--to feather our nest in a way that made us and our guests feel comfortable and grown-up. The post below is for anyone on a tight budget who's ready to settle in and turn whatever living space they have into a real home.

For fresh ideas on how to make a tiny, cheap apartment feel luxe and personalized and youthful, check out Alexandra Gater's wonderful YouTube channel.

Apartment Decor, Not Dorm Room Style

Your apartment may be tiny, plain white, and cheap, but it doesn't have to look like a dorm.


We did our best to make our one-bedroom, under-$500-a-month apartment in a seedy part of downtown Lansing into a peaceful and chic home. After having parents and friends drown us in generous, though often peculiar, hand-me-down housewarming gifts, our greatest challenge was finding storage for all our stuff. Organization and downsizing are essential to living in a small space. Clear out all the junk you don't need to have in each room. Then pack it away in a storage unit, sell it, or donate it to the thrift store.


For items that are too precious to give away or entrust to a storage unit, stow them in hidden spots around your apartment. Our Buddha shrine was made of a plastic storage box covered in a twisted and draped bolt of fabric. Many of our "end tables" hid secret collections of things that were not immediately useful. When it came time to move, these boxes were already packed and ready to put in the truck.


You can easily find all the furniture you need for your tiny apartment at the nearest thrift shop. If everyone you know hasn't already offered to give you an old couch or recliner, you can pick them up used, in good condition, for $20-$50. Hide worn spots with blankets or furs that coordinate with the room.


The same goes for carpet--apartment floors can be nasty, so rugs are important. We eventually placed rugs in every room of our apartment. They were given to us by friends and family or purchased at the American Eagle Superstore--$40 for this large, pretty living room rug!


If you live in a plain white apartment that you cannot paint, collect colorful fabrics and artwork. Don't hang posters, or your home will end up looking like a teen bedroom or a college dorm. Create your own decorative paintings, as I did here, or scout thrift shops for interesting prints and frame them. Ugly, shabby, or boring walls and furniture can be made beautiful by layering things on top of them. Our tablecloth was made from an old, torn duvet cover. The objects arranged on the shelves are old dishes, pottery made by friends, and seashells found on the beach.


Our apartment came with those standard yucky, dust-collecting, white plastic blinds. The lease agreement did not permit us to hang the hardware for window treatments, but customized drapes are a requirement for an attractive, comfortable home. So we bought spring-loaded shower curtain rods and wedged them into the window frames to hang curtains. We chose breezy, sheer panels for the living areas and dark, velvety fabrics in the bedroom for privacy and light control.


Speaking of light, place lamps in every room to reduce the need for unflattering overhead lighting. This inexpensive plastic-jeweled lamp from Target gave us another way to add color and interest to a room without painting the walls.


Ditch the movie posters, but you can still decorate with paper. We created a faux wallpaper border around the dining area by cutting colorful rectangles from the bottom pages of a butterfly calendar and affixing them to the wall with removable putty. You can make very nice "fine art" from old calendars with classy prints such as Chinese watercolors or vintage pop art if you put them in frames. Save a lot of money by finding frames at thrift shops and doing it yourself.


For custom designed dishes, gather your friends and have a party at one of those paint-your-own-pottery shops. Choose slip-cast items such as pitchers, cappuccino cups, plates and bowls, sushi sets, and Tuscan style wine jugs, and glaze them yourself to coordinate with your taste and kitchen. Other cheap, easy, and beautiful decorating ideas? Light candles--cheap, bulk, unscented or lightly scented kinds placed in found ceramic or glass containers. Fill your apartment with houseplants from cheap windowsill herbs to hard-to-kill and super-air-cleaning spider plants. We snagged this one as a baby sprouting from the foliage inside a local Wendy's and hung it from a heating duct grate to shade and soften the dining room window.


Have fun designing and decorating your beautiful, grown-up home. Go ahead and string up Christmas lights and tinsel--but only if it's actually Christmastime!


So you can only afford a small, plain apartment. So what? Use colorful and textured fabrics, window treatments, and broken-in furniture to create a cozy hangout for yourself and your friends. Throw a party and have fun!


Happy apartment living!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

$Monday: Corona Summer Self-Care

Nobody wants to hang out in a waiting room at the height of this pandemic summer. One of my friends just dodged an outbreak by procrastinating on having her cat's claws trimmed. Now everyone who's been to that vet during the past few days is supposed to do the two-week quarantine routine. Now on top of copays and the usual discomforts of obtaining care for our furry friends and our human selves, there's the risk of catching the cooties. Definitely go and get any treatments that you need, but it's great to not need as many office visits. I'm doing what I can do at home to take care of my own health and have all of my stupid, silly summer fun in relatively safe ways--like having a redneck pool party in the lawn with my daughter and husband. Here are some other ways I'm staying healthy, safe, and sane while maintaining social distancing and a spark of faith that my kid might somehow be able to go back to school next month: keeping active with silly st

$Monday: Bog Witch Style on a Budget

Autumn in a pandemic is the perfect time to tap into your inner bog witch with wild hair, cozy clothes, forest rituals, creepy cats, fire, books of spells, and Dark Cottagecore home decor mood boards on Pinterest . You don't have to live in a literal swamp. The word "bog" comes from a Gaelic term for "soft," and it sounds nearly identical to Slavic words for gods or divinity with Proto-Slavic roots that refer to earthly fortune. Bog witches burrow into the true goodness of life nestled beneath all the hustle and polish and show of making a living. They focus on soft wealth and spiritual power. The vibe is slow, earthy, comfy, moody, sneakily seductive, maybe sticky, wise rather than smart, preferring old things to new, charming rather than impressive. It's about harmonizing with the natural environment, blending, melting, enveloping, and sinking into earthy, downward energy. Bog witchery vibes with hygge, friluftsliv , and the indigenous earth wisdom of whe

TBT: Full House

Remember when co-housing, roommates, and multi-generational family homes were good ideas? Those living arrangements still have their advantages, but during a pandemic, it is much safer for individuals, romantic partners, and caregiver/dependent units to have their own spaces, amenities, and entrances. I miss the days when that wasn't so. I hope that one day soon, this pandemic will end, and the Great Recession-era post below will once again be relevant... at least for some people, at some times in their lives. I'm sure it is still relevant on well-governed, geographically isolated island nations such as New Zealand and Iceland. Oh, to be in one of those nations at this time! I sure do miss hanging out with my friends and having overnight guests, but in this very particular moment, I am grateful to live in a single-family home with only my husband and daughter and to enjoy the ability to stay put in it most of the time. I sure did not see an out-of-control pandemic coming

TBT: Fast-Forward Fashion

This blast from the past is funny, because my personal style and shopping habits have evolved quite a bit since my 20s--in fact, full circle to the advice in the first paragraph I wrote, which I went on to reject at the time. In my 20s, I enjoyed extremely silly fashion. I'd look at Vogue magazines and then imitate designer looks in ridiculous ways. I tried to anticipate near-future trends, which I nailed in the first picture here, where I've "put a bird on it" before the meme was born. Yus! ...But. Now that I am a fully fledged adult with a more relaxed budget, I hardly ever shop for clothes or accessories, not even at thrift shops, where I am now more afraid of picking up bugs. I still have a lot of clothes, but I rely heavily on swaps and hand-me-downs from friends and family. Occasionally I browse garage or church sales in communities I trust to sell clean garments. The world is now drowning in excess clothing, so it's easy to rake in quantities of barely-wo

$Monday: We Can Rise Above Death Cult Capitalism

Mmm, doesn't the smell of a bonfire make you feel punkin' spicy? Growing up, I internalized the United States cultural values of hard work as its own reward, high scores, and monetizing everything. From the age of 13, I scrounged for paltry wages (childcare, tutoring, arts and crafts sales, retail and food service and office temp jobs) while earning high grades at expensive private schools. I learned to feel guilty about "wasting" time relaxing without multi-tasking or enjoying a hobby with no intention of turning it into a hustle . I didn't have enough time to eat or sleep properly, and it made me sick and tired all the time. I was curious and drawn to new experiences, but I always felt ashamed of spending any time or resources pursuing an interest that offered no clear path to a paycheck or an award that would reflect a flattering glow upon my forebears. I had a healthy rebellious streak, but I learned to justify my transgressions with proofs of respectability a

$Monday: Testing a New Kitchen Design Before Renovation

My husband and I planned to renovate our worn-out kitchen this year, with my dad's help. And--oop!--we all know what happened to everyone's plans for 2020. There is no way I can keep my family fed properly through the pandemic in my designed-circa-1990, tacked-together, corner-cut, stingy-cheap, crazy, nailed-it-wrong kitchen nightmare that has been crumbling, grumbling, rotting, rusting, and breaking since we bought this house in 2008. We have to do something, so we turned a setback into an opportunity to slow down and beta test some of our new kitchen ideas with temporary staging. It might look insane, but who cares? We won't be having the queen over for tea anytime soon, so we can take time to play with space and function before we commit to building permanent structures and finishing surfaces. For example, open shelves are not practical for everyone. They don't hide clutter or protect things from dust. However, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and prefer

$Monday: Can You Breathe?

You can't earn or save money if you can't even breathe. One reason why "it's expensive to be poor" is that people who live in lower-income neighborhoods don't get enough clean air to breathe . I've demonstrated that " You can't afford a poor diet ," and it's even more obvious that you can't give up oxygen to save money. Poor air quality destroys productivity , and the terrible costs of air pollution are mainly borne by the individuals who suffer health conditions, disability, cognitive impairment , and premature death due to their lack of access to clean air. Before the pandemic, air pollution caused mostly by fossil fuel burning was killing about 200,000 Americans a year , and now it is accelerating American Covid deaths by over 15% . Meanwhile, cries of "I can't breathe" draw our attention to escalating police brutality and our federal government militarizing Brownshirt-resembling forces against its own citizens who a

TBT: The Best Free Medicine (Hint: Not Hydroxyclean)

It's not Hydroxyclean. Or any kind of disinfectant. Or hydroxychloroquine. It's not anything hocked by our joke of a president. But it is jokes about that and anything else that makes you laugh instead of rage. Humor has become more important than ever to my family's mental and emotional health during this global crisis. My tastes may have matured (or... something) since my days of watching Sacha Baron Cohen movies--now I prefer watching YouTube shows Trixie and Katya Save the World (WOWPresents) and I Like to Watch (Netflix) and following @knee_deep_in_life on Instagram. My husband and I laugh so hard we cry over a well-timed fart joke. Our nine-year-old daughter is a bit more sophisticated, but she shares the dark side of our sense of humor; we all adore Christina Ricci's iconic portrayal of Wednesday Addams. The news is, as usual, full of horror that isn't funny. Right now, the two main themes seem to be pandemic tragedy and racist violence. My husband and

TBT: Buddhist Meditations

Zen meditations! Inspirational quotes! Sick burns! Buddhism offers them all. As many American college students do, I enjoyed studying and practicing Buddhist rituals in college. As a recovering Catholic from a weirdly fundamentalist, Germanic-ish family tradition, I found the "bells and smells" of Buddhist temples familiar in a comforting way and the anti-dogmatic edge of Zen exhilarating in a refreshing way. I learned that extreme prayer and self-control are not owned by Christians, nor is smug superiority. What valuable lessons for a young person to learn. So valuable, in fact, that in our late 30s, my husband and I are still paying the bills for our private college educations. Can you put a price on ancient wisdom? Is that a koan? In my earliest adulthood, I took solace in the meditations below. Please enjoy them here on the Magic Nutshell, free of charge. Buddhist Meditations The Buddha sought a middle path between asceticism and materialism. All over the world, people a