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No Place Quite Like Home

Decorating Your Flat on a University Budget

Well ladies and gents, it’s that time of the year again – a time of resettling, unpacking boxes, navigating flatmates and new living situations. We’re back to late night get-to-know-you kitchen chats and watching the dishes pile up in the sink half-wondering why we ever left home, because at least there we didn’t have to think about bills and laundry detergent and unclogging the hoover. Welcome back to life at university.

I think it’s fair to say that “the Flat” will, at one point or another, come to play a significant role in nearly every student’s university experience. We’ll make the move out of halls and into the lock-and-key world of landlords and utility bills and, while it might feel daunting at first, we’ll get to experience a taste of real adulthood – although I sincerely hope that in a few years time you’re not still living with seven other adult roommates (until they’ve discovered a scientifically proven method of solving the Dish Dilemma, I’m unconvinced that living with seven people is a good idea outside the span of our early twenties).

But right now, we’re at university – that delightful, challenging stepping stone between childhood and adulthood. Eight semi-adults living together under one roof is not only to be expected, but can actually be, in many cases, enjoyable. Now, it’s just a matter of scrounging together our extra pennies so that we can cultivate a space that feels a little more like home,and that’s where I come in. Here are some essential tips for making your lovely university flat feel a little more like you, and a little more like home away from home – in, preferably, £50 or less. Let’s begin.

Tip Number One: Visit Your Local Charity Shop: (£30)

At the top of the list is, in my opinion, the most budget friendly and enjoyable option: visit your local charity shop, regularly. However, keep in mind that £30 at a charity shop can go quickly (not that I recommend spending it all at once), so before we dive head first into a Clutter Disaster, we need to take a moment to pause and reflect on some important and essential questions. Ask yourself, “How do I want my home to feel? What is the sort of space I want to cultivate for myself, my friends, and flatmates?” There is so much personality to be found in each charity shop, with every piece carrying its own story – so, before grabbing that second-hand, somewhat tacky pillow, make sure that its personality fits your own (and that you wash it when you get home). My top bargain find at charity shops is definitely second-hand frames: buy an assortment and fill them with pressed flowers, your own printed photos from home, cutouts from magazines, or go minimalist and let the frame speak for itself. Don’t like the color? Spray paint. Another excellent find is books, old and new. I don’t care if you don’t read them (and that’s coming from an English major) – books make fantastic decor and immediately offer texture and depth to a shelf, desk, or mantel. Pro tip: hate the neon-red cover of a book? Turn it around to show the soft, neutral whites of the pages instead. Lastly, charity shops can be a great place to find containers. Collect some second-hand porcelain or glass jars to hold your pens or jewelry or, if you’re feeling really creative, add some wicker to your home with the odd picnic basket for your blankets or dirty laundry. Again, just be sure to give them a good wash.

Tip Number Two: Raid Your Mom’s Attic: (probably free)

One of my favorite things to do with a space is marry the old with the new. Coming to university is undoubtedly an exciting time of newness: new friends, new places to see, new conversations and experiences. In many ways, it feels like a fresh start in the world. But amidst all the bustle and excitement of university life, it can feel so reassuring to cultivate within your flat a bit of familiarity and groundedness. Including old family photos or memorabilia, dug up from old boxes in the garage or attic, is a simple way to do this. People love to hear your story and see what (and who) made you you, and old photos can be a great way to showcase a bit of your own personal history and spark conversation. This morning, sitting with a friend over coffee, she shared with me some photos of her parents while they were at university and some of herself growing up. Not only did I immediately feel like I knew her better, but I was met afresh with the sense that history can be such a powerful reminder of how fleeting, wonderful, and worthwhile life is. Bringing the past into the present is an excellent way to remind ourselves (and our friends) of where we came from, while encouraging us to wait expectantly for what lies ahead.

Tip Number Three: Get Creative at the Hardware Store (£20)

I’ll say it once, fluorescent lighting should be illegal. There’s nothing that throws me off more than feeling like I’m strolling through a Tesco aisle whilst sitting in someone’s living room. Take those horrid light bulbs out and swap them for warm LEDs from the hardware store. Pop those bad boys in some charity shop lamps and suddenly, the layers of yellowing paint on the walls take on a far more pleasant hue. Next, trade all those tacky plastic containers and invest in some lovely mason jars and glass bottles (which could also be found at a charity shop) for Q-tips and cotton pads, makeup brushes and vitamins. Or, visit Tesco (mind the unforgiving light) and buy yourself some fresh flowers to put in a glass jar or vase. You can even use a lovely glass olive oil jar for soap – keep in mind, Naturity offers soap in bulk to those wanting to refill their own bottles! Get creative, but don’t mistake creativity for clutter. Be intentional with your space and be patient – before long, you’ll have cultivated a space that feels truly you.

Coming back to university is an exciting, new, and challenging season; leaving what’s familiar, comfortable, and expected can feel daunting if not a little frightening. However, with time and creativity, we can find ways to make our new homes feel a little more like home. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can leave you with is this: interior decor has less to do with what you put in your room, and far more to do with the ways in which we welcome friends, strangers, and flatmates into our own spaces. People likely won’t remember the lovely wool throw blanket you bought from Farmore, but they will remember how they felt while they were over. Ask yourself this, “What makes home really feel like home to me?” And that feeling, the feeling of welcome – that’s something you can’t put a price on.

Best of luck settling in, and welcome back to uni.

Illustration: Lauren McAndrew

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