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A how-to guide on making the most of your student space

FOR MANY FRESHMEN, moving into on-campus housing is not the exciting experience promised by Staples commercials and IKEA catalogues alike. Rather than a spacious, eclectically decorated dorm, most students are met with little more than a glorified closet when they initially enter their expensive new dorm room—especially if they’re sentenced to a single room.

Judging from University of Ottawa dorms, students seem to think that the only way to decorate their domicile without breaking the bank is to hang a weed-endorsing variant of the Canadian flag over their window and call it a day. Despite this popular approach, there are better ways to turn your tiny living space into an apartment all your own.

Step 1: Know what you need

If you’re planning on staying within a reasonable budget, the biggest mistake you can make is heading out without a list. Take a look around your apartment or dorm room and ask yourself, “What’s missing?” If your walls are checkered with scrapes and small holes, you’re in need of a poster or two. On the other hand, if your bed is too bare, then decorative pillows or a new bedspread is in order.

Step 2: Scope out the right stores

No matter what your new home needs, there is a way to find it for next to nothing. The trick is knowing where to look. While IKEA is the place to go for cheap rugs, curtains, and other household knick-knacks, many students are unaware the store has a sizable selection of lightly used products available at an often sizeable discount. So if it’s a chair you need, or even a bookshelf, this is the place to look.

Step 3: Overcome your fear of second-hand swag

Charity shops, second-hand stores, and websites like Craigslist, Kijiji, and UsedOttawa are excellent places to look for almost anything your new home might need. While it’s wise to thoroughly clean any used items you get, there’s no need to feel uncomfortable with buying a stack of face cloths for 50 cents, or even grabbing a lamp your neighbours are evidently done with and turning it into a treasure of your own.

Step 4: Get creative

A good way to add a personal touch to your room is to print off some pictures of friends and family from Facebook and have fun arranging them on a wall or in another sparse space in your dorm. If this project isn’t for you, then take $5 and head down to the local thrift shop or craft store and whip up something of your own to decorate your dorm with.

Step 5: Love local events

Though you’re not likely to find any forums on home decorating in the Thryllabus, there are events on campus that can help you on your way to a well-bedecked dorm. As a part of their Alternative 101 Week, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group is hosting a free store where students are invited to come and pick through used items. This year the event is taking place between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sept. 9 inside the Unicentre.

Another event every student should know about is the annual poster sale. Usually held within the first week of classes, the Unicentre is taken over with a massive showing of posters, all available on-site for reasonable prices—definitely worth checking out if you’re sick of staring at your small, blank walls.

—Jaclyn Lytle