6 Frugal and Eco-Friendly Ways to Decorate Your Apartment or Dorm

By Kristi Hetchler

If you’re looking to decorate and furnish a dorm or apartment, but you don’t want to bus down to buy everything new at target or spend lots of money, this article is for you! Hopefully there are some ideas here you haven’t heard before. 

Art Wall

A lot of the posters sold to new students are actually expensive. I didn’t want to spend that money on posters, especially since I wasn’t a huge fan of most of the Union poster offerings. Instead, I turned to friends and family to help decorate my walls. In highschool I had a lot of friends that liked to draw, and didn’t really want to hold on to all of their doodles. Also, the beginning of freshman year had a lot of university sponsored art events. I decided that instead of buying another poster, the main wall in my dorm was going to be an art wall of whatever people wanted to pass on to me to have its own place of honor. This was probably the best thing I did in my freshman year apartment. It was colorful, and when I looked at it I could see a collage of inside jokes and also be reminded of my friends in college and my family and friends from home. It was also a funny conversation piece, because there was a photoshop crying salad, an aggressive flower named Wilburt, and a flying eyeball. 

Free Moving Boxes

If you work at a place that takes in lots of packages in cardboard boxes, ask them if you can take those boxes home in the weeks before you move instead of out to the recycling. I did this when moving apartments and it made the process way easier without having to buy any moving boxes. You can also ask businesses if they have boxes to recycle that you can use. They’re usually pretty happy to hand them over.

Checking the Curb

If you’re lucky enough to be in Madison right around moving time (especially the 14th of August) and not too busy moving yourself, congratulations! It’s hippy christmas. There will be abundant fully functional curbside furniture to take home. It’s probably best to avoid upholstered furniture because it’s a good home for bed bugs, and double check any furniture for signs of insects since they can occasionally be bed bug homes too. The lovely desk I’m typing on is a hippy christmas rescue. That said, it’s not a bad idea to keep an eye out all year long and see what you might find.

Secondhand Shops

This will require you to go more out of your way, but Madison has some lovely secondhand stores you can search for decor or furniture in, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a car. For items that are lighter, secondhand online sellers like Mercari can also be useful.

Facebook Marketplace

Lots of other students sell on FB marketplace. Craigslist is another option but it’s anonymous, so it feels a little less safe to me personally. Freecycle is great to check but it usually has odd items, it’s mostly pickup and most often the listings are not by students so less friendly for those without cars. For students that will often have to walk to pick things up, Facebook Marketplace can give a better idea of where the seller is located and waste less of your time. Most people swap outside or do porch pick up and exchange money using venmo, so it’s very Covid friendly. One time I even went to pick up a plant I was buying and the seller just decided to give it to me!

Hand-Me-Downs

The classic. I lucked out a bit with this one since I have two older siblings that finished college before I started. But if you’re not as gifted with all the mismatched silverware you could ever want, it’s not a bad idea to reach out to other recent graduates or young professionals who might be looking to redecorate or get some non plastic bowls.