Transform Your Space into a Sanctuary in 5 Simple Steps
In college, your room is your only real retreat from school-related stress and social pressure. As such, it’s important to transform your living space into your own personal sanctuary.
I didn’t fully understand this as a freshman, so I subconsciously spent most of my free time outside of my room, because it didn’t feel like the right space for me. It was worse sophomore year, when I had a roommate with an entirely different aesthetic and energy than my own. It’s hard to live with someone who contradicts your being.
For reference, I shared a room with my sister for years and lived with roommates in Arizona, before attending university, so I’ve experienced it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Here are a few tips for turning your room into a stress-free sanctuary, on a budget. You don’t need thousands of dollars to transform your environment into the perfect space for you. At the end, I’ll also provide advice about staying sane when you have to share your space with another person.
Step 1: Self-Reflect
This is the planning phase. Take a moment to think about the things you love. You can’t design your sanctuary until you know what you enjoy having around your space.
Search Pinterest, Tumblr, and other resources to find inspiration, but be careful not to copy exactly what you see. Let these sources fuel your imagination and then add your own twist to the mix.
Feel free to get creative and make a Pinterest board or a collage, so you can have a concrete idea of what you best prefer, before you hit the stores.
What do you love?
For me, color, comfort, and lighting were the biggest factors when I was shopping for my room. I think of the words versatile, soft, and cozy when choosing decor, because I love options and I need to be surrounded by positive sensory elements.
Step 2: Consider Aesthetics
Your sanctuary should be aesthetically pleasing, from the sheets you use to sleep to the storage that’s next to it. This doesn’t mean they have to be picturesque, but your surroundings should satisfy you. A few aesthetic elements to consider include color, comfort, imagery, lighting, and organization. These comprise most of the matter in your room, and will definitely set the scene for your environment.
What’s your favorite color? + How does it make you feel?
I strongly recommend building a color palette that includes a color you love, because it will reinforce positivity in and around your room.
For example, my favorite color is blue. It’s calming and invites feelings of comfort. I also love neutrals, so I basically turned my space into a collage of blues, tans, and grays.
If you struggle with coordinating colors, try a color-picking tool to generate a palate. I love coolors and paletton, both of which I’ve recently used to create color schemes for projects. I especially love coolors, because it lets you lock in specific shades, so you can see how they look with other colors you find.
What reminds you of the feeling of home?
Home doesn’t have to mean: a place of residence. For me, home is a feeling. It’s a sense I get when I know I am safe, and free to be my least-filtered self. This feeling can be found in people, places, spaces, and more. In my opinion, it’s crucial that you use your room to recreate your idea of home.
To soften up my space, I add rugs, tapestries, and tons of blankets. These I find at Target, on Amazon, and in Home Goods. The triple-threat of discount dorm shopping.
Which visuals inspire you, or bring you joy?
Imagery refers to anything from art (paintings, drawings, and prints) to posters and photos of friends. I love to have a mix of everything in my room.
On my desk, is an art print by Jo Singh, who I follow on Twitter. One day, I decided to look through her shop, and I fell in love with this image of a woman in yellow and blue. I had a code for 25% off, so with shipping, it only cost $18. I admit, I thought it would be larger, but that’s my fault for not doing the math.
Then, littered around my room, I have photos of my friends, family, and places I’ve been. All of which I print from Shutterfly. If you download their app, you get unlimited free prints! You only have to pay the cost of shipping.
There’s also a giant poster of a painting by Albert Bierstadt above my study space, which I got on Amazon for $4.12.
I even have a quirky black-and-white poster of Einstein sticking out his tongue, that I bought at an on-campus sale for 5 bucks.
See, it doesn’t take much to design a space you love.
How do you want to illuminate your space?
Amazon is king for deals on lighting. I got my fairy lights for less than $20, and they wrap around my entire room. There’s even a remote with a timer, which I love because I hate getting out of bed at night, but I like being able to see my room until I’m ready to sleep.
The lights I bought are called, “warm white,” which is exactly the vibe I was chasing, but you can also get strands with cooler bulbs if that’s more your style.
Consider alternative lamps as well, such as Himalayan Salt Lamps, which offer benefits that include air purification and allergy relief. But be careful while shopping, because with the rising popularity of these lamps, some manufacturers have begun to create replicas that aren’t made of Himalayan Salt. Here’s a guide on how to Know if Your Salt Lamp is Real. Also, Dr. Axe, a doctor of natural medicine, has an article on his site discussing the benefits of Himalayan Salt Lamps if you’re interested in learning more.
Remember, (in most cases) furniture isn’t bolted to the ground. It takes some work, but you have the freedom to move it as you please. So don’t be afraid to reposition your furniture.
I’ve done this all three years I’ve lived in the dorms, usually before my roommates move in, because it’s a hassle afterward with everyone’s stuff in the room.
This year was the most difficult, because my room is the size of a toe, but I made it work. Otherwise I would have been miserable. To give you a visual, I walked in to a box, with furniture lining both walls, which left a hallway of space for me to freely move. Not happening. In the words of Tim Gunn, “Make it Work!”
Step 3: Be Mindful about Clutter
Now that you’ve chosen the most important design elements and you have an idea of how your space will be shaped, it’s time to think about storage. I’m a firm believer that everything should have a home. Does this mean I follow this rule? Definitely not.
Let’s be honest, life is messy. But, I do try, whenever I clean, to return things to a space that makes sense.
I hope it gets easier out of college, to assign specific places to specific things, because otherwise, I may go insane. The only reason I haven’t already, is because I keep reminding myself that this is, “just a dorm,” and I can’t expect much from such a small space.
If you’re a college student too, you’re probably having the same issue. Just try your best, and if all else fails, hiding your mess is a good short-term solution.
In my room, I love crates for visible storage solutions, though ottomans are also awesome, especially since they double as furniture!
Plastic drawers and containers are also great for under-bed storage, and to organize shelf space on your desk or in your closet.
My last favorite item for dorm storage is a basket. Actually, baskets plural. I’ve never had just one.
Where to buy?
I bought this linen basket from Amazon on Prime Day for $10, but it appears the whole collection is still on sale. (On a slightly related note, they are washable, if you were wondering. I know because I spilled a ton of product in it during move-in and had to throw it in the wash to erase the evidence.)
You can also check Home Goods or T.J. Maxx – they have a pretty good selection of baskets (and crates) throughout the year.
On that note, here’s a quick tip about decor. Yes, it can be cute and purely decorative, but be mindful of clutter.
Too much decor can be 1) distracting, and 2) inconvenient. So as you shop, yes I know it’s tempting, but try to picture where you’ll put that really cute geometric terrarium, before you decide to buy it.
A good way to reel in, is to purchase decor that serves a functional purpose. Organizers of any sort, and boards, on which things can be clipped or pinned, are two examples of functional decor.
Step 4: Maintain your Sanctuary’s Aura
Hang in there. We’re almost done!
Keep it Clean + Keep it Sacred
After doing all of that work to create your ideal space, you might as well keep it clean. A clean environment is more conducive for productivity, and it makes you feel better overall. The easiest way to keep your space clean is to minimize clutter.
When you first arrange your room, assign everything a home and ensure an item is returned to its place after being used. For decor that isn’t meant to be hidden, have a hard limit on the number of items you own. You don’t have to count everything, but be honest with yourself while you shop. Don’t hoard so many items, that you won’t be able to see or use your counter space from day-to-day.
Also make an effort to protect the energy in your room. The goal is to keep your environment calm and positively charged. Feel free to rebalance your space by cleansing or using crystals to help regulate the vibe.
Though this may sound harsh, you can prevent any significant imbalances by creating boundaries for strangers and not-quite friends. Set rules for their presence, or just don’t let them enter, if you feel they won’t complement the aura.
Especially if you feel someone has the potential to either harm the energy you have established in your space or make you feel unsafe in your own room, don’t let them in. It’s that simple. There are so many other places to socialize.
Keep it Fresh
Air flow is KEY. Fresh air is a must for wellness. The last thing you want, is to come home to destress, and find yourself stuck in a room filled with stale air.
The easiest ways to prevent this are to 1) keep your window cracked, and 2) keep a fan running. This also helps get rid of smells that tend to linger.
Whenever you’re in your room, you can also keep your door open if you’re comfortable with that. It’s another simple way to regulate air flow.
And don’t forget plants. They’re heaven-sent. Beautiful and they purify the air?! 10/10
Keep it Aromatic
I don’t know a thing about the technicalities of aromatherapy, but I can tell you that there is a scent out there for everyone. Personally, I’m attracted to musky scents, with amber and sandalwood notes. Throw a bit of rose in there, and I’m in heaven. My body instantly relaxes, and life seems less messy.
I get my candles from T.J. Maxx. I also have a wax warmer from Target, which i fill with wax cubes from Walmart. I think the warmer was $15, and the packs of cubes are $2 each, but you can find combinations of these everywhere. Walmart, Amazon, Yankee Candle, even Bed, Bath, and Beyond (especially Bed, Bath, and Beyond).
If you don’t know what a wax warmer is, then you’re about to find out. It’s essentially an electrified candle – the base contains a lightbulb which warms the wax, and above sits a removable lid that holds the wax as it melts. This means that scents can be changed as regularly as you wish, and you don’t have to worry about a lighter.
Keep it Sound
Sound remains one of the most dynamics factors in a good environment. I highly recommend a quality speaker, noise-canceling headphones, or both. These are definitely investments, and may be the priciest items on this list, but they are more than worth it.
This summer, I bit the bullet for both, and I have yet to regret either purchase.
Obviously, your taste in music continues to develop over time, so don’t feel like you have to match your music to the mood of your room. Just play whatever you’re feeling in the moment, and it should work out just fine.
Congrats on creating your very own sanctuary! Everyone deserves to have a room that can distract them from life’s pressures, if only for a while. Again, it’s more than possible to transform your space on a budget, even if you have a shoebox of a room.
5. Living with a Roommate
If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading! This is the TL;DR for Creating a Personal Sanctuary, specifically for those who have to share a room.
All my tips, and then some:
- You don’t have to sacrifice your comfort because you’re living with another person. Of course, you should be considerate, but don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Everyone has them. The problem is, many are too hesitant to speak up or clarify their limits.
- In terms of decorations and organization, you have an entire side to yourself. Take that space and go wild!
- If possible, restructure your furniture to create the illusion of privacy. You can do this by breaking up the room: instead of having parallel beds, shift them to opposite corners in the room. Another example, is to turn your desk toward the wall, so you only see your space as you work. If you’re lucky enough to have a divider, strategically place it so you can relax out of your roommate’s line of vision. I get it, sometimes you don’t want to be seen.
- It helps to work out a routine. Don’t be the selfish roommate who spends all of their time in the room, and expects complete silence. If your roommate is that type of person, remind them that they have to share the space. It can be a hard conversation, but it pays off in the long run. Should your roommate be mature enough to handle compromise, they shouldn’t have any problem working out a rational agreement.
- There will be times during which you’ll both be in the room. This is where headphones come in handy. With a set of noise-cancelling headphones, you can block out all external sounds, and focus on yourself. Even if you’re not doing anything, headphones act as a sign of isolation. Most people understand that a person wearing headphones doesn’t want to talk. If your roommate doesn’t understand this, it’s more than okay to tell them you want to be alone with your thoughts.
- Lastly, dorms have limited space. This is especially true in shared rooms. Utilize additional storage to organize your items, and avoid encroaching on your roommate’s space.
These tips should help you maintain a good relationship with your roommate(s). I really want to emphasize the importance of setting boundaries and maintaining communication. Have a conversation about pet peeves before the semester starts, and don’t hesitate to talk about the things that bother you over time. Encourage your roommate to do the same. If they choose not to, at least you know you communicated that intention. But after that, any negativity is their weight to bear. It can be difficult, but make your best effort, and don’t let bad vibes drag you down.
If you have any other roommate-related questions, feel free to leave a comment below or email me.