Sustainable Style: decorating my Big Girl apartment

For three years, I lived in a 12 x 12 foot room either with another person or by myself. Decorating was easy: anything that fit and was under $5 was perfect. When I moved into my first Big Girl Apartment last year, I threw up some posters, photos, and butcher paper flowers and called it a day. My couch was so comfortable and my kitchen was always filled with the most delicious treats, so my friends graciously ignored my terrible decorations.

This year, I’m in my second Big Girl Apartment provided by my lovely Graduate Assistantship. Though the apartment itself is outdated, it’s an adorable place: large bedroom with a giant bed, my own little bathroom, my own little kitchen, tons of storage, and a nice-sized living room. The apartment came fully-furnished (complete with water and fire proof couches… I won’t try to prove it, but it sounds legit, right?).  The only thing I needed to do when I moved in was add some floor lamps, sheets, and put all my clothing in the closets and drawers. Oh, and decorate every inch of wall space so I always have something to look at when I’m bored.

From the moment I laid eyes on my apartment I looked at the blank walls and saw an empty canvas on which I could express myself. I felt that it was my duty and to cover the walls with memories, artwork, and some Pinterest crafts that I have been dying to make since I pinned them — eight months ago. Note: if you are still laughing because I used “duty” in the last sentence then you and I share the same level of maturity. Congrats.

After days of gathering tools and ideas (thank you, Pinterest), I set forth on my journey of decorating. I had a few goals in mind to start:

  • Avoid clutter
  • Put up as many photos as possible
  • Include the art my parents have given to me over the years
  • Don’t spend more than $20 for one decoration
  • Keep it mismatched
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle

I started off simply by drilling holes in my walls to put up artwork I already had. Even with all my artwork put up and lookin’ fine, I had huge walls to fill up with creative pieces of art that were still just floating ideas in my mind. Slowly, I took on projects that were cheap, somewhat easy, and sustainable.

Sunflower Window Frame

Materials: painter’s tape, acrylic paint, corkboard, old window frame, hardware to hang the sign

Total cost: $18

How to: This project was so much fun! I went to a Habitat Restore with my friends and we had a blast choosing our window frames. We each got different ones to use and they were already in perfect shape when we bought them for $7 each. Our next stop was to Office Max to get a roll of corkboard. We bought a roll for $14, making it about $5 per person. The last stop for this project was Home Depot, where I picked up some wire and hooks to make sure the heavy window pane would have support when I went to hang it up ($6). So, for under $20 I have a beautiful piece of art that I created in one epic day of crafting with some friends. If you include the price of the wine we drank while crafting, it increases the price a little, but I’ll just call that “worth it.”

Words from the wise: I would be careful what kind of corkboard you purchase. The kind we bought was kind of stiff and we had difficulty unrolling it into the window panes without it tearing. Craft and office supply stores sell all different types.

Sunflower Window Frame

Old Records

Materials: old records, poster mounts

Total cost: free (unless you don’t have poster mounts or good tape)

How to: Go into your local record store and ask a cute salesman if there are any records that are too damaged for them to actually sell. If he says no, ask if you can leave your number for him to notify you if they ever have a small collection of damaged records that you can take off their hands. At the very least you gave a cute guy your number, right? Once you get the records, find an awesome spot in your apartment and do a cool design with them. I put mine in the same corner that my record player is in so I can be redundant like that.

Records on my wall

Paint Chip Art

Materials: paint chips, string or thread, yard stick, ribbon, masking tape

Total cost: $6

How to: (or more like “what to”) I just wanted a fun way to display my graduation pictures (Courtesy of the lovely and irreplaceable Julianne O’Connell). My method was simple:

  1. Steal red
  2. Black and white (my school colors) paint chips
  3. Cut those paint chips into hearts of different sizes
  4. String/thread together the photos and the hearts in a random pattern
  5. Attach the top of each string to a yard stick (using masking tape)
  6. Cover the yard stick with ribbon
  7. Hang up on the wall

Paint chips are fun because they’re free and easy to use. Try different projects and get creative!

Paint chips and graduation photos

Scrapbook Paper Foam Squares

Materials: foam boards, scrapbook paper, glue, ruler

Total cost: $8

How to: Use a ruler to cut the foam into four or six squares of any size (as long as they are all the same size). Using a good glue (I used Elmer’s Stick Glue) past the scrapbook paper of your choosing onto the foam boards and cut it evenly. Do the same on the other side of the foam boards. Try to keep the boards in the same color scheme so that they look nice when put up together. Using poster mounts, place the boards on the wall. Use them for decoration or for function (tack photos onto them).

Scrapbook paper foam squares

General Tidbits

Display hand-me-downs, gifts, and family heirlooms: I love to display all of the things I have collected from my family members over the years. The little pieces of my family spread around my apartment remind me of all the love I have in my life and bring back the most wonderful memories. My favorite collected item also happens to be an incredible conversation piece. His name is Chef and he has been a part of my life since I can remember. He stood loyally guarding my Nana and Poppy’s humble kitchen for my entire childhood. I would spend the weekend with them and sit for hours in their apartment playing cards with my Poppy, learning about makeup from my Nana, and eating “Janey Soup” (which I later found out was just Ramen Noodle Soup… bummer). And through all the years I spent with my loving Nana and Poppy in that apartment, Chef was there to share in all of our joy. Years after my Poppy passed away, when we had to go pack up my Nana’s apartment for her for her move up to Georgia, I made sure Chef was safely packed up for the move. And recently, because my Nana no longer has room for Chef in her own home, I was given the privilege of displaying him in my own home. Though it may seem strange to everyone else, Chef brings me such joy every time I glance over at him in his spot in the corner of my living room. Every time I look at him I can almost smell Janey Soup cooking in the kitchen and I can almost hear my Poppy’s laugh. Plus, he is probably the greatest conversation piece of all time. Thanks, Nana and Poppy.

My mom packing up Chef for his journey to Georgia
Chef in my apartment

Go to local thrift stores: I was searching high and low for a somewhat cute and entirely functional way to organize my bathroom. I ended up deciding on using baskets, but I was having trouble finding the right size at all the stores I was looking in. That is, until I went to America’s Best Thrift Store and found America’s best baskets that were perfect for my hair ties and travel supplies.

Use mason jars for everything: No need to comment. Everyone has a Pinterest.

Don’t be afraid to mis-match: The only person I know who will absolutely disagree with this is my mother. Unlike her, I do not care about matching. When I buy a new top, I think “Hell yeah, I look awesome in this.” When my mother buys a new top, she thinks “Do I have pink pants to match the pink in this pattern?” Therefore, we have very different design styles. I like to buy everything separately and mis-match on purpose. The only thing most of my apartment decorations have in common is that they were cheap or free and mostly created by me (that rhymed… awesome). Call it mis-matched, call it busy, call it unorganized. I don’t care because I love it. If everything matched nothing would stand out and everything would blend together in a sea of boring. Instead my apartment is filled with decorations that stand out and work together to make people feel at home immediately. Most importantly, I feel at home in the mis-matched chaos. So, embrace it if you dare. It may be unconventional, but it gives life to a new apartment.


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