I’ve lived in dorms or on-campus apartments for the past three years, and I’m gearing up to start my fourth year next week. As someone who knows exactly what bathtub I’m going to put in my tastefully decorated historic home someday, I haven’t always been satisfied with the range of décor options available in the sort of buildings that universities often house their students in: lots of tiny, boxy rooms with white walls. My off-campus friends have similar problems in terms of non-descript apartments and landlords who won’t let them paint their walls or make alterations to the space.

So what do you do when you want to personalize your dorm or apartment? Follow these tips to dress up your space and create a home away from home:

Invest in a tapestry or wall decals. Just because you can’t paint doesn’t mean your walls have to stay white. Pick up a patterned tapestry at any boutique or gift shop, or even go to a fabric store and buy a big piece of patterned fabric. The pattern you choose will either dominate or cover an entire wall, and will go a long way towards making the space seem more like a home and less like a jail cell. Many other dorm decorating savants recommend wall decals, since they peel off without damaging the wall. I’ve never tried them myself, and the products I found were more expensive than tapestries, but they’re certainly an option to consider.

Change up the furniture. Dorm furniture is not exactly comfortable, so why suffer through a year of sleeping on a hard mattress and sitting in a wooden desk chair? Some sort of padding for the bed is an absolute must (I recommend Memory Foam), and while you’re at it, I’d recommend sticking your standard-issue desk chair in a closet and picking up a more ergonomically sound chair to replace it. You’ll be a lot more likely to buckle down at your desk if you have a comfortable seat waiting for you.

Moving into an apartment for the first time? Don’t spend too much on furniture. Last year, my roommates and I needed a dish drainer; the model at Bed Bath and Beyond cost $15, while the thrift store drainer we picked up cost $3. Thrift store furniture and dishware is cheap and often in fairly good condition; for those of you in the Boston area, I recommend Urban Renewals in Allston. Besides, there’s no point in spending all your money on furniture that might end up by the side of the road when you move out next September.

Buy some frames. It’s tempting to just tack stuff up on the wall, but your apartment or dorm will look much classier if you invest in some cheap frames for your posters and photographs.

Get some throw pillows. In my on-campus apartment, the sofa was patterned in odd dentist office waiting area colors. But one of my roommates brought along some brightly colored pillows that her mom had made, and suddenly, our common room looked like a living room, not a waiting room.

Don’t be too matchy-matchy. If you love purple, it might be tempting to go to Walmart or Bed Bath and Beyond to pick out purple pillows, a purple bedspread, purple shelving, purple rugs and toothbrushes and shoe organizers. And sometimes, when you’re a freshman or a sophomore, it can be fun to buy super “dorm-y” stuff that makes you feel like you’re a college student through and through. But when you become an upperclassmen, if you want your room to look more like a real home, it’s time to mix it up with more subtly matching colors and patterns.

Are you an old hand at decorating dorms? Let us know your tricks for brightening up a drab room.