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DIY Expert Reveals Student Hall Decorating Hacks That Won't Cost a Fortune... Or Your Deposit

12 student halls DIY do's and don'ts to make your new digs feel like a real home away from home

Johnpaul Manning, MD Insulation4Less and DIY expert outlines his top do's and dont's on DIY hacks freshers can use to make their uni digs feel more like home - without costing an arm, a leg, OR your deposit.

Results? Achieved. Confirmation letter?

Received. Student halls? Confirmed.

Congratulations! You're about to kick off a pretty exciting chapter in your life. University is a great place to grow, learn and meet people who will become friends for life, guaranteed.

While it’s a super exciting time, it can also feel a bit daunting. Leaving your friends and family home and moving to a new city can be quite intimidating. One of the best ways to help get settled in (apart from going out with your new flatmates of course) is to turn your boxy 6.5m2 room into a true home away from home.
Balliol College, Oxford Image: wikimedia

But moving out can be pretty costly - you’ve got to grab everything from kitchenware to school supplies and textbooks. It’s also important to remember that halls have specific rules on what you can and can’t do - and getting them wrong can often cost you a big chunk of your security deposit.

Johnpaul Manning, MD at Insulation4Less says:


‘Student halls are often laid out in a pretty uniform fashion, so it’s understandable that students would want to make it feel more like home’ says Johnpaul Manning, MD at Insulation4Less. ‘ It can also be an expensive process, so keeping costs down is always high on the priority list.’


We've also heard some absolute horror stories of students losing their deposits due to decorating DIY fails. The average security deposit for student halls is around £588, which is a lot to lose! After coming through student forums and reviewing residence guides for a number of UK universities, we put together a list of do’s and don'ts that can help you get your deposit back at the end of the year.’

1. Add Strings of Fairy Lights

Average Cost: £12 - £15


There's a bit of controversy with fairy lights in Uni halls. In most cases it comes down to what they’re made of and how they’re powered. Festoon lights, for example, are an absolute no-no because they’re a fire hazard, which means that LED lights are the way to go. Some halls might have a preference when it comes to how they’re powered, so make sure to check before you buy.


Fairy lights are incredibly easy to hang. Suction cup hooks are a great way to attach them to walls without leaving marks, and it also means you can move them if you want to change things up. Lightweight and flexible, you’ll be able to drape them across walls and window frames with absolutely no trouble.

But what about LED lightstrips?

Now this is where things can get a bit tricky. LED light strips are low energy, so aren’t necessarily classified as a fire hazard. However, they are often attached to surfaces with an adhesive to keep them in place/ While these adhesives are usually good at protecting surfaces, each hall will use different products to decorate their walls and ceilings, so it’s hard to tell if there’s a risk of damage.


The best thing to do is to consult with your halls of residence team before you buy to make absolutely sure they’re allowed. If so, try to attach them to non-painted surfaces where possible, like headboards or mirrors. And as with all DIY tasks, try to test to see if there are any complications before you go all in - a little bit of caution can go a long way!

2. Make Your Own Lampshade Patterns

Average Cost: £12 - £18

As fairy lights show, lighting can go a long way in helping your room feel more homey. In most cases, halls might not provide low level lighting options like lamps, but don't worry - this is actually a blessing in disguise.

Who needs an overpowered standard study light? Without it, you’ll have the chance to choose lighting options that suit you. Looking for something really unique? Use an exacto knife to create some stunning patterns in cheap lampshades. It might seem counterproductive, but you’ll be able to enjoy a wonderful light show every time you switch on.

You can even buy kits to create your lampshade patterns out of light weight fabric materials. Don’t forget to look around online for inspiration - Pinterest is definitely one to check out.

3. Need a Duvet Day? Get Some Blackout Curtains / Blinds Average Cost: £20 (Blackout Curtain) £13 - £20 (Stick on Blind)

On the other hand, too much light can also be a problem. If you struggle with too much light in your room and your curtains just aren’t cutting it, consider getting some black out blinds. It’s permitted by most halls of residence, as long as you put the old ones up before you leave. They can be an absolute game changer, especially after a good night out, or when you need to get some serious study time in.


If you’re not keen on big black out blinds, stick-on blinds are a great alternative. They use a light adhesive and stick to your window frame which means they won’t leave marks, and

you’ll be able to take them with you when you leave.

4. Use Washi Tape to Create Stunning Wall Art

Average Cost - £5 (Pack of 6 Different Designs)

Most universities have specific policies around attaching stuff to walls, and there’s actually a good reason why - some adhesives can cause some damage to walls like chips and stains, and while it might seem minor, it can quickly add up.

But there is one way to get around the no-adhesives rule - washi tape.


A popular material in crafting washi tape is made of rice paper which means it doesn’t need a lot of adhesive to stick to surfaces. And since it’s classified as decorative tape, it doesn’t appear on any prohibited lists, which makes it a great choice to add some cool bespoke art to your wall.

5. Create Your Own Urban Jungle Using Houseplants

Average Cost: £10+ (Depending on Variety)

Houseplants are a simple yet effective way to spruce up your space and add a bit of colour. They also offer a whole host of health benefits. From purifying the air to boosting mental health, houseplants have a lot to offer. And as long as they’re in self contained pots, you can have as many as you want.


There’s a wide variety of houseplants to choose from, so it mostly depends on what kind of plant parent you think you are. If growing a jungle is your thing, consider adding Kentia Palms and Monsteras to your collection, and place some hanging ivy on shelves to add an extoic edge.


If watering plants isn’t your strong suit, hardy plants like Cacti and Aloe vera might be more your speed and will definitely survive the Christmas and Easter breaks.

6. Use Decorative Vines to Spruce Up Your Space

Average Cost: £10 (24 Metres)

Like houseplants, decorative vines are a great way to add a pop of colour and personality to your new room, and since they’re incredibly light, they don’t need strong adhesive to keep them in place.

Add them to corners to give them that creeping edge, or use them to frame things like shelves and headboards. You can even attach pictures to them to use them as a unique kind of picture board to really add a new layer of texture to your room.

7. Or Add Some Vibrant Colour with a Tapestry

Average Cost: £15+ (Depending on Size and Style)


Because of their sheer size and scope of design, tapestries are a great way to change your room's whole dynamic. There are loads of different colours, styles and materials to choose from, so whether you're looking for bo-ho style or surfer culture chic, there’s definitely something out there for you.

Like most decorations mentioned in halls of residence guides, tapestries and wall-hangings are permissible - it’s how they’re


hung that is the issue. The size and weight of the material will determine what kind of things you’ll need. If it’s light, you might be able to use suction hooks, but if it's quite heavy you might need to use decorative clips or command hooks to fix them in place.

If you're unsure, check your halls of residence guidelines. Most clips and hooks use adhesive that shouldn’t cause any issues, but it's always good to double check. And if you can, find creative anchor points where possible - it’s a great way to start thinking about creative decor options!

8. Organise Messy Wires To Make Life Easier
Average Cost: £10+ (Cable Tidy) £2 (Foldback Clips - Pack of 10)

Wires. They’re often the absolute bane of our existence, finding new and inventive ways to get tangled up no matter what. And with storage a prime real-estate, it's easy to find them strewn haphazardly around your room where they can easily become lost or damaged.

So investing in a solid cable management set up is definitely a must, and there are a couple 

of ways to go about it. Cable tidies can be useful, but another good method is to keep old paper and tin foil tubes and use scissors to create ‘pie cuts’ to make them bend or use cable ties to keep them in order.

Another great tip is to attach foldback clips to the side of your desk and pass cables through them so they hang off the edge so you don’t need to scrabble around when they’re not being used. It might seem small, but once you use them you’ll wonder why you didn’t use them to make your A-Level-life easier.

9. Maximise Space with a Desktop Bookshelf
Average Cost: £12+ (Depending on Size and Configuration)

When you move into halls, realise that space is a precious resource, and to keep up with the day to day happenings of student life and living, it needs to be used as effectively as possible. As a result, finding opportunities to maximise and space should be a top priority on day 1.

While most rooms will have some shelves, they’ll usually be pretty basic. So to get the most out of your study set up, why not add a desk shelf? Adding more storage at desk level is a great way to stay organised, especially when it comes to accessing books and any study materials you might need.

The great thing about desktop bookshelves is that they don’t need to be screwed or bolted in - so you can take them with you at the end of your tenancy. Most modern units are also customisable, so you’ll be able to move them around to suit your needs. Don’t forget to add some orgements to add that extra homey, lived in feel.

10. Add Hanging Storage For Grab and Go Ease

Average Cost: £9+ (Various Sizes)


As we’ve said before, space is a precious resource, so you’ll want to find new ways to maximise your storage as much as possible to save up prime real estate for things you’ll really need.

Hanging storage is a great way to get things off the ground and keep things close to hand when you need them. Add some hanging shoe storage to the inside of your wardrobe - or hang them off the back of your door for an efficient grab and go set up.

If you have an en suite, use the door to hang extra bathroom items and things you’ll need in your day to day like combs, tissues, deodorants; anything you need! It's always better to have things to hand when you need them, and it saves some much needed space elsewhere!

11. Fragrances are You Friend
Average Cost: £9+ (Reed Diffuser) £25 (Oil Diffuser with Oils)


Fragrances can be a great way to add a wonderful new dynamic to your room. You can use them to bring back memories of home, or to explore new sensations, from calming cotton vibes to vibrant fresh forests there’s definitely a scent out there for you.

If you’re looking for a new scent, make sure to stay away from candles, oil burners or incense sticks - they’re considered a fire risk and are banned by virtually every university halls of residence. It might seem like your options just got cut in half, but don’t worry - there are other options out there.

Reed diffusers are a cheap and effective way to add a whole new sense experience to your new digs. They can also last for weeks and even months on end, and can easily be swapped out if you want to try something new.

If you’re after something a bit more versatile, then an oil diffuser could be just the thing for you. They disperses essential oils into the air and can quickly fill a room with a fresh new fragrance, and they’re a great way to unwind after a lecture heavy day.


12. Use Extra Seating For Visitors

Average Cost: £20+ (Knitted Stool) (£30+ Half Moon Chair)

Moving to uni is a great way to meet with some exciting new people, and you’ll definitely want to invite them to hang out in your new digs. But when it comes to soft furnishings in halls, your options are often pretty limited. In most cases your bed and a desk chair is the most you can expect. So, to make your room feel more open and inviting, consider adding some extra seating options.

Look for soft and easily storable options. Beanbags are always a fun addition, but never underestimate the power of a comfy knitted foot stool-they're great for company but also fun for when you want to put up your feet and relax.


If space is limited, folding options like a half moon chair is definitely worth the investment. It’s a great way to make your room feel cosy, especially when you have friends and family around for a visit.

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