Posters and Polaroids: The Science Behind Decorating Your Dorm Room
When I first entered Ashoka four weeks ago, I was a city girl prepared to conquer and discover all the nooks and crannies of an unconventionally liberal small space. Reality set in when I hugged my parents and little brother goodbye – I was alone in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. Gone were the Vada-pavs and cutting chai of home. All I had now was watery Bournvita, chicken dosa and half a room to call my own. But that was the problem: it didn’t feel like my dorm room at all.
There is a notion of making a new home associated with decorating your dorm room, and it almost feels like saying a permanent goodbye to your old one. Many of us weren’t quite ready to do that in our first week. We were not even ready to accept that this was our home now– I got through orientation week telling myself that this was summer camp.
For the first week, most of us returned to an empty orange soft board, a messy table, and bare shelves. It began to feel like I was coming back to a prison cell. The resemblance was uncanny - the identical rooms, the sudden flurry of movement at 9 a.m., the ringing of alarms, the sharing of washrooms - and I knew it was time. My roommate knew it was time. Everyone on every floor knew that it was time. We did not want to live in a cell. We wanted to live in a room, and it felt important to make it our own– and so we did.
My room is a minimalist’s nightmare. There are pictures on the board, posters on the wall and several knickknacks on my shelves. I have a mug with capybaras on it, packets of tea powder in every flavor and several mismatched earrings and necklaces that I plan on arranging but somehow never do. I keep a tiny paper boat on my table that my best friend from back home made for me, and my table always has too many things on it - just like my table back home did.
My friend of seventeen years who lives two floors above me adorns her shelves with a bottle of ketchup that holds sentimental value, a reminder of when she left home. Another friend of three weeks has panda-shaped containers for her spoons, leftover birthday cake in a small tiffin, and folded posters from her recent performance at an event.
Over the last three weeks, I have gone to many rooms and seen many things - fairy lights, multiple two-litre gym bro bottles, Taylor Swift sunglasses, matcha tea, capybara plushies, noodles from Nepal, multiple handbags arranged in descending order of size, canvases and letters - and it was incredibly intimate to be privy to the pieces of people’s lives that they held dear. I think that's the science behind decorating your dorm room - creating a home for yourself out of a glorified prison cell. Transforming a sterile space into one of your own. What are the stories you want to tell? What are the pieces of your life you want others to know about? What makes you feel seen?
Homes are wonderful places – they are where you become yourself. For most of us, however, our homes have pre-existing notions of who we already are: notions that do not typically offer much room for change. And, sure, you love your hometown and you love your people, but doesn’t becoming an adult entail becoming yourself? Doesn’t becoming yourself require you to shed the places you have known your whole life to become ‘you’ irrespective of the context?
When you come to a space where no one knows who you are, where you can define yourself in terms of the most eccentric and idiosyncratic parts of yourself, when you can embrace the parts of your identity that had to be locked up in a closet in your hometown, you feel like becoming the loudest version of yourself. You feel like taking up the space you thought you never had a claim to.
And, suddenly, you find yourself doing things you didn't think you could do. You put up drawings of bug exoskeletons, pictures of medieval weapons and diagrams of other niche interests you have. You put up posters of shows you started liking two weeks ago and bands that used to sound too cool for you and no one bats an eye. You put up poems and excerpts from philosophical texts and feel a sense of pride in your pretentiousness. You order a pride flag sticker for your laptop, and a tiny pride flag for your room, and you stick the sticker on your laptop and put the flag in your pen stand without even thinking about it.
And as you make your space your own, you become your own.You finally start taking up space for all the versions of you that you could not become before, space that you were not allowed to take up before because you were too much of a jock to appreciate poetry or too much of a nerd to like cool bands.
Soon, everyone is talking about the readings we have yet to do, and you say, “Why don’t you come to my room?” And you remove your keys and open the door and let yourself be revealed- your pride flag, your capybara mug, your poetry, your plants, your laptop screen cleaning kit. And you point to the pictures on your wall when you talk about a particular friend from home, you offer your charger, you let your friends play with your plushies, and you ask your friends to say hello to your mom and dad.
The next day, you go to another room. And another. And another. And you realize how wonderful it is to be let into people’s lives, and know that they trust you enough to let you see the truest parts of them. I think that is what a home should be, after all: a place to be your truest self with no fear. And you must be doing something right if people feel okay being their truest self in front of you. And isn’t it nice to be your truest self? Isn’t it nice to talk about bugs and bands and Victorian architecture and the other things you like without thinking twice? Isn’t it nice to know that you can just exist here without feeling the need to hide? Before you know it, it starts feeling less like a prison cell and more like a home.
Three weeks ago, I was crying in an unfamiliar room about wanting to go home. Now, when the moon is shining on the lawn and I have had way too much cheese Maggi, I say I am going home to sleep without even thinking about it.