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How to Light Your Dorm Room with Christmas Lights and Paper Lanterns


Paper lanterns
Photo Credit

By now, many of you will have moved into your rooms already. Whether you’re a first-year or a seasoned upperclassman, you’ve undoubtedly seen plenty of other people’s dorm decor, and have mentally bookmarked a few good ideas to remember for your room next year.

Photos and posters, while classic and personable, are only two of a myriad of decorating ideas. In this article, I’ll talk about how to incorporate a lesser-known decorating technique: lighting. Without further ado, let’s get started!

Dorm Room Lighting 101

Photo Credit

The key element in any interior design scheme is light. Just as light can make or break a photograph, it’s important to keep it in mind when setting out to decorate your living space. There are plenty of lighting choices on the market, but many of them are on the expensive side, so we’ll focus on more affordable (and creative!) ways to create a warm and ambient feeling. In today’s article, we’ll cover Christmas lights and lanterns

Things to Know About Lighting Dorm Rooms:

  1. Consider your room. Will a tall floor lamp be able to fit through your door? Do you have enough table space for accent lamps? Most importantly, are there rules and regulations about what sorts of lights you can use? Knowing these beforehand will save you a lot of grief.
  2. Know the difference between fluorescent and incandescent lighting. In case you don’t, fluorescent lights are four to six times more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, are more commonly found in offices, and last longer. Incandescent bulbs, on the other hand, burn a thin filament, and therefore emit a lot of heat. Incandescent bulbs are cheaper (but less energy-efficient) than fluorescent bulbs, so take your pick.
  3. Lights can pose serious fire hazards. LED bulbs, especially on Christmas lights, are much safer than regular bulbs.
  4. Less is more. Three lamps in one dorm room is quite enough, but this number can shift to accommodate larger rooms like triples and quads. A good rule of thumb is to have one accent lamp on every large surface.
  5. Use small mirrors across from lamps to make your room seem larger. You can arrange them in a nice pattern on your wall, or you can try shaped mirrors (I’ve seen some shaped like birds).

Christmas Lights

Christmas light decorations in a dorm room
Photo Credit

The quintessential dorm room accent lighting, Christmas lights can be found in nearly every stylish room, in countless arrangements. They’re inexpensive, chic, and can make a room instantly feel warmer and cozier.

You can find Christmas lights at any local store that carries home furnishings, like Target, Christmas Tree Shops, and Hobby Lobby. They usually come in either white or dark green cords, and a multitude of bulb colors, so make sure to keep the colors consistent when you buy them!

Things to Do with Christmas Lights:

  • Hang them where the wall and the ceiling intersect, like in the photo above.
  • Make them into a faux headboard (with some photos as an accent), as seen below.

Christmas lights strung across a dorm room wall
Photo Credit

  • Wrap them around the metal frame of your bed.
  • Use them to illuminate your mirror.
  • Dangle them vertically from the ceiling, or attached to the wall, to create visual interest and to draw the eye upwards.
  • Buy icicle Christmas lights and attach them to the highest part of your wall.
  • If you’re allowed to hang things from your ceiling, and are feeling a bit like Michelangelo, create a swirly pattern with lights on your ceiling, as seen here:

Christmas lights strung across the ceiling
Photo Credit

  • Put them in a clear glass jar and use it as a lamp, as seen here.

How to Hang Christmas Lights:

  • Clear packing tape on the cord works well, especially for when the lights climb the wall.
  • If you’re hanging them, Command hooks work wonders (there really doesn’t seem to be an occasion where Command hooks or strips don’t work).
  • Want to outline a window in lights? If you’re feeling brave, wrap twisty ties around the cord and staple them to the window frame. The staples will come out with a staple remover.

Paper Lanterns

White paper lanterns
Photo Credit

I’m a sucker for paper lanterns, especially those with lights in them. They add such a calming vibe to rooms, and make use of highly-available ceiling real estate. Of course, they are potential fire hazards, and as such, are not allowed in most dorms, so try them without the lights, or see below for some lantern-esque replacements.

Some of Our Paper Lantern Picks:

Paper lanterns
Product information (clockwise from top left): Solid, White (battery-powered!), Mini, Floral

Tips for Hanging Paper Lanterns:

  • Stick a Command hook onto the ceiling and tie the lantern string to it (or make a loop with the lantern string and tie that to the hook with another piece of string).
  • Ribbon is really cute for hanging lanterns, especially white ribbon. Try wire-lined ribbon for sturdy construction.
  • Mini lanterns in a neat arc over your bed look sweet, but they can also line the tops of windows or mirrors. Hang these with Command hooks or packing tape.
  • Battery-powered lanterns are great! They don’t have the perfectly-spherical look of regular lanterns, but they save you so much effort — hooking up a paper lantern light can be costly and time-consuming.
  • Try dripping paint down a plain white paper lantern (in your room’s color scheme), as seen in the tutorial here.

What Do You Think?

Were these tips helpful? How do you arrange your Christmas lights? Have you ever used paper lanterns before, and if so, what did they look like? Do you have any lighting shopping tips? What other sorts of fun lighting do you like for your dorm? Let us know with a comment!

Posted on on September 7, 2011 / Filed Under: Dorm Room / Tags: , , , , , ,

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29 Responses to “How to Light Your Dorm Room with Christmas Lights and Paper Lanterns”

  1. 1
    September 7th, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Lovely<3 Bookmarking this like you said for when I'm in college!

  2. 2
    September 7th, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    i’m obsessed with ‘fairy lights’ like all of these and have several dotted around my room. i always keep one on at night it makes a really lovely atmosphere!
    faye xo

  3. 3
    September 7th, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    This is amazing!

  4. 4
    September 7th, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    In most schools, lights like these aren’t allowed in the dorms anymore. This might be better for apartments :)

  5. 5
    September 7th, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Great ideas! Only problem is it is almost impossible to get Christmas lights this time of year (at least where I am) I went to target and multiple other stores, but none carry them till its closer to Christmas :(

  6. 6
    September 7th, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    What would you suggest to hang the christmas lights without damaging the walls?

  7. 7
    September 8th, 2011 at 3:26 am

    I rarely leave comments anywhere on the net.
    But your site… wow! <3
    I love this article, it gave me so many ideas I want to try out! Your writing is good- you write, you elaborate, but you don't drag on.
    Now I want to color-scheme my room (fall is almost here! :D), I want fairy lights with dixie cups…
    And to think I found about you just yesterday…

  8. 8
    September 8th, 2011 at 8:41 am

    So I actually made my headboard out of christmas lights. I bought a blank canvas, strung about 200 lights inside it and hung it up. At night all you can see it tiny dots of light on the white and it looks AMAZING! its like stars :)

  9. 9
    September 8th, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Last year my roommates and I hung icicle lights zigzagged across the ceiling by attaching those command strips to the walls. Then we took black glittery tulle and thumb tacked it into our ceilings so it the lights didn’t hang down and it created a night sky look when we had the lights plugged in. We had a weird soft tile-like ceiling in our dorms so it wasn’t damaged, and command strips work wonders.

    It kind of looked like the link above, except our lights were more spread out and random.

  10. 10
    September 8th, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for all of your responses!

    Hannah – I would recommend Command hooks. In my dorm room I’m using packing tape, but that’s because my walls are glossy and I don’t think packing tape would damage them.

  11. 11
    September 8th, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    This is amazing!! I will start college in three weeks (i’m Portuguese, here we only start college at the end of September) and i will definitely use this ideas/tips to decorate my bedroom! thank you!! by the way, i got to say that i absolutely love this website, everytime i came to the internet i came check it, because it is so helpful!! Seriously, it’s one of my favourite websites ever! thank you everyone of you who do all the amazing posts that are showed here!


  12. 12
    September 8th, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Great ideas. Unfortunately, at my school, Christmas lights aren’t allowed.

  13. 13
    September 9th, 2011 at 5:14 am

    I got a string of very long, clear fairylights and made them go zigzag but vertically (like the Michelangelo picture above) across the whole of one wall above my bed! I <3 it!

    I think I'm way too obsessed with fairylights, though LOL

  14. 14
    September 10th, 2011 at 1:40 am

    I just got finished hanging some stringed paper lanterns in my bedroom (of an apartment) and it looks so cute! Their attached to the wall near the ceiling.

    The article and responses really helped me — I ended up using a combination of packaging tape, command hooks, and then we were able to arrange it to where the surge protector is taped to the wall (using double sided tape) and plugged in to an outlet. That way it’s not doing the funky dangling thing.

  15. 15
    July 15th, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    your a person to be hereing from

  16. 16
    November 23rd, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    I hung chrismas lights with a staple gun and i accidently broke one :( I replaced the light but now none of them will turn on and i have no clue how to fix it. :(

  17. 17
    July 28th, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    U can still can can purchase Christmas lights out of season thrift stored alot of the time have them. I purchased a set of net lights for outside to put under the roof of my deck, what an excellent form of outdoor lighting year round.

  18. 18
    August 3rd, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    That is like christmes tree

  19. 19
    October 9th, 2013 at 5:11 am

    How do you hang them

  20. 20
    November 5th, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Wow! this is a great idea! thank you for sharing.. :)

  21. 21
    April 24th, 2014 at 12:39 am

    Try “Big Lots” for mini lights. Usually they have them pretty much all year long. Then carry some really nice lights during the holidays.
    Rite Aid also has mini lights, I got pinkish/purpleish & have them in my Bedroom, very cool looking. Have fun with them!

  22. 22
    June 27th, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    for me, the command strips didn’t work. the lights would keep falling down (after having them up for 2 minutes)

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