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5 Items to Look for at Thrift Stores for Dorm Decor

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5 Items to Look for at Thrift Shops for Dorm Decor

 5 Items to Look for at Thrift Stores for Dorm Decor

Do you have a student heading off to college soon and you are on the hunt for dorm decor & supplies on a budget? In 2018, college spending cost almost $1000 ($942 average) which includes everything from school supplies to dorm furnishings. College is so pricey already but if you shop smart & do some looking around,  you can work to cut down your budget on dorm or first apartment furnishings by first stopping at a few local thrift stores. Whether you will be in a dorm room or a shared apartment with roommates, it can be costly to find all the necessary supplies & ways to make it comfortable & just your style to make it feel like a home away from home.

We are sharing 5 items that you can look for at thrift stores like your local Goodwill store to help you save & give your room some character & style on a budget! We also share about ways to save at your local thrift store, including specific ways to save at the Goodwill of Olympics & Rainier region in the south Puget Sound area of WA.

Vintage Picture Frames 

DIY Earring Holder with Burlap & a Frame

One of my favorite items to look for at thrift stores are vintage picture frames. The more elaborate & unique the design, the better as I love to paint them which often will showcase the design even more with a fun, bright paint color. There are so many ways you can use picture frames in your dorm room not only for decor, but functional decor that serves a purpose! Find a frame with a design that you love & then grab a fun paint color you love & paint it & distress it. You can then add wire, burlap, chicken wire or more to the back of it so it can be functional to hold items in your room as well as giving it unique character.

Here are just a few ways to use frames in your dorm:

  • To hold jewelry – add some burlap to the cardboard backing & stretch it across & staple it. You can then use it to hold earrings. Add some hooks around the bottom & it can also hold necklaces or bracelets on the bottom.
  • To display photos  – I love using frames to display photos. Paint your frame in a fun color and then find some metal wire & string it across the frame in several rows. Grab some mini clothespins & hang up photos of your family & friends to see everyday while you’re away at school. The great thing about this is that you can easily switch out your photos regularly using the clothespins.
  • DIY Chalkboard – Paint the glass with black chalkboard paint & paint the frame a fun color. You now have a chalkboard to use in your dorm room over your desk or by your door for reminders or for people stopping by to leave you a note.
  • DIY Whiteboard – Paint the frame a fun color & then find a coordinating paper or just a neutral paper to go in the frame for your background for your whiteboard. This will now be a DIY whiteboard that you can use for reminders or notes above your desk or hanging on your wall by your door in your dorm.
  • DIY Bulletin Board – another great use for a picture frame is to add a piece of corkboard to it as the backing & then you have a classy bulletin board to use above your desk in your dorm room

Mason Jars

Mason Jars with Herb Plants

Mason jars are one of my favorite items to look for at thrift stores because they have such a variety of uses and they can be so inexpensive. Mason jars come in a number of sizes & shapes, which means you can use them for storing everything from small office supplies like paper clips to holding pens & pencils on your desk. You can jazz up mason jars to fit the decor of your room using some ribbon or burlap tied around it or paint them a fun color on the outside or even add glitter to half of the jar for some sparkle. Colorful wrapping paper is another fun way to bring some style to your mason jars.

Here’s a few more uses for mason jars in your dorm:

  • Use for drinking glasses
  • Use for food storage like salads for the week, smoothies, yogurt parfaits, etc
  • Use for an indoor terrarium using a layer first of pebbles, then sand or soil, then moss, shells, and a succulent which means little watering  to bring a little bit of the outside into your room
  • Use for plants such as growing your own herbs on your windowsill
  • Storage for your beauty & toiletry supplies like makeup brushes, cotton balls & Q-tips, toothbrushes & more
  • Soap dispenser – these are pretty and inexpensive ways to display your hand soap in your bathroom & you can find soap dispenser pumps online easily.


A necessary item in a dorm room, especially when you are sharing a room with someone else, is a table top lamp. If you have a large overhead light, you will want to have a lamp on your nightstand or on your desk so you can have access to your own light at times. New lamps can be so pricey, starting at $30 – $40 on the lower end & going up much higher in price. However, you can find one for a great price at your local thrift store or Goodwill.

If you don’t like the color or look of the lamp, you can redo your lamp for just a few dollars. Grab some spray paint for a few dollars to change the color of the base. And if you want to change the lampshade, check out our directions on how to change out the fabric on the lamp easily too. As you can see from our picture above of our before & after lamp, you can totally change the look of a lamp for under $10.


Thrift Shop Furniture

Whenever you are sharing a room with others, whether it’s a dorm room or a shared college apartment,  it’s a good idea to look for secondhand furniture at thrift shops. This is for several reasons – when furniture is being used in a dorm room or apartment, you don’t want to get brand-new furniture as it may not be treated as well, so it’s better to have secondhand furniture which will cost you significantly less. Plus, often you can find sturdier furniture at a better price than new furniture that is not made as well. Furniture can be one of the best values for your money at a thrift store and if you have some creativity in thinking outside the box, there are a variety of ways they can be used in a dorm room or shared apartment.

Here are some furniture pieces to keep your eye out for your dorm or shared apartment:

Dressers – can double as a coffee “bar” (see our directions here on how to turn a dresser into a coffee bar)
Tables (these can double as desks – just stack organizers underneath for storage)
End Tables
Entertainment Center
Desk chairs (check out these easy & frugal chair recovering hacks to change your chair to something that fits more of your dorm style)
Comfy chairs


Porcelain Boot Planter

Photo Credit: Goodwill

When living in a small space, bringing nature into your room can really make a difference especially on those dreary winter days. Succulents are great options as they require very little water, so they are low-maintenance for a college student. Or maybe you even want a nice looking artificial plant, just to add some greenery to your room, but you don’t want to worry about keeping it alive.  You can find some great succulents or artificial plants for under $10 so it’s an inexpensive decor idea.

The way to make the plants feel more a part of your space is to look for unique planters and customize them to your dorm decor. Planters are definitely not something you want to pay full price for, though. Goodwill is a great place to look for inexpensive planters as they have such a wide variety of options for just a few dollars. You can grab a can of spray paint & paint it gold or a fun color to match your decor, too.

Also, keep an eye out for unusual planter ideas at Goodwill such as mugs, tea pots, baskets, and so many more ideas to think outside the box on ways to bring a plant or two into your room to cheer it up. Make sure to check out our tips for upcycling a planter using thrift store finds. They are very inexpensive and a unique way to bring the outdoors in to your dorm space.

Ways to Save at Goodwill

One of our favorite thrift shops to visit is our local Goodwill of Olympics & Rainier region here in the south sound area of WA. By shopping at Goodwill, $.91 of every dollar purchased goes back directly to the job training & placement program. In 2017, the Goodwill of Olympics & Rainier region served over 9400 people in the south Sound.  So, by shopping at Goodwill, college students and parents can feel good about the fact that they are not only finding items at a budget, but also repurposing items to give longer life to furniture & decor items. Plus, you are helping out people in your local community.

The mission of Goodwill is to provide job training,  career skills and job placement services for members of our own communities. They serve at-risk youth, veterans, people with disabilities, seniors, single moms & more.

Some of the training programs include:

New Manufacturing Program
Barista Training Program (in partnership with Starbucks)
Culinary School
Warehouse Industry training
Youth Build / Construction training
Financial Literacy
Computer & math skills
GED classes

Here are some ways to save at your local thrift store by pairing the savings you will already find with more savings thru special promos, discounts & coupons:

{These specific savings tips are for the Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier region in WA – see if your store is in this area with the store locator. If you are not local to this area,  make sure to check out your local Goodwill or thrift stores for their savings info.}

Sign up for emails from Goodwill

Always sign up for emails as you’ll be the first to find out about special sales, discounts or coupons going on at your local store.

Follow the Social Media Channels for Goodwill of Olympics & Rainier Region

Shop Special Sales or Promos 

Visit Goodwill during special sales or promos to pair the sales with the lower prices on the items. Find out about the sales by signing up for their emails & following them on social media.

50% off Denim – Friday 8/23 & Saturday 8/24, you will get 50% off all donated denim. I found this sale info on their Facebook page.

Denim BOGO – buy one get one free on all denim (this sale is valid at all regular retail locations ). The sale runs from August 19th –  September 1st.

(All of these coupons & specials are for the Goodwill stores in the Olympics & Rainier Region)

Check their Monthly Calendar for Discount Days & Special Sales

Check the printed monthly calendar for any special promos & sales for the day you visit. They also have a monthly calendar online so you can check ahead to figure out when are the best days to shop.  There a sale every day, with a different color tag on sale for 50% off.

They also offer special discount days for students and military with an extra 10% off donated items, so another way to save.

Donate & receive a coupon

When you bring items in to donate at local Goodwill stores, you will receive a 30% off coupon to use on 1 donated item. This is a great extra savings to have on hand for a higher priced item. Maybe you find a piece of furniture you need for your dorm room or an appliance – this is the time to use this coupon!




  1. I love looking for gently used clothes for my boys! Especially nice brands/quality, fun or “cool” shirts, and athletic pants.

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