How To Decorate Your Bedroom (And Make Everything Fit) When You Share It With An 8-Year-Old

So here’s my advice, for everyone else out there forced to share a room with a little sister or roommate or annoying significant other: just plow over their wishes and decorate your room the way you want.
Publish date:
January 7, 2013
home, decorating

When I moved back home from college last December with my shiny new English degree, it was after having spent the past four years sharing small dorm rooms with strangers. If anything in college prepared me for life in the real world, it was that -- and not, in fact, my senior seminar on vampires.

I come from an abnormally large family of 10 people and a pretty normal sized house (it started with three bedrooms but now has six, one of which is actually a basement room). When I moved back home, my parents graciously gave me back my old, tiny bedroom at the top of the stairs. It is the smallest bedroom in the house, with two steeply sloping walls, but the clothing addict in me always preferred it because it has three (!) closets.

There was only one problem: My then-seven-year-old sister was currently living there, and it was a mess.

There were two beds taking up almost all the space, leaving the remaining space on the floor for clothes and toys. I won’t even get into the state of the closets. The only improvements over my college dorm room were that I could switch out the furniture and paint the walls. I’m actually pretty sad that I don’t have a before picture of the room, although you can see the sickly yellow color of the walls before we painted them grey here:

That’s right. I painted a seven year old girl’s room dark grey. Since Kara’s the youngest and I’m the oldest, she looks up to me and would never deny me anything (and vice-versa). I guess I kind of took advantage of that by completely redoing the room to fit my vision -- sorry kid, no more Disney princesses for you -- but I don’t feel too bad about it because now she has a clean room that looks awesome, thanks to me.

So here’s my advice, for everyone else out there forced to share a room with a little sister or roommate or annoying significant other: Just plow over their wishes and decorate your room the way you want. You know best, and their taste is probably terrible. As for my actual advice, I do have some helpful tips on how to make a tiny, shared room look awesome on a budget -- like a just-graduated-from-college-with-an-English-degree budget.

First, you’re probably wondering where my sister’s bed is. Is she forced to sleep in one of the closets? you’re thinking, horrified.

Actually, I’m not that heartless. She sleeps under my bed! OK, again, not that heartless. Her bed is stored under mine, but at night we pull it out so she can do stuff like breathe and get stepped on by me on my way to the bathroom.

I’m telling you, if you have to share a very small room with someone and you don’t want to share a bed because they sweat buckets and you can’t fit bunk beds in because the ceiling isn’t high enough (I feel your pain), then a trundle bed is seriously a godsend. What we did was just stick a mattress on top of a bed frame that’s on wheels. Sadly, I don’t know where my mother found this absolutely ancient rolling bed, but you can easily find an actual trundle bed anywhere from Wal-Mart to IKEA.

That’s my biggest space-saving secret. It also helps that, as I might’ve mentioned, the room has three freaking closets. It doesn’t help that much though, because one is packed with my books and her toys, and another has so much crap in it from over the years that we can only use one side.

Still, I don’t know what we would do without the closets since we only have space for one dresser, and she has two separate wardrobes (one is her school uniform) and I have five (one for each of my personalities). If you were hoping for closet organization tips, this is not the place for you.

If you’re looking for ideas for finding cool, cheap furniture on the other hand, I can totally help with that: grow up across the street from a busy flea market, go there every weekend and get things like knock-off tulip tables and giant steamer trunks for 10 bucks. Sorry to brag, but it is pretty much the only redeeming feature of my village.

Yes, I live in a village. Besides the flea market, it has a gas station and a haunted hotel and that’s it. There’s also a guy 20 minutes away from me who sells all kinds of awesome vintage items. I found my Burke chairs when he was selling them on Etsy for pick-up only. I was thrilled when I found out how close he lived.

Of course, no one else in my life understood my excitement over this, let alone my willingness to pay $75 each for these old chairs, but I convinced my dad to drive me over there in his van to pick them up. They are the most expensive items in my room, and they are my babies. Kara approves because they swivel.

I also recommend Target for budget decor. The fluffy white rug and down comforter were cheap Target finds. I also went to Target to replace the old, ugly lighting fixture and ended up with a black lampshade for $5 to hang over the light bulb. Thrifty!

The black window shades are, I’m embarrassed to admit, $5 paper blackout shades from Wal-Mart that literally come with clips to hold them up. But they work and they were cheap, and I’m not in a place to be worrying about how elegant my window shades are at this point in my life.

The rest of the furniture in the room are old pieces that were revived by paint. I spray painted my old wooden dresser black (but am considering changing it to something lighter) and, inspired by this IKEA dresser, painted a small one of my own ombre pink.

I also started to spray paint my easel white and then had to switch to pink when I ran out. So my little sister is happy that there’s more pink in the room than I was originally willing to include. Speaking of, we both completely love the pink ruffled laundry bag that I got on sale from Urban Outfitters. It holds ALL of our laundry, which is impressive.

I still have a ton of things I’m planning to add to the room or change.

For one, I hope to replace my $5 Target lampshade with a Tord Boontje garland light (or maybe just try to recreate this DIY because I am pretty cheap, in case you hadn’t noticed yet). I also plan on getting around half a dozen plain black frames from the dollar store and putting pretty art prints in them to hang up in a row above the two closets. I might even let Kara have a say in picking the prints.

Most importantly though, I recently saw this genius contraption on Etsy and shit my design-nerd pants. It’s the cheap, easy solution to wallpaper that I’ve been searching for all my life. I’m planning to buy one as soon as possible, and then I just have to decide on a color.

I’d be happy to hear your opinion, since I absolutely cannot make my own decisions. Should I do the pattern in white-grey or glossy black? Or a darker grey than the walls? Or should I just go crazy and paint the room all over again so I can have a colored pattern on white walls?

I know conventional wisdom says dark walls make a room feel smaller, but I actually like the coziness of my grey walls. That, and Kara absolutely refuses to be forced into painting the room again. Kids these days.