Ryan's SURPRISE Room Re-Do On A College Student Budget

Remember that show on MTV called “Room Raiders”? Truthfully, I only ever got to watch it at friends' houses thanks to my mom’s ruthless channel blocking abilities, but it always had me hooked. Like any good reality match making series, it had about a 0.5% chance of leading to anything even close to a healthy relationship, and yet Millennial America loved it. (That and its early 2000s counterparts “Date My Mom”, “Parental Control” and my personal favorite, “Next”). What’s not to love about a perfect stranger combing through someone else’s personal belongings to determine whether their subject was a loser with stained underwear or a hottie who happened to own a garden gnome collection.  

Fast-forward a good twenty years from the height of boy bands, tramp stamps and purple eye shadow, and here I am, producing and starring in my own little episode of “Room Raiders”. Fortunately for me, I already date my unknowing victim and can lovingly look past the pile of empty Busch Light cans under his bed, the sticky brown coffee stains painting the sides of his white dresser and the toe nail clippings that haven’t quite made it to his trash can yet.  


Meet Ryan, my boyfriend of two and a half years and my favorite person on this planet. This smarty-pants is about to start his second year of grad school studying to be a physical therapist. Since he’s been absolutely killing it in clinicals and classes, I wanted him to have a room that felt a little less “First Year Out of the Dorms” and a little more “I’m a Year and a Half From Having ‘Dr.’ in Front of My Name”.

And while neither of us are even close to having a doctor’s salary, I wanted to redo his room on a budget:

A) because my wallet is thinner than Michael Jackson’s nose (RIP) and

B) because I wanted to show just how much of a difference you can make in any given space with a small budget and the items you already have. 

So first things first, I set a budget at $150. And to be honest, my lack of a social life helped me save up for this pretty quick. Who knew those $5.00 vodka waters could be saved and put towards things other than headaches and regret?!

Second, I needed to take inventory of the pieces Ryan already had that were working. Thankfully, Ryan’s mom is as much of a sucker for home décor stores and good deals as I am, so she had him set up pretty nice with a cool desk, matching headboard, a black shelving unit, a wicker side table and two quilt options for his bed. 


Then, I looked at what wasn’t working. Ryan’s newfound coffee addiction had left his hand-me-down white dresser covered in stains and sticky spots from leftover coffee cups on rushed mornings. He was still using plastic Rubbermaid drawers to store some of his clothes in, and these were taking up a ton of his wall space, leaving things looking pretty crowded. His desk chair didn’t match the wood tones or the industrial feel of his desk, so I knew that had to go. Lastly, if it could fit in the budget, I wanted find him a rug that didn’t overtake so much of his beautiful hardwood floors. (Also, what college student gets hardwood floors in their room?! I’ve literally only ever had cheap carpets that refuse to let go of the hair of the last person who lived on them.) 

So now that I knew what I was working with, I needed to narrow down a style to give me some direction. This is the step that a lot of people have trouble with. For me, the easiest way to identify someone’s style is to take a peak inside their closet. It can be a good indication of colors, styles and patterns that naturally appeal to them. 

For Ryan, his closet is full of checkered print button downs, jeans, baseball hats, Henley tees and casual sneakers. In all, he has a pretty laid back, All-American guy kind of feel (and I don’t just say that because he’s an actual NCAA All-American ;) ).

His iron headboard, the shiplap-ish walls and wood tones give the bones of his bedroom a more vintage vibe, so when I combined the two, I came up with a vintage/sporty/Americana style.  

The mood board I created on Pinterest (thank GOD for that website) quickly filled up with some of my favorite ideas – namely; hunter green dressers, natural rugs, a giant American flag above the bed, a vintage anatomy print and a gallery wall with an old school college pennant.

Getting this wish list to fit into my budget was tricky, but I found an unlikely ally in Walmart.com. Y’all. I am not usually a Wal-Mart shopper, but this experience made me a believer in their revamped online presence. In an effort to compete with Amazon, they’re offering SO MANY online products and brands that aren’t actually sold in their stores, and with FREE two-day shipping. I was in HEAVEN shopping for this stuff. 

Here’s what ended up making its way into my online cart:

I work odd hours, so a Tuesday happened to be my day off, and conveniently, Ryan’s day to work at the hospital. All my items were ready to go and I was happier than Chip Gaines on demo day. 

First, I got rid of the large carpet rug, which involved a lot of sweat, a few strained shoulder muscles and (maybe) a floor scuff or two, but I prevailed. Next, I gave the sad coffee stained dresser a fresh new look with a few coats of FolkArt Home Decor Chalk Paint in Spanish Moss.  


I ditched the dorm style Rubbermaid drawers by tucking them in his closet and resituated the black shelving unit to be on the opposite side of the dresser – creating a more open space when you open the door. Then, using renter friendly pushpins and command strips, I got to work hanging the decorations. 

Six hours later and God Bless America did that room look GOOD and GROWN THE FUDGE UP. The best part? The look on his handsome face when he walked through the door! His expression went from confused to shocked to smiling to “Holy sh*t did you paint the dresser!?” all in a matter of 10 seconds. He loved it, and has even managed to keep his clothes off the floor and in the hamper ever since. THAT, my lady friends, is a symbol of success. 

But really, I was so happy to create a space that really reflected him, the things that he’s accomplished, the things that interest him and his own amazing personality. This kid deserves the world, and while my Michael Jackson Nose budget can’t afford that kind of real estate quite yet, I’ll still try to give it to him, one little room at a time. 

Erin Gallagher