A Thorough and Realistic Guide on How To Decorate your Shitty Student Flat
by feature writer Liam Hansen (they/he), who is writing for Debate because Architectural Digest denied their pitch. Dicks.
Whether you’re moving from a suburb of Auckland to a slightly more central suburb of Auckland, or starting a new life in the big city after leaving your slightly racist hometown, beginning your journey in student flatting is no easy feat. Sure, your extended family may lecture you on how by your age they'd already bought a house, raised three kids and got scurvy - but you should still be proud of your accomplishments! Your new flat has come after days spent scouring Trade Me, going to viewings, getting denied, and ultimately resigning to using a Facebook group to join a pre-existing flat. You finally have the freedom to make a space your own (within the confines of your tenancy agreement), and fill your living space with Pinterest-worthy interior design.
Or at least that's the idea. You may think that you’re now too mature for your epic LED gamer lights, or you can do better than using the same bedsheets you’ve had since you were eleven - but that’s before you remember your budget. Your dreams of beautiful plants and framed gallery walls become thwarted by the fact that you probably also need to spend money on food, rent, transport and therapy. You can’t spend all your part time income and student loan on decor anymore, and suddenly your slightly torn up poster of The Smiths from Real Groovy that makes you look like a Morrissey apologist doesn't seem so morally sketchy anymore. Do you want everyone who enters your bedroom to immediately know you’re probably manipulative, or do you want to give off the impression that you went the minimalist route after watching that Netflix documentary and twenty - three Matt D’Avella videos? Well, the latter is probably affected by the holes in the wall left by the previous tenants, but don’t fret! With a few simple design tips, some quintessential purchases and advice from your very own Debate community, you can live in a lovely little weed-scented house that your parents, partners, and flatmates prefer to avoid.
Step One: Plan Ahead
Before you find a place to live, it’s important to begin your interior design journey without a shred of realistic thinking. Not even a little bit. I mean, you’re just getting inspiration, right? Make sure to spend several hours looking at the house tours of influencers and celebrities that make more money in a single day than you ever will in your life. It’s also a great idea to fall down the rabbit hole of interior design and aesthetics, so you can prepare for all of your newly purchased furniture to work in perfect harmony with each other. Fuck restricting yourself to cottagecore patterns, rustic earth tones, or sleek furniture pieces - haven’t you amateurs ever heard of Boho-Japandi-Muppetcore?
Bonus points if you’re looking for a new rental altogether - there’s nothing better than getting emotionally attached to a house that you’d never get as a first time renter, and depending your happiness on whether or not you get a perfect mansion or not despite it clearly being out of your range.
Step Two: Immediately Abandon Said Plan
Fuck. Fucking shit. Okay, the great rental fell through, but you can make the one you have now work! Sure, it’s smaller, blander and sadder - but it’s fine! Adaptability is key to great interior design (probably). Besides, your impeccable taste in furniture, colours and artwork can make any space flawless. Assuming you have the money to buy those things, which you absolutely don’t. Think you can be a cute little indie type and get your pieces at an op-shop? That’s either even more expensive, or tainted with the subtle scent of cat piss and desperation.
Step Three: Work With What You’ve Got
Although your room at your parents house may be a horrific reminder of your teenage self, there’s nothing shameful about upcycling old pieces of furniture and decor. It’s just that the upcycling won’t be in a cute, eco friendly way - it’s a bit more like trawling through the depths of your drawers and slapping them on your wall with stale blu-tac. Bonus points if you bring back the printed out album covers you put in your wall when you were fourteen. Aw yeah man, your Rex Orange County and Kanye West albums didn’t age poorly at all. They’ll be right at home stuck on your wall alongside Instax Polaroid photos and cut out covers of Debate Magazine.
Step Four: Resign To Buying Everything From Kmart
A bargain is a bargain, baby! When all else fails and you’re struggling to transform your room from a prison cell to a slightly nicer prison cell, it’s time to mosey on over to Kmart and get lost in the menagerie of surprisingly cute dinnerware and worryingly cheap appliances. Kmart is a place similar to airports at night, or polytechnic schools, or The Chemist Warehouse - it feels like teleporting into a parallel universe. Keep your wits about you and your mature adult hat on firmly - this store is where you buy grown-up things, like plates, laundry baskets and fake plants. Own it! I'm sure you feel very grown up, browsing the mug aisle, trying to find a vessel for your shitty goon wine. Make sure to throw in one splurge purchase for shits and giggles. Maybe an air fryer, or an Animal Crossing-esque rattan coffee table, or even a desk lamp that doesn't reach your power outlet!
If you’re struggling to find decor that fits your aesthetic, just have your splurge purchase be a Perky Nana from the mind-numbing, mile-long self checkout line. You can consume it after you’ve left the store, crying in the foetal position about your newly stressful adult life in front of the St Lukes Glassons.
Step Five: Actually Decorate Your Bedroom
Or just fucking don’t! Be like me - I have three different New York themed canvas prints sitting outside of my room as I’m writing, because I can’t be fucked leaving my house to buy Command strips. My dreams of moving to the Big Apple by eighteen have already been crushed by Covid, the United States progressively becoming less progressive, and a job for the student magazine of the Auckland University of fucking Technology, so why should I even bother vicariously living through three prints of NYC if my dreams are out of reach? If you still have any semblance of motivation to make your space nice, then I recommend you burn some incense, make some tea, and chuck on a rich American twenty year old's apartment makeover YouTube video as you make your bed, organise your closet, and kill the ants in the corner of your bedroom. You and Ashley from BestDressed (or whoever straight men watch these days) are basically living the same life.
Step Six: Sit Back And Relax As Your Flat Slowly Becomes A Garbage Dump
You’ve done everything you can. Your decor has been laid out to the best of your ability, and all of your flatmates have brought a completely different vibe to their bedroom and shared objects. Your lounge, kitchen, bathroom, and (now flooded) dirt basement area is a strange mixture of your lynx-wearing flatmate's Call Of Duty poster, your other flatmate's turntable playing Phoebe Bridgers, and a single can of baked beans in the pantry - but isn't it kind of nice? The eclectic, maximalist mixture of vibes could be seen as a mess, but you could also just pretend that it’s Ghibli-core by slapping some fake vines on the wall. You’ll probably have plants growing through the wall anyway - may as well start ‘em early! The complacency and satisfaction you now hold is precious - make sure you keep it safe, because the next few months of your life will see the space become littered with pizza boxes, half empty cans of Pals, and random people sleeping on your couch. It’s still Ghibli vibes, guys. It’s fine.
Bonus: The Top Pieces Suggested By The Debate Community
It’s important to get feedback and suggestions from others when living a student lifestyle - you are going to be having to live with a bunch of them, after all! So, the Debate team asked the lovely followers of the @debate_mag Instagram for the decor that really made them go “hmm.” Shop their style on the next page!
All products featured in Debate Magazine are independently selected by our editors - or in this case, our Instagram followers. We will not earn an affiliate commission through our retail links, because this is a print magazine and you cannot click on links.
With these pieces and an ever dwindling care for cleanliness, you can make your flat so hazardous that even Sam Uffindell would be concerned for your health and sanity. Go forth! Decorate your flat! Be an adult! Unless you live with your parents, or in a student hall. Sucks for you.