How to Create Custom Dorm Lighting with Christmas Lights and a Dimmer

If you live in a dorm, I can probably guess exactly what you see when you look up: a big, boring industrial overhead light.

That’s just what most dorms come with. They’re cheap, they light the room sufficiently, and that’s about it. The certainly won’t win any points for looks.

When I moved into my first dorm, I took one look at that overhead light and decided that it just wasn’t enough. Over the next few weeks I experimented with other lighting solutions. In the end, my favorite one was simply stringing Christmas lights all around my room. I didn’t just use them for the holidays; those bad boys were up all year long.

However, I had one problem with the Christmas lights – namely that I had to plug or unplug them from the wall whenever I wanted to turn them on or off. Well, now that I’m in apartment, that setup just isn’t going to fly.

The other day, I got the urge to put up Christmas lights again. This time, however, I wanted to be able to control them without ever touching the plug. Here’s how I did it! The solution is incredibly simple, but I wanted to share it anyway for anyone who hadn’t thought of it.

Put Your Lights on a Dimmer

Yep, that’s it! My idea was to find a simple dimmer to control the state of the lights. Here’s a quick video I made that shows you the whole process:

You know, I actually wasn’t aware that Christmas lights would work on a dimmer. My original thought was to find a switch, but I didn’t see any switches at the hardware store that could just plug into a normal outlet; all the ones I found required actual wiring, as they were meant to be installed into a wall.

Improvising, I decided to buy a tableside lamp dimmer that works with normal outlets. To my surprise, the lights are actually dimmable! I’ve since learned that pretty much all normal light bulbs work with dimmers; however, compact fluorescent bulbs (the spirally ones) don’t work unless you buy one that’s specifically dimmer-compatible.

Here’s a breakdown of the costs for this project (spoilers – it’s cheap):

Christmas lights: The cost is variable on these. Before you buy them, take a tape measure, measure the lengths of all your room’s walls, and add them up. My room came to around 46 feet total, so I bought a 50-foot spool of lights for $20 at Wal-Mart. Since you might not be able to find lights at the store now that the holidays are over, you can find them on Amazon (which turns out to be cheaper to boot).

Lamp dimmer: I found mine for around $10. Here’s the same model on Amazon – you should be able to find it at Home Depot or Lowe’s, though.

Finishing nails: A box of these should be around $2-$3. Use finishing nails, as they’re tiny and will be pretty much invisible once you have the string of lights on them. You can also use 3M Command Decorating Clips if you don’t want to put holes in your walls.

Mounting squares (optional): These should be like $2. You only need them if you plan on mounting the dimmer to the side of your bed like I did. I wouldn’t recommend mounting it to a wall unless you’re willing to fix your walls when you move out.

The total cost of the project should be no more than $35. You can probably decrease this cost significantly by putting on your best pitiful face and begging your mom for some of her old Christmas lights. I’m sure your parents probably also have finishing nails and mounting squares lying around as well, so grab those before break is over!

Here’s another pic of the setup:

Lighting Setup

That’s it! If you happen to do this project, I’d love to see how it comes out! Tweet me a picture – you can follow me using this button:


If you liked this post, I’d be super grateful if you can share it on Facebook using the button to the left. Thanks! :)

Check out these other DIY tutorials on College Info Geek:

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Facebook

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