The summer before I officially started college, I moved out of my family home. I couldn’t believe I was on my own. It felt a bit surreal to have so much freedom. There were no parents to tell me when to go to sleep or what time I needed to be home.

Don’t get me wrong. My parents were decent and fair folks. It’s just that for the first time in my life I got to make choices for myself. And this started with furnishing an apartment with my roommates.

I lived with three other people. To save money, we shared a large one-bedroom apartment. While the bedroom squeezed us within the small space, the living room was spacious enough for furniture, a small television, and a coffee table.

Because I was majoring in Interior Design, I was chosen to decorate the apartment. I was charged with creating a relaxing space for those times we needed a distraction from our studies. The other requirement was that it had to feel homey and lived in. We had a small budget, so I definitely had my work cut out for me.

Before I bought anything, I had everyone ask their families to donate any newish items. One roommate came back from her weekend family visit with a nineteen-inch television with a cracked screen. I groaned, hoping the display quality would make up for the TV’s looks. Once the cables were hooked up, I discovered I’d need electrical tape to keep things in place. In the end, the TV stayed because we spent more time on our phones and tablets than actually watching TV.

Another roommate’s family donated a chipped coffee table that looked promising. It just needed to be repainted and it would look brand new again. My roommates and I spent a free weekend sanding and priming the table and another weekend to paint it.

Now that our living room was coming together, I tackled the furniture. I knew that a good chunk of our funds would go towards this because furniture was crucial to completing the look of any space.

I researched plenty of recliners. I wanted one that was made well, provided comfort, looked stylish, and fit into our budget. My roommates, of course, mainly cared about the price. Finally, I came upon the best cheap recliner.

Because the furniture was such a good deal, there was money left over for bookshelves. Instead of heavy, traditional ones that took up space we didn’t have, I went with wall shelves that could be installed above the TV area and along the walls. Basically, these shelves were not only functional, but because of how artistically they were arranged they doubled as chic décor as well.

Finally, I added some personal items to bring everything together, such as my artist roommate’s watercolors, framed family photos, a few lamps, mirrors found at a thrift store, and odds and ends that had sentimental value. We even made room for the handmade rugs another roommate’s uncle made in Turkey. I was amazed at the resources we were able to pool together. It just took some humbleness in asking for what we needed.

Once everything was in place, we threw a celebratory housewarming party. The living room looked fantastic: warm, inviting, and comfortable. Our guests couldn’t believe we’d spent so little to decorate a space like that.

We ended up spending most of our time together in that space. It was my first project, but it reinforced my love of designing and bringing people together. That success brought more projects as our friends and family hired me to improve their spaces.

That summer prepared me for so much. I learned a few lessons that served me well as I continued my studies. There were so many highs, but also a few lows, but isn’t that life? I learned to trust my instincts, and if I needed advice my parents were there to share their perspective. They were always the anchor in my life, but it took moving away for me to realize just how lucky I was to have parents like that.

As for my roommates, we’re still together. We have a long way to go before graduation. Recently, we’ve been thinking about moving to a bigger apartment. I’m not looking forward to carrying items down a flight of stairs, but I can’t resist the thought of making another space our home.