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Nearly everyone has to paint a room at some time or another. Whether it is your bedroom at home, your son's dorm room in college, or your first apartment, preparing the room properly can make the actual painting relatively simple, and that's half the battle.

The first step is to move all the furniture away from the walls and into the center of the room, stacking wherever possible to use as little floor space as you can. If the carpet is not fastened down, roll it up from each end toward the middle of the room. If it is fastened down or if you have a hardwood or tile floor, you then will need to use a fabric drop cloth (more about that later). Once the furniture and carpet are moved away from the walls toward the center of the room, you must cover them with drop cloths. Inexpensive, lightweight, disposable plastic sheets are best. Use masking tape to fasten loose plastic so you don't trip over it and to keep out stray paint splatters.

The next step is to mask with paper masking tape anything you want to stay free of paint. That means mask around windows, woodwork, and electrical wall switches and outlets. With the electrical covers, make sure your mask your tape as close as possible so you can paint closely around it. If the room has a door, it will look better if you don't paint the hinges and knob, so mask those parts also. You will need a sharp knife to make a precise cut of the masking tape rather than just tearing it. Though it takes extra time at this stage, a carefully masked hinge or window will be much quicker to clean after you paint, and the painting itself will go faster because you won't have to be quite as precise with your brush or roller.

The third step, after everything is masked securely, is to get a drop cloth in place on the floor. Do not use a plastic drop cloth on the floor: if you drip paint on the plastic, the paint won't dry. You can easily step on it and track paint spots in places you don't want. Instead, use a fabric drop cloth--one that absorbs splattered paint (an old sheet doubled can be a great substitute). Regardless of what you use, position it over the entire floor (a few may be needed depending on the room size). Also, have a damp cloth ready to wipe up latex paint drops that evade your precautions. (Use a cloth and a paint thinner if you're using oil-based enamel.) Be extremely careful to put the paint tray or can in a place where you can't step on it, bump it, or spill it. By using these simple instructions, even a first-time painter can make an old room look new and improved in no time.