If you are preparing to head to college or are planning to send one of your kids off to begin life in a dorm, here are some important organizing tips that will help you to maximize the VERY limited space that you will find when you arrive on move-in day! With a little planning and some strategic purchases, you or your student will have everything needed to make a functional and cozy home-away-from-home! Not everything I've listed in this blog is absolutely necessary, so pick and chose the ideas and products that fit your needs. Some students like to have the bare minimum, while others enjoy having some extra things that make their dorm room feel more like home.
1. UTILIZE VERTICAL SPACE
Over the door shoe racks are an awesome way to get your shoes off the floor, and can also be used to store things like scarves, mittens, socks, toiletries, etc. Over the door towel racks and hooks are also great.
These over the door shelves (pictured on the right) from Container Store are worth the investment. They are very well made and wonderful for storing all types of different things (toiletries, media, etc.). You can customize them with different sizes of baskets. Once your student graduates, they can use them after school in their apartment or home. They come with 2 sets of hooks, depending on whether you are installing on a regular or commercial sized door. Easy installation over the door - no drilling! If you don't live near a Container Store, there are also some great over the door shelving products available through Amazon - read the reviews for tips on how to use Command hooks for stabilization.
2. GET A HUTCH
Purchase a hutch for your desk - it will help you to maximize the wall space and provide a place for all of your books and school work. You can buy one online at Amazon (see link above or here for options), from your school, or even build your own! We bought a used one from a friend and painted it for our daughter Erin (pictured below).
3. COMMAND HOOKS!
Make them your new best friend. There are lots of great ways you can use them all around your dorm room, and since you aren't supposed to use nails in the walls, you can use Command hooks and then take them down without damaging the walls when it is time to move out. You can purchase them just about everywhere - buy more than you think you need and return those that you don't end up using. Be sure to carefully read and follow the instructions on the package!
Hang one by your door to corral your keys - you will never lose them again!
Hang your umbrella or towel.
Command Poster Strips are great for hanging all of your artwork
Great for hanging any lightweight framed pics that you bring from home.
Use a heavy duty Command Hook to hang your backpack or purse.
4. BE PREPARED
Purchase several plastic shoe boxes and fill with the following (many of these products can be purchased at the Dollar Store to save money):
- Medicine & first aid supplies: when students aren't feeling well and mom or dad isn't around to help, they don't want to go out to buy medicine in the middle of the night. Include items like bandaids, antibiotic ointment, nail clippers, cough drops, cold medicine, cortizone cream, Advil and Tylenol, thermometer, Pepto Bismol, Tums, chapstick, tweezers, etc.
- DIY tool kit: you never know when you will need a few tools, both on move-in day and throughout the year at school. Include items like duct tape, masking tape, packing tape, scissors, small and large nails, hammer, slotted and phillips screwdrivers, pliers, allen wrenches, and a measuring tape.
- Necessities of life: fill a shoebox with things like scissors, flashlight, extra batteries, small sewing kit with needle and thread, safety pins, stamps, stationery, a roll of quarters for laundry, scotch tape, stapler, hole punch, paper clips, gluestick, white-out, ruler, etc.
5. USE UNDER-THE-BED STORAGE
There are several ways that you can utilize the wonderful space under your bed! Usually there is a choice to bunk the beds, but few students chose to do that. You can also loft the bed, where the bed is raised and the desk is placed under it. Usually you can check with the school to see if lofts are available to rent. We chose to purchase a loft with our first college student, since we have 4 kids. If you think it will be something that you might need to rent for more than one year, consider buying one and then resell it on Craigslist when you don't need it any more. This is great for creating more floor space, but some students don’t like to have their bed up that high.
A compromise is to raise your bed enough to use the storage under it but not all the way up to loft-height. You can do this by either putting the frame of the bed on the highest setting (most university bed frames are adjustable) or by placing the bed on cinder blocks (very inexpensive at Home Depot) which are sturdy. You can also use these risers - they will raise the bed high enough to store some tubs where you can keep extra towels, clothes, and things you don't use very often. Every school is different, so if possible check out what other students are doing before you move in to get ideas. Once you have decided which options to choose, there are several great ways to use the space for extra storage. Before you buy anything, make sure to measure so you know exactly how much space you have to work with. Also, if you decide to raise the height of your bed, consider buying a storage cube to use as a stepstool for getting on your bed! Also adds some great storage (our daughter kept water bottles in hers.)
These Elfa drawers (pictured left) from the Container Store are a little more expensive, but they are very sturdy and can be repurposed after graduation in your dream closet! I also like these plastic drawers - they are less expensive than the Elfa drawers and very versatile. Once you get your bed raised, consider also storing your laundry hamper or basket underneath. One of our kids was able to get their bed high enough to put the mini-fridge under it.
Make sure that you are prepared on the day of move-in for all of your electronic needs. Some universities, due to fire codes, do not allow extension cords in dorm rooms. You can usually get around this rule by bringing extra surge protectors, and here is one that has an extra long lead cord. Don't forget cords for your television and DVD player if you have one. You might also want to have a cord for extending the cable hook-up so that you have greater flexibility on where to place the TV in your room.
Because most dorm rooms don't have very many outlets, another great thing to get are some outlet adapters that convert a double outlet into 6. These aren't very expensive and are very handy to have on hand.
7. PLASTIC DRAWERS
I know that I've already mentioned plastic drawers for under-the-bed storage, but they also work really well as a printer stand or bedside table. These smaller plastic drawers are great on your desk for sharpies, highlighters, sticky notes, and getting your accessories organized.
8. THE "KITCHEN ZONE"
Your dorm room will most likely have an area dedicated to your snacks, coffee, and fridge (possibly a microwave if they are allowed). Talk with your roommate, if you have one, about what each of you will contribute. It is great if you plan for some type of shelving unit to use in this area. These metal shelves are adjustable and very sturdy. Along with the items listed above, some other things that you might want to purchase to keep in this area are mugs, paper plates & bowls, plastic utensils, paper towels, a scrubber with dish soap, a few kitchen towels, and a big plastic bowl for snacks. Make sure to measure before you purchase, so that it will fit in your dorm space!
9. RANDOM EXTRAS
Other handy things to consider getting to make your dorm room a happy place:
- Don't forget to print out or frame a few family photos
- For the girls, a jewelry organizer or jewelry tree to keep accessories organized.
- "Husband-type" pillow, especially if you like to read or study in bed
- Clip on light for night reading, so you won't keep your roommate awake
- Upper shelf or caddy if you are bunking and sleeping up high
- Noise cancelling headphones for getting your reading and studying done.
- “White noise” sound machine so your roommate(s) won't wake you up.
- Lap desk for computer work on your bed
- A lightweight tray also comes in handy if you are eating in bed
- Some type of bin or shoe organizer for the closet floor (if you aren't using an over-the-door organizer)
- Old quilt for studying on the quad
- Soccer ball, football, frisbee - also for the quad
- Small versions of games like Apples to Apples, Catch Phrase, Settlers Of Catan (my son's favorite), etc.
- Umbrella/waterproof jacket for rainy walks to class.
- Memory foam mattress pad - college mattresses aren't very comfy.
- Laundry supplies: detergent, hamper and/or basket, fabric softener, roll of quarters
- Girls might consider a robe if the dorm bathroom is down the hall
- Bucket or container with handle for shower stuff
- If you are lucky and have your own bathroom, you and your roommates will need to get a shower curtain, liner, rings, bath mats, shower caddy, and liquid hand soap for the sink. In some dorm suites it is helpful to have dish bucket to store items under the bathroom sink.
- A carpet makes the room much more cozy - Target, Walmart, Home Depot & Lowes have options.
- The overhead lighting in dorm rooms is not warm or inviting.- consider purchasing at least one of these lamps to brighten things up - don't forget to buy light bulbs!
- Leave your off season clothes at home - storage is limited and you can switch your clothes out once the weather gets cooler.
10. MOVE-IN DAY
- Wash all sheets and towels beforehand.
- Keep all of your receipts and try not to take things out of their packages (other than your linens and towels) before you move in. That way you can return the items that you decide you don't need.
- Bring a few cleaning materials like a broom, dustpan, large trash bags, paper towels, and spray cleaner
- Bring a cooler with bottled water and some snacks. Moving in is hard work!
- Dolly for transport from car
- Lots of hangers - you might not need them all but it is good to have extras. I recommend slimline felt hangers, especially in a dorm closet where space is so limited.
- You will probably need to make at least one run to Walmart or Target on move-in day to get the things that you realize you need once you are in the room getting settled, plus groceries to stock the fridge and pantry. As you are moving in, keep a list updating things you need to get as you think of them.
- GET CREATIVE! You will have a very limited amount of space to work with, so think outside the box to make your space efficient and awesome! Check out the creative solution pictured below.
I hope this blog post has been helpful - please let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, or other recommendations for "making space for life" in a college dorm!
I created a list of a few "Dorm Room Essentials" that you can purchase right off Amazon. Click the link below!
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