If you have children, chances are you’re an expert at back-to-school shopping. But if you have a son or daughter who’s moving into a dorm room this summer, it’s a whole new world! In the elementary years, their school design choices were limited to what color notebooks, markers, and backpack they preferred. In middle and high school, the only arranging to worry about was how to fit all those books in their backpack and locker. Now, there’s a whole room to design and arrange. Space is usually tight and roommates must be considered, so having a plan and some creative ideas will ensure that your student has a cozy and homey retreat for this exciting new stage of life.
Most dorm rooms will house two or three people, so keep this in mind when moving your freshman into their new space. Standard pieces of furniture that are included in dorm rooms are beds, dressers, and a desk for each student living in the room. More than likely, these pieces of furniture will already be arranged in some fashion, but feel free to see if everyone would like to move the furniture around to create a more pleasing set up, which could also free up some space.
For extra room, consider lofting the bed. Lofting frees up floor space underneath and allows for additional storage, room for a futon, or even a cozy study nook. Check with on-campus housing first to see if this is an option in your teen’s dorm room and if they provide the tools needed. For even more functional floor space, try putting two desks back-to-back, or moving a dresser into a closet.
Helping your freshman decorate their dorm room is where the fun begins. Just because space is limited and the walls are a dull shade doesn’t mean you can’t create a stylish room that lets them express themselves. If your freshman is imagining a specific look, try having them get in touch with their roommate(s) in advance, to see if they want to coordinate. Not everything has to match—just try picking colors and patterns that compliment each other. Mixing stripes, geometric, and floral patterns in the same general color scheme can create a cheerful and inviting effect.
Since painting and wallpaper are not allowed, add flare to the room with removable wall decals and some favorite pieces of artwork. To hang artwork, use removable adhesive strips and hooks that won’t damage the walls. Tapestries and removable murals are also good choices for a fun focal point. String lights add ambiance to any space—hang them along the wall around the bed, over the desk, around wall art or the closet door.
If the bed isn’t lofted, try setting it up as a daybed, with colorful throw pillows against the wall for extra seating and comfort. A headboard (or faux headboard) or hanging netting adds style and personality.
Keep desk tops organized and clutter-free with cups to store pens and pencils, magazine holders to store binders and notebooks, a dry erase calendar board for keeping up with assignments, and a cork board for hanging photos and notes. A stylish desk lamp will provide light for studying and add personality—whether industrial, sleek and modern, or glam, there are plenty of affordable options.
Drapes can add a cozy yet sophisticated look. Since most dorm rooms won’t allow nails or screws in the wall, try hanging a lightweight drapery rod over the window with adhesive hooks. A pretty curtain can also hide the closet area and reduce visual clutter—just insert an adjustable shower rod in the door frame of the closet. A full-length mirror does double duty by giving the illusion of space and providing a place for your kid to check their look.
Dorm room floors can get cold during the winter months, so adding an area rug will help keep feet warm while adding style. Try layering a couple of rugs for a custom look.
When outfitting a dorm room, less is sometimes more. Don’t buy three or four sets of towels and sheets, because this takes up valuable space. And since space is limited, it’s important to buy furniture and storage items that are compact and multifunctional.
Low storage bins that slide under the bed are a great way to keep shoes or other items within reach without taking up extra floor space. Instead of uncomfortable folding chairs, try storage ottomans that do double duty as both stool and storage space. Poufs are also a great option for extra seating, and can even be used as a small coffee table.
Dorm room closets are usually on the small side. To maximize space, try hanging cube organizers for jeans, towels, and the like. If the closet has an overhead shelf, place accessories like scarves and hats in storage cubes to keep things organized. The same thing can be done with hair care products and extra toiletry items.
If your son or daughter will be sharing a bathroom with the rest of the hall, a shower tote lets them keep all of their toiletries handy and portable. When not in use, simply tuck the tote into a corner of the closet.
Don’t overlook the essentials
It’s easy to get caught up in all of the excitement that comes with dorm room decor, but don’t forget to grab the essentials your freshman will need for their new space.
Dorm rooms provide mattresses for each bed, but you’ll need to bring a mattress cover, bed linens, comforter, and pillows. Before buying bedding, make sure you check whether the dorms have regular or extra-long twin beds.
Most dorms will allow students to bring their own mini fridge, coffee maker, and microwave. Have your student coordinate with their roommate(s) to see who plans on bringing which appliances. Consider using the top of a dresser or getting a small cart for a coffee station where they can store mugs, dishes, sugar, and utensils. Plastic shelving units can also come in handy for making a small pantry to store snacks and food items.
Other items you will want to purchase include clothes hangers, a laundry bag or basket (the lighter the better), detergent, towels, shower flip-flops, adhesive strips, thumb tacks, extension cords, a trash can, dishes, glasses, and eating utensils.
Moving into a new dorm room is a big step, and living with roommates in a small space can seem both exciting and challenging. Designing and outfitting a dorm room is part of the fun of this new experience, and coming up with a plan together will ensure your student has a comfortable and stylish room for the adventures ahead.