College Life: Making your dorm room livable

Most everyone, college student or not, has periods in life when we have more stuff than space. Beyond the obvious solution of vastly reducing the amount of stuff you have, here are more ideas for making do with the space you have.

Shelving: Most dorm rooms don’t come with shelving, and with a minimal amount of floor space to work with you want to utilize as much vertical space as possible. Most colleges do not allow you to put nail holes in your walls, so I suggest a tall, cheap bookshelf, and use it for everything from books to files to your shower caddy. If you can’t afford a cheap bookshelf, never underestimate the power of the classic plank-and-brick construction.

Raise Your Bed: Some colleges provide beds that have built in storage spaces underneath. However, if they do not, putting risers under your bed is another great way to maximize space in your dorm room.

Store Information Digitally: Most colleges encourage students to have laptops, and digitally storing your information is a great way to combat clutter of all kinds. Invest in an external hard drive. And, no matter what, make sure you back up your files.

Feel welcome to read and add more space-saving advice in the comments.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

23 Comments for “College Life: Making your dorm room livable”

  1. posted by Libby on

    If not for my loft and the bookcase that came with my 8×10 dorm room, I don’t think I would have survived my freshman year.

    Under my lofted bed lived my desk and my mini-fridge with my TV on top of the fridge. My dorm had a metal lip all the way around the top of the room to which the three-shelf bookcase could be hooked to, and under that bookcase went another smaller bookcase for everyday things that I needed to grab-and-go, like textbooks, school supplies, shower stuff, snacks, etc. I also bought a set of wire cube shelves to stack next to my bed which held my printer on top and food/extra clothes/extra blankets (my dorm was COLD) inside.

    Of course, I was a packrat my freshman year and managed to cram 18 years of personal possessions into my dorm room–filled up two cars and only brought home one box at Thanksgiving! I learned my lesson when I moved from the dorm into my first apartment and lost about 60% of all my clutter.

  2. posted by Pete on

    That bed loft website is without a doubt one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen in my life.

  3. posted by Kelsey on

    Before you buy a loft you should see if your school supplies them for you. Last year there was even a sign up to get staff to put it up for you, but I (as an RA) usually just helped the dads put them together. Not too difficult and it’s a good workout!

  4. posted by Shannon on

    We didn’t really have the loft bed option in my dorm as the room was furnished. But many of us used the window ledge and the mini fridge to put the bed on as they were the same height! It just gave you lots of storage space under your bed… it helped a lot!

  5. posted by Matt R. @ on

    #1 and #3 apply just as much to small apartment-livers such as myself. I’d loft my bed too, but for some reason I feel like the lower the bed is to the ground, the more “grounded” I feel as an adult. The higher the bed, the more childlike I feel. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

  6. posted by Ris on

    My college dorm room had a closet that was about six feet tall and two feet wide. I hit up the Container Store and bought an over the door shoe rack, a contraption that hung below one level of shirts to act as a second bar on which to hang pants, and big plastic drawers to put random stuff like underwear and belts and scarves in. Worked like a charm–I managed to fit ALL of my clothes (for both seasons) into that tiny closet. Look into it if you’re a clotheshorse like I am.

  7. posted by Lisa on

    Even if you can’t loft your bed, bed risers are great. Just a couple few inches can help you neatly store (or cram) so much more under your bed.

    Granted, every now and then one of the risers would break and I would suddenly be laying all lopsided, so make sure to have an extra riser or two around!

  8. posted by Karen on

    If you need storage, I would suggest getting some of the plastic or metal shelves often sold as “garage shelves”. They are usually easy to put together and also come apart easily so you can move them at the end of the year. And they’re intended for a lot of weight, so you don’t have to worry about piling chemistry books on them. (They also tend to be cheap!) I put mine against the wall with the bed pushed against them, which gave them a little more stability. (When I had a loft, I put them against the wall next to the loft, and it gave me shelves all along one side of the loft.)

  9. posted by Marc on

    If you store digitally always remember to backup! It’s a disaster to loose critical files.

    Consider the numerous online backup that can automate your backup. In my opinion this is especially important with a laptop which is more likely to be damaged or stolen than a desktop.

  10. posted by Héctor on

    I love back-to-college tips! Thanks!

  11. posted by [email protected] Awareness * Connection on

    As I had a roommate, we did the bunk bed thing. I also set up a set of cinderblock shelves on top of my desk Up through my 20s those cinderblock shelves went with me everywhere I went. Not pretty, but they were practical and pretty portable for little money. Back in those days the container store was outside my price range.

  12. posted by Lizzy on

    As Libby suggested, you really do not need that much stuff. I, too, went to college with incredible amounts of clothes, and my mother just looked at me as if I were crazy. Moms are always right, of course. I could have gotten by with about 1/3 of the stuff that I took. I could have taken a small amount with me and asked my mom to ship items to me as I needed them or I could have brought more stuff at Thanksgiving. Now I share a 400 sq. ft. apartment in NYC with my husband, and I have very little stuff!

  13. posted by STL Mom on

    I remember there was a guy in my freshman class who was legendary for showing up in the fall with two suitcases and a guitar. That’s it. I thought that was SO cool. Not sure I could have done it, though!

  14. posted by Karyn on

    I have to be the buzzkill here and caution against lofting the bed. My freshman dorm at college was originally nun’s quarters, and so the rooms were VERY very small. Most everybody had the college-sanctioned, individually built, very sturdy lofts to put the bed above the built in desk and leave a little space for a chair or bookcases.

    Middle of my freshman year, I fell out of the loft while sleeping, and broke my back on the concrete floor (I had a thin carpet on top of the floor, which probably saved me from being totally paralyzed from the waist down).

    Yes, there was a railing. But if you move around a lot while sleeping, or have a bad dream, you can actually roll over the railing unless it’s high enough.

    While I was in the hospital, my brother went to my dorm room and, according to my friends, practically tore that loft down with his bare hands. A few other students took theirs down, not wanting to end up in a back brace like me for three months.

    I wouldn’t risk safety for a little space. I found I could get by just fine without the loft–under the bed storage worked just fine, so did paring down my possessions (not that I had a lot to begin with).

  15. posted by Andy on

    @Karyn – Wow, dear! How rational. I’m moved to tears.

  16. posted by Karyn on

    Oh, and on that loft link…those are not lofts that have rails along the bed, they’re just risers, so if you have any history of falling out of bed (even as a kid, as I did a lot), please do not consider a lofted bed without a rail.

    I don’t even let my kids have bunk beds, I’m that paranoid. It just takes one fall.

  17. posted by Gretchen on

    A tip that I didn’t figure out until my senior year (alas!): put a bookshelf on top of your dresser. It adds an amazing amount of storage without taking up valuable floor space.

  18. posted by verily on

    I lucked out and got a dorm room on the end of the building that was about 2 feet longer than the other rooms due to how the building jutted out there. So I wedged some plastic garage shelving and a plastic cube into that space.

    I didn’t have much stuff. I could move in and out with just one car trip. But the benefits of having that shelf there just to store food, school books, my phone, and other random items in an easy-to-reach fashion was immeasurable.

    My dorm configuration didn’t support this, but I saw a kid at my sister’s school stick an over-the-toilet spacesaver shelf over the minifridge to make an instant pantry.

  19. posted by Erica on

    Great point Marc, is there info on that elsewhere on this site?

  20. posted by Minimalist on

    Put those bookshelves they give you on top of the desk…then you can house all of your books, printer, mail, etc in one spot.

    Also if you can do it– bring your own desk chair, it will make working at your desk that much better and you can use the extra college issued chair for guests/storage.

    Bring one winter coat, change things up with hats/scarves.

    See if your facilities will allow you to call and move furniture out of your room…sometimes you can have that bookshelf/dresser taken out. This is good for people in triples, etc.

  21. posted by Franco on

    How about selling some stuff?
    At The SOC –

    You can sell anything you want, sell as much as you want and sell for as long as you want, for just $1 a month, FLAT RATE. Total!

    Get your own URL, blog, email alerts, plus lots more!

    Its really quick and easy!

  22. posted by Twin XL on

    I dont think that many dorms will allow you to loft your bed, but I do have risers under mine that allow for a little more storage. It’s nice!

  23. posted by Rebecca on

    Istead of spending money on risers, my roommate and I bought cinderblocks from Home Depot to use as bed risers, and then I used under the bed boxes to store things. My mom and aunt liked to send me copious amounts of toiletries, so I used to keep a box with all that under my bed, as well as an extra blanket and a box with all my sweaters/scarves/etc in it so it wasn’t taking up room in the closet or dresser.

    I had a large enough closet that I bought a plastic drawer unit and used that for my socks and underwear and then could store other stuff in the dresser drawers, too.

Comments are closed.