The end of winter break means breaking in a new dorm room for many college students, or coming back to the mess you left when you went away. Either way, now would be a good time to establish your digs before you are swamped with actually schoolwork.

“Dorm rooms need to be organized on the same principle as any other tiny room,” noted Lauren Williams, owner of Casual Uncluttering, LLC in Woodinville, Wash. This involves creating space and then making the most of every inch of the room.

Here, experts offer guidelines to establish an orderly dorm room that will get you through the whole semester.

dorm stuff

If you can, bring less.

Get in touch with your roommate as you’re preparing for the semester, suggested Dustin Ramsdell, resident director for the Darling Learning Center on the Bangor, Maine campus at Husson University. “It helps make things smoother with getting to know each other, and you can coordinate who is bringing certain supplies.”

Items like irons and ironing boards, hair dryers, TV’s and brooms can be shared.

Also consider the climate and details of the location. “Students moving to Hawaii from Minnesota can probably leave winter clothes behind,” said Williams.

If the room has overhead lighting, you might bring a single desk lamp rather than several floor lamps.

Keep off season items out

“Generally, if you have the ability to keep anything stored elsewhere while you’re living on campus, do it,” said Ramsdell. “It makes more room in the precious limited space you have for all the other stuff you’ll want and need.”

If you live close enough to the campus that you can return home frequently, leave clothing you won’t need immediately behind. Then, switch jackets and coats for shorts and tank tops during a visit when the season changes.

Take smart storage containers.

Multi-functional pieces, such as a footstool with a storage space, can provide extra room. For snacks, try a slim cart that will fit next to a desk or refrigerator.

Add bed risers to create more space under your bed. Then place supplies and clothes in plastic storage bins that fit in the space or in an under bed chest.

For shelving units, consider adding additional wire shelves to pre-built shelves. Separate the shelving space with baskets on the shelves or dividers that clip on to shelves.


Find a spot for shoes.

When it comes to shoes, “They are always in the way,” noted Leticia Pfeiffer, professional organizer and founder of Styled & Organized Living. Instead of piling them in a closet, try using a bottom dresser drawer. Add drawer dividers to categorize footwear, such as a flip flop section and dressy section.

If you can’t use a drawer, try an over-the-door organizer to divide pairs. Shoes you wear every day can go right under hanging clothes on the closet floor.

Hang with care.

If you want to take jewelry, first sort through it and leave the valuable items at home, suggested Pfeiffer. Then, use a bulletin board to hang pieces on the wall. A couple of other options for hanging jewelry: Command Hooks or a Little Black Dress, which has clear pockets for bracelets, earrings, and necklaces.

For clothes, “hang as much as possible,” said Pfeiffer. If you only have one rod, add another rod such as the Dublet Adjustable Clothing Rod. Look for hangers that allow you to keep various outfits in a slim space.

Use hanging shelves to store folded sweaters, sweatshirts, pants, ball caps, handbags and scarves, added Pfeiffer.

in a dorm

Create order early on.

“Typically college activities start within an hour or two of a new student’s formal admittance to the dorm – that first week of orientation is a critical one,” stated Williams.

The sooner everything is organized, the sooner you can focus on the next events. You’ll also be able to see if you forgot anything at home, or need to purchase extra supplies or storage bins.

Once things are in their place, put them back when you’re done using them, added Ramsdell.

“Having a place where things are supposed to go, and keeping them there, makes things like medicine or cleaning supplies easy to find and allows them to not take up space when they’re not needed,” Ramsdell said.

Rachel Hartman