IHeart Organizing

iheartorganizing.com · Sep 2, 2015

Back To School: Dorm Room Organization Tips

Last week I had the extremely fun opportunity to tap into my more youthful side, and help a friend move her daughter to college. After I graduated high school, I went straight from living at home to living with five other kids in a house on campus. So although I didn't personally experience dorm life first hand, I couldn't wait to help organize a Genie sized living space (itty bitty) with phenomenal cosmic powers (we hope).

First of all, no two dorm rooms are created equal. Even on this specific campus there were a variety of rooms in different shapes and sizes. My friend's daughter was moving into a double occupancy room, which offered her a twin size bed, desk, mini fridge, armoire and set of shared drawers. Here is an example of an almost empty room similar in layout to the one we were working with.


My first tip is to read a few blogs (hi!) that share what worked well for them. Start creating a packing list as least a month in advance based on suggestions from the blogs, friends and family. This task was in my pal's hands and she did a great job! After we unpacked majority of the room we only had to pick up a couple extra essentials... and we weren't the only ones! I don't think I have ever seen a Target so busy and picked over in all of my Target shopping experiences; it was like being on a crazy super-sized episode of Supermarket Sweep.



I am sure 99% of colleges would discourage me from saying this, but I recommend bringing a few extra bins, baskets and jars. We had a plan for most things going in, but when we got to the room and began unpacking, a few things shifted and changed. And with only a quick couple of hours to set up the entire room, we were grateful we had arrived overly prepared in the storage department. During our trip to Target, the busiest aisles were storage (first) and back-to-school (second). Many students and parents began unpacking and quickly realized they needed extra bins, cubbies, shelves, baskets, etc... yet it didn't take long for the stores to become short on college supplies as well. Although we didn't utilize every last basket, bin and organizer in our heaping pile, whatever we didn't use was easy enough to bring right back home. I recommend selecting storage baskets that can serve multiple purposes and are fairly general in size, as well as lidded canisters and jars for those smaller items that require wrangling.


Of course this one is an oldie and always an obvious solution, but in a small room it is important to make the most of that vertical space whenever possible. We were able to place the bed on risers to offer storage for taller bins below. We also added a hutch to each surface (both the desk and set of drawers) to add shelving. The walls held pin boards and organizers and the top of each cabinet was utilized to hold baskets and even a TV.


Although it may be tempting to glam up a dreary room with a decorative lamp, task lighting is where it is at. Being that the room is split and shared, task lighting allows each roommate to direct light in a very discreet and specific direction without bothering the other.

Another lighting tip is to install puck lights throughout the space to provide a small amount of light during sleeping hours. Puck lights also work wonders inside of dark closets and armoires.


Some dorms offer the ability and space to add a futon or sofa into the mix. That wasn't the case here, so we added a soft, tufted headboard instead. This will allow the student to sit back in bed and relax comfortably while reading or watching television. We also added an abundance of pillows and even a long body pillow to allow the bed to transform into a daybed on demand.


Just as much as it is important to take advantage of vertical space, the space under the bed is also prime real estate. We were able to line up a whopping six, 13" tall x 22" deep bins under the bed. The bins are soft sided and light weight, so they pull out easily with the attached handle. They are generously sized and left our girl with loads of storage to spare. What we loved most is that they disappeared under the bed/duvet to blend in nice and seamlessly with her decor. We used the bins to store travel pieces/luggage, spare bedding/linens, workout items, shoes, and bulkier clothing such as outerwear and sweatshirts.


We found the oh-so-charming IKEA rolling cart to be the ideal height to act as a tall bedside table. With three tiers, it also provides storage for a spare blanket, remotes, jewelry, instagram photos, a plant, cosmetics, a fan and a task lamp.


I suggest purchasing stock in the Command Strip brand. These are crucial for personalizing a dorm and we used an abundance of them around the space. We utilized them to hang frames above the bed, canvases on the wall, a hook on the hutch for headphones, inside of the armoire for a robe, a pin board on the side of the armoire, a memo board on the outside of the door and wall pockets for dishes. They were our "go to" item all day long and really allowed us to make the space feel like home.


Whenever possible, try to create small zones around the space that function by category. We set up a coffee station on the top of the dresser, and the drawers below were roomy enough to hold dry foods and snacks. The Keurig can use reusable coffee pods to brew up something yummy each morning, yet is also functional for making oatmeal and soup. The armoire holds clothing, laundry, a shower caddy and a cleaning basket. The desk provides double duty as an office and vanity. So although she only has a half of a room, the small "zones" allow it to function much bigger.


Because the desk also doubles as a vanity, it only seemed fitting for magazine files to double as hair tool storage. The steel containers are perfect for holding a hair dryer, curling rod and hair straightener. Just be sure to select a finish that won't be impacted by the heat of the tools.


After our gal loaded up her clothes into the hanging organizer, we all quickly realized that it wasn't as good as it could be. The clothes looked sloppy and loose in the open slots, and it wasn't easy to grab a single item without impacting all of the pieces in the pile. After taking some measurements, we determined that these bins from Target were the perfect size and match for the hanging organizer (from IKEA). By utilizing the bins, the organizer became more sturdy (it was sagging/drooping before we used the bins), and suddenly we had full-sized drawers to work with. Now she can pull out the bin, either file her clothing (similar to my drawers here) or just toss her items inside and not think twice about them. Totally her call, but whatever she decides, she now has double the fun storage.

We also used skinny, space saving felt hangers for any of the tops she wanted to hang.


As I mentioned, we loaded up on extra bins and baskets and they saved us in this space in more ways than one. We especially loved these wire and stacking baskets, which are super versatile for everything from towels to cleaning supplies to extra binders and books.


I heart caddies to the moon and back, and they also work in dorm rooms for a variety of tasks. When it comes to a proper shower caddy, select something that is lightweight and water friendly yet large enough to hold full size toiletry bottles (college students don't want to be replenishing their caddies too frequently).


I used the same cork board, fabric and push pin method that worked so well for my jewelry, here in this dorm room as well. We placed it near the door and it is now in a central location to pin up important reminders and memos (students stopped by multiple times just in the first day to drop off flyers). When you utilize push-pin hooks, you also can hang keys, an umbrella and work name badge right near the door as well.


Rounding out the tour was a little happy accident that I was super excited about. We had used a few empty crates to transport some of the items to the dorm from home, and they were sitting empty on the floor. I spotted them as I was trying to come up with a solution for the fridge/microwave area.

By the magic of awesomeness, the hair tool holder that I built for them earlier this year, fit flawlessly inside of the crate (we brought it for the hair tools but then it worked too perfectly here and the magazine files then worked too perfectly for the tools)! I know that this was just the best accident ever, but here is the tutorial for building the small white bin. By layering the narrower bin inside of the crate, we were able to create a mini-cabinet for their dishes, napkins, food storage, can opener and salt and pepper shakers.

Above the microwave, we added a few Urbio pockets (again with Command Strips), to hold additional dinnerware items.


Whew! You still with me? How about a few more quick little glimpses of the work space since that is where most of the magic will happen?

An old kitchen cabinet organizer received a few coats of spray paint to become a file and binder holder.

Some basic bookends were also given a little dash of color with spray paint. Then, we paired them with small gold letters to give her new textbooks the sweetest personalized place to land at the end of each day.

You know me well enough to know that I wouldn't leave without giving her desk drawer a little Jen treatment. Scrapbook paper temporarily lines the drawer and peeks through the clear organizers. Her drawer is filled with extra pencils, chalk markers (for her door memo board), paperclips, push pins/hooks, tape, markers, her charger, glue, a deck of cards, stationery, batteries, a laptop lock and a three hole paper punch.

And a desk organizer holds a portable cell phone charger brick, memo pads, pens, scissors, more pencils, labels and envelopes.


Move-in day was a whirlwind of amazing commotion, but we felt so great leaving our special girl with a space that feels comfortable and warm for her. We sprinkled in art, her photos and personal items to reduce any anxiety she may have been feeling about her first experience away from home. And she has already checked in and reported that this is the most organized she has ever been, and so far she has easily been able to keep everything in place. You know my heart grew about three times bigger when I heard those sweet words.

Working with others to create personal and organized spaces brings me so much happiness, I can't wait to find another victim in the near future. #wink #whoisreadyforme?

Now that you have seen how we were able to take a small and lack-luster space and give it a little love and a lot of storage, what other organization tips do you have for first time dorm dwellers? What items could you (or your son/daughter) just not live without during the good ol' college days?

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