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While the size of a dorm room varies widely by college (and even within colleges), it’s not unusual for a dorm to measure around 20 feet by 12 feet — with two people sharing that space. In other words, it’s really small.
Are you a soon-to-be dorm dweller wondering how to fit all your stuff inside? Here’s your first order of business: Start by learning just how tiny your room is.
“Although the temptation to buy organizers before going to school can be strong, I would recommend only buying a few items until you have the measurements of your drawers, the available space under your bed, and what your closet situation will be,” says professional organizer Lauren Saltman of Living. Simplified. “Certainly, there are a few items you can purchase beforehand, but you don’t want to be in a situation where you’ve shipped several items that don’t fit in your given space.”
And even when you know what you’re dealing with, try to curb the desire to recreate the bedroom you’re leaving behind. Your belongings won’t all fit, and that’s OK.
It’s time to channel your inner minimalist,” says certified professional home organizer Jill Moore of Organized Jill. “Fewer items means the less you have to clean up, manage, store and care for when you have more important things to do, like study.”
Dorm room closets are the obvious place for storage, but they’re typically very small. “Now is not the time to bring all 50 pairs of black leggings when eight to 10 pairs will be more than enough,” Moore adds. “And eight to 10 pairs of shoes is more than enough.”
With those gentle warnings out of the way, both experts share their tips on how to make the most of the dorm room space you do have.
Organizing the Dorm Closet
Even a small closet can be a boon to dorm dwellers short on dresser drawers.
“Utilizing the hanging bar in the closet is a great way to add storage space,” Saltman says. “By adding a hanging closet organizer, you will be able to store additional clothing and have quick and easy access to it.”
She and Saltman both recommend picking up a pack of slimline hangers and ditching your bulky, mismatched ones.
“It’s amazing how much space hangers take up in your closet!” Saltman says.
The following products can let you maximize your closet space.
If you haven’t yet learned the space-saving way to fold T-shirts (aka rolling them), now’s the time. This hanging organizer has a spot for 24 T-shirts, or pairs of leggings. It’s also clear, so you can see them all quickly.
Buy the Portable Rolled Clothes Holder and Organizer at Amazon for $15.99.
“I would suggest an organizer that has shelves,” Saltman says. “Do make sure you find one that is sturdy and doesn’t overload the shelves, otherwise they will sag.”
Simply hook this organizer to the closet bar, and you have an instant extra dresser. It’s marked down at Macy’s to $28.79 with the coupon code HOME right now.
Buy Hanging Closet Organizer with Drawers at Macy’s for $28.79 (was $52).
Under the Bed
As many students have discovered over the years, one great way to maximize dorm room space is to strategically place the beds. Some students will stack them so that a minimum of floor space is being used. But, as Moore notes, you can always just raise the beds to create space underneath.
“One of the best ways to add storage is to raise your bed to the highest height possible to create under-bed storage,” she says.
Moore suggests stowing bulky items like sweatshirts, jeans, winter jackets, towels and blankets in bins that can slide out from under the bed easily. Lids for these bins are important.
“It gets very dusty under the bed or on top of the dresser, so if you are storing items, it’s best to keep them in a bin with a top,” Saltman says. “And [transparent ones] allow you to see what is inside without having to remove the top.”
If you’re not sure how much room you’re going to have under your bed, you might want to go with soft, foldable options like the ones below.
The Simple Houseware Foldable Closet Organizer Clothing Storage Box with Clear Window, which comes in a three-pack at Walmart for $14.97, has the bonus of being very lightweight with handles on the side. Consider how much easier this will make the dorm move-in process.
Buy Simple Houseware 3-pack Foldable Closet Organizer at Walmart for $14.97.
Another option is this four-pack of Homsorout Storage Baskets at Walmart for $25.59. They’re stackable and foldable, with plenty of room, a lid and the all-important window.
“If I had to choose a favorite between the two, I would choose the Homsorout Storage Basket [pictured above] because they are a bit smaller and easier to configure in a limited space,” says Saltman.
Buy Homsorout Storage Baskets, 4 pack large, at Walmart for $25.59.
The wheels on this cart keep your storage items off the floor and make it easy to slide out from under the bed. It does require some assembly, but you can use it with your bins.
“Find clear, lidded, stackable bins that you can place inside [this cart] to create a rolling dresser,” Moore says.
Buy Whitmore rolling white wire underbed cart at Amazon for $23.35.
Around the Fridge
If you’re lucky enough to have a fridge in your dorm room, it’ll still be a mini one — but it still takes up a good bit of room in your tiny, shared space. Plus, you’ll probably also need a place to keep non-perishable foods and items like utensils and napkins.
The following products add food-related storage without taking away any more floor space.
Where should you put the packaged foods that don’t go in the fridge? Here’s one option: a magnetized caddy with compartments that easily hold kitchenware or even your laundry bag.
“Use magnetic bins on the side of the fridge to create a ‘pantry’ for snacks,” Moore says. “Remove the granola bars from the boxes and load up the magnetic bins. Bonus points if the bins are clear so you can see how many Pop-Tarts are left.”
Buy Basket Magnetic Storage Organizer Tray for Refrigerator at Amazon for $18.99.
You can also buy a shelf that fits over the appliance, like DormCo’s The Mini Shelf Supreme. This one requires no tools for assembly, which is great for students who may not have them handy. The feet even adjust for uneven floors.
“These help you take advantage of the space above the fridge and help you to keep all of your food and utensils organized,” says Saltman.
Buy DormCo Mini Shelf Supreme at Amazon for $94.40.
Another option is to add storage under the fridge with a mini fridge stand. This EazeHome version, at Amazon for $71.99, has swivel wheels so you can move it easily from place to place and holds up to 120 pounds.
“This lifts the fridge off the floor and offers hidden storage for your food and utensils,” says Saltman.
Buy EazeHome Mini Fridge Stand at Amazon for $71.99.
Use Your Bed
Depending on the size of your room, you may not have space to add a futon or beanbag chair. And your dorm may have strict rules about not drilling into the walls to add shelves. But you will certainly have a bed, and you can work with that.
“Opt for additional pillows to turn your bed into a daybed/couch and keep your paperwork stored in the cloud,” Moore says.
You might miss having a nightstand next to your bed, but you can easily replace that with a portable option as well.
“If you like to study in your bed, I highly recommend getting a bedside caddy or shelf that attaches to the mattress,” Saltman says. “These are handy to hold school supplies, your phone and charger, and even a bottle of water all for easy access.”
The Bedshelfie’s claim to fame is that it fits onto any size dorm bed. The tray clamps onto the side of the bed (by twisting two tension screws underneath), so there’s no assembly required. You can also use it in place of a nightstand.
Buy Bedshelfie bedside shelf on Amazon for $47.99 (was $64.99).
This bedside caddy, available for $22.99 on Amazon, has several pockets and pouches for phones, laptops, books, remote controls and drinks. A side panel slides between the mattress and bed frame to hold it up.
Buy Zafit bedside caddy at Amazon for $22.99.
Movable storage is helpful in dorm rooms, since you can rearrange your setup as needed — for convenience or cleanliness, for example.
“When living in a small shared space, it’s imperative to be creative in the storage you are using,” Saltman says. “When possible, you also want to think vertically.”
So, having stacked tiers of storage is a good idea. Here are some options:
Most homes (usually in their kitchens) have some kind of catch-all, junk drawer for things you just need to put somewhere. But with dorm rooms, extra drawer space is rare. That’s where a rolling cart comes in.
“I am a huge fan of the 3-tier rolling cart,” says Saltman. “Not only do you have several shelves available to help you organize your supplies (be it school supplies, food, makeup, or books) — but these are also a fun way to add a pop of color to your dorm room.”
Buy three-tier rolling storage trolley at Macy’s for $57.99 (was $69.99).
A slim storage cart can maximize your storage in a clever and flexible way. This cart fulfills the same purpose as a standard rolling cart, but at only 5 inches wide, it can fit into even an extra-small space between, say, a bed and a desk.
Buy 3-Tier Slim Slide Out Storage Cart at Walmart for $27.
And have a great academic year!