Are you sending a kiddo off to college this year? I’m not quite there yet, but I know many of you are – and living in a dorm is a whole new experience that can require some creative solutions to make the most of the space. Below I’m answering some questions posed by my Instagram followers, and sharing some of my favorite organizing products for small spaces!
Before we get into the questions, my number one tip is to get information. Try to find out as much as possible from the housing office about what the dorm will have (and what it won’t) before move in. It’s unrealistic to expect dimensions for each drawer, but sometimes you can “guesstimate” if you have access to a photo or video tour. But simply knowing how many drawers, or the basic size of the closet can help give you an idea of what to bring.
How do I make the move-in process as efficient as possible?
The goal here is to minimize trips to the car. After all, move in day is usually HOT, and close parking spaces can be in short supply.
Pack smart. Maximize the space in each box and suitcase. Instead of using packing materials, use clothes, bedding, and towels to pad more fragile items. This will cut down on the overall number of boxes (and save room for organizational supplies!). Remove things you know your child will use from its packaging. The extra packaging takes up so much room!
Bring a flat bed cart. Get one that folds up flat, and remember to pack heavier items on the bottom as you load it. It will save your back and really cut down on the number of trips you need to make. If you go this route, be prepared to be popular. Others will likely want to borrow it after you’re done! (Label it with your name and number so it gets back to you.)
My child is going to school out-of-state, how do we manage seasonal clothes?
Use space bags. If you kiddo is going to school in a place far from home with four seasons, they’ll need to bring an entire wardrobe with them. Capsule wardrobes are a great idea for cutting down on the number of items they’ll need. Bulky sweaters and coats are space suckers in any closet though, so finding a solution for these is key. Space bags are great for longer term storage. They even make hanging ones if these items need to be stored in a closet.
Take advantage of the space under the bed. Some dorm rooms come with beds that have built in drawers. If not, consider bringing bed risers to gain a few extra inches of space for an under the bed storage system. If there’s no room for a nightstand, you can also grab a bedside organizing caddy. The Container Store sells a combo pack with all three items – so smart!
Utilize vertical space in closets. If there is a high shelf in a closet, this is a great place for storing items that don’t need to be frequently accessed, like off-season clothes and accessories. Use cute bins for some added style; and don’t forget to use slim velvet hangers to save space in the closet. You can fit in so much more!
What are some tips for storing food in the room?
Fridge organization is key. Mini fridges are a challenge and can really benefit from zone organization. Use smaller clear bins to store like-items in categories. Talk to your kiddo about the items they think they will store in there most often and label the bins to reflect their preferences. Some ideas include: snacks, fruit, yogurt, bread, cheese, and condiments. Be sure to measure before purchasing (if you are supplying the fridge), or bring a variety of sizes and return what you don’t use.
A few creative products can help make the mini-fridge area a whole kitchen zone. Prop it up on an Elfa drawer system, or purchase a caddy that sits on top of the fridge. These have pouches on each side for storing a few plates, utensils, and cups.
Have a snack station. Dedicate a drawer to snacks! Quick grab breakfast items can be stored here, too, for grab-and-go options on mornings with early classes. Buy these in bulk and use drawer dividers to maximize space. You’ll always have a go-to item to throw into the care packages you send.
How do I encourage them to KEEP their dorm organized?
Only bring the essentials. Minimalism is hard for some, but in a small space it can really help keep things tidy. Keep in mind the resources available to your student on campus, and try not to be redundant. For example, gone are the days where a printer is necessary. With most assignments being turned in online, and printing usually available at the campus library, a printer would just take up valuable real estate.
Try an app. Keeping a schedule of small tasks to complete each day is easy with the right program. Tody is one example of a virtual system for getting daily reminders of which areas need attention. It offers suggestions for a cleaning schedule, or you can customize your own based on the space.
Set a reminder for a weekly reset. With more free time on the weekends, Sunday can be a great day for studying and resetting a dorm. I’ll offer the same advice I offer families, put it on the calendar. Set aside a few hours on the weekend to do laundry, put away miscellaneous items, go through emails, and prep for the week. This is also a great time for students to plan for assignments due soon!
What are some organization essentials we should bring?
- A small, basic tool kit and a first aid kit are good to have. Bonus, the kits are already organized and compact! Win-win!
- iDesign Clear Grid Totes (or another similar caddy) are perfect for storing cleaning supplies, dishwashing supplies, and bathroom supplies if it’s a shared facility down the hall.
- Bamboo drawer dividers can be used for clothing and the aforementioned snack drawer. These are adjustable, so they fit a wide variety of spaces!
- Drawer organization bins are great for organizing any school supplies in the desk drawer. Buy more so you can ensure a good fit. Just return the leftovers, or use them in the bathroom for storing small items like hair ties and q-tips.
- White Board. So helpful for keeping track of social engagements and assignments due! Encourage them to keep this updated each week so they know what they have going on at a glance.
- Over-the-Door Organizers: Use as many as you can fit (on both sides of each door in the room). One with hooks for towels will save drawer space. Shoe organizers can be used for shoes (obviously), but also for bathroom and cleaning supplies. The flexibility makes them a must have. For a more sophisticated look, the Elfa over-the-door system is a nice option.
- Bring all the command strips! Get a variety of basic strips and also hooks. Use these to run and sort cables, to hang decor, and to add storage to walls in the entryway or bathroom.
- Clothes Drying Rack. This one folds up and is a great option in case all the dryers are in use in the laundry room!
- Skinny Hamper. I love the Poppin hamper from The Container Store. Its slim design doesn’t take up much room in a closet. The bag comes out for easy transport to the laundry facilities.
- Detergent pods. These takes up less room than a traditional bottle of liquid detergent – and they’re just easier to use!
P.s. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to give them a lesson on laundry before they go! 🙂
Flexible storage systems.
- High-end option: Elfa Drawers (pictured below). Short on dresser space? Grab one of these! You can use the top for bins, and the drawers for clothes, books, and other supplies. They’ll last forever!
- Economical option: White Stackable Baskets. These are great for the floor in a closet. They are very inexpensive and can be stacked to take advantage of all the available space.
- 3-Tier Rolling Cart. Excellent for creating storage zones. Smart store inserts and other accessories can keep it looking tidy and the wheels allow it to be moved to where it’s needed. Great for storing dishes, art supplies, electronics, and more!
When it comes to smaller organizational items, like command strips and drawer organizers, bring more than you think you’ll need. You can always make returns later. It’s better to be overprepared and be able to use all of the space, then having to make a run to the store in the middle of move-in day. Everyone else will be there!
That said, my final tip for you is this: know where to shop. Get familiar with the available store options in the area of the school. If you do need to make a run, it will be quick, and you can get back with plenty of time to finish setting up. Or just keep a detailed list of what you still need, and ship it when you get back home!
If you have any more questions about dorm organization, be sure to shoot me a DM over on Instagram. I’m always happy to help, and I’m wishing you and your student a great year at college!
Each of my career choices-wedding coordinator, event planner, and teacher — gave me the creative freedom to organize everyone and everything. I have always thrived on to-do lists, planners, and systems! Now, I lead a team of organizers to help me on my mission. Read more…