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How to Maximize Space in Your Small Dorm Room

A random dorm room with bed in front of window.

College freshmen are finally beginning to move into campus housing—and possibly away from home for the first time. If you’re one of those first-years wondering what to leave, what to bring, or how you’ll make the most of your small dorm room, look no further! University at Buffalo alumna Lauren Thomann (2007), a Senior Content Strategist at Life Storage in Williamsville, NY who we recently profiled, is an expert on maximizing space and minimizing clutter, and she has shared with us her tips on how to make the most out of your home at college.

Thomann says the key is to make sure everything in your room serves a purpose. Be mindful about your space and your belongings. Determine what you really need by asking yourself these questions:

  • How will this item be used on a daily basis?
  • Where will I store this item?
  • Do I need this item?

Thomann adds, “If you look at your belongings with these questions in mind, you’ll be less likely to hang onto things that don’t serve you or your space.”

Here are her tips for making the most out of your small space:

1. Don’t forget the essentials

Any time we leave home, we’re all plagued by that typical worry: “I’m totally forgetting something.” Soothe that nagging feeling by checking these space-saving essentials off your list. Thomann recommends:

  • A storage ottoman. A hollow ottoman will serve a dual purpose and will fit easily at the end of your bed. (This one on Amazon has extra pockets for maximum storage, while these from Overstock collapse for easier transportation in and out of the dorm.)
  • Tension rods. This is an easily forgettable item, but one that will come in handy to maximize closet space. Thomann also recommends putting them between other surfaces, like your wall and minifridge, to hang things: “Having items off the floor will make your dorm room feel larger and less cluttered.”
  • Bed risers. Many dorm beds are adjustable, but to create even more storage space underneath your bed, get yourself some risers for that added boost.

Check out our list of dorm essentials for more suggestions.

2. Ditch your knick-knacks

It’s even easier to over-pack than it is to forget the things you really need. Though you may feel attached to your old vinyl collection or your Game of Thrones books, if it isn’t functional, Thomann says it’s best to leave it at home. A quick rule of thumb: “If it’s large and doesn’t have a dual purpose or important function, leave it out.”

This doesn’t mean you can’t make your room feel homey and attractive. “Add personality to your space with items that will also serve a distinct purpose, like brightly colored wall hooks that can hang pictures and your keys,” Thomann says.

For more specific ideas about what to leave, check out our list of what not to bring to college.

3. Coordinate with roommates

There are plenty of things you won’t need two of: a TV, a minifridge, and less obvious things like a shoe mat or coat hooks. Contact your roommate(s) well ahead of time to avoid duplication, and save space and money.

Thomann also says even if you can’t share items, you can be considerate of your roommate(s) by keeping your part of the room tidy. Put your clothes and personal care items away and keep them in their appropriate spot—this will be much easier if have storage options that maximize your space, and if you bring only the essentials.

4. Take advantage of DIY projects and “hacks”

We all have plenty of organizational DIY tutorials and “life hacks” saved on Pinterest or on our phone’s camera roll. Why not put them to use for once instead of letting them collect virtual dust?

Thomann has a couple of ideas of her own to save space:

  • Magnetic wall strips. Get yourself magnetic strips with sticky tape on one side. Then attach magnets to pens, pencils, Scotch tape, and even makeup—anything that would otherwise clutter up your desk. You can also paint the magnetic strips or adhere fabric to them to add personality.
  • Soda tabs. Next time you crack open an aluminum can, set aside the tab to use as a cheap and effortless space-saver: “Slip a soda tab onto a hanger’s hook then attach another hanger and article of clothing off the tab.” This will free up rod and hanger space in your closet.

5. Become a minimalist

It may be difficult to part with all the things you have in your bedroom at home, but the sooner you admit to yourself you just won’t need most of it, the less daunting moving to college will seem.

Thomann says you don’t need to get rid of everything: “You can have a love of shoes and still live a minimal life. Just be sure you have a smart storage option for all those shoes so they don’t impede on your small space.”

Besides, with any luck, you’ll be too busy joining clubs, getting ahead on schoolwork, and enjoying campus life to worry about the things you might miss at home!

Written by Jenna Colozza

Jenna was a student assistant with the SUNY Office of New Media when an undergraduate student at SUNY Geneseo studying English literature.

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  • Pauline says:

    You should also pick up some collapsible crates. These lay flat and can live under your bed or in a drawer until you need them and you will. It’s amazing how many new things you collect once you’re on campus. When stuff starts to overflow, just pop open another crate and instant storage.

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