Moving your teen into a college dorm room for the first time can be a daunting task! What will they need? How will they share this space with a roommate? How can you help them to get organized and stay that way? Below you'll find a free printable dorm room checklist, great tips on how to plan for your move-in day, advice for those moving teens into a dorm far away, and you'll also find 20+ fantastic organized dorm room ideas to get you started!
When we started to prepare to move our oldest son Kyle into his dorm room this past fall- we honestly didn't know where to begin! He attends a college about 1500 miles from home, and we decided to fly rather than drive to move him into school. So when I started to compile a list of what I thought he would need, and options for getting it to him- it all seemed so overwhelming!
So I turned online to find some shopping lists and consulted fellow Moms who had already walked this path. Below you'll find all of the advice and tips I wished I had when I was getting started!
Dorm Room 101- Things to Know in Advance:
Before diving in and making a list of everything you think you might need- do some research first. Chances are- your teen's university has provided you with a move-in guide that explains the move-in date you are assigned and the process involved (Kyle's school offered something called “cruise ship move in” where you show up at a specific time with your car loaded with everything for your room, and people unload it for you and deliver it to your room, while you park your car and your student goes into the dorm to register and get their room key, etc.)
Take some time and read through everything they send to you (even if your future college student has no interest!). There are some valuable things you can learn:
- What kind of rental or purchase options can you take care of in advance? Bed lofts, area rugs, futons, fridges, microwaves can often be rented or purchased in advance and will be delivered to the dorm room before you arrive. In our case, the university only allows specific vendors to provide some of these items, so we looked at the options online and placed our order over the summer. Have your teen work out upfront how they will split the cost and procurement of these rental items with their roommate.
- What is the mailing address for your student's dorm room? Whether you want to ship items in advance or send care packages later- find this information in the move-in packet and get it into your address book now.
- How early will the mail room in the dorm accept packages? Our scheduled move in time was on a Monday at 8am, and the earliest the mail room would accept packages was the Saturday before- which gave me just one day to get it all delivered if I wanted it to be there when we were setting up the room.
- Is your teen's roommate moving it on the same day at the same time? There's no doubt, dorm rooms are small- and it is challenging enough to fit all of your belongings into the same room as it is. But to try to open and unpack boxes, assemble furniture with 4-8 people in one room at the same time is darn near impossible! So try to coordinate staggered moving and unpacking times so each teen gets a turn to set up their space.
Dorm Room 101: Advice for Long Distance Dorm Set Up
- Make a plan! (The dorm room checklist below can help with that!) What will you bring from home? What will you buy online and ship directly there? What will you order from a local Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond ahead of time and pick up upon arrival? And what will you just shop for and pick out once you are there?
- If you are flying- buy great foldable duffle bags! These duffles held all of the clothes and personal belongings that my son wanted to bring from home including sports equipment, pictures, a video gaming system and more. And the best part is that they fold up and zip into small pouches making them easy to store.
- Purchase airline tickets that allow at least one checked bag apiece. We still had to pay extra for the additional two checked bags, but we were prepared for that. Know that as a parent traveling with your child, everything you want to bring for your move-in trip will need to fit in your carry-on bag!
- Rent a minivan. The fold-down seats in our rented Toyota Sienna made it all so easy to fit in everything in one trip!
Dorm Room Checklist
Regardless if you are moving your college student into a dorm nearby or far away- having a checklist to track what you need and how you are going to get it is so helpful! In this free printable checklist, you have columns for checking off items you already own at home, items you'll buy in advance (like the travel duffles), and items you'll order online and have shipped to the dorm.
There's a column for items you'll order online and pick up in store locally too. It's good to know that both Target and Bed, Bath, & Beyond have college dorm room shopping programs where you can order what you want online, and they'll stage it all together for you and you just pick it up from customer service when you arrive at the store. You can then go through everything and return anything that doesn't meet your expectations. I loved using this service for things that I was concerned might sell out in a college location during move-in week- like closet organizers, mattress covers, and bedding.
And finally, there is a column for things you are going to shop for once you get into town. Things like school supplies, snacks for the room, etc.
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20 Organized Dorm Room Ideas!
Okay- now it's time to inspire you! These are my absolute favorite picks for items that can help you to organize your teen's dorm room:
For an Organized Dorm Room Closet:
A dorm room closet is likely to consist of a hanging bar the length of the closet with a shelf over the bar. If you've trained your kids to hang up their tees and sweats on hangers- you'll be all set. My kids are used to closets with shelves. So I wanted to find an inexpensive way to get plenty of shelf space in my son's dorm room closet!
Deciding what to buy ahead of time was made easier by the room dimensions provided by my son's college in his move-in packet. I knew the length and height of the closet, as well as the space between the top shelf and the ceiling, and the space between the hanging bar and the floor. So I knew exactly what would fit!
I used Target College Pick Up to pre-order in advance what I wanted for my son's closet, and then the store associates pulled all of the items together and I picked them up from customer service when I arrived. It eliminated the stress of things I wanted being sold out in this college town Target store!
We purchased three of these 3-shelf hanging organizers and hung them side by side on the long closet bar. These are nice and sturdy and gave my son plenty of room to store folded tees, shorts, sweatshirts, etc.
This 6-shelf organizer came with two drawers which are perfect for storing underwear and socks.
This Sterilite 3-drawer unit is a great place to store longer items- like pants and jeans. He used the bottom drawer for his dress shoes, belt, ties and other items he won't use very often.
I like that a laundry basket could fit nicely on top of the drawers, and still be underneath the hanging shelves above. We came up with “the system” that he would store his laundry supplies in the basket. Dirty clothes would go into his pop up hamper bag as he wore them, and before he headed down to the laundry room, he would toss his bed sheets into the laundry basket.
And how great is the hamper bag backpack ? It makes it so easy to carry your clothes on your back while holding the laundry basket and supplies in your hands! (The backpack style bag serves as the liner of his pop-up hamper.)
I love these velvet dress hangers because the clothes kind of cling to the fabric sides rather than slip off as they would on a plastic hanger. And they are slim, so they don't add bulk to the closet (we only allotted for 12″ of hanging space on the far left side of the closet in our set up).
These Sterilite storage bins were the perfect size to fit on his top shelf and hold items that he won't use often- like travel duffles, an additional stock of toiletry items, off-season clothing, etc.
And of course, no college room will be complete without the use of command hooks throughout the room! We put two on the side wall of his closet to hold his towels.
There was room under the beds (but unfortunately not under the futon), for some additional under the bed storage containers . These are the perfect place for off-season coats and boots, as well as sports equipment, etc. And I love that they have lids to keep everything inside dust-free.
A sturdy shower caddy with holes so the water can drain out is a must-have. I picked this one because there was plenty of space for shower items as well as hair products.
For an Organized Dorm Room Desk:
Aside from a good amount of school supplies- pens, pencils, notebooks, index cards, posts its, folders, etc- the most important thing your teen will need at his or her desk is a power strip! Because between laptops, phones, calculators, and all kinds of other electronics- they need to be able to easily charge them!
A flexible power strip like this one is great because you can bend it around fixed desk lamps, bed posts, etc.
Some dorm room desks will come equipped with a lamp- but if your student's room doesn't- I highly recommend this TaoTronics desk lamp that allows for 7 different brightness levels and is easy to reposition over your work or out of your way.
Your teen is going to head to school with some valuables. A laptop, maybe a passport, some cash, etc. And you'll want a place where they can keep it locked up when they aren't in the room. So it's a good idea to have both a combo lock that they can use at a gym locker as well as a lockable storage box that can be cabled to something permanent in the room.
For an Organized Dorm Room Bed:
Whether you loft your bed in order to fit a futon underneath, or simply raise if off the floor a bit with bed risers to create some additional storage, you are going to want your student's dorm room bed to be as comfy as possible!
So build it from the bottom up- starting with a great mattress cover that is designed to keep bed bugs at bay. Layer on a thick plush mattress pad to make it cozy- and then add on comfy knit sheets that feel like their favorite soft t-shirt. Depending on climate- add a fuzzy blanket and/or a comforter . (Keep in mind that the typical dorm room bed is an XL Twin).
I also suggest at least 2 pillows for a dorm bed- especially if you think your teen will sit in bed and read or study. You can also get a husband pillow with arms, which is great for sitting up in bed, but a bit of a pain when it comes to sleeping with it!
Another good idea is a use a bedside caddy with lots of pockets which can hold a charging cell phone, a book, eyeglasses, etc.
A Few More Things You Might Want to Consider:
You really don't think your college student is ever going to iron anything, do you? Me either… but for those moments when they need to look nice- and the shirt is a wrinkled mess- a small fabric steamer will do the trick!
And while I don't expect my teen to dust or vacuum their dorm room regularly (or EVER!), there will be those times when someone dumps their popcorn all over the floor and they'll be wishing for an easy way to clean it up. But if they have to go to the main desk to borrow the dorm vac- that popcorn could end up sitting there for weeks! That's why we tucked an inexpensive stick vac into the back of the closet!
They're going to come home for a visit at some point (we hope). These duffle bags cane we stuffed with tons of dirty laundry. And they are great because they zip up into a small pouch that can easily be stored. Available in large and small sizes.
A small toolkit might also come in handy if your student ends up putting together some furniture like a futon or a bookcase, and a first aid kit along with some cold and cough medicines are always a good idea to have on hand as well.
And finally- don't forget to send your college student to school with their health and dental insurance cards as well as travel identification (passport).
Looking for some more organizing inspiration?
- The Best Family Calendars – whether you prefer electronic, paper, or wall calendar- these are the best ones of the year!
- 12 Organized Closet Ideas
- 20 Great Ideas to Get Your Kids Room Organized!
- 10 Organized Laundry Room Ideas
- 12 Ideas for Entryway and Mud Room Organization