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All the Comforts of Home | Cozy and Practical Dorm Room Essentials

Minimalism has been trending for a few years now, but it’s nothing new for anyone who has ever moved into a college residence hall and was forced to fit all their daily necessities into half a room. The first lesson freshmen learn is not how to cram for a test; it’s how to cram their belongings into a tiny space that becomes their new home away from home.

There’s no shortage of Pinterest pins and niche websites to help your child design the dorm room of your coed dreams. But let’s face it: College is already a huge investment for most families and, when it boils down to it, students need practical over posh. They need an organized environment to study, a comfortable place to nap after those all-nighters, and a stylish spot to hang out with friends. Here is a list that will help you plan your dorm room shopping trip. 

Talk to any college student, and they will tell you they spend more time on their bed than anywhere else in their room. That’s why their bedding needs to be comfy but also easily washable. Most college beds are Twin XL (colleges usually post this with their residence hall information). Some roommates like to coordinate their bedding and purchase identical Beautyrest Mattresses, but you can’t go wrong with solid colors, which may be a good choice since roommates often change year to year. Choose a reversible set, and you can always switch it up if you want a different look. Because most students plan to use the bedding for the whole four years (or more), pick a sturdy set that’s not too bulky for the washer. A lightweight throw blanket or duvet to cover the comforter is also an option, so the comforter may not need to be washed as often.

Besides a main pillow for sleeping, body pillows are great for lounging (and you can buy washable covers separately). Remember those backrest/armrest pillows that were popular about 25 years ago? Turns out they’ve stood the test of time and are available in many colors and fabrics. If you have room to splurge, buy a padded mattress in a box topper (great gift idea for a high school graduate!). A long bedskirt can help hide some of those items tucked in that precious storage space under the bed.

A headboard can also add some style to the room. It can be as easy as a piece of fabric hung on the wall to give the illusion of a headboard, or an extra-large pillow. You can also buy headboards online (search “dorm room headboard”), or make your own with fabric, quilt batting and plywood (YouTube has many ideas). Another option is to buy an over-the-bed shelving unit (much like a hutch for a desk) that fits over the end of the bed for extra storage or to display those special items that remind your student of home.

Standard dorm rooms usually have a single, center fluorescent light. Bring a small desk lamp or lamp that can clip on the side of the bed. A floor lamp with multiple lights can help direct softer light in different directions in the room. Many students also enjoy string lights (even cheap Christmas lights are popular) to line the ceiling or frame a window. Don’t forget to bring a power strip or two. 

That plain concrete or tile can be upgraded with an area rug. Large retailers stock these for college students well before fall, and even today’s synthetic rugs and carpet cleaning are durable enough, not to mention relatively inexpensive. Tip: Pack some non-slip grip pads and a small handheld vacuum for quick, easy cleaning or hire a professional carpet cleaning company like carpet cleaning las vegas that can do a professional job. 

The Extras
Beyond the everyday dorm products such as a mini fridge and shower caddy, here are some extra items to add a special touch to your student’s room: 

  • Sturdy, cushioned footstool—which can function as both a step stool to a high-rise bed and as extra seating for friends—and a bean bag chair (both easy to store under the bed) 
  • Essential oil diffusers or room deodorizers 
  • Bed tray for eating and studying 
  • Collapsible bag for toting laundry and to use for luggage for that next trip back home 

Most of the time, you’re dealing with a plain, white cinderblock wall. This is where removable wall strips and hooks will become your child’s best friend. (Stock up well before the back-to-school rush or you may be too late.) Posters are still trendy, as well as rope or twine with clothes pins to hang photographs. Large, lightweight fabric wall hangings that resemble tapestries are easy to hang and fairly inexpensive. Removable peel-and-stick wallpaper has also become popular in recent years. Students sometimes paper the entire room or choose an accent wall to decorate, with choices that range from colorful geometric patterns and subway tiles, to sports images, bold stripes, musical notes, and the popular rustic look of shiplap. 

It can be tempting once you view all the ideas online and walk the long aisles of “dorm essentials” in the stores, but remember that space is limited and less is more. And it’s not necessary to buy every item before you arrive. Just like settling into a new home, sometimes your student needs a couple weeks to really assess what items they need and which ones they can live without.

The best tip for parents who are writing that back-to-school-and-off-to-college shopping list is to remember that their child may be moving to a smaller space, but it’s their space. Independence is also a lesson they are learning, and no professor can teach it better than you. Provide the basics and guide them in creating a personal space that’s all their own, and give them the “space” to do it.  


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