9 dorm organization mistakes to avoid, according to the experts

Swerve these red flags with the help of the pros

A cute pastel pink themed dorm room in a polaroid frame
(Image credit: Dormify)

The countdown is officially on for college move-in day, and you've probably got a Pinterest board full of dorm decor ready. But have you thought about how you're going to organize your space yet?

Don't get me wrong. There are soooo many genius ways to organize a dorm room, but with that being said, there are also a lot of ways not to. 

These are some of the most common dorm room organization mistakes, according to small-space and dorm organization experts. We've got you covered with exactly how to avoid these oopsies and keep your space organized and clean AF for a smooth start to the school year.

The prices in this article were correct at the time of publishing.

1. Not lofting your bed 

First and foremost, if you're able to loft your bed, I cannot emphasize this enough: DO IT. Most dorms come with a dresser you can move, plus you can stock up on extra plastic drawers. Stack these on either side and fill up the space under your bed with a spot to organize your clothes, shoes, and toiletries. 

Even if you're not able to, you can still make the most of the space under your bed for storage. There are some amazing under-bed storage options that can be filled with your spare bedding, towels, out-of-season clothes, and shoes.

2. Ignoring vertical space

On a similar note, if there's one thing every single small space organization expert agrees on, it's that vertical space is your BFF. No matter how small your dorm room is, you def have some room to work upwards to incorporate narrow nightstands or a rolling cart into spare corners. 

You can also make use of the walls, doors, and spare space above the toilet, under the sink, or under your desk and bed to incorporate as many organizers and storage solutions as you need (psst, scroll on, because I've got you covered with all the deets on how to make the most of your vertical space).

3. Having non-essential essentials

We know there are waaaay too many cute options for towels, bedding, throw pillows, and blankets out there, and when you move into your own space for the first time, it's tempting to grab everything that fits your vibe. But Amélie Saint-Jacques, professional organizer and KonMari consultant at Amelie Organizes warns that having too many essentials can lead to unnecessary struggles with clutter.

"Limit yourself to the essentials," Saint-Jacques says. "For one person, two sets of bedding and two sets of towels should be plenty. You also don't need enough dishes for 12 people, and if you do have visitors, you might be able to borrow dishes instead of owning them and storing them year-round."

4. Overfilling available storage space

Don't get us wrong, there is def some unused space in your dorm room you can utilize for organization, but it's also important to know where the limit is. Overfilling your drawers, shelves, and storage solutions is pretty much a one-way route to clutter getting out of control.

"You should allocate a certain space for categories of items, and once that space is full, you have to get rid of something before bringing in something new," Saint-Jacques says. "Let's say your bookshelf is full — then you have to get rid of an old book if you want to keep a new one."

The one-in-one-out method is a good one to keep in mind for keeping your clothes, stationery, and beauty products under control, too. Not sure what you can part with? Start out easy by checking for any expired products, full notebooks, or clothes with holes or damage you don't wear anymore. 

5. Forgetting about the spaces you can't reach

That under-bed storage space isn't limited to drawers. As Ben Soreff, professional organizer at House to Home Organizing reminds us, there's also some serious space behind them for the items you don't regularly use.

"We want to put items we don't use often in more remote areas of our space," Soreff says. "Under-the-bed bins can work well for the winter-to-summer swap (think sweaters and then swimsuits)."

If you're going to college out of state and have brought your belongings in a suitcase or two, under your bed is also the perfect place to store those. Double up on space-saving solutions by putting those out-of-season items into the suitcases and tucking them behind any drawers or dressers.

6. Limiting your closet organization to a clothing rail

We've already established that vertical space is your bestie when it comes to storage and organization in dorm rooms, and the closet is no exception. If you're only using the rail in your closet to hang clothes, you're doing it wrong.

Make the most of the space under your closet with woven baskets, units of drawers like this six-drawer one from Dormify, and shoe racks.

You can also utilize a hanging organizer to create extra shelf space, like this one from  Target that I swear by and used in every dorm and apartment during college. It's perfect for folded knitwear, jeans, sweats, and gym clothes, and allows you to save that clothing rail space for more delicate tops and dresses that need it.

7. Leaving your doors bare

Looking at vertical space in your dorm room is a major win for extra organizing space, and your front, closet, and — if you're blessed with an ensuite  — bathroom doors are ideal spots for over-the-door organizers, adorable pegboards, and mirrors.

If you're a little nervous about the opening and closing motions making your storage solutions less stable, consider decorating the doors with your posters and photos instead and using precious wall space for adhesive shelves or to make that pegboard a focal piece.

8. Letting paperwork get out of hand

Orientation and your first week of classes are bound to be full of flyers and syllabi, and the paperwork doesn't stop there. Desk organization is a seriously underrated skill that'll save you so much time and stress throughout your college years. Olivia Parks, lead organizer and owner at Professional Organizer New Orleans suggests getting on top of the paperwork ASAP and putting a system in place before the assignments and forms get out of hand.

"Managing the never-ending flow of papers, notebooks, and binders in a dorm room can feel overwhelming, but don't worry," Park says. "You can create an efficient, stress-free study space with an easy-to-follow system, such as categorizing materials by the subject or due date, to keep everything organized. Make it a habit to declutter regularly, sorting through papers and assignments to ensure everything is in its spot. Consider going paperless by digitizing notes and assignments with apps or cloud storage, and keep your digital files tidy with clear folder structures and labels."

9. Buying furniture with just one function

Real talk: Living in a dorm is your first look at what small space dwelling is like, and you'll quickly learn how amazing multifunctional furniture is. A classic dorm furniture must-have is a storage ottoman like this adorable one from Amazon, which doubles up as seating for friends you have over. This over-the-door mirror from Amazon that opens out into a jewelry and cosmetics organizer is also perfect for checking and styling your OOTD quickly and conveniently on your way out the door for class. 

If you're waiting to start that student job before decking out your dorm, don't worry. The furniture that comes with your room can also serve multiple functions. Think of your desk as both a study space and a vanity, and if you'd prefer to keep your dresser out rather than under your bed, it can double up as your nightstand for a lofted bed. If not, consider attaching a bedside caddy like this macramé one from Amazon or a mini shelf to the side of your bed to store your phone, water bottle, and Airpods after a late-night scrolling sesh.

Nishaa Sharma
Freelance social media editor

Hi! I’m the former social editor at Real Homes and a freelance social media expert bringing you the latest and greatest in home trends, interiors aesthetics, and celebrity finds. When I’m not scrolling or filming the best home decor for your small space, you can find me exploring the cutest villages and brunch spots, or snuggled up on the sofa with a new recipe, my husband, and our puppy, Ebble.