How to organize a dorm room — no matter how tiny

Put that square footage to work

Room with desk and computer with decor and plants
(Image credit: Slava Keyzman / Unsplash)

POV: Your parents just dropped you off at college and you set foot in your dorm room. You might be thinking, “This is where I’m supposed to live?” Before you freak out, just keep in mind that these tight quarters are temporary and the experiences you have in college will be way more memorable than your tiny dorm room. 

Finding space to store your essentials while making your room feel like home is probably the biggest challenge of dorm living. Living in an unorganized, messy dorm (or with an untidy roommate) and your little corner of space can start to feel less like a safe haven and more like a stressful alcove.

To help you make the most of your dorm room era, we tapped Shira Gill, an organization expert and bestselling author of Minimalista, to source her strongest tips. These affordable, easy-to-implement strategies are sure to level up your college living game and help you figure out how to organize a dorm room.

Start organizing your dorm with these 3 organization hacks

1. Think of your space in zones

One game changer when it comes to dorm room organization? Creating different zones for your belongings, like having a sleep section, work/study section, and a getting ready section. Gill says that thinking about the broad buckets of your life as a college student and then catering your zones to those categories will help you stay more organized and keep you and your new roommates' spaces separate. This strategy will also prevent you from dumping your belongings in random places in your room throughout the day. 

Ask yourself these questions to get started: What zones do I need? Where can these zones live? What belongs in each zone? For example, you might have a small desk where your school supplies live, a shelf where you keep makeup, or a snack station that gets you through late-night study sessions.  

2. Elevate by editing

When you’ve got little to no budget but want to feel like you’re living in a boutique hotel, Gill encourages you to adopt the “less is more” mentality. Regardless of where you’re attending college, all dorm rooms have one similarity: they’re wildly tiny. This means you’ll have to pare down your belongings. The less you bring to campus, the less you’ll have to find space for. Plus, it’s typically the clutter and random piles that make a room feel not so nice. 

3. Focus on concealed storage

If you plan ahead, you can utilize furniture to gain more storage space. Look for pieces that have concealed storage, like a bed frame with under-the-bed drawers, a pretty cabinet that has doors you can close, or a desk with built-in shelving. “It’s easier on the eyes to conceal visual clutter so I say the more the merrier when it comes to concealed storage,” Gill explains.

Don’t want to spend a ton on furniture? We get it. In that case, Gill recommends splurging on a bed with storage. Use that space to house anything you don’t frequently reach for, like heavy sweaters, extra bedding, or off-season items that you can tuck away out of sight. Plus, most comforters or duvets will cover anything stashed underneath your bed, so it’s a win-win.

Maximize your vertical space

Another cost-effective way to maximize your storage is by utilizing your vertical space. If you’re allowed to hang anything on your walls, Gill recommends using wall shelves or art ledges — which can both be found inexpensively at IKEA — to hold any items you can’t fit on top of or inside of your furniture. You can use these shelves for everything from books or magazines to framed photos.

Since dorm rooms are often tight on closet space, you can also use wall-mounted shelves to stash things like folded jeans, sweaters, or handbags.

Keep your drawers in check

This is for the students who can barely open their dresser drawers without a sweat-induced struggle (we’re not judging.) Your life will feel much more *together* if you have sleek, easy-to-sort-through drawers. One way to make that a reality is by using drawer dividers. “It’s really easy for a drawer to become a dumping ground but a simple drawer organizer or divider can create clean boundaries,” Gill says. “They’re also very budget-friendly.”

In terms of maximizing the space inside your drawers, Gill suggests file folding your clothing, which will at least double your space. To file fold, simply fold your clothing normally and then fold the item into thirds. Another perk to file folding is that you can see everything at a glance so you don’t have to pull out all your clothes every time you get dressed.

Try over-the-door storage

If you’re dealing with really limited closet space, Gill suggests giving over-the-door storage a try. Over-the-door hooks are great for bags, hats, scarves, and accessories. They’re also easy to take and move with you over the years. Many students (and renters) think that a clothing rack is another ideal solution, but because they can be rather bulky in an already small space, Gill only uses them as a last resort.

Nix food clutter

In a dorm room, your snacks and beverages are stored just a few steps away from your bed — talk about an eyesore. Gill notes that an organizer's favorite activity is decanting, and recommends that college students take a note from their books. “The great thing about decanting is that you get rid of all the bulky and unattractive food packaging,” she says. “If you have a lot of snacks, take them out of their boxes and cartons and set them inside a single canister to serve as a little snack station.” You’ll be organizing and elevating at the same time — the canisters are both nice to look at and functional.

Control your cables

Purchasing a cable management box to tuck and conceal all of your cords is a no-brainer. It will make your desk look tidier and will ensure that you always know where your chargers are. Gill says creating your own docking station can also be a game changer. She personally uses a letter organizer to house her laptop, iPad, and cell phone.

Replicate the look with an organizer from Target or Staples and dock your tech vertically (almost like you’re filing.) Then keep the chargers and cords behind the organizer so they aren’t strewn about your space — a simple and effective way to make things more streamlined.

Invest in quality bedding

This tip considers the overall look of your space, which can contribute to a cleaner and more organized appearance. The first thing you notice when you walk into a dorm is most likely the bed because it takes up most of the real estate in the room. According to Gill, one of the most effective and affordable ways you can elevate this look is with nice sheets and bedding. This doesn’t mean you have to spend your life savings on Egyptian cotton sheets, but it does mean that you should pick something that’s visually appealing and relatively neutral.

Gill mentions that even white bedding from Target is a good option for college students. “Bedding that’s clean and simple can make your space look ten times better,” she adds.

Kara Thompson

About me: 

Kara Thompson is a Denver-based journalist with over five years of experience writing lifestyle content. She has written for a variety of publications, including,,, and Parents, where she covered all things home, food, fashion, travel, and holidays. During her time on staff at Parents, Kara launched her own home decor and organization column named Save My Space. In 2022, she left her full-time job as an editor and started her own writing, editing, and social media firm, Kara Thompson and Co.

Tennis, New York City, bourbon cocktails, and her sister's German Shepherd are a few of her favorite things.