How to plan dorm essentials with your roomie ahead of the new semester

Time to start packin' 📦

Dorm with two white beds and neon white signs
(Image credit: Dormify)

Before sunny afternoons on the quad and all-nighters in the library, you have to set up shop on campus first. 

Don’t worry, we’ve got all of your bases covered. Have a look at how to plan dorm essentials with your roomie — and the questions you *really* want to ask your future roommate — so that your home away from home is cute, cozy, and perfect for hitting the books. (Plus, we’ll tell you how to throw an RA-approved dorm party, too.) 

Ready to pack the car up with all of your belongings? Don't do any heavy lifting (literally and figuratively) unless you've read this first. 

A step-by-step guide for how to plan dorm essentials with your roomie

1. Make a checklist

Think of our expansive dorm packing list as the syllabus for your home life. You won’t want to start the semester without rounding up non-negotiables. If you’re not sure where to start, there’s no shame in doing a little research. (If anything, it’ll be good practice for what’s ahead.)

“You can ask older siblings or friends for recommendations to avoid repeating their rookie mistakes,” says Marine André, the founder of the professional organization company En Route To Joy.

But in addition to the basics like mini-fridges and mattress toppers, don’t forget about the things you love. (Within reason, of course—space is sacred). 

“A precious tip is to select items that spark the most joy so that you invite your personality and not only the useful stuff,” she adds. 

2. Get specifics

You wouldn’t purchase furniture for an apartment without asking your landlord for the dimensions, so why take a guess when it comes to dorm living? Before the semester gets underway, speak to reps from the university’s housing department to inquire about room specifics. 

What will fit? Is there an AC? Will there be private or communal bathrooms? If you could visit the space IRL before class starts, even better.  

“Has either roommate been able to scope out the dorm room already? Gather as much information about the size or the room and how the room is laid out,” Jean Prominski, the founder of Seattle Sparkle, recommends. 

By doing so, you won’t have to send Mom back to Target with a carload of returns once the semester begins. She’ll definitely be appreciative.

Orange bed with gallery wall art

(Image credit: Dormify)

3. Plan together

If possible, reach out to your new roommate over the summer to get to know one another and discuss how you plan to set up your future space. Though the idea of living with someone you’ve never met could feel a bit intimidating, stay positive and keep an open mind.

“Communication is the key,” André insists. “Give yourselves time to talk about your options and preferences. Your roommate might have great ideas which you had not even considered.”

Not only will you want to work out who’s bringing what — perhaps you’re a culinary wiz who will handle the kitchen necessities and your roommate has a hand-me-down TV from her older sister — but you should discuss your lifestyle and habits, too. After all, you’re going to be swapping your fam for your roomie. 

“A great way to begin any new relationship is by identifying shared values. And this can hold true even for negotiating a dorm aesthetic,” says Susannah Munson, interior design leader at IKEA US. “It’s best to be as open as possible in communicating what is important to you, and in turn, being aware of your roommate's needs and desires, so that you both feel like you have a say in how the space is treated.” 

4. Find common ground

Both parties are going to have to do a bit of compromising upon getting situated, and this might be especially true when it comes to likes and personal style. 

“Of course, dorm life is not all cupcakes and Kumbaya all the time. You’re bound to have some striking differences in tastes when roommates get assigned at random,” Munson says. “But I must say, some of the best aesthetics come from a place of unexpected contrast. This is when it’s important to keep an open mind.” 

You should start the planning process by creating a mood board with your roommate or collabing on a Pinterest board with decor inspo. And yes, it is possible to make things work, even if it feels next to impossible

“If your styles are radically different, focus on selecting similar colors and marry shades so that no one gets a mini heart attack every time they walk into your room,” André says. 

5. Pack accordingly

If you’re a breezy 30 minutes from campus but your roomie is venturing cross-country on a flight, perhaps you should be responsible for the necessities that require a bit more heavy lifting. 

“Is one roommate coming from farther away, or is it more convenient for one roommate to supply certain items than the other? Take this into consideration as you choose which items to bring,” Prominski says. “Once you’ve compiled the list, take an inventory and write your name next to which items you have.”

Psst: We think these packing items will make your trip to campus a lot smoother. No need to thank us.

6. Think ahead

Setting up might only take a day, but you and your roommate will be together for two semesters, if not more, so it’ll be important to set some ground rules for maintenance and such moving forward.

“When two strangers pair up in a dorm, you really never know what you’re going to get,” Prominski says. “I recommend dividing the space up into zones where each person has control and responsibility over that space.”

Best of luck next semester. You got this!

Danielle Valente
Content Editor

Pleasure to meet you! I'm Danielle, a content editor at Real Homes who loves scoping out interior trends. I've specialized in lifestyle writing and editing for 10 years with a focus on events, food, and books, among other areas. When I'm not working, I'm usually cooking, reading, or searching for a new project for my apartment.