Listen up: Here are 8 tips for living in a dorm

Editor-approved advice? Check!

A pastel ombre rainbow background with a picture of dorm with a cream bedding set and posters on the wall.
(Image credit: Future / Dormify / Beth Mahoney)

POV: You’re moving into your first dorm and you’re wondering what it takes and what dorm essentials you need to make the most of this kinda living situation. Admittedly, it’s a whole new (and much more compact) way of life, so a li'l adjustment period is completely normal.

I remember moving into my first dorm and being shocked at how small the space felt. It also hit me that I was going to have to make some serious changes to how I lived. Instead of having an entire house to use, I now had just a single room (shared with a roommate, obvi).

It didn't feel doable, but in a major plot twist (and despite my hesitations), I worked it out and actually loved dorm life. 

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the thought of living in a dorm, don't panic. To help make the process of moving into a dorm room easier, I’ve rounded up a few editor-approved tips to get you through it. 

What are the best tips for living in a dorm?

1. Nail your storage but aim to live minimally 

Let's talk minimalism and storage. The key to living successfully in a more compact space is making sure that you have adequate storage in place and that you take on a more minimalist mindset. Don't panic — it's easier than you'd think. This might mean using bed risers to loft your bed (and create more space for storage), or it may mean upgrading your closet with plenty of space-saving storage solutions that allow you to utilize every inch of space. “Less is more” is totally a motto worth embracing.

2. Send home any random items you don’t use 

On the whole “less is more” note, any items that you pack but end up not needing, it’s worth taking the time to send home. Yep, really. After all, dorm space is super limited, so it doesn’t make sense to store items in there “just in case” you ever need them, does it? If you haven’t used an item in a month (and can’t imagine a time when you might need it) send it home or pack it in a suitcase for the next time you visit on a weekend or over a break.

3. Openly communicate with your roommate 

Living with a roommate can take some adjustment, especially if you’re used to having plenty of your own space. A handy tip for getting along with your roommate is to share expectations — and ask them to do the same — when you first move in together. Think about things like when one of you wants to go to sleep but the other would like to stay up to study or watch television, or when one of you wants to have guests in your room. Open communication is key, bb! 

4. Don’t take too many throw pillows 

Look, I get it. Throw pillows are seriously cute (and add a lot of much-needed comfort) but they also take up a lot of space. NGL, your bed would look cute topped with a pile of throw pillows, but when you want to go to bed they just get in the way or end up all over the floor. FYI, when I moved into my dorm I took a load of (really cute) throw pillows with me but it ended up being a mistake. I didn't even use them!

5. A fan is essential 

Dorms don’t (usually) come with AC, so when the weather gets hot, your space is most likely going to heat up, too. Luckily, there are quite a few ways to cool down your dorm room, and one great option is getting a good fan. Ideally, you want to opt for a fan that’s powerful but quiet enough not to upset your roommate. I forgot to take a fan to college my first summer and wow did I regret it — it was sooo hot I really struggled to sleep. 

6. Keep snacks on hand 

Our deputy editor Emily recommends taking plenty of snacks with you — and places to store said snacks, obvi (a mini fridge will be your BFF). For those times that the food hall is closed or you just don’t have the time or energy to leave your dorm in search of food, you’ll be super grateful to have snacks ready to go. Oh, and the same goes for drinks. Keep a healthy selection of your fave drinks on hand, so when you’re feeling thirsty you don’t have to worry about running out. 

7. Pack plenty of blankets

Dorms can be super cold. JSYK, space heaters aren’t allowed in a dorm (along with a whole host of other things). Our ecommerce editor Christina recommends bringing plenty of blankets with you. Ideally, you want to have two throws in addition to any comforter or duvet already on your list. That'll give you enough layers to keep warm whatever the weather but not so many that there’s no room to store them. 

8. Make sure to bring a lamp

Our global editor in chief Melissa recommends making sure that you add a good quality lamp to your packing list because dorm lighting can be annoyingly dark and dingy. When picking one out, just make sure that it feels warm and inviting and that the choice you opt for is approved by your college. A few lamp types — usually ones with open light filaments — are banned at some colleges. 

Beth Mahoney
Freelance journalist

Hi! I’m Beth Mahoney and I’m a former staff writer at Real Homes. I’ve been a journalist for the national press for the past six years, specializing in commerce and trends-related lifestyle articles, from product reviews and listicles to guides and features. With an eye for pretty things (think: quirky wall prints, scalloped edge furniture, and decadent-looking tableware) but a limited budget, I love nothing more than a bargain buy.