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30 dorm room essentials for 2021: A shopping guide by seniors

College seniors recommend important items to buy for dorm rooms based on their experiences living on campus.
1980s Three Teenage Girls Eating Pizza And French Fries And Drinking Canned Soda In Dorm RoomClassicStock / Contributor
When moving into a dorm, you need bedding and bathroom products, as well as decorations to make the room feel like home.ClassicStock / Contributor / Getty Images

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Moving into a dorm requires a longer back-to-school shopping list than just a laptop, planner and backpack. You need bedding and bathroom products, decorations to make the room feel like home and storage options that can help you fit a lot into a small space. And as students prepare to head back to college during the pandemic, they now need face masks, vaccine card holders and hand sanitizer, too.

This year, the National Retail Federation (NRF)’s annual back-to-school spending survey found that college spending is expected to total $71 billion, up from $67.7 billion last year. College students and their families expect to spend an average of $1,200, which is up about 13 percent from a year ago. This may be the result of students finally being able to move into dorms after months spent taking online classes at home during the pandemic.

As college seniors who have lived in many dorms, we compiled a list of items we consider essentials for moving into a dorm based on our own experiences. We also highlighted products we wish we bought before move-in day. And to make it even easier to find what you need, we organized the list into categories like bed, bath, tech and more.

— Kala Herh (NYU ‘22) and Zoe Malin (Northwestern ‘22)

College dorm essentials

While you’re shopping, keep in mind that many retailers offer student discounts and student memberships. For example, after providing proof of enrollment in college through your school email address or student ID, you can create an Amazon Prime Student account, which boasts benefits like exclusive prices on select products and fast shipping. You can also get a Bed Bath & Beyond College Savings Pass, through which you receive 20 percent off your entire purchase every time you shop. Brands like Apple and others offer student pricing, discounts and memberships, too.

Bed essentials

1. Home Solutions Premium Adjustable Bed Risers

One thing we recommend to anyone living in a dorm is a bed riser. They raise the bed a few inches off the floor, which can be useful if you want to create storage space underneath. This option from Home Solutions is adjustable — you can either raise your bed 3 inches, 5 inches or 8 inches. Since the set comes with eight bed risers, you can use the other four to elevate your table or give the extras to your roommate.

2. Buffy Eucalyptus Duvet Cover

As you may be juggling clubs, classes and studying, getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to getting it all done in college — but it can often be hard in a dorm. We’ve found that purchasing a comfortable duvet set can make sleeping a lot easier. This one from Buffy is made from 100 percent Eucalyptus, and it’s soft and cool to the touch. If your bed is not a Twin, the brand also offers Full and King options.

3. Brooklinen Mulberry Silk Pillowcase

Another sleep aid we recommend is this silk pillowcase from Brooklinen. For someone with acne-prone skin, a silk pillowcase doesn’t zap moisture from the skin like cotton pillowcases tend to do — rather, it lets the skin retain its natural hydration. In our guide to the best bedding for your skin, board-certified dermatologist Hadley King told us silk pillowcases can be “helpful for sensitive skin because silk is lightweight, breathable and non-irritating.”

4. Therapedic Gel Memory Foam Mattress Topper

In our experience, dorm mattresses are made of an innerspring core and as a result, they aren’t always the most comfortable to sleep on. To help get a good night’s sleep, add a mattress topper like this one from Therapedic. It’s made of breathable memory foam and the 2-inch top layer of foam conforms to your body while you’re sleeping.

5. Allergy Relief Mattress Protector

To keep allergens like dust mites, mold and bacteria from collecting in your mattress — especially those provided by dorms and used year after year — we recommend using a mattress protector. Designed to go under your mattress pad, this machine-washable mattress cover fully encases your mattress and zips closed for a secure fit. It’s made from antimicrobial and waterproof fabric that adjusts to your body temperature, and provides protection against bed bugs, too. This mattress protector is available in Twin, Full, Queen and King sizes, and you can also purchase pillow protectors.

6. Serta White Goose Feather and Down Fiber Pillows

Made with a soft, durable cotton blend, these Therapedic pillows are a great option for neck and shoulder support. As someone who likes to lay on one pillow and hold another while they sleep, Herh appreciates that this set comes with two pillows.

7. Threshold 400 Thread Count Printed Sheet Set

An easy way of decorating your dorm room is through a sheet set. This one from Target comes in several fun prints, including Blue Diamond, Gray Ring and Snowflake. It’s made from 100 percent cotton and can fit mattresses up to 18 inches long.

8. Therapedic Oversized Backrest Pillow

Since most dorm rooms don’t have space to add secondary seating options beyond your desk chair, Malin often uses her bed as a couch to relax in after classes. This pillow provides support for your head, neck and back when you’re lounging in bed, propping you up while you watch movies or work on your computer. You can lean it against a wall or headboard, and it boasts a pocket to store your phone. The backrest is covered in soft fabric and is available in six colors, like Navy, Grey and Taupe.

9. Foldable Lap Desk

While Malin mostly uses this lap desk as a workstation in bed, she also brings it to her dorm’s lounge to support her computer when she’s sitting on the couch. The lap desk folds flat, making it easy to transport and store — Malin slides it under her bed or in her closet when she’s not using it. It features a built-in cup holder and a slot that acts as a stand for tablets, phones and books. The lap desk is available in two colors: Black and Beige.

Bath and laundry essentials

10. Shower Shoes

Wearing flip-flops or sandals is essential in communal dorm showers and on your walk from your room to the bathroom. These open-toe slide sandals feature drainage holes to prevent water from pooling under your feet and grippy anti-slip outsoles. They’re constructed from elastic material, making them easy and quick to dry. The sandals are available in men’s and women’s sizes and come in six colors: Black, Grey, Light Blue, Pink, Blue and Purple.

11. H&M Waffled Bathrobe

Like shower shoes, a robe is useful to wear into the bathroom and after you shower to walk back to your dorm room. H&M’s Waffled Bathrobe is machine-washable and made from a soft, waffle-weave cotton blend. It has two front pockets and a tie belt at the waist. It’s available in two unisex sizes — Small/Large and Large/Extra Large — and comes in seven colors: Dark Gray, Light Pink, Taupe, White, Black, Green and Light Mauve.

12. Simply Essential 6-Piece Towel Set

Another dorm bathroom essential is a good towel set. Herh uses this one by Simply Essential because it comes with two large towels, hand towels and face towels — you can throw one set in the washing machine and still have another on hand to use. It’s made from 100 percent cotton and comes in four colors: Blue, White, Sand and Grey.

13. Room Essentials Shower Caddy

Shower caddies help you store your shampoo, soap, toothbrush and other supplies in one space, which makes going to the bathroom a more streamlined experience. This option from Room Essentials is made of plastic, so it dries quickly and won’t collect mold or mildew like some other fabric ones might. Malin also purchased a second caddy to use for laundry supplies like detergent and dryer sheets.

14. SnapBasket XL Collapsible Laundry Tote

Malin uses this collapsible laundry tote as both a hamper and laundry basket. It can fit about two loads of laundry and has two over-the-shoulder straps, which is helpful when you need to carry the bag down the hall to the laundry machine. It also collapses flat when it’s not in use.

Decor essentials

15. Command Hooks

Since you can’t use nails to hang anything on walls in dorm rooms, Command Hooks can be your best friend. Their sticky adhesive doesn't damage walls when you apply or remove them, and you can purchase them in multiple different styles, like strips, clips and cord organizers. Command Hooks are also available in different sizes to support different weights. Beyond using Command Hooks to cover the walls in picture frames, posters, bulletin boards and string lights, Malin also used them in her closet and on the back of the door to hang coats and face masks.

16. Mixtiles

Mixtiles is a service that turns your favorite images into framed wall art with a built-in adhesive on the back — you can hang the frames on walls without nails or screws, making them ideal for dorm rooms. The frames are about 8 inches by 8 inches large and less than 1 inch thick, and you can take them off walls and move them around multiple times without the adhesive losing its stickiness — Malin has moved her Mixtiles between two dorm rooms and two apartments. You can upload pictures through the company’s website or its app and flow in pictures from Facebook or Instagram, as well as purchase Mixtiles individually. And if you don’t want to use pictures of friends, family and pets, you can also browse Mixtiles’ collection of art.

17. U Brands Magnetic Chalkboard Calendar

This chalkboard calendar doubles as decor and an organizational tool. It comes with two chalk pencils and a magnet, making it easy to tack on important notes, lists or photos. Additionally, the calendar is easy to hang with its included mounting system and requires no additional tools.

Storage and organization essentials

18. Dormify Under the Bed Storage Bin On Wheels (Currently unavailable)

One of the biggest mistakes Malin made freshman year was buying underbed storage that was not on wheels. She said it was a hassle to drag bulky bins out from under the bed — they were challenging to slide across the dorm’s carpeted floors. Sophomore year, she purchased Dormify’s Under the Bed Storage Bin On Wheels, which she noted was much easier to manage. The bin has handles on all four sides and a PVC top that zippers closed to keep moisture out. It’s also low profile — only 8.5 inches high — so if you can’t raise your bed in your dorm room, the bin will most likely still fit underneath. The bin is 24 inches long and 15 inches wide, and Malin could fit a few under her bed vertically or horizontally.

19. Wonder Hanger

Closets are tricky in dorm rooms. Some have no doors, and sometimes you’re only provided with an armoire that barely fits half your wardrobe. But the one thing you’re almost always guaranteed is a hanging rod, and you need to maximize every inch of space you’re given. Malin said she was originally suspicious about this “As Seen On TV” Wonder Hanger, but it did exactly what it promised: increase the storage volume of the closet by hanging up to five garments from one hanger. Each Wonder Hanger can hold up to 30 pounds of clothing, and it works with any type of hanger. You can use the Wonder Hanger horizontally by both hooks or vertically by one hook.

20. Seville Classics Shoe Rack

Since Malin put a mirror on the back of her door, she couldn't use an over-the-door organizer to store her shoes. Instead, she bought this shoe rack and kept it under her bed. It holds up to 12 pairs of shoes — and if you need more space, you can stack multiple racks on top of one another. The rack has three mesh shelves that hold up to 30 pounds, and you can assemble the shelves either flat or at an angle depending on how much space you want between them.

Kitchen essentials

21. Nespresso Original Espresso Machine by De’Longhi

For those who are looking for an affordable coffee machine that will fit in their dorm room, consider this one from Nespresso. Herh purchased it freshman year and still owns it four years later. The coffee machine only takes 25 seconds to brew a cup, making it ideal for students who struggle to get out of bed for morning classes. Additionally, the water tank has a 24-ounce capacity, so it can make nine single-serve cups of coffee before you have to refill it. Just make sure to check your dorm room’s policies on small kitchen appliances before investing in a coffee machine.

22. Elfa Platinum Mesh Rolling Cart

Malin used this rolling cart to elevate her mini fridge so its contents were at eye level. The cart has wheels on its feet so it’s easy to relocate and reposition. It also has three mesh drawers to store snacks and on-the-go breakfast options. To add even more storage, Malin used the Honey-Can-Do Mini Fridge Storage Caddy on top of her mini fridge to hold utensils, plates and cleaning supplies.

23. Hydros Water Filter Slim Pitcher

Instead of walking to the water fountain to fill up your water bottle, you can keep a pitcher with a filter in your mini fridge. However, since the built-in door shelves in mini fridges are so small, larger and wider pitchers don’t always fit. According to Malin, the Hydros Slim Water Filter Pitcher is the perfect size. It has a 40-ounce capacity and is available in four colors: White, Grey, Red and Blue. It comes with the brand’s built-in Fast Flow Tech Multi Tech Filter, which reduces the presence of chlorine and sediment in water. If you don’t want to use a water filter pitcher, you can purchase a water bottle with a built-in filter like those by LARQ, Brita and S’well.

24. WeeSprout Bento Box

Between late night study sessions and clubs that began around dinner time, Malin doesn’t always have time to eat in the dining hall. When she needs to take food on-the-go, she uses this WeeSprout Bento Box. The stainless steel bento box has three sections for food, each of which are defined by dividers that go up to the top of the box. It also comes with a small container for dip or dressing and is freezer- and dishwasher-safe.

Tech essentials

25. Blueair Pure Fan Auto

The Blueair Pure Fan Auto doubles as a cooling fan and air purifier, giving you the benefit of both in one compact product to save space in small dorm rooms. Using Blueair’s HEPASilent filtration technology, which is different from a typical high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, the Pure Fan Auto removes over 99 percent of airborne allergens like dust and pollen from the air, according to the brand. It also provides a cooling stream of air and is built with an air quality indicator. The device is lightweight so you can move it around your room, and you can personalize its design with fabric pre-filters that are available in multiple colors.

26. Tripp Lite Surge Protector Clamp Mount

Power strips are incredibly useful desk accessories. Herh has found that dorm desks tend to come with only one outlet, which makes it difficult to charge a phone, laptop and calculator at the same time. This power strip clamps on the desk and has six outlets as well as two USB charging ports.

27. QI-EU Wireless Charger

Along with a power strip, another essential desk accessory is this 4-in-1 charging stand. Compatible with both Apple and Samsung products, this stand wirelessly charges a smartphone, smart watch, smart pencil and ear pods. The stand also doubles as an upright platform where you can simultaneously charge your tech while FaceTiming or watching movies.

28. Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise-Canceling Overhead Headphones

Going to the library to study isn’t always possible — sometimes it’s too late or too crowded. That’s where these Sony headphones come in handy. With their noise-canceling feature, the headphones mimic a quiet study space in the dorm where you can tune out your roommates and other loud noises.

29. AeroSlim Handheld Vacuum

A handheld vacuum makes dorm maintenance much easier. This Bissell model is cordless, so you can clean your room for 12 minutes without it needing to be recharged. It comes with tools like a 2-in-1 crevice tool and dusting brush, which you can store along with the vacuum itself using the included stand.

30. PopWallet

Herh rarely carries a wallet and instead uses this cardholder to store her student ID and credit card. It uses 3M adhesive to stick to the back of the phone and holds up to three cards. The PopWallet comes in numerous colors and is removable — you can easily remove it to wirelessly charge.

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