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After a year of coronavirus shutdowns on college campuses and a pivot to online learning, many college students across the country have settled into college dorms — and the way they’re storing in and organizing their dorm rooms can actually impact their education. Studies show clutter is heavily associated with procrastination and can negatively impact self-regulation, which deals with our willingness to complete tasks we know should get done.
“When we can find what we need when we need it, we relieve ourselves of stress,” explained Kelly Jayne McCann, a professional organizer and clutter coach at The Organizing Maven. “We can stay in flow for longer periods of time and get more done.”
SKIP AHEAD Best dorm storage solutions
Experts told us you should plan ahead to prevent clutter. “Many people pack up their childhood rooms and bring as much as possible to school with them — but take time before you leave to edit through your belongings and consider what you’ll actually use while you’re at school,” said Jamie Hord, founder of home organizing service Horderly.
Since most students have already moved in, planning ahead isn’t necessarily an option for this semester, but there are many storage options you can still use after the fact. To get an idea of those storage solutions that’ll work for your space, we asked professional organizers for recommendations and tips about keeping dorms organized and functional.
Dorm organization: Expert-recommended storage tips
The layout of your dorm room and the furniture already within that space can initially dictate what storage solutions are best for your space. If you can, research your dorm before moving in and “prep accordingly,” recommended Nancy Meck, a professional organizer and owner of Meck Organizing. She suggested using any images and dimensions of the room you can find online either on the school’s site or other forums to figure out exactly what size containers or storage units will fit under the bed, in the desk or inside the closet.
You should prioritize “fast, easy, effective tools” that make it “easy to put things away” like label makers and modular drawer inserts, Meck suggested — these not only help you store your supplies but also allow easy access to them later. Meck also recommended over-the-door shoe hangers and stackable containers, which she said help “maximize” your storage space without overcrowding your dorm.
One of the best ways to maximize your space is by thinking vertically, as we reported in our guide to small apartment living — Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s resident trend expert, told us that taller (and narrower) storage items like tall bookshelves can provide “additional storage, while also giving the illusion of a larger space.” Hanging shoe racks and even floating shelves can also serve as vertical storage solutions, experts told us.
Hord recommended making use of all the crevices and items available to you inside your dorm. “Many dorm beds come with risers, or you can purchase some online to lift your bed and create space to utilize under-the-bed storage,” she said. Students can also consider getting a rolling cart (or two) to create different storage stations around the room with the freedom to move it around as you please. These can store items like cleaning supplies and toiletries, and will likely allow for easier mobility when you move in and out of different rooms throughout college.
Experts also recommended involving your roommates (if you have them) in most of your organizing decisions. “In order to keep the order, the people living there must have a mutual standard for what ‘organized’ and ‘decluttered’ mean and do the actions to hold up that standard,” said Meck. It’s also best to “carve out time for cleanup and decluttering each week” to maintain that order, according to Hord.
Best storage solutions for dorms in 2021
To help you organize and declutter your dorm, we compiled some expert-recommended storage solutions for your clothing, bedding, bath and more.
Best shoe and apparel storage
A shoe rack can be a good way to save space, especially if it only takes up vertical room. According to Hord, this hanging shoe bag “is great to hang on the back of your dorm room door or your closet” — the pockets can also be used to store other accessories like scarves, gloves and hats. The 20-pocket version Hord recommended includes three overdoor hooks and can hold 10 pairs of men’s shoes or 20 pairs of women’s shoes, according to the brand.
If door space is limited, you can put a stackable shoe shelf at the bottom of your closet to “help you keep shoes in a contained and easily accessible space,” according to Hord. Shopping writer Zoe Malin uses this rack — which holds up to 12 pairs of shoes — to store shoes under her bed. The three mesh shelves can hold up to 30 pounds when it’s evenly distributed, and you can assemble them either flat or at an angle depending on how much space you need.
The SKUBB hanging shoe bags at Ikea “are sturdy and a good value,” according to Cynthia Kienzle, the founder of The Clutter Whisperer of NYC. The nine-compartment rack features a hook and loop fastener that you can hang on your clothes rack, allowing for additional storage for shoes, apparel and other dorm supplies. If you’re planning on hanging it inside your dorm closet, ensure that the closet is at least 4 feet tall.
Hangers are a clothing storage essential, and non-slip ones can be a great option for making sure your garments don't fall to the floor and create clutter. These durable and slip-resistant hangers “not only give your closet a uniformed look, but the slim design and metal hook [also] make it easy to hang more in your space,” said Hord. You can purchase this type of hanger in both a regular and pant/skirt version. Meck also suggested non-slip velvet hangers for a more secure grip — they come in a variety of colors, including Black, Navy and Pink.
In addition to typical hangers, Meck recommended students “use these cascading or tiered [hangers] for pants, skirts, and shorts” to save closet and drawer space. This four-tier option can hang up to four skirts or pants using the adjustable clips. The clips also feature a non-slip coating in order to prevent unsecured clothes from falling to the floor.
“Command hooks are perfect for college because they easily stick on and peel off the wall without damaging it,” said Hord. You can use command hooks to hang up jackets, hats, bags and other clothes and accessories. They come in a variety of sizes and styles to accommodate different products and weights, ranging from strips and clips to cord organizers.
Experts recommend investing in a versatile short drawer unit that can easily fit inside your closet or under your bed — you can use it to store folded clothes, cooking supplies and school supplies like books and notebooks. These Elfa Mesh Drawers are available in three sizes — Narrow, Medium and Wide — and are entirely customizable.
Best bed, bath and laundry storage
Most college dorms feature a shared bathroom space, which means there likely isn’t a dedicated space to store your shower and bath supplies. If you need to travel to and from the bathroom every time you wash up or take a shower, it might be good to have “a tote that is easy to haul with you down the hall,” said Meck. This shower caddy sports six pockets for smaller items like your toothbrush or hairbrush, along with a main compartment to store your shampoo, scrubs, shower shoes and more. It’s made from water-resistant, 100 percent recycled polyester made from over 14 recycled plastic water bottles, according to the brand.
Meck recommended these drawer organizers to divide up items and keep things organized. To save even more space, these transparent organizers stack on top of one another —— you can also stack them on top of your desk to corral anything you’ll reach for regularly. They can be great tools for storing makeup and brushes, along with smaller bath supplies like a toothbrush or washcloth.
A laundry basket can be essential for keeping dirty clothes off of chairs, your bed and the floor. This collapsible version can hold approximately two loads of folded laundry, according to the brand, and is designed with ventilated holes to air out any odors. The basket features handles on either side to help you carry it from your dorm to the laundry room, and the collapsible feature makes it easy to bring it back and forth while your clothes are in the wash and to store it away when it’s empty.
When laundry day inevitably comes, Kienzle recommended using laundry sheets rather than pods or detergent that comes in large plastic jugs. She likes these laundry sheets, which “take up much less space” due to their lightweight packaging and are “very portable,” she said. They have the same function as typical liquid detergent and pods, but they’re more eco-friendly: The cardboard packaging is biodegradable and plastic-free. The sheets simply dissolve in hot or cold water and are compatible with all washing machines, according to the brand.
Kienzle noted that you should take advantage of the storage space under your bed (which many people don’t do). You can use this unseen space to store bulkier items like winter clothes, duvets and comforters, shoes and extra bed sheets. To keep those items safe and dirt-free, these underbed storage containers feature a plastic cover and durable woven polyester bottom that can keep its shape even while the container is empty, according to the brand. In our guide to underbed storage, Rachel Winkler, the owner of home organizing service tidyspot, recommended these containers since “the inserts are adjustable to fit different styles of shoes, from chunky heels to slim summer sandals.” They also include 10 small dividers for up to 12 shoes, and there’s a bigger divider you can place in the middle to separate each pair. To pull them out from underneath your bed, you can use the handles on the sides.
If you have a low bed but hope to use the storage space underneath, these bed risers — which come in a set of four — can add 7 inches of additional height. They fit bedposts up to 3 inches long (with a minimum of 1.5 inches) and have a 350-pound capacity. However, as Hord previously noted, it’s important to ensure that your dorm bed doesn’t already come with built-in risers.
Best school essentials storage
A magazine holder can keep your books, binders and notebooks for classes organized and in one place, according to Hord. She recommended buying “a few and separating them by class” — that way, you can grab your school supplies out of their respective holders and easily throw them in your backpack before class. This option is made from durable polystyrene plastic that is completely clear, so you can keep track of what’s stored where.
“These mesh pouches are great for holding everything and anything, from pens and pencils to electronics and snacks,” said Hord. They’re made from nylon mesh embedded in clear vinyl for durability, and the brand claims they’re both weather- and puncture-resistant. Hord suggested having a designated pouch for specific school supplies, so you can “quickly throw them in your bookbag and be on your way. When not in use, these pouches are small enough to place inside a desk drawer or bedside caddy.
Hord recommended these drawer organizer trays to “separate school supplies you’ll use at your desk while doing homework, like pens, pencils, highlighters, calculators and scissors.” They can prevent things from sliding around your drawers and separate small tools.
Best cleaning and cooking supplies storage
In a dorm, “a rolling cart can be an awesome, space-saving solution to separate cleaning supplies from kitchen supplies and snacks,” said Hord. She suggested putting cleaning supplies on the bottom shelf, kitchen supplies (like cups, plates and utensils) on the middle shelf and snacks on the top shelf for easy access. “Try to keep food as far off the floor as possible in a college dorm, just in case,” she added. This cart also features mesh bottoms to provide ventilation for towels and wet clothes.
To keep track of your cooking items, the DormCo Cookin Caddy features three pockets for storing silverware and one large pocket for plates, snacks or other supplies. It’s designed to hang over your mini fridge with a velcro strip in order to save space. Made from durable polyester, the caddy is also machine-washable and easy to wipe clean in case of any accidental spills.
These stackable containers are made from food-safe plastic and can be a good option for storing snacks and other foods without sacrificing closet or floor space. They come in a sleek design with deep-set plastic lids that can double as a small tray during meals. Each bin features integrated handles on both sides for easy transportation, and they come in multiple sizes ranging from Extra Small to Large. You can also purchase clear case bins to keep track of what’s stored inside.
When it comes to cooking and cleaning supplies, Meck recommended employing labels to keep everything organized. She suggested this label maker, which features 27 ready-to-use label templates and can store up to 30 label designs for reprints. It also lets you customize your labels using various font and frame options, and includes an assortment of tape colors in four different widths to print your labels on. “To make labels, order custom from sites like those advertised on Etsy,” Meck suggested.