As the school year begins and students across the country settle into their college dormitories, it’s important that their home-away-from-home sets them up for success, just as their time under your roof has. Further, studies show that clutter is associated with procrastination — as the external is organized, you can more easily organize internally. “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.”
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. Take time before you leave to edit your belongings and consider what you’ll actually use while you’re at school,” said Jamie Hord, founder of home organizing service Horderly.
To get an idea of those storage solutions that’ll work for your space, we spoke to Nancy Meck (a professional organizer and owner of Meck Organizing), as well as Cynthia Kienzle (founder of The Clutter Whisperer NYC) and Rachel Winkler (owner of home organizing service tidyspot) for recommendations and tips about keeping dorms organized and functional. We also employed the help of our very own dorm room extraordinaire — Select’s Associate Updates Editor, Zoe Malin, who recently received her Master's and Bachelor's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University.
Best storage solutions for dorms in 2022
To help you organize and declutter your dorm room, we compiled some expert-recommended storage solutions for your clothing, bedding, bath and more.
Shoe and apparel storage
With shoe and apparel storage, experts said to look for space-saving solutions, like drawers that can squeeze under your bed, hanging racks that fit into a closet and over-the-door shoe bags to keep your closet free of footwear. (If you don’t have a ton of shoes, you can also store accessories like scarves, gloves and hats in the bags’ pockets.)
A shoe rack can be a good way to save space, especially if it only takes up vertical space. According to Hord, a hanging shoe bag “is great to hang on the back of your dorm room door or your closet.” This 20-pocket version includes three overdoor hooks.
If door space is already occupied — or you simply don’t like the way a hanging shoe bag looks — you can put a stackable shoe shelf at the bottom of your closet to help you keep your shoes contained and easily accessible, according to Hord. Malin uses this rack from home organization companySeville to store shoes under her bed. The three mesh shelves can hold up to 12 pairs of shoes or up to 30 pounds when it’s evenly distributed. You can lay each rack at an angle or flat — for more space for keeping taller shoes or boots.
The SKUBB hanging bags from Ikea “are sturdy and a good value,” according to Kienzle. The nine-compartment hanging rack has a hook and loop fastener that you can hang on your clothes rack, allowing for additional storage for shoes, apparel or other dorm supplies. If you’re planning on hanging it inside your dorm closet, ensure that your closet rod is at least 4 feet up from the floor.
Non-slip hangers can be a great option for making sure your garments don't fall to the floor and create clutter. These hangers are durable and slip-resistant, which “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. Meck also suggested non-slip velvet hangers for a more secure grip.
Meck recommended students use cascading or tiered hangers for pants, skirts, and shorts, which can save closet and drawer space. This four-tier option can hang up to four skirts or pants using the adjustable clips. The clips also have a non-slip coating in order to prevent unsecured clothes from falling to the floor.
Hord said that Command Hooks are “perfect for college” because you can stick them on the wall and peel them off without damaging anything. You can use Command Hooks to hang up spare jackets, hats, bags and other clothes and accessories — according to the brand, each hook can hold up to 3 pounds. 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 system that can easily fit inside your closet or under your bed, which you can use to store folded clothes, cooking supplies, books and notebooks. These Elfa Mesh Closet Drawers are available in three sizes — Narrow (14 inches wide), Medium (18 inches wide) and Wide (22 inches wide), depending on your space — and are entirely customizable.
Bed, bath and laundry storage
Experts recommended looking for bed, bath and laundry storage supplies that save space or are otherwise easy to tote around — a shower caddy with handles to bring with you to the bathroom, for instance, a laundry basket that’s collapsible and bed risers to make under-the-bed storage a breeze.
Shared dorms means you probably don’t have a personal bathroom space to store your shower and bath supplies, so it’d 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, according to the brand.
Meck recommended these drawer organizers from The Container Store to divide up and organize any odds and ends. To save width space, these transparent organizers stack on top of one another — if you want to corral home office-related supplies you’ll reach for more regularly, you can even place these atop your desk. They can also easily store makeup and brushes, along with smaller bath supplies like your toothbrush or washcloth.
A laundry basket can be essential for keeping dirty clothes off chairs, your bed and the floor. This one from Squared Away holds approximately two loads of folded laundry, according to the brand, and it’s designed with ventilated holes to air out odors. It’s also collapsible, which makes it easy to transport your clothes while it’s in use and then tuck it away when it’s not.
Kienzle also noted that you should take advantage of the space under your bed with storage containers for seasonal items like clothes, duvets and comforters, shoes and extra bed sheets. To keep those items clean, each container has a plastic cover and durable woven polyester bottom that can keep its shape even while the container is empty, according to the brand. To pull them out from underneath your bed, you can use the handles on the sides.
If you have a low bed but want 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 and have a 350-pound capacity (every dorm will have different offerings, but a twin mattress for example, typically weighs 40 to 45 pounds). However, as Hord previously noted, it’s important to ensure that your dorm bed doesn’t already come with built-in risers so you’re not wasting money.
Cleaning and cooking supplies storage
For cleaning and cooking supplies in a dorm room, you’ll want to stock up on products that save space and allow easy access — looking for the word “stackable” in the product description is, generally, a great life hack when buying products — and easy to move around — even better when they have wheels, but handles and straps work just as well.
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 best-selling steel cart has a mesh design in its baskets to provide ventilation for towels and wet clothes.
To keep track of your cooking items, the DormCo Cookin Caddy has three pockets for storing silverware and one large pocket for plates, snacks or other supplies. It’s designed to hang over the side of your mini fridge with a velcro strip in order to save space. Made from durable polyester, the brand says the caddy is machine-washable and easy to wipe clean in case of any spills.
These stackable containers are made from plastic deemed safe for use with foods and can be a good option for storing snacks and other foods. They come in a sleek design with deep-set plastic lids that can double as a small tray during meals. Each bin has 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.
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 Meck. 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. 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 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.