The Most Important Tips for Decorating Your Dorm Room

Rather than wondering what you need to buy to make your dorm look like the ideal living space, ask yourself one simple question: "what do I want my living space to do for me?"

By Ceanna Hayes Daniels — July 12, 2023

The Most Important Tips for Decorating Your Dorm Room

If you're a recent high school graduate planning your college packing list, odds are that you've come across multiple posts and articles full of photoshoot-ready dorm rooms and long lists of "must-have" items for your dorm room. While posts like these can be fun sources of inspiration, they rarely provide a helpful rubric for planning your dorm's set-up. In addition, they can cause students anxiety by implying that the only way to succeed in college is to spend the summer before your freshman year buying everything they advertise and carefully curating a niche aesthetic.

Rather than wondering what you need to buy to make your dorm look like the ideal living space, ask yourself one simple question: "what do I want my living space to do for me?" Once you have your answer, the most important tip for decorating your dorm room is to organize your space to achieve that goal.

How Do I Organize My Space to Achieve My Goals?

The set-up of your room has more to do with success than you might think. If your dorm is arranged in a way that discourages you from pursuing your goals — for example, you want to exercise more frequently, but your gym clothes are stored in the back of your closet, or you want to study more frequently, but your desk is too cluttered to work at — then your environment will be working against your success. However, if you spend some time this summer analyzing your goals, you can arrange your dorm in a way that makes your desired lifestyle easy once you get on campus!

I Want My Dorm to… Be a Calm Space to Rest.

If you tend to overbook your schedule and need a space to reboot after a long day, then you want your dorm to be as calming, comforting, and rejuvenating as it can be. Pack some soft blankets and pillows, and bring a comfortable chair or couch with you so that you have somewhere to sit besides the dorm's provided desk chair. Avoid aggressive overhead lights by using softer options, such as Christmas lights. If you like, add soothing scents through room sprays or an essential oil diffuser. You can also increase the sense of calm by bringing in some nature — having a few plants in your room will make the space even more inviting.

... Enable Focused Studying.

If your priority is academic success, then you should organize your space in a way that promotes focus and makes studying easy. Keep a clear desk so you'll be able to jump right into research and revision, and store your books, class notes, and pens within arm's reach so that any materials you need are easy to access. While you're at it, fill a nearby shelf or desk drawer with nutritious snacks that will give you the energy you need to study — just be sure to avoid anything that's overly sugary or hyper-caffeinated so you won't crash mid-day. To reduce eye strain, grab a pair of blue-light glasses or swap out the lightbulb in your desk lamp to something less abrasive than the default bulb.

While focusing can be easier if your desk space is distraction-free, that doesn't mean your whole room has to be sterile. Consider hanging a few meaningful quotes, pictures of loved ones, or inspiring artwork over your bed, so that you can relax and recharge during study breaks. Remember, no matter how much you value academic success, your worth is not dependent on your grades or even your effort — just on the fact that you're a person.

... Promote Health and Wellness.

If you want to make hitting the gym a regular habit, then keeping your workout gear visible and easily accessible is one of the best changes you can make to your dorm. Keep your running clothes near the front of your drawers so you don't have to rifle through your dresser to find them, and leave your sneakers by the door so they're always easy to slip on. Be sure to also stock up on healthy, sustaining snacks that will get you through your workouts — if you haven't already, consider picking up a minifridge so you can keep perishable foods like fresh fruit or protein-dense hummus. Keeping a water bottle on your desk or near your bed can be a good reminder to hydrate regularly, as well.

... Encourage Community-Building.

If you've always been a social butterfly, you're likely already excited about all the new friends you could make on campus. However, even the quietest of introverts will benefit from and enjoy having a strong community during their college years. Community-building is a slow process, but opening your space to meaningful gatherings is a great way to start. Whether you're inviting friends over for a movie night, crafting afternoon, or study party, prioritize open spaces, comfortable seating, and inviting décor in your room. To increase the floor space available and reduce the cramped feeling some dorm rooms can have, try lofting your bed —you'll create storage space underneath and be able to migrate bulky furniture towards the walls, leaving space for beanbags, floor pillows, and whatever else you might add to your space.

... Achieve Multiple Goals.

If you want to achieve several of the goals listed above, try creating zones in your living space to meet each need. For example, you might devote one corner of the room to restfulness — perhaps tucking a rolling cart with snacks, tea, cocoa, and a coffeemaker or electric kettle next to a comfortable chair with blankets and pillows — and prioritize study in another space — perhaps by keeping your desk clear of everything except for your school books and a desk organizer with pens and highlighters.

A Few More Quick Tips

Talk to your roommate(s) in advance about your respective expectations and hopes for your shared living space. Early, intentional communication is crucial for building connections and preventing potential misunderstandings. It also enables you to plan ahead for situations you may not have otherwise anticipated — for example, if you know that your roommate will wake up much earlier than you will, you can bring earplugs and a sleep mask to campus so their alarm won't interrupt your rest.

Be willing to compromise to make the space work for you both. If you're envisioning regular board game nights and movie marathons in your dorm, but your roommate wants a quiet place to study in the evenings, collaborate on solutions together to make both goals possible. For example, you might agree that your friend group will hang out in your dorm during your roommate's night class, then cycle to other friends' dorms during the rest of the week so your roommate can study without interruption.

Make sure you know who's bringing the vacuum. While many colleges employ professional cleaning staff who regularly come through the dorms, it's still good to have the tools necessary to clean up a spilled bowl of popcorn before your would-be study snack gets ground into the carpet. If your roommate doesn't plan to bring one, pick one up for you both to use to keep your dorm clean — whatever your goals are for your living space, they're easier to achieve if the space feels inviting rather than unkempt!

Remember that products can help you reach a goal but can't do the work for you. No matter how high-end your workout gear is, it cannot make you go to the gym, and even the coziest artwork and comfiest blankets in the world won't make your room feel peaceful if you habitually doom scroll through social media or the news.

Lastly, avoid creating negative associations with the spaces you want to serve a particular goal. Don't study in bed because it will cause your brain to connect sensations of focus, alertness, and stress with a space that should be restful. For the same reason, put your phone on “do not disturb” or hide it in a drawer when you sit down to study so that your mind doesn't associate your desk with distractions and limited focus. By maintaining positive associations with the spaces designed to help you achieve your goals, you'll be more likely to enjoy and appreciate your dorm room.

Ceanna Hayes Daniels

Ceanna Hayes Daniels

Ceanna Hayes Daniels is freelance writer and editor. In 2022, she graduated Hillsdale College summa cum laude with a degree in politics. In her free time, she continues to enjoy studying philosophy, political theory, and literature. She and her husband live in Michigan, where the two enjoy perusing bookstores together for new books and old records.
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