Organizing lessons from a small dorm room – 5 rules I followed when I was a college student

Organize your small college room for a space that's fit for work, rest and leisure

Dorm room
(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth / Sharps / Amy Bartlam)

I didn't need to study psychology to know that a well-organized small college room is as vital for effective learning as it is for comfort. After all, other than those impersonal communal spaces, it's your one retreat in which to study, hang out with friends and, of course, unwind and sleep.

Organizing a dorm room is a challenge, even more so if it's small. But if you can get it right, you can reduce stress and boost your personal motivation. 

Before going off to college, I was, at best, disorganized, with an untidy bedroom. However, I knew this would have to change when I got to college and, after the first year was over I went into my subsequent small college rooms with a plan for organizing them so that I had an environment that was not just conducive to learning but relaxing, too. These are the lessons I learned from organizing my small college rooms.

Organizing lessons from a small college room 

Looking for dorm room ideas can make your space feel bigger, better and more streamlined? These are the small college room organization rules I created for myself that I still apply to rooms now, even after graduating.

1. Assess and plan

Bedroom with built in white storage unit, desk area, pink painted walls, wooden flooring, wooden desk chair, desk and storage cupboards filled with objects and decorative ornaments.

(Image credit: Sharps)

The first step, when organizing any space, is to assess the available space and existing features of the room before unpacking anything. This was a step I took for each of the three rooms I inhabited throughout college. It allowed me to evaluate the available floor space, layout options, and the furniture and storage options (or lack of).

I considered this while keeping the primary functions of the room in mind. These will be specific to each person, but most will at least need a study spot, a place to relax, and ample storage space to hide away distracting clutter. 

Determining this helped me to work out the most logical position for my furniture, as well as helping me decide what I needed to add to the space to ensure it accommodated all my needs.

2. Create a functional layout

bedroom with double bed

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Finding the most logical layout for my small college rooms was key to helping me organize them. When doing this, I obviously ensured I kept aesthetics in mind, but I prioritized a good, practical flow, creating zones and strategically placing furniture to maximize space. Obviously, not every college room allows for a flexible layout, but for those that do, this includes:

  • Placing my bed next to the wall to create an open area in the center of the room. Having it away from the wall is one of those dorm room organizing mistakes that loses you valuable space.
  • Ensuring my bedside table was well positioned so that I could access the storage drawers in it and beneath my bed – good under-bed storage ideas, such as the one below, are a must for hiding away anything you don't need to access every day. 
  • Working out how to integrate my technology and electricals was vital because it dictated where I put my desk. I started by locating the electrical outlets to find the best placement, and kept wires organized with a cable organizer, similar to this FFY cable organizer pouch from Amazon. To ensure there was no tripping hazard, I used an under-desk organizer, like this organizer from Amazon, which can be the perfect way to keep your electronics out of sight. 
  • Positioning storage furniture well, from dressers to back-of-door shoe caddies (see below), was next. With multi-functional pieces that could double up being incredibly useful. I love this storage ottoman, from Anthropologie, adding both comfort and a convenient place to store anything from papers to shoes to the space. 
  • Maximizing vertical space, with tall, narrow shelving units, was ideal because they took up little floor space but offered lots of opportunities for hiding clutter, from books to work to beauty products. I also utilized stackable shelves, like these from Amazon, on top of the existing shelves in the room to double the storage space without drilling any holes into the wall.
  • Hiding clutter beneath lids or doors of storage units was another essential step in organizing my college room. If you invest in a tall cabinet, ensure the door is mirrored to make the space feel larger and lighter and to help the storage blend away. 
  • Prioritizing sleep hygiene by making space for a chair for reading ensured I established separate zones for work and relaxation. My smallest college room didn't have space for a chair so I had a beanbag instead, which offered much more flexibility. However, if you have neither, I would either invest in a folding chair you can slide behind a door when it's not in use or you need the space back, or a mini ottoman with a lift-up lid.

3. Maximize storage solutions and organizers

built in desk and window seat

(Image credit: Amy Bartlam)

With the larger pieces of furniture sorted, I also used clever dorm room storage tricks to make the most of smaller organizers, from bins to drawer dividers. These are all good things to have in a dorm room:

  • An organizer for my 'reset spot', where I stored items I needed all the time, such as my keys, wallet, and library card. I used a decorative bowl, but a low-sided basket or box with storage lid would work, too. With the hustle and bustle of life you may not have time everyday to keep your space organized, so keeping an allotted storage zone for essential items near your bedroom door or somewhere that is conducive to organizing them away can prevent your room from becoming cluttered.
  • Stackable baskets, like those below, in which to store everything from makeup to stationery to food. I utilized a range of lidded and open top storage baskets which I integrated into my room decor, keeping items like towels I needed on a regular basis on lidless baskets which I kept on top of my drawers. 
  • Clever clothes storage solutions, such as five in one coat hangers, like these hangers from Amazon, allowed me to hang more, saving space in drawers.
  • Space-saving back-of-door storage units, are another temporary solution that can optimize vertical space. The beauty of these is they are easy to attach and remove, so you can even choose a few different back-of-door storage organizer depending on your changing storage needs. For example, you can choose hooks to use when you need to keep your winter coats on hand and hanging shoe storage for summer.
  • A plastic-lined laundry basket with a lid is always a great investment for a college room to keep dirty clothes out of sight and also ensures the room stays smelling nice (this is one of the things people with nice-smelling dorms do). I recommend this Joseph Joseph laundry hamper, from Amazon.
  • Shrink wrap vacuum bags from Amazon, for out-of-season clothes are a great way to reduce the space clothes take up in storage furniture, while keeping them dry and clean.  
  • A shower caddy, like Yamazaki bathroom storage caddy, from Pottery Barn, is the best way to organize toiletries in a dorm room, making them easy to transfer back and forth from the bathroom when needed.
  • For keeping folders and files organized and on hand, this APBATS 5 tier book rack storage bookshelf, from Amazon, was a lifesaver.

4. Make your spaces multifunctional

Grey bedroom with small desk area and mirror

(Image credit: Davide Lovatti)

One of the best ways to organize a small college room is to create zones with multiple uses. I managed this by making my desk both a study space and a makeup station.

I bought under-desk storage shelves, like these Nxconsu under-shelf storage basket organizers, from Amazon, so that I could tuck away files, papers and stationery pretty effortlessly. I kept my makeup on the shelves in low-side storage baskets so that I could take them out and put my college work away.

5. Establish a routine

Relaxed bedroom with white painted walls, textured, bamboo style bedframe, white bedding, patterned cushion and pastel throw, brass wall light, wall art mounted above, wooden side table, taupe painted trim on wall

(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

Establishing a daily routine for maintaining order is vital when you're organizing a small college room. This means not just finding the right small bedroom storage ideas to keep the space neat, but ensuring good habits, such as putting items away immediately you're done with them. It's vital, too, to declutter your bedroom regularly, too, because clutter can build up to quickly overwhelm a small college room. 


How can I organize dorm room drawers?

What's the best way to organize food in a small dorm room?

One of the main issues I faced in a small college room is finding a good place to hang my laundry to let it dry without adding a drying rack that takes up half the floor space. My personal favorite solution was using an over-the-door drying rack that can easily be removed and stored away or folded up. This solution utilizes vertical storage, maximizing floor space. I recommend this TZAMLI over-the-door clothes dryer, from Amazon.

I found that having an organized space had an undeniably positive impact on my academic performance and overall well-being, reducing the stress that visual clutter causes and making using my space for any purpose more seamless. So, by determining how to create your own organizational principles for your specific space and needs you can create a more inviting space. 

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past five years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including recipe articles, reviewing products, writing ‘how to’ and ‘when to’ articles. Lola now writes about everything from organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate student, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.