Top 10 Dorm Must-Haves

What are the essential, must-have items for your dorm? Whether you already live on campus or you're getting ready for the future, take a look and get to shoppin'!

One of the biggest factors in my college decision-making process was on-campus housing life. After all, it’s your new home, and you want it to be as nice and comfortable as possible. According to the US Department of Education, at least 87% of colleges require full-time first-year students to live on-campus. In fact, at my university students are required to live on campus for the first three years, although many juniors have been able to move off campus recently due to crowding.

Personally I don’t mind living in dorms at all and have been doing so for the past few years, even now while I’m studying abroad. While my experience living in college dorms may not look like what is typically represented in movies and on TV, my overall time has been filled with valuable life lessons, relationships, and just a lot of fun. I have learned what works for my room and what doesn’t work. This article explores the top 10 must-have items that made my dorm life a bit easier.

1. Foam mattress pad

The magical foam mattress pad/topper is probably the item college students recommend most to incoming freshmen. Most dorms come with extra-long twin beds and standard spring mattresses. There are no fancy memory foam mattresses or beds to match your exact preference, so you need to take care of yourself. Although I am not a picky sleeper and don’t mind a spring mattress, I brought my mattress foam topper from home and it makes my college bed a bit more comfortable. Foam mattress pads/toppers can range from over a hundred dollars to just over $20 from Target, so it is definitely a good investment if sleep is a priority for you. (And it should be!)

2. Sleeping mask

Speaking of the importance of sleep in college… Part of the dorm experience is learning to cope with your roommate(s) and different sleeping schedules. My roommate was more of a night owl, while I enjoyed going to sleep early. To deal with this, I just used a sleeping mask on nights when I wanted to ensure I would get deep sleep, while she was able to study for as long as she needed. PS Earplugs can come in handy for this too.

3. Removable wall hooks

Removable wall hooks (like these Command hooks) are a great way to hang stuff up such as towels, keys, and even decorations without ruining your walls. Most dorms do not come with ample space to hang things up properly, so removable hooks are a cheap and effective way to get the job done. They can be purchased online and at almost any general store, and they are typically classified by how much weight they can support.

4. Double-sided foam sticky tape

Since you will be living in your dorm for an entire school year, you’ll probably want to decorate the room in some way that makes you feel at home. An easy (and usually pretty cheap!) way to decorate is to put things on the walls. But depending on your school, there may be strict rules on what you cannot do (i.e., no nails or drilling into the walls, no painting, etc.). A great way to prevent damaging your walls while still making your room look nice is to attach double-sided foam sticky tape to the back of whatever you want to post. Scotch tape or putty–like wall adhesives are often difficult to peel off and can take paint with them, but I’ve found that foam sticky tape comes right off just like the Command hooks.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Decorating Dorm Room Walls

5. Under-bed storage

You obviously won’t have a ton of space in your dorm, so make the most of what you do have with long, thin bins good for under-the-bed storage. I happen to love shoes and can’t leave home without bringing as many pairs of shoes as possible, so I opted for a special under-bed shoe storage container. Although many people might be tempted to just forgo the storage container and throw as much stuff as possible under the bed, having everything in a container is neater and often holds more in the long run—and if you’re like me, it helps you save time by not having to look for the scattered shoes!

6. Bed risers

And to give those under-the-bed bins even more room, you can jack up your dorm bed with bed risers. They’re cheap to begin with, but they’re also still worth it when used because they’re virtually indestructible (maybe you can get them as a hand-me-down from an older sibling or friend?). Besides giving you extra room for storage, it can be nice to just have a slightly higher bed too!

7. Lint roller

This is my favorite item that I started using after I did a homestay in Japan in high school (separate from my amazing internship in Tokyo!). Lint rollers are not just great for keeping your clothes looking fresh, but they are surprisingly helpful for your dorm room floor. If you have long hair, a lint roller will be useful so you do not have to look at your floor and see piles of gross hair everywhere. Brooms also work, of course, but if you have a carpeted room and/or are too lazy to get the broom out, lint rollers are the next best thing. Sometimes they’re an even better option because the sticky paper allows for a quick and efficient clean.

8. Mini vacuum cleaner or Swiffer

Similar to the lint roller, mini vacuums and Swiffers are great easy-to-use cleaning devices for a dorm, especially since they won’t take up too much space! Mini vacuums or hand-held rechargeable vacuums are a must-have for fully carpeted dorms and for hard-to-reach spots like under the bed. Wet Swiffer wipes are good for cleaning your non-carpeted floor without the mess of a traditional mop.

9. Bathrobe

Most dorms have a communal bathroom for the floor instead of private bathrooms within the respective rooms. While I have always chosen dorm rooms closest to the shower, I have never been a fan of walking around in a towel to and from the bathroom. Bathrobes, however, are an easy thing to change in and out of without feeling uncomfortable and “naked,” especially if someone unexpected walks by. You can get bathrobes made of towel-like material or something fuzzier or something fun and silky.

10. Extra set of towels and sheets

Doing laundry in the dorms often takes longer than in your private home; you have to wait for the next available machine if it’s occupied, dorm washers and dryers always break due to the number of people constantly using them, not to mention you have to pay for it. Long story short, you want to minimize the amount of laundry you need to do on campus. Having an extra pair of towels and sheets can put some more time between laundry sessions. (Remember to live by the rule of “a pair and a spare”!)

Bonus item! Plastic bags

Ah, the humble plastic grocery bag. I grew up always having extra plastic bags “just in case,” and although it seems silly, they have helped me prevent some pretty bad messes in my dorm. Get sick in the middle of the night due to food poisoning? Don’t have an actual trash bin? Laundry basket broken? Plastic bag to the rescue! Just hang on to them after you do some regular shopping—so they’re free too!

These 10 dorm room items won’t help you solve a conflict with you roommate, help you sleep if your neighbor is being crazy loud, or keep you from missing home, but they may help you be a bit more organized, neater, and give you the self-care you deserve.

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About Naomi Hong

Naomi Hong graduated from Occidental College in 2018 with a degree in International Relations and Japanese and a minor in Economics. She currently works as a concierge/front desk agent at a luxury hotel in Southern California. She's passionate about hospitality and travel and hope to continue my career within the hotel industry. She also enjoys writing articles about career advice, studying abroad, and learning new languages. 


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