Dorm Room Essentials: Your Complete Guide to a Designer College Space on a Budget

Heading off to college? Pack these dorm room essentials (and more!) with our easy-to-follow checklist for bedding, decor, desk, kitchen and more.

July 22, 2020
By: Liz Gray

Ah, to go back to college. Of course, I'd love to go back to spending afternoons reading on the college green (once a nerd, always a nerd), but if I knew what I knew now, I would have the most adorable dorm room EVER. The good news? You can have that, even on a budget. Here's what you need to stock your room, designer-style, and some nice-to-haves, from the bedding to the floors to the "kitchen." (Yes, that microwave/fridge counts as your first kitchen.)

BEDDING ESSENTIALS

You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a personalized bed setup that's chic and comfy. What you do need to do: Find out what size bed your dorm room will have. Most have either twin or twin XL, but double-check before you buy.

Dorm Bed and Bulletin Board Wall

Dorm Room Takeover Bed With Cat Comforter, Hexagonal Patchwork Bulletin Board and Patterned Throw Pillows

Hexagon pieces create a colorful and fun personalized bulletin board to display photos and jewelry over this dorm room bed. The coral tones compliment the coral in the turquoise cat patterned comforter. Colorful, patterned throw pillows finish the fun, multicolor design.

From: HGTV Crafternoon

Photo by: Jennie Andrews Photography

Jennie Andrews Photography

The Must-Haves

Comforter: For bargain shoppers, check the sale section of your favorite department store for discounted comforters; even if the design isn't your style, you can dress it up with a stylish duvet. Splurge on a down or down-alternative version for an ultra-plush bed. | Shop Our Pick

Sheet Set: Jersey sheets are a great choice for dorm room bedding: They don't wrinkle when they come out of the dryer, and they're as soft as your favorite T-shirt. | Shop Our Pick

Pillows: Add two basic pillows for sleeping by night and lounging by day. | Shop Our Pick

Throw Blanket: Perfect for chilly nights and curling up for marathon study sessions. Bonus points if you find one that complements your dorm bedding. | Shop Our Pick

Create an Insta-Worthy Dorm Bed

See All Photos

Shop This Look

The Nice-to-Haves

Duvet Cover: Using a duvet cover versus a traditional bed-in-a-bag allows you to easily and affordably change up your bed when the mood strikes. Your bed will be front and center, so why not cover it with a design you love? | Shop Our Pick

Throw Pillows: They'll add style to your bed and double as on-the-floor seating. Mix and match big and small patterns and textures for a designer look. | Shop Our Pick

Personalized Pillowcase: Give your bed a personal touch by adding a DIY saying to a plain white pillowcase. Here's how to make your own.

Backup Sheets & Pillowcases: When laundry day is postponed indefinitely, clean sheets are still within your reach. Opt for one solid set and one set with a subtle pattern.

KITCHEN ESSENTIALS

You may find comfort in your college dining halls, but there are times when in-room meal prep is a must. Luckily, most dorm rooms come stocked with a mini-refrigerator/freezer/microwave unit. Many college dorms restrict or prohibit the use of small kitchen appliances with hot plates or heating elements, so be sure to check your school's rules and see what's included before you stock up.

Dorm Room Mini Refrigerator and Food Storage

Dorm Room Takeover

Mini refrigerators are useful, but they aren't all that attractive. Personalize your dorm room refrigerator using strips of washi tape. We created an abstract stripe design with metallic gold tape. Chalkboard adhesive over the freezer allows you to further personalize the appliance. A light turquoise stacked shelf creates a cute and useful pantry for food and kitchen accessory storage.

From: HGTV Crafternoon

Photo by: Jennie Andrews Photography

Jennie Andrews Photography

The Must-Haves

Plates: Make sure to choose microwave-safe versions — your late-night reheated pizza will thank you! | Shop Our Pick

Bowls: Choose an assortment of patterns and sizes for snacks to soups to cereals. | Shop Our Pick

Drinking Glasses: Choose glassware made from melamine for a stylish, non-breakable option. | Shop Our Pick

Coffee Mugs: College and coffee are the perfect pair, but mugs can be used for so much more, like heating up soup, whipping up mug cakes or housing tea. | Shop Our Pick

Coffeemaker: Choose a version without a hot plate, like a French press or pod-based system, for coffee on demand. | Shop Our Pick

Cutting Board & Paring Knife: Feed your fruit and veggie habit with this basic cutting setup. | Shop Our Pick

Utensils: Hit the dollar store for an inexpensive set of forks, knives and spoons. Buy four settings to accommodate a small group and account for inevitable lost utensils throughout the year. | Shop Our Pick

Can Opener: Break open college convenience store foods with ease with a sturdy, dollar-store can opener. | Shop Our Pick

Cleaning Supplies: Yes, you have to do the dishes (eventually). Stock your room with dish soap, sponges and kitchen towels packed in a small basket to make washing dishes in the communal sink that much simpler.

How to Stock Your Dorm Kitchen Cart

See All Photos

Shop This Look

The Nice-to-Haves

On-the-Go Beverage Containers: To stay hydrated on the go, stock the room with these three essential travel cups: one for hot drinks, one for cold drinks, and one for water. | Shop Our Pick

Large Bowl: Game night won't be the same without a big, communal bowl of chips, pretzels or popcorn. Choose one in durable metal or melamine to minimize breakage risk. | Shop Our Pick

Storage Jars: Clear glass or plastic storage containers help keep cereal and other essentials fresh. Another bonus? They take up less space than boxes do, and add dorm room style to boot. Dress them up with stick-on paper or chalkboard labels. | Shop Our Pick

Spill-Proof Containers: Save leftover ramen noodles or takeout in easy-to-transport, spill-proof containers that are small enough to leave room for other essentials in your mini-fridge. | Shop Our Pick

Bag Clips: No one likes stale cookies and crackers! Keep snacks fresh with bag clips in a variety of sizes. | Shop Our Pick

DESK ESSENTIALS

Your desk can be an inviting spot where you do some of your best work...or a blank, boring space you never use. It's all in how you outfit your space. These are the basics (and the extras) you'll need.

Contemporary Colorful Dorm Desk

Dorm Room Takeover Desk Decoration With Salmon Throw Blanket, Wall Paper Desk Top and Colorful School Supplies

Gold and white floral removable wallpaper breathes instant life into this standard dorm room desk. The chair is dressed up with a plush throw blanket and multicolored accent pillow. Cute notebooks and school supplies add color and pattern making them useful and decorative.

From: HGTV Crafternoon

Photo by: Jennie Andrews Photography

Jennie Andrews Photography

The Must-Haves

Task Lighting: An inexpensive lamp will literally brighten up your desk for late-night study sessions. Choose one that's not too bright to keep your roommate happy. | Shop Our Pick

Power Strip + Extension Cord: Outlets can be at a premium in a dorm space, so this is crucial for computer chargers, speakers and lighting. Get one with a built-in surge protector to protect those term papers. Stretch it behind your bed once and have a spot to plug in phones and tablets on top of your desk. | Shop Our Pick

Pencil Cup: You'll need a place to hold pencils, pens and highlighters. While you're at it, add all those things to the list. Or, use a mug from your kitchen cart. | Shop Our Pick

Calendar: Yeah, you have your phone, but a wall calendar is essential. Bonus points if it's a dry-erase version where you can easily update your commitments and due dates. | Shop Our Pick

Basic Office Supplies: You'll need scissors, a stapler, a hole punch and paper clips. | Shop Our Pick

Printer: Share this with your roommate; you'll only spend half as much on ink cartridge replacements. | Shop Our Pick

The Nice-to-Haves

Custom Patterned Decal: Cover the (likely worn) desk surface with a custom pattern, like removable wallpaper or contact paper. Make sure to choose one that won't leave a residue when you move out. | Shop Our Pick

Sticky Notes: Perfect for roommate notes, marking your place in textbooks and laptop reminders. | Shop Our Pick

Custom Chair: If your school's policy allows, swap out the basic chair with a rolling variety. | Shop Our Pick

Throw Pillow: Make it comfortable (and cute) with an accent pillow for that chair. | Shop Our Pick

Cute Notebooks: Apart from being useful, they double as desk decor. | Shop Our Pick

Letter Tray: Keep folders and papers organized with a desktop letter tray. | Shop Our Pick

Bulletin Board: Pin up photos and reminders of home. If yours has one already (score!) dress it up with cute thumbtacks. Or, create your own cork wall with cork tiles and removable adhesive strips like we did here. | Shop Our Pick

DECOR ESSENTIALS

This is where your style really starts to shine. All it takes is a few essential pieces.

The Must-Haves

Rug: A bare concrete floor is cold underfoot, especially late at night. Add a carpet remnant or inexpensive sisal rug to keep your toes toasty. You can even use your yoga mat as a rug when you're not stretching out in downward dog! Choose a floor covering that's a dark color to camouflage those (inevitably) infrequent cleanings. | Shop Our Pick

Wall art: From large posters to brightly-colored bulletin boards, you'll need to fill those blank walls. Tape up posters with washi tape for a personal touch. | Shop Our Pick

Or, create your own gallery wall — this one cost less than $50 to create!

Dorm Room Gallery Wall

Dorm Room Gallery Wall With Adhesive Photo Strip Mounted Mixed Artwork Featuring an Assortment of Patterns and Color

Use removable adhesive photo strips rated for 5 to 15 pound items to ensure the artwork will stay put on a gallery wall without using nails. Be sure to allow the strips to cure according to package directions before hanging artwork. The mix of pattern and color in the displayed art adds vibrancy perfectly suited to a lively dorm room design. Mixing framed pieces with unframed pieces adds shape and dimension.

From: HGTV Crafternoon

Photo by: Jennie Andrews Photography

Jennie Andrews Photography

Make a Gallery Wall on a Budget

See All Photos

Shop This Look

The Nice-to-Haves

Curtains: The standard-issue blinds provide privacy; adding your own window treatments adds personality and softness. Even a simple scarf can add a personal touch. | Shop Our Pick

Plants: Even if you think you have a black thumb, at least one plant will brighten up your space and reintroduce oxygen into the room. Try a cactus or succulent for easy care. | Shop Our Pick

Washi Tape: Use this colorful, removable tape to brighten everything from your dorm fridge to your room's door. | Shop Our Pick

Dorm Room Mini Refrigerator and Food Storage

Dorm Room Takeover

Mini refrigerators are useful, but they aren't all that attractive. Personalize your dorm room refrigerator using strips of washi tape. We created an abstract stripe design with metallic gold tape. Chalkboard adhesive over the freezer allows you to further personalize the appliance. A light turquoise stacked shelf creates a cute and useful pantry for food and kitchen accessory storage.

From: HGTV Crafternoon

Photo by: Jennie Andrews Photography

Jennie Andrews Photography

More Dorm Room Decor Tips

See All Photos

Shop This Look

STORAGE ESSENTIALS

Dorm rooms are notoriously tiny, which means you'll need some smart and creative storage solutions to keep clutter at bay.

Dorm Room Takeover

Dorm Room Takeover

From: HGTV Crafternoon

Photo by: Jennie Andrews Photography

Jennie Andrews Photography

The Must-Haves

Hamper: You'll need somewhere to store your (huge pile of) dirty laundry until you can go to the laundromat. And by laundromat, we mean your parents' laundry room. | Shop Our Pick

Storage Baskets: Baskets keep things categorized and out of sight. Store them on top of your wardrobe to save precious floor and tabletop space. | Shop Our Pick

Under-Bed Storage: Whether you have a lofted bed with a ton of space for larger storage bins or a bunk bed with just a little space, make it count! Airtight bins keep those items you aren't using every day, like extra blankets, sweaters and more, out of sight. | Shop Our Pick

The Nice-to-Haves

Inside-the-Door Organizer: Expand your wardrobe's footprint with a door organizer for shoes, scarves and accessories. Easily make more inspired choices and save space? That's a win-win. | Shop Our Pick

Rolling Cart: Your under-bed storage can double as a coffee table — see how to make your own with this simple, budget-friendly DIY.

DRESSER + VANITY ESSENTIALS

Creating a pretty spot to prep for the day will improve your mood, even if you were up half the night studying. Trust me on this.

Contemporary Dorm Room Nightstand

Dorm Room Takeover Colorful Nightstand Decor With Patterned Adhesive Top and Stainless Steel Lamp Under Hexagon Cork Board

Save money on dorm room decorating by bringing items from home and restyling them in a fresh, new way. Vivid colors create a bright and bold display perfect for showcasing personal style. The hexagonal corkboard wall doubles as wall-mounted storage for favorite necklaces and bracelets.

From: HGTV Crafternoon

Photo by: Jennie Andrews Photography

Jennie Andrews Photography

The Must-Haves

Lamp: A pretty lamp is both practical and decorative atop your dresser — it will light your way if you (bummer!) have early-morning classes and brighten up your room at night. | Shop Our Pick

Jewelry Storage: No one likes tangled necklaces! Hang yours using thumbtacks and a bulletin board or another hanging jewelry option.

Bins & Boxes: Dollar-bin bowls (or vintage tins) will keep hair accessories, bracelets, rings and more organized and out of sight. | Shop Our Pick

Mirror: You'll need a spot to check your hair before you head out (even if you haven't had time to brush it). | Shop Our Pick

The Nice-to-Haves

Decorative Tray: A tray to house those vanity essentials makes everything look a little bit nicer. | Shop Our Pick

Encouraging Mantra Art: Hey, you're amazing! Help yourself remember by placing a positive saying where you'll see it before heading out to conquer the day. College? You totally got this. | Shop Our Pick

More Dorm Room Ideas We Love

Next Up

Dorm Room Decorating: Must-Know Tips From College Students

You may think a bland dorm room holds no decorating potential, but just wait. We have savvy design and storage tips to turn your new college digs into home sweet home.

11 Ways to Designate Different Rooms in Your Dorm Room

Find room in your dorm for every room in the house.

Low-Maintenance Plants for Dorm Rooms

These succulents aren't just beautiful, they're super low-maintenance, too. Plant them in bright, hand-painted pots and they instantly become the perfect addition to an apartment or dorm room.

Make Your Desk Accessory Set

Use various containers like Mason jars, vases and tin cans to create a matching desk accessory set that will keep all your school essentials organized and within reach.

15 Dorm Room Decorating Ideas Under $50

Decorating your new college quarters doesn't have to empty your wallet.

5 Dorm Room Bedding Combination Ideas That Make a Statement

Create the ultimate bed away from home with these trendy ideas.

Room of the Week: Dorm by Design

Shop our picks to take your dorm room from drab to fab, designer-inspired digs.

Where to Score Dorm Decor + Compact Appliances on Sale Right Now

Snag a new rug, twin XL bedding or even a mini-fridge for less.

25 Back-to-School Organizing Essentials We Love

School will be back in session soon, and we're sharing 25 of our favorite products to help keep your home and life organized so your kids can focus on schoolwork.

10 Must-Have Gadgets for College Students

Add these handy tech items to your back-to-school shopping list.
More from:

Back to School

Go Shopping

Refresh your home with stylish products handpicked by HGTV editors.

Watch Live TV

Don't miss your favorite shows.

Live Stream HGTV Now

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.