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

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

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July 06, 2021

Ah, to go back to college. Of course, we'd love to go back to spending afternoons reading on the college green (once a nerd, always a nerd), but if we knew what we knew now, we 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 dorm 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.

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.

Pillows: Add two basic pillows for sleeping by night and lounging by day.

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

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?

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.

Extra 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!

Bowls: Choose an assortment of patterns and sizes for snacks to soups to cereals.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

Cute Notebooks: Apart from being useful, they double as desk decor.

Letter Tray: Keep folders and papers organized with a desktop letter tray.

Bulletin Board: Hang 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.

DECOR ESSENTIALS

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

Wallpapered Dorm Room Dresser

Light Turquoise Wallpaper Strips Over Dresser Drawers in Dorm Room Takeover With Colorful Patterned Artwork

Don't limit wallpaper to horizontal surfaces. We took it vertical by cutting wallpaper pieces to size and adding it to each dorm dresser drawer. Light turquoise elements in the art pieces compliment the drawer wallpaper to tie it into the room. The dots on the paper design give an illuminating effect perfect for the happy, airy feel of the design.

From: HGTV Crafternoon

Photo by: Jennie Andrews Photography

Jennie Andrews Photography

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

STORAGE ESSENTIALS

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

Layered Rugs Under Dorm Coffee Table

Layered Textured Rugs Under Dorm Room Table With White Tabletop and Gold and Turquoise Breakfast Tray

Dress cold, bare dorm room floors with indoor-outdoor rugs that are inexpensive and hold up to a lot of traffic and spills. Here, we layered a black polypropylene rug on top of a larger sisal rug to add style and texture to the space. The black rug allows the white table top to pop, while the additional rugs compliment the light gold and turquoise tones of the breakfast tray.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

The Nice-to-Haves

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

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.

BATHROOM ESSENTIALS

Whether you have an ensuite bathroom or communal amenities, you'll want these products to keep toiletries organized and accessible.

The Must-Haves

Rolling Storage Cart: A three-tiered metal rolling cart will fulfill your dorm room needs and continue to be useful in your subsequent college apartments.

Portable Caddy: Carry your everyday beauty and hygiene necessities around your dorm with ease using a portable shower caddy.

Mesh Caddy: Grab a budget-friendly mesh shower tote bag to bring all your essentials with you to your best friend’s dorm room. You’ll appreciate the sturdy shoulder bag handles when you’re trekking across campus to get ready for your first big night out or game-day festivities.

Soft Bath Towel Set: Set yourself up for squeaky-clean success with a luxe bath towel set that will last all through college.

Tabletop Vanity Mirror: Space-savvy and stylish, a tabletop vanity mirror will bring a chic touch to your morning routine.

The Nice-to-Haves

Over-the-Door Storage: Keep your beauty essentials within reach with a pretty over-the-door storage rack.

Minimalist Dispensers: We’re obsessed with refillable soap, shampoo and conditioner dispensers for dorm living. The pump design is easy to use and virtually eliminates the risk of messy spills and wasted products while transporting to and from the shared bathroom.

Motivational Bath Mat: Grab a cheerful bath mat for an extra boost of motivation each morning.

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