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Move Out in Style With These Dorm Design Hacks

Written by Joe Roberts

Published on August 3, 2023


Move Out in Style With These Dorm Design Hacks

Need help bringing some order, zest, and comfort to your new dorm? Use these expert tips to make your small college apartment feel like home.

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Curating a fun, fresh, and comfortable decor style in your first college dorm doesn’t have to be a chore. You can get great results while still enjoying yourself and following your intuition. Still, you’ve probably never had a whole living space to decorate yourself (or with a roommate), so a few expert tips could help you get started and stick the landing.

Since college dorms are such small living spaces, many design sensibilities that apply to homes and larger apartments don’t work. Keep reading to learn how to hack your dorm’s decor and make the space everything you want it to be.

Space is limited, so keep it tidy

As with any small living space, the size of your dorm is the primary limit on your freedom to decorate, and it will fill up quicker than you may think. Even a little clutter can overwhelm the decor and make it feel significantly less cozy in such a small space. It’s essential to keep miscellaneous items from occupying valuable real estate you could otherwise devote to sentimental pictures, stylish rugs, and beanbags. 

Luckily, you can significantly reduce clutter by simply ensuring that things like clothes, dishes, school books, keys, and handbags all have designated places.

For example, a coat rack in the corner won’t take up much floor space, but it will keep scarves, hats, and coats from sprawling on the floor and the backs of chairs. Similarly, a shoe rack placed by the door can help keep walkways clear. You’d be surprised how much space some wall hooks can save by keeping keys, sunglasses, and bags off your counters.

As you’re unpacking, make sure you have a shelf, drawer, or hook for every item that isn’t a decor accent. This focus on organization will give you more space for homey and fun decorations, and the resulting tidiness might even wow your parents when they visit! 

Make the most of all the space

One of the best ways to keep a small room tidy is to use every square inch to the fullest, which means utilizing typically unused areas for storage. You can clear up space elsewhere by keeping a handful of storage bins under your bed and getting a shelving rack to mount over your toilet.

Additionally, if your dorm is unfurnished and you can get your own furniture, it can really help to get furnishings that do more than one job. Storage ottomans are a common example, but there are also options like bed frames with drawers and loft beds with desks built beneath them. Any of these furnishings can streamline your dorm by making the most of every bit of space. 

Pick a color scheme and stick with it

Now that you know how to keep clutter out of the way, you can get to the fun part: decorating! The best way to curate an aesthetic decor style is to pick a color scheme and only get decor accents that match it. This may seem easier said than done, but it’s actually pretty simple once you know how to do it.

Start by picking a color you really like on the color wheel and make that your primary color. Get your biggest decor accents, like rugs and blankets, in that color. Then, incorporate a few accents like lampshades, wall art, and throw pillows in colors that sit directly on either side of your primary color on the wheel. These colors will all be analogous, so they’ll go together well.

For example, if your primary color were light blue, then accents in shades of turquoise, green, and purple would go well with it. Alternatively, if your primary color were sunny yellow, then shades of orange, red, and light green would be your best matches.

A dorm decorated in similar colors will feel calming and vibrant. Don’t worry about making everything match. A few small items that break from the color scheme won’t negate the overall effect, especially if they’re in neutral colors like white, black, and beige. 

Get creative with the lighting


Once you’ve picked your color scheme, it’s time to light the space up. Of course, your dorm room will have a few ceiling lights, but these aren’t always the best at setting specific moods. Instead of relying on these default options, you can add a few alternative light sources that make the space feel more like home.

This lighting could be color-changing LED string lights, a stylish floor lamp, or a mid-century table lamp if you want a retro vibe. Whatever aesthetic you want your dorm to capture, you can find a lighting source to match. Some students even get custom fluorescent signs shaped into witty or friendly messages for their dorms. 

Unfortunately, a candle is one lighting source you can’t use in a dorm. Most campuses outlaw using candles on school property for safety reasons, so plan your decor accordingly. If you absolutely must have the rustic charm that candles bring, some flameless imitation candles might do the trick. 

Keep things fresh with greenery

Nothing spruces up a space quite like plant life. If your decor feels a little sterile or drab, consider putting a potted plant on your counter, bookshelf, or coffee table. 

If you want something hardy and simple to care for, a cactus or a succulent could do nicely. Alternatively, if you want something a little more colorful, an orchid or anthurium might be more your speed as long as you care for them properly. If you’re ambitious, a small bush or even a bonsai tree could add a splash of vitality to your space and impress your guests. 

You don’t need a green thumb to add greenery to your space. Fake plastic plants are always a viable alternative, though they don’t always bring the same vigor and charm as the real McCoy. 

Avoid putting holes in your walls

Most dorms forbid you from putting holes in the walls or peeling the paint, so the standard methods of hanging pictures and other wall decor—i.e., nails, pins, and heavy-duty tape—are out. Luckily, you don’t have to rely on these destructive means to hang your decorations.

Strips, hooks, and clips from Command are typically your best alternatives. These sturdy and reliable implements are designed to hold significant weight long-term, but they come off a wall easily without peeling away the paint or leaving a hole. This makes them the decor-conscious college student’s best friend.

Above all else, make it feel like you

Your college years are for self-discovery and experimentation, so the most important rule of dorm design is to follow your intuition. Yes, even if that means creatively ignoring some of the design tips outlined here. It’s okay, we promise. 

Are you a bold soul who wants to decorate with every color imaginable? Throw out the color wheel and go for broke. Would the responsibility of a living plant only stress you out? Some decorative glass or vases might be a better way to add visual variety. If a space doesn’t feel like home unless it’s a little messy, you could even foster a bit of tasteful clutter in your bedroom. 

As long as your decor decisions don’t bother your roommates or get you in trouble with your RA, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t just follow your unique taste when decorating your dorm. 

Your dorm, your way

When you move away from home and go to college, you’re presented with a lot of novel experiences that can feel very stressful. Decorating your college dorm doesn’t have to be one of them. As long as you keep the tips we’ve listed in mind and follow your gut, your dorm is going to look great. You’ve got this!

Written by

Joe Roberts Content Specialist

Joe is a home improvement expert and content specialist for Fixr.com. He’s been writing home services content for over eight years, leveraging his research and composition skills to produce consumer-minded articles that demystify everything from moving to remodeling. His work has been sourced by various news sources and business journals, including Nasdaq.com and USA Today. When he isn’t writing about home improvement or climate issues, Joe can be found in bookstores and record shops.