How to Maximize Storage Space in a Dorm 

Experts share organization tips and staples for the college-bound

Well organized and decorated dorm room. Photo: iStock

A typical dorm room is equipped with three basics: a bed, a desk, and a dresser. In the limited confines of what you’re allotted, finding extra storage space can be challenging. Factor in a roommate and things are bound to get even cozier. Whether you’re setting off for your first semester of college or you’re a seasoned vet who has done drop-offs for years, there’s a thing or two to learn when it comes to organizing and shopping for a dorm. 

Back-to-school shopping can be overwhelming—never mind carving out space to store what you bought. So to help the college-bound and their families pinpoint the must-haves, we turned to organization experts for their take on dorm storage essentials, including helpful product suggestions.

Plan Ahead

Before leaving for school, think carefully about what will be needed and used, says Karin Socci, founder of The Serene Home, a professional organization service. “If the item is not something you use at home, such as dressy clothing, sporting goods, or books, it is unlikely you will need it at school.”

Instead of packing extra sets of towels and bedding, get into the practice of washing them on a regular basis and reusing the same set or two. And if you’re looking to buy a coffee maker or another small appliance (such as a blow dryer) see if a roommate wants to go in on one together, Socci suggests.

Close up of multiple clothing items hung up on hangers

Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Use Every Inch of the Closet

While the closet may be a prime source of storage in a dorm, it’s limited. One easy way to save space? Skip the bulky hangers. Certified professional organizer Mackenzie Scott, of Mission 2 Organize, recommends slim hangers—either felt or plastic will do—to maximize the capacity of the closet. 

When hanging items, group longer pieces together and relegate shorter ones to the other end to create room for freestanding storage units or shelves. Scott recommends a plastic drawer system that can house everything from clothes to shoes. 

Also, make sure to take advantage of all vertical space available. For example, use the area above any hanging space in the closet for baskets to hold lightweight items such as socks or intimates, Scott recommends.

The Shopping List

Baskets
• Honey-Can-Do Task-It Woven Basket in grey, set of two, $14 at Amazon and Walmart, $17 at Bed Bath & Beyond

Slim Hangers
• Amazon Basics Slim Hangers, set of 50, $24 at Amazon
• Wayfair Basics Non-Slip Standard Hanger, set of 50, $18 at Wayfair

Storage Bins
• Life Story Plastic Stackable Clear Shoe and Closet Storage Box Container Bin With Lids, set of 10, $23 at Target, 20-pack for $41 at Amazon
• Sterilite Wide 3-Drawer Chest With Wheels, $17 at Walmart, $20 at the Container Store

College student using their computer on a lofted bed.

Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Elevate the Bed

Outside of the closet, the next best opportunity for storage is under the bed. While baskets and bins can easily slide in underneath, bed risers are a great way to add a few extra inches of clearance space. The dorm room staple is available in a variety of sizes and can be made from wood, polypropylene, or carbon steel (a sturdier option if you’re looking for something taller). But their functionality doesn’t stop there.

“Many bed risers come with built-in power outlets, which can be a great opportunity to provide ease of access to an outlet from the bedside,” Scott says.

(For more options: Under-the-Bed Storage Options to Help Banish Clutter.”)

The Shopping List

Bed Risers
• Honey-Can-Do Bed Risers, set of four, $18 at Bed Bath & Beyond, similar for $15 at Home Depot and $11 at Walmart

Under-the-Bed Storage
• Long Under Bed Box With Wheels, $24 at the Container Store
• Sterilite 60qt Clear View Underbed Storage Bin, $18 at Target

Bath products

Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Keep Bathroom Essentials Portable

Living in a dorm room usually translates to using a communal bathroom. “The best method for bathroom sharing is to get a bath caddy, especially if your bath area is down the hall or not attached to your room,” Scott says. It will not only make it easy to tote essentials back and forth but also give the items a dedicated home. 

A caddy will make it easy to carry the essentials from the bathroom to a dorm room. A similar approach can be used for makeup by creating a basket or case that holds all your products, so you can pull them out, use them, and put them away, Scott adds.

The Shopping List

Bath Caddy
• Madesmart Soft-Grip Tote, $11 at Target, similar for $16 at Amazon

Shop baskets: Amazon, Target, Wayfair

Various office supplies organized in little plastic containers

Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Organize the Desktop

An organized desktop is essential for carving out a productive workspace, especially since the space will probably be getting a lot of use. Consider your work style and whether you operate well with visual clutter, says professional organizer Tana Ching. If you’re okay with being surrounded by piles of textbooks and notepads, she recommends grouping materials by subject matter and clearly labeling them. If you prefer things to be out of sight, opt for a portable file box to keep your staples in line without having to clutter your desktop. 

“Treat your desktop as prime real estate,” says Socci at The Serene Home. The more cluttered your desk is, the harder it will be to find the things you need. “Create a folder for each class and others for various social activities, and become diligent about filing things electronically.” For example, paper syllabuses can be scanned and stored digitally on your laptop or computer. 

The Shopping List

Shop file holders: Ikea, Target, Wayfair

Last but not least, remember that you don’t have to take everything with you right away, Scott says: “Travel light for fall, and if you find you really need extra items, grab them during your first break home or buy them when you get to school.” 

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Headshot of CRO shopping editor Anna Kocharian

Anna Kocharian

Based in New York City, I'm a shopping editor for Consumer Reports, writing about home, tech, and everything in between. Previously, I covered interior design and market trends as the digital editor of Domino, which shaped my multidisciplinary background in lifestyle journalism. When I'm not seeking out the everyday essentials worth investing in, you may find me perusing my favorite bookstores, cooking, or wandering around the city.