Dorm Decorating Ideas + Organizing + Storage Tips

I sometimes take things for granted – and I was reminded of this by one of you.  Thanks Pat Hintz for asking me over on my Facebook page for dorm decorating ideas.  Her daughter is moving into a dorm this month and she needed some ideas.


Over the past 7 years I have helped my two daughters move in and decorate 8 dorm rooms and campus apartments. I don’t even think about how easy for me this task was .  My mind goes into “quick and affordable” auto-pilot from my experience of working in retail display where things had to be attractive, inexpensive, and up in one day. The only difference for dorm room decorating is function and that comes before attractive – but everything still has to be done in one day. Dorm room space is at such a premium everything has to do double-duty – EVERYTHING.  Organization and smart accessible storage is key to making the room livable.

In this post I am going to share the essentials, quick decorating ideas, tips and tricks that I know work and won’t break the budget. All of it makes the grade! At the end of the post is a link-up to add any dorm decorating ideas.

Without my trusty tool box, I would not be able to do any dorm decorating.  On move-in day my toolbox gets packed in the car so I have everything I need from a screwdriver to fabric glue to whip the room into shape in a day.   You will find the contents of my toolbox in this post:

A Decorator’s ToolboxDIY Toolbox

Dorm Decorating Ideas

This is your typical dorm room.  The only difference is some rooms have carpet or lofted beds.  It is better when the beds can be lofted as it will double the space in the room.    More on this later in the post. I found lots of photos.

Pick the Bedding First

When decorating a dorm room the first thing you need to do is pick the bedding. The bed is so important – it serves as a sofa for friends to sit on and a place to relax, do school work, eat, and sleep. Get a colorful comforter that will hide stains.  The room’s color scheme or half the room’s color scheme can be based off the color of the comforter/bedspread.

Here is my youngest on move-in day in her Freshman dorm.  Her colors were green, navy, and turquoise.  She graduated in May.

Dorm Decorating Ideas

After the bedding is chosen – it is up to personal style and available space to add what is needed.  Move the furniture around to create the best use of space. Fabric in the way of window treatments, wall hangings, and art will add a lot of style and color to the room.

Here are the Items that are Absolute Essentials For Every Dorm Room

They come in many different colors and styles, but if you buy them ahead of time, you won’t have to run to Walmart 5 times on move-in day, well maybe only once.  We found most of the items needed at Ross, TjMaxx, Marshalls, Bed Bath and Beyond, IKEA, Target, and Walmart.

1. 3M Command Strips, Hooks, and Hangers

The biggest innovation in dorm room or rental decorating since I went to college is 3M Command Strips – Hello! Wonderful. They are amazing and can be used for so many things.  Spray a little bit of rubbing alcohol on the walls, doors, sides of a desk, bed frames, chairs – you name it and you can hang just about anything easily. When it is time to move out – they are a cinch to remove and leave no damage. 3M even has replacement tapes and tabs so you can use the hooks and hangers again the following year.



Idea If you want to add some color to the plain walls,  buy some fabric yardage and hang it on the wall using the Command Velcro style mounting strips across the top of the fabric and along the ceiling line. Two or three is all that will be needed.   Let the fabric hang freely. This photo that I took on my last visit to Crate and Barrel shows how items look hung  on top of  fabric.  Use the 3M Command mounting hooks on the wall under the fabric and cut a small slice in the fabric so that the hook can fit through and then hang your photos or art.



IdeaMost of the hooks are pretty self explanatory, but the utensil hooks – have a moveable hook and are perfect for tying drapery panels to the wall with twist ties. I did this in my daughter’s Junior year apartment bedroom.  I used colorful ribbons to hide the twist ties.  Everything on the wall was hung using the Command Strips.

Two more essentials are in this photo – a clip-on light and a backrest pillow.  My oldest didn’t understand why she needed these when she was a Freshman. It didn’t take her a long time to figure out why – comfort and task lighting while studying on the bed.

Room-Room Decor

2. Power Strips and Extension Cords

There are never enough outlets in a room for all the lights, microwave, and electronics.  Two power strips and long extension cords are needed.  Throw in a few 3 prong adapters, too.

3M now makes electrical cord clips – to corral a tangle of cords neatly.   My daughter could have used them in this room.

Idea I covered the plain IKEA chair with a beach towel.  See this post on how to cover an desk chair.   Note the small IKEA  “Billy” shelf on the wall behind the chair– another workhorse that works well in rooms and the back of deep closets to hold shoes or to stack hoodies, jeans, and sweaters.

Dorm Room Chair or seating ideas

3.  Over-The-Door Hangers

These types of hangers are perfect for hanging not only over doors, but they work over the bed rails as well. Use two or more so you will have plenty of storage.   They are great for bath towels, handbags, coats, and hats.

IdeaIf you place an over-the-door hanger over a door and the door doesn’t close – get a pair of pliers and bend the top section that goes over the door to mold it to fit – works every time.

Over-the-Door-Hooks for Dorm rooms

4.  Closet Storage

Some rooms have nice closets, others have only an armoire.  These are some of the option to increase the storage.


IdeaHere is a clever idea I found – use shower curtain rings on a hanger to hold scarves or belts.

5.  Stackable Storage

Stack, stack, and stack some more.  Easy accessible stackable storage is the best way to hold stuff – from books, toiletries, food, etc.  IKEA makes small shelf units and these may work well in one room, but not the next year in a different room. I have found that classic milk crates are the best. The reason – versatility.  They can be stacked and used in many different ways. One year they may be used in a closet, the next – across the shelf on the desk or dresser to hold food and/or dishes.

IdeaI cut a square from dollar store foam boards to fit inside each crate. This gives the crate bottom a level surface to place items on so they won’t fall through.


IdeaI found this photo on Pinterest, here is the source – Tupelo Honey.  Very clever – storage and a seat.  Cut a piece of plywood to fit the opening of the milk crate, cover with foam and batting. Place fabric on top and staple the excess underneath the plywood. Place on the opening of the crate. 

Milk crate dorm seating

IdeaAnother option with a bit more style is to stack baskets on top of each other. I made lids for these using cardboard and fabric.  When covered and stacked, the baskets supply storage as well as create a little bedside table.

DIY Dorm room storage ideas

6.  Tension Rods and Café Clips

These can be used on windows, under lofted beds, and in closets.




As long as the window is inset you will be able to create easy no-sew treatments using a tension rod and café clips.  On the left are two scarves that are folded over along the top and simply clipped on. On the right, use fabric glue to make finished edges on fabric that is cut to fit the size of the window, then clip on the rings and hang.

Window-Treatments-for-Dorm Rooms

Photos: BH&G and Martha Stewart



Shower rod tension rods are much wider in diameter and when two are placed about a foot parallel to each other a pine or mdf board can be placed on them to create a knock down portable shelf for a closet.


7. Bed Risers and Lofting Beds

If the bed doesn’t loft, then use bed risers. Get the extra tall ones so that you can get as much extra space as possible.  They even come with electrical sockets now – smart as there are never enough outlets.

Dorm room bed risers

Lofting the bed gives the room double the space. I found this photo over at Dorm to Die For.  At the college my oldest attended, all the beds were loft-able.  One year she hung a closet rod along the front and hung drapes on a tension rod.  We used “U” clamps to attach a closet rod to the underside of the box spring and created a closet for her.  When the drapes were closed, the clothes were out of sight.  Here they did something similar, but used the area for extra seating.

How to loft a dorm bed

Photo: Dorm to Die For

In this room  – the under bed space was used for storage.

Dorm room Decorating Ideas

Phot0: Dorm To Die For

Collgege Dorm Decorating Idea

Spray paint one of these flat handled baskets from The Dollar Tree in a color to coordinate with the room. Tie one to the bed rail along the top of a lofted bed for easy access to a cell phone, book, tissues, etc. This way you won’t have to jump down from the bed.


College Dorm Bed  Decorating Ideas


8. Rolling Storage Drawers and Bins

This style of rolling drawer can hold extra toiletries, school supplies, and/or clothes.  They move around the room easily when needed which is a big plus.


Use the rolling drawers as an end table to hold a clock, iPod, or lamp.  This style floor lamp works well in a dorm.  Each light can be directed where needed – on the ceiling for ambient lighting, on the bed for task lighting – double duty.

Dorm room Decorating Ideas

Photo: Dorm To Die For

For more ideas for dorm decorating ideas or small apartment living, check out Lovely Undergrad and Dorm to Die For.

Linkup your dorm decorating ideas here. 


  1. Anna Starner says

    Some great reminders here.
    I would love a list of items you keep in your decorating bucket.

    • says

      Hi Anna – That is going to be my next post :) This post was getting long, so I decided I would share what is in my tool bucket in my next post. :)

  2. says

    Love this post! It’s chock-full of great ideas! I rent so I have to be careful what I do. I added a couple of links to the party with some thrift store makeovers for my girls and a DIY chair mat for a desk using duct tape. Thanks!!!

  3. Jeanette says

    Hello Diane,
    A wealth of great ideas and info! I came across a product that combines a few of your ideas into one, allowing your college student to organize scarves, jackets, backpacks, and the like, while showing some school spirit with colored panels–an over the door, customizable, storage unit at

  4. pat says

    Terrific ideas! I am having too much fun with this according to my college-bound daughter. I had to stop mid-read to cover some shoeboxes with coordinating Contac paper for storage. Will definitely be using the bedloft curtain idea and the over-the-door-hooks on a bedrail. Thanks, Diane!

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  6. Katie says

    Another idea for dorm décor: check out Etsy! A Different Sun on Etsy sells décor items that resemble things from Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie but are much more affordable!

  7. says

    I am SO glad I found your blog! My daughter is freaking out because in the fall, she’ll be entry college. The dorm that she was assigned to is HIDEOUS! Super ugly in every way.

    Thankfully, her new roommate has agreed that I should decorate for the girls. Thank goodness they both like the same colors…teal and well, teal. So, I will be incorporating some of your budget-friendly fab ideas next month, for sure!

    Wish me luck. I am concerned that her school might be picky even about the use of Command strips. But if they allow those, we are set to go!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • says

      Hi Angie – I am sure you are going to do a great job that both your daughter and roomie will love. With each year, you will see new ideas and can help her implement them when she moves each year to a new dorm or off campus apartment. I was the mom with the tool bucket on move in day. After 3 years of practice with my older daughter, we had my youngest rooms organized and decorated before noon on her Freshman move-in day. Many students had not even arrived yet. That is a good tip – be waiting outside so as soon as the dorm opens you won’t have a crowd or have to wait for the elevators for each trip from the car, plus if the dorm doesn’t have an unloading zone – you get a good parking spot. Enjoy!

      • says

        Thanks so much, Diane! We are all set to schedule our move-in date. We are trying to get a good spot so we can be as close to the dorm as possible on that day. I am actually scared and anxious at the same time! Just yesterday, I was decorating the child’s nursery, and now THIS? I will be sure to have my own tool kit on hand that day. Wish us luck! And War Eagle…she’s going to Auburn University. Lots of Orange and Navy Blue.

        • says

          I have fond memories of helping my daughters each year – which made a total of 8 dorm rooms/off campus apts under my belt. My oldest’s went to Bucknell University where orange and navy are the school colors, too. Enjoy the move in! Bring tissues for the ride home.


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