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Decorating a dorm room from top to bottom can be an incredibly fun experience, but it can also be a daunting one. Thankfully, there are a few tried-and-true dorm room essentials you can buy now to make sure you’ll have most of your bases covered.
We tested and researched the best essentials for any dorm room, keeping in mind factors like size, function, and budget. Our list includes the durable and affordable Simple Essentials towel set from Bed, Bath, and Beyond and the machine-washable Damali Overdye Rug from Ruggable that comes in an array of sizes and colors.
Here are the best dorm room essentials.
Narve Wheat Straw Dinnerware Set
College students rarely eat all their meals out. Even if all you’re working with is a microwave and fridge, it’s worth it to have a few dishes and some flatware on hand. The Narve Wheat Straw Dinnerware Set comes with four plates, four bowls, and four cups, all of which are crafted from microwave-safe wheat straw. Unlike more "adult" dinnerware, these dishes are also lightweight and tough to break, so they’re especially great for a dorm room.
Simply Essential 6-Piece Towel Set
Every college student needs a handful of bathroom linens, and Bed Bath & Beyond offers an easy and budget-friendly way to stock up on everything you’ll need. The 6-Piece Towel Set comes with two towels, two washcloths, and two hand towels, all of which are crafted from soft cotton. Score the set in light blue, crisp white, soft gray, or warm sand, or snag a couple of different sets and mix and match.
Pure Enrichment Wave Sleep Therapy Sound Machine
Dorms can get noisy, so it might make sense to bring a noise machine with you—just be sure to run it by your roommate first. The Pure Enrichment Sleep Therapy Sound Machine is a compact and solid option that offers six different sound modes. And since it comes with an optional sleep timer, you can set it to automatically turn off after 10, 30, or 60 minutes have passed.
"More often than not, I was asleep within 15 minutes of turning the machine on, whereas it would usually take me at least half an hour (on a good day)."—Mary Kate Hoban, Product Tester
Ruggable Damali Overdye Rug
There isn't a whole lot you can do to spruce up your dorm room, but buying an area rug is one of them. And since Ruggable’s Damali Overdye Rug is machine-washable, you don’t have to worry about spills, stains, and all the other wear and tear that comes with living in a dorm room. Snag the rug in one of nine different sizes, and pick the colorway that best suits your space. Whether you choose crisp white, light blue, sleek gray, or bold black, you’re sure to end up with something that’ll look great—and versatile—in your space.
Lock & Lock Purely Better Glass Food Storage Container 10-Piece Set
Whether you’re an avid meal prepper or a big fan of leftovers, it makes sense to keep a few food storage containers on hand. This 10-piece glass container set should give you everything you need to store food in your dorm room: it comes with one large rectangular container, two smaller rectangular containers, and two mid-size round containers. And since all the containers are microwave-, freezer-, and dishwasher-safe, they shouldn’t be too tough to take care of.
Tessan Power Strip Tower Surge Protector
Sharing a dorm room also often means sharing electrical outlets. With so many devices to charge, this surge protector is a necessity in any room that's short on outlets. It has eight AC outlets and four USB ports for smaller devices. It's available with a 10 or 15 foot cord and the bottom has non-slip pads.
SafeRest Premium Hypoallergenic Mattress Protector
Let’s not beat around the bush here—dorm mattresses have seen a lot. Since it's unlikely that you'll get a brand new mattress, it’s worth it to invest in a mattress pad that'll provide protection as well as comfort. The SafeRest Premium Mattress Pad is padded with plush filling, and since it’s crafted from cotton, it promises to keep you pretty cool as you sleep. Even better: the mattress pad is machine-washable, so you can pop it in the laundry whenever you go to wash your sheets.
Sofia + Sam Bamboo Lap Desk
Your dorm more than likely has a desk, but for those days or late nights when you want to work from bed or the couch, this lap desk will come in handy. It's large enough to accommodate laptops up to 17 inches long and there's additional space for a mouse and even a small drawer. It can be adjusted to multiple angles and the legs fold up for easy storage when not in use.
Cartman 39-Piece Tool Set
Show up to college with a tool set, and you’ll quickly become the MVP of your dorm. Hanging decor, assembling furniture, and lofting beds all require at least a couple of tools, and since most of those activities take place on move-in day, you’ll be making friends before you know it. The Cartman 39-Piece Tool Set contains all the basics—plus a handful of extras you may need to tackle specific jobs. And since the tool set is organized and color-coded, it should be pretty easy to keep track of all your stuff.
Black + Decker Dustbuster Handheld Cordless Vacuum
Cleaning a dorm room may be the last thing you want to think about when heading off to college, but the good news is that since dorm rooms tend to be pretty small, you probably won’t have that much space to keep tidy. The Black + Decker Dustbuster Handheld Vacuum should get the job done, and since it’s so small, it won’t demand a ton of space in your dorm room. Cordless and powerful, it comes with attachments to tackle any job, and can easily be tucked away when not in use.
"It effortlessly sucked up particles of all sizes, including dirt, pet hair, cereal, stray kibble, and kicked-out kitty litter. With its angled nozzle, it easily fits in and under small places, plus two additional attachments—a crevice tool and a brush tool—make it even more versatile." —Karen Tietjen, Product Tester
The Container Store 3-Tier Rolling Cart
Since space is guaranteed to be an issue, you’ll want to invest in pieces that are compact and functional—like the 3-Tier Rolling Cart from The Container Store. This super functional piece is just under 3 feet tall, and since each of its shelves can hold up to 6.6 pounds, it should give you plenty of options. Use the cart to store toiletries, snacks, or school supplies—or use it to store all three, and roll it where you need it whenever you need it.
Urban Outfitters Dry Erase Calendar Message Board
Calendars can be a great way to keep track of what’s on the horizon—whether that be exams, events, or a few days off. The Urban Outfitters Dry Erase Calendar Message Board is cute enough to double as decor, and is the ideal accessory to have hanging over your desk. Mount it on your wall, and update it on a monthly basis. If you want, you can even let your friends write notes on it every time they stop by your room.
Magic Chef 3.1 Cubic ft. Mini Fridge
Some dorm rooms come equipped with mini-fridges, and some colleges offer mini-fridges you can rent for the duration of the school year. But if your room comes sans mini-fridge—and sans the opportunity to rent a mini-fridge—it’s worth it to bring one with you. The compact Magic Chef Mini Fridge offers a fair amount of fridge space, and it even comes with a freezer compartment.
Remember, you can always talk to your roommate about splitting the cost of a mini-fridge—and you can even try to sell yours once the school year is done.
SheValues Shower Shoes
If your dorm only has a communal bathroom, consider bringing a pair of shower shoes with you. You don’t need to splurge on them—as long as they’re comfortable and shower-friendly, they should get the job done. This pair from SheValues are sleek and budget-friendly, and since they’re available in eight different colors, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a pair that works for you.
simplehuman 1.2-Gallon Round Step Trash Can
Trash cans are a necessary evil in any space, and if you don’t want to put your garbage on full display, you’ll want to score a trash can with a lid. The simplehuman Round Step Trash Can is sleek, versatile, and about as cute as a trash can could be. Since it comes in a variety of neutral colors, including white and stainless steel, it shouldn’t draw too much attention to itself in your dorm room.
Dormify Large Collapsible Storage Cubes
It can be tough to guess how much storage space you need before you actually see your dorm room for the first time—and that’s exactly what makes Dormify’s Large Collapsible Storage Cubes so useful. Each fabric cube acts as a storage basket, giving you a convenient place to store clothes, toiletries, and other must-haves. But since the cubes are also collapsible, you can easily fold up any that you don’t need and slide them under your bed.
Even if you can't actually see your family and close friends as often as you'd like when you're away at school, Aura's picture frame helps alleviate some of that homesickness. The 10-inch frame has a sleek design and unlimited storage for photos and videos. Files can be uploaded via the app and the slideshow goes as fast or slow as you want. There's even a built-in speaker so you can hear audio from videos.
Parachute Waffle Robe
Having a robe can be really helpful if you’re navigating a communal bathroom. But even if you don’t, it can be nice to have a plush robe to wear before and after your showers. Luxuries don’t necessarily abound when it comes to college dorms, so treating yourself to a couple of nice items—like this Waffle Robe from Parachute—can really make your space feel more like home. Trust us when we say you’ll be wearing that robe long after your first year of college.
Anjaylia LED Fairy String Lights
Measuring up to 20 feet long, this string of fairy lights is a fun accent to a room's decor. The wire is bendable so it can be molded into different shapes, around the border of a mirror, or placed inside an empty vase. The lights are even waterproof.
DOKEHOM 90L Large Laundry Basket
Even in a limited space, this laundry hamper easily fits in a corner or closet. With a 90 liter capacity, it can hold quite a bit and the basket stands upright even when it's empty. The sturdy metal handles are wrapped with a soft material, making it easy to carry from the bedroom to the washing machine. Choose between a neutral like black or gray or a fun red or baby blue hue.
The Container Store Casabella Flexible Shower Basket
In college, you might have to carry your shower essentials to a communal bathroom down the hall, so having an easy-to-transport shower caddy is key. The Container Store’s Casabella Flexible Shower Basket should be spacious enough to hold all your bathroom must-haves. Since it’s water-friendly and lined with plenty of drainage holes, you can take it into the shower without giving it a second thought.
Urban Outfitters Elise Vase Mirror
This Urban Outfitters vase is pretty chic but also functional. It measures 13.5 x 8.5 and is a great addition to a dresser or even a small nightstand. In addition to being a vase, there's also a mirror attached to the back. The vase-mirror will look amazing whether there are flowers in the vessel or not.
HDTime LED Desk Lamp with Wireless Charging
Everyone loves products that pull double duty and here's a desk lamp that has a wireless charging pad. There's even a USB charging port. The lamp light has five brightness levels and the arm is bendable, so you're sure to find the perfect amount of light at any angle.
The Sill Mindful Meditation Lavender Kit
A massive plant might not be the most convenient addition to a dorm room that's limited on space, but here's an equally beautiful, but pint-sized option. The Sill's meditation kit includes seeds to grow a small, potted lavender plant. In addition to the beautiful lavender, the set also includes an essential oil roller and an hourglass timer, all intended to create a sense of mindfulness and focus.
What to Look for in a Dorm Room Essential
Dorm rooms tend to be pretty small, so instead of wasting space on unnecessary decor, focus on buying what you need. Stock up on functional necessities—like trash cans, bedding, and cleaning supplies—before loading up on decor. Remember, you can always decorate your space after you’ve seen it in person. But you’ll need many of your must-haves the day you arrive on campus.
Size and Flexibility
If you don’t know the dimensions of your dorm room, it can be hard to determine what you do and don’t have space for. To get around this, consider buying small, space-efficient items whenever you can. You may also want to favor flexible items like foldable bins, bags, and baskets. Since these can get bigger or smaller as needed, they can make it easier to adapt to any space.
Budget Buys vs. Investment Pieces
“Treat your dorm room like any other room in your house,” Brenna Morgan, owner and principal designer at Brenna Morgan Interiors, says. Morgan recommends starting with a mood board and establishing a budget. Then, invest in the functional must-haves you’ll carry with you from year to year—and save on some of those decorative items.
“Keep decorative pieces affordable so you can switch them out without breaking the bank,” Morgan says. Remember, decorating your dorm room is one of the first opportunities you’ll have to explore your personal style—so your decor preferences may evolve a lot from year to year.
“100% the most common mistake is trying to do it as cheaply as possible,” she says. “If your stuff keeps falling apart or breaking because it is cheap, is it really worth it?” She recommends investing in the staples you’ll need year after year, and saving on your more decorative items.
How do you organize dorm room essentials?
Since dorm rooms are often low on storage space, it can be tough to keep track of all your essentials. Start by figuring out what you need to store and organize, then invest in a storage set-up that will help you keep your space tidy.
“I would splurge on stylish storage and organization pieces that can keep you on track with studies and life in general,” Morgan says.
She notes that baskets can be a helpful and stylish way to keep your stuff organized. But you may want to consider other storage essentials like bins, drawer dividers, and desk organizers, too.
What are the must-haves for a dorm room?
Must-haves may vary from dorm room to dorm room. But there are a few basics you’ll likely need, no matter where you are. For starters, you’ll probably need some bedding—namely, sheets, pillows, pillowcases, a comforter, and a mattress protector. You’ll also need some laundry staples, like a hamper and some detergent. And you’ll want some basic cleaning supplies, like a broom and dustpan, a vacuum, and some surface cleaner.
Why Trust The Spruce?
As a seasoned lifestyle writer, Lindsey Lanquist understands what a difference a great product recommendation can make. That’s why she makes sure to recommend products that are sleek, reliable, and well-reviewed by those who’ve tried them. She is a Nashville-based writer and editor who covers décor, health, food, and lifestyle. To create this list, she selected products for their practicality, functionality, and style. This roundup was updated by Patrice J. Williams who writes gift guides for The Spruce.