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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. After all, the first time you’ll see your space is probably on move-in day—and aren’t you supposed to show up with everything you need? 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.
“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.
Ahead, we’ve rounded up great dorm room essentials worth adding to your college shopping list. These pieces range from organizing must-haves to cozy decor pieces—and we’ve even thrown in some of those functional necessities you might overlook, like trash cans and microwave-friendly dishware.
The Company Store Company Essentials Organic Cotton Percale Sheet Set
Twin XL sheets are a necessity, and The Company Store offers a budget-friendly bundle that makes it easy to stock up on the sheets you’ll need. The brand’s Cotton Percale Sheet Set comes with a fitted sheet, a top sheet, and a pillowcase—all crafted from soft organic cotton in the color of your choice. Cotton percale is crisp and cool, so these sheets are ideal for keeping you comfortable whether you're dealing with no AC or a finicky heater.
“Most likely, your bed will also be used as a sofa and a study space, so make it as comfortable as possible." —Brenna Morgan, Brenna Morgan Interiors
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.
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.
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 Rye Desk Lamp
No desk is complete without a handy-dandy desk lamp—and there’s no reason yours can’t be both pretty and practical. Urban Outfitters’ Rye Desk Lamp is sleek, versatile, and chic enough to make a statement in an otherwise boring dorm room. Plus, it comes equipped with a USB port you can use to charge your phone while you work.
“Nobody wants those fluorescent overhead lights on all the time! Add a lamp or two. They come in all shapes and sizes to accommodate the style you're after.”—Brenna Morgan, Brenna Morgan Interiors
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.
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.
Rifle Paper Co. 2022 17-Month Planner
If you’re a planner person, you know the school year hasn’t officially started until you’ve scored an agenda for the upcoming year. If you're looking for something pretty and practical, Rifle Paper Co.’s planners are well worth considering. The 17-month planner starts in August 2021 and runs through December 2022, and since it offers both monthly and weekly views, it’ll give you plenty of options for keeping track of your plans.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Black + Decker Dustbuster Handheld Cordless Vacuum
Cleaning 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
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.
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
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.
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.
H&M Canvas Laundry Bag
Depending on the laundry situation in your dorm, you may have to carry your dirty clothes down the hall—or even down a few flights of stairs. And while hampers are great at holding a lot of clothing, they can be a little bulky to carry around. That’s where H&M’s Canvas Laundry Bag comes in. The bag comes equipped with handles that make it easy to pick up, and since it’s made from durable canvas, you won’t have to worry about getting your arms around the whole thing every time you carry it.
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
Furnishing a dorm room can get expensive, so you may be tempted to do it on the cheap. But according to Morgan, this is a mistake.
“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.