How to Decorate Your Dorm so It Doesn't Feel Like a Dorm

Mini fridge area in a dorm room

Duck® Brand

Dorm living can be notoriously sterile. While dorm rooms are meant to be a neutral space for students to decorate on their own, it can feel impossible to add warmth to cinderblock walls and shiny grey tiles.

But, whether you’re a brand-new freshman or a seasoned senior, living on campus doesn’t have to be beige. We turned to a few experts to ask for their insights on how to make a dorm feel chic and functional rather than drab and dated.

  • 01 of 10

    Get Crafty With Peel and Stick Wallpaper

    A desk in front of a peel-and-stick wallpapered wall.


    As Tamara Day tells us, peel and stick wallpaper is the perfect option for making a statement. And best of all, it’s not just for use on walls.

    “The great thing about peel and stick wallpaper is that you can use it on anything,” Day says. “Furniture, doors, anywhere. It adds a great pop of color to the back of a bookcase, or you can create a DIY headboard in a dorm."

    But if you do want to dress your walls, Day suggests checking out a tutorial and then going for it. “RoomMates has a super helpful “how-to” guide that walks you step-by-step through the installation process," she explains. "The best part is that it’s completely removable and reusable—so if you have a few mess-ups, it’s mess-free. It's a great way to give your dorm personality and really make it feel like home."

    Wallpaper is a great way to give your dorm personality and really make it feel like home."

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  • 02 of 10

    Upgrade the Lighting

    lit up boho gray and white bedroom

    Herzen Stimme

    Overhead lights are rarely flattering, but you don’t have to take up valuable floor space or live by desk lamplight alone.

    “Now with all of the battery-operated light bulbs, you can add sconces without needing to wire to really complete the space,” Day assures us.

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  • 03 of 10

    Add Some Plant Life

    Plants and a decorative credenza


    Debbie Neese of Lively Root is a huge proponent of adding life to a dorm room with houseplants.

    “Plants add a comfortable look,” Neese explains. “They are a great and ever-so-popular hobby, and when you can't take your pet to school with you, you can always take your 'Pet Plant.'” 

    When it comes to making a plan for dorm room plants, Neese gave us the scoop. She notes that many hanging plants can live well in dorms since they are a good option for small spaces. Some great hanging plants include golden pothos and spider plants. Any plant that has a tall, narrow structure and doesn't take up too much space is another great fit for dorm living, Neese tells us.

    “Any variation of snake plants or money trees work wonderfully together," she notes. "Dorm rooms can also have a tendency to be fairly low light locations, so we would also recommend plants that need minimal light to grow and thrive, such as a ZZ plant."


    If you opt for a money plant, Neese highlights a fun bonus—making friends! This plant propagates itself, so you can share new plant babies with your dorm mates.

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  • 04 of 10

    Yes, Duct Tape is a Must

    A DIY bulletin board made with Duck® Brand liners

    Duck® Brand

    Duct tape is on every dorm packing list for a reason. As Kerry Haugh of Duck Brand duct tape tells us, if you use it right, it can help create the cozy dorm room of your dreams.

    “Dorm rooms typically come with drab wooden furniture, from the bed to the desk and dresser, but there are easy ways to make the elements of the room feel more modern,” Haugh says. “Adding pops of color to the furniture will make all the difference."


    Haugh notes that a great way to add color is to apply a shelf liner to shelves and drawers or make a DIY bulletin board to hang notes and pictures.

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  • 05 of 10

    Declutter the Cords

    Cables and cords organized under a desk

    Duck® Brand

    With at least two roommates sharing a small space, clutter happens fast in a dorm—especially cord clutter. Haugh suggests tackling everything from string lights to speaker wires to help reduce visual mayhem. 

    “To clean up loose cords, simply apply a piece of the tape to a power strip and mount the strip to the underside of the desk,” she says.

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  • 06 of 10

    Organize Your Space Into Zones

    Mini fridge area in a dorm room

    Duck® Brand

    Danielle Dorn of mDesign is a firm believer in keeping things organized. “It is important to pare down and declutter dorm rooms,” she says. “By doing so, it will create a sense of calm and order for your items. When a space is clean and well-organized, you can focus and study in your own sanctuary.”

    To do this in a dorm, Dorn suggests defining areas to make it feel more like a well-thought-out home. For example, create a welcoming entry area and carve out a space for your "kitchen".

    "Think vertically with your fridge—get it off the floor with the help of a rolling cart, and keep your pantry items in the space underneath," Dorn notes. "Get the most real estate inside your mini fridge as well by using organizers—can organizers and water bottle holders are great at keeping everything in place."

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  • 07 of 10

    Make Your Sleeping Area Mutli-Functional

    DIY headboard from Duck® Brand

    Duck® Brand

    Space is at a premium in a dorm room, but if there’s one piece of furniture you’re going to add, Dorn suggests a nightstand.

    “A nightstand will give you great additional storage,” Dorn says. “Bedside storage organizers also work wonders and take up no space. Under-bed storage is great for decluttering as well.”

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  • 08 of 10

    Give Everything a Home

    An organized and decorated closet


    One of the best ways to make a dorm feel less like a cozy living space and more like a cramped closet is by not using the actual closet to its full capacity. “We know how small a dorm closet can be,” Dorn says. “Similar to creating spaces within your room, you should do the same for your closet."

    Dorn suggests designating areas for each clothing type: shoe cubbies work great for the back of your door, hanging organizers work wonders for folded clothes, and lidded boxes work great for a top shelf.

    "Lastly, add a rolling hamper that can easily be taken to the laundry room with you," she suggests.

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  • 09 of 10

    Don’t Forget the Bathroom

    small bathroom storage

    Casa Watkins Living

    If you’re dealing with a shared bathroom, there’s not much you can do except remember your flip-flops and maybe spring for a cute caddy. But, if you’re lucky enough to have a private bathroom, add some personality to it.

    Dorn notes that fun shower curtains and bath rugs are an easy update, and shower totes and hanging door storage will keep your bathroom essentials easy to find.

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  • 10 of 10

    Prioritize Your Schoolwork

    An organized desk drawer with decorative liner

    Duck® Brand

    It’s important to remember why you’re in a dorm in the first place. Of all the places to organize and decorate, your desktop should be a top priority. 

    “Keep your desktop clutter-free and wires hidden away in boxes,” Dorn suggests. “Desk organizers are great to keep your work organized for each class. Label them accordingly to always know where your work is."