10 Small-Space Organizing Tips Dorm Dwellers Swear By (That Can Work In Your Home, Too!)

published Aug 12, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

Living in a small space takes strategy. Sure, it takes creativity to figure out how to lay out your furniture and fit guests inside when you have people over. But so much of small-space living is figuring out clever ways to boost the functionality of your space. Almost nobody knows how to do that better than college students, who live and contain much of their lives in tight quarters (and often, with roommates).

Whether you live in a studio apartment, a tiny house, or you just want to make better use of your space, take some advice from these dorm-dwelling college students, who have plenty of experience making the most of a small footprint.

1. Use a hanging closet organizer

Emilie Rush, a junior, says a hanging closet organizer like this one from Amazon maximizes vertical space and creates more storage room elsewhere. “Not only does this open up the possibilities of the simplest closet, it also provides a space to pack things like shoes or folded clothes up and away, leaving extra floor space or drawers in a dresser,” she says. 

2. Buy a multi-functional cube organizer

In a dorm or small apartment, you may not have room for tons of furniture. Instead, invest in a six- or eight-cube storage organizer — such as the iconic IKEA KALLAX system — which can function as a bookshelf, dresser, and TV stand, all in one. “Pick up some cute storage boxes to fit in each spot or accessorize with your favorite knick-knacks to create an accessible piece of functional decor,” Rush says. 

Another bonus: Claire Hadler, a sophomore, recommends flipping the cube organizer to stand vertically rather than horizontally. Doing so takes up less space on the floor while allowing you to still the most out of your storage.

3. Invest in bed risers and bins for extra storage

Dorm dwellers know every inch of space counts — even the space under the bed. Rush suggests installing bed risers, then using those extra inches for thin plastic bins full of off-season clothes and shoes, or anything else you want to keep out of sight and out from underfoot. 

4. Hang floating shelves

Hadler’s favorite dorm hack? Installing floating shelves. Whether you store spices on your kitchen wall or use a floating shelf for decor, you’ll find yourself with much more space on usable surfaces. “Floating shelves allowed me to place my plants and other items in my room up higher so I was not cluttering my desk area or bedside table,” she says. “It also created a dimension in the room, which added character to a space that felt like a bland shoebox.”

5. Use every inch of storage space

If it’s a surface, it can be storage space. Klara Underwood, a junior, says dorm living has taught her to use every inch of space available to her. “If you have extra room at the base or top of your closet or armoire, buy some organization boxes and store delicates, t-shirts, or shoes in them,” she says.

Credit: Elaina Zayac

6. Make furniture multi-functional

When you’re in a pinch, almost anything can double as storage. For example, Underwood intentionally brought a large nightstand into her dorm so she could also store clothes in it. “It had a wide-enough top to hold my nightstand needs, but also my CD player and plants,” she says. And don’t forget about open surfaces! Underwood uses the top of her microwave as a storage area, and stores her suitcase on top of her armoire. 

And when you’re buying furniture, look for more than one function. Underwood recommends looking for things that transform — for example, get a sofa that can turn into a bed. “That way you have the opportunity to host guests but the rest of the time, you have a comfortable seating area,” she says.

7. Buy products that need less storage space

Because storage comes at a premium, Underwood tries her best to buy items that don’t take up too much space. For example, instead of a bulky Brita filter for water, she suggests a Kishu charcoal filter stick; rather than laundry detergent, she uses laundry strips, which take up next to no space compared to their liquid counterpart. 

8. Hang Command strips

No room on your shelves? Jenna Fernandez, a sophomore, loves using Command strips to hang things on walls. While you can use them to mount bins and baskets for a storage boost, Fernandez likes them for displaying wall decor and accessories. She also hooks a hair-dryer holder on the side of her lofted bed for hanging her Hydro-Flask. “This helps me a lot when I don’t want to climb down to drink water at night,” she says.

9. Loft your bed

If the option is available, Fernandez recommends lofting your bed to instantly create extra space beneath for living and working. Create a living nook by adding a chair and ottoman (ideally, one with storage). “This gives you something to step onto when using your bed, and it doubles as seating for guests or yourself,” she says.

10. Be careful what you bring in 

“My biggest thing was being wary of what I bought while I was in the dorm because that meant moving out was more difficult,” says Mitch Stewart, a junior. Whether you’re buying groceries, clothes, or furniture, remember: all of it will have to find a place to live inside your space — and that might mean less room for other things you really need.