Packing for your first year at school can be a chaotic experience. You want to make sure you—or, as the case may be, your kid—have all the dorm room essentials. But pack too much and it could become a cluttered mess of unnecessary decor and unused furniture. Plus, that (very) limited square footage will make it even harder to keep everything organized.
While it may be tempting to stop by your favorite home goods retailer and throw anything that catches your eye into your cart, this can create a massive headache on move-in day. Don’t panic: Dorm room shopping can be strategic!
The best approach is to go into it with a checklist of necessities to deck out your home away from home. Here are our top picks for the must-have dorm room essentials you should add to your shopping list.
1. Printed comforter set
Transform your dorm into a place of your own by adding a cozy comforter. The bright print on this comforter set ($47.49, target.com) can help spruce up any drab room, and you can easily mix and match your decor to complement the design. A set made from a soft and lightweight fabric will provide maximum comfort all semester.
2. Laundry bag
Whether you’re transporting your dirty clothes home for the weekend (sorry, Mom and Dad) or using campus facilities, you’ll need a sturdy laundry bag. Not only does this chic version ($9.99, ikea.com) boast thick handles to haul your load, it can also be folded and stored away.
3. Mesh shower caddy
Unless you’re blessed with a private bathroom in your dorm, odds are you’ll have to tote your products to and from the communal showers. A mesh shower caddy ($7.99, target.com) will hold your shampoo and conditioner in place and quickly drain water through the bottom. The large interior pocket is the perfect spot to carry your towel—and don’t forget your shower shoes!
4. Velvet hangers
Make the most of that tight closet space by investing in velvet hangers ($20.86, amazon.com). These hangers feature a velour material and notched shoulders, which prevent clothes from slipping, and their slim and sleek design allows you to maximize space in your tiny dorm wardrobe. The cherry on top? The hangers are top-rated with over 4,000 positive reviews.
5. Metal shelving unit
Your college will likely supply you with a desk and dresser, but what if you need more storage? Take advantage of the vertical space in your dorm and stack snacks, textbooks, small appliances, and more on this handy three-shelf unit ($19.97, amazon.com). You can easily adjust the height of the shelves to fit your needs, and if the unit’s steel wires cramp your style, freshen the look with colorful decorative bins (more on that below).
6. Fabric storage bin
Store your stuff in these wallet-friendly fabric bins ($4.00 each, target.com). Their lightweight and collapsible design allows for easy storage when they’re not in use. Bonus: They’re available in over 20 colors to match your decor and help turn your new living quarters into a Pinterest-worthy place.
7. Desk mirror
Moving into a dorm means sacrificing space and privacy—even in the bathroom. Instead of fighting for mirror space in the morning, get ready in your room by using a desk mirror ($4.99, ikea.com). This stainless-steel mirror won’t take up precious desk space, and you won’t have to wait in a line to brush your hair in the communal bathroom.
8. Mattress topper
Most dorm rooms provide a standard mattress, but the options are notoriously stiff and uncomfortable. If you want to get the best sleep before your exams, consider purchasing a mattress topper ($69.99, ikea.com). This topper is filled with memory foam, which molds to your body for full relaxation, whether you’re catching up on sleep or binge-watching “Game of Thrones.”
9. Mattress pad
Dorm room mattresses are reused year after year, so thinking about the number of students who have slept on your mattress might gross you out a little (or a lot). You’ll likely want a layer between your sheets and your mattress, beyond the mattress topper. This mattress pad ($19.99, amazon.com) is the perfect solution. It’s quilted for added comfort and will protect your sheets from the germs built up on your college-issued cushion.
10. Bath wrap
There’s a good chance you’ll run into a friend or two along the way from the shower to your dorm room. Protect yourself from an accidental slip with this bath wrap ($9.49, target.com). It features an elastic band with a hook and latch closure to ensure the wrap stays firmly where it belongs.
11. Hanging shoe organizer
Wondering how you’ll fit your entire shoe collection in a cramped dorm closet? This hanging shoe organizer ($5.99, ikea.com) is a must-have. It holds up to 12 pairs of kicks while taking up minimal closet space. And don’t be afraid to get creative and use it to store other items like hats, scarves, and sunglasses.
12. Surge-protector power strips
These surge-protector power strips ($10.99, amazon.com) are often overlooked on most checklists, but without them, your electronics might be in harm’s way. Not only do these power strips protect your microwave, fridge, TV, and more from a possible power surge, but they also add more outlets to your room.
13. Under-bed storage box
The trick to making the most out of your dorm room is finding creative places to store your stuff. A hidden gem for storage is under your bed. Use an under-bed storage box ($29.99, ikea.com) to store extra pillows and blankets. Or, store your heavy winter clothes under the bed and swap them out when the temperature drops.
14. No-lid trash can
After late-night pizza orders and ramen feasts, you’ll collect a good amount of garbage. This no-lid trash can ($2.99, target.com) will save your room from being swallowed by a mountain of waste. It’s durable enough to combat even the funkiest smells and easy to clean in case something spills.
15. Jersey sheet set
No matter how late you stay up studying or hanging out with friends, you’ll eventually need to catch up on your sleep. Make sure that shut-eye is as restful as possible by turning your bed into an ultrasnug sleeping haven. This jersey sheet set ($34.99, amazon.com) feels like napping on your favorite T-shirt—and it doesn’t get much cozier than that.