One thing that college has taught me for sure in the past three years: making a home for yourself is one of the most important aspects of collegiate learning. Whether that is a social home on campus, an academic home in your major, or your literal home in your dorm room, finding your place will make your four undergraduate years an experience you cherish.
It's never easy being away from your friends and family, and what's more is that you no longer live in the room you grew up in. And yes, you'll probably have to share the new room as well. I'm a senior and this is my first year with my own room. I've lived on campus all four years because I don't go to a typical university, but rather a small, liberal arts college. Regardless of your situation, I've honed some skills in making any temporary living space feel like, well, home!
1. Avoid the bed-in-a-bag. Retailers aren't stupid. They know that college kids and their overwhelmed, emotional parents will likely be looking for a convenient way to get everything done. Enter the ever famous "bed-in-a-bag". These feature a sheet set, comforter, etc. that aren't the best quality and typically feature a pretty splashy print. It's fine to mix and match the quilts and sheets from brands like Target's Room Essentials and RE Style that cater specifically to college kids, but pre-made sets like this leave little room for change once you decide you're sick of it. And you WILL get sick of it.
2. Be creative with your walls. Your college or university will likely have an annual poster sale where you can surely find faux-hemian tapestries and the John Belushi "College" poster. I scrounged the one on my campus and ended up with a French expression cat poster and an Andy Warhol print. I liked them, sure, but I was definitely getting ripped off. A less expensive, more personalized option is the black and white picture wall I have in my room this year. I've also used wrapping paper sheets (some great options at Paper Source),vintage table cloths, and my own artwork. Concert posters are great too, but your tastes might change a bit between your freshman and senior year.
3. Use furniture to suit your personal lifestyle. Freshman year, I couldn't even fit my giant drawing pad on my desk. Given that the most time consuming class I had my first semester was an intro to drawing class, I spent a lot of time in the study room on my floor instead of at my personal desk. This hasn't changed much as I continue to use the library or, in the upperclassman dorms, my living room. Another thing I've noticed is that most of the clothes I own can be hung instead of folded. That's why this year I opted to use the provided dresser as a TV stand for our sitting room rather than in my personal bedroom (check the rules before moving furniture, though). A non negotiable piece of furniture that I add each year is my book shelf. I have several books that I like to have with me and I also use it as a nightstand. A lot of this is a trial and error process, but unless you KNOW you will be having friends hanging out in your room, no need to buy a futon. I do recommend having some sort of chair because not everyone you have over is welcome to just plop down on your bed. If you're really worried about this, loft it.
4. You never know what something can be used for until you try. The shelf that comes with my desk? Perfect shoe storage if I put it at the foot of my bed or in my closet. Too many people sharing one bathroom? Use your desk as a makeup vanity. I've even heard of people putting their mattress on the floor and using the box springs of their bed as a way to store purses and scarves. Obviously, you can't do this as well if you share a room, but move that furniture around and be creative!
5. Ugly things can be stored in cute containers. This is probably the number one thing that separates just a "normal college dorm" from the ones you pin on Pinterest. Plastic storage bins are great for in your closet or under your bed, but aesthetically, they do nothing for your room. Instead, try one of those shelves with removable cloth bins or using vintage suitcases to store things. My leather ottoman has been great for tucking things away. They're a little bit more expensive, but there are even drawer units that mimic the plastic versions so they have the same functionality, just look a bit better.
6. Keeping your clothes organized is a complete life saver. When it's the busy time of the semester, I find it hard to keep my clothes off my floor. But if I have space and an organization system already in place, I want to keep things where they belong rather than strewn over the back of my chair and every other flat surface. My garment rack pretty much forces me to hang my clothes back up since it is such a visual element in my room. I organize by clothing type (dresses, cardigans, button ups, etc) then by color, but implementing a system that works best for you will help keep you inspired. I've also got a spot for each category of folded clothes (skirts, shorts, tees, and I'm the kind of person where striped tee shirts need their own spot) so that I can immediately put them away after laundry. This keeps your room looking nice as well as making it way easier to get dressed in the morning.
7. Display the accessories you use the most. Instead of keeping your favorite shoes tucked away in your closet, try displaying them on a shelf or poking out from your bed. Necklaces and jewelry are other items that look great when placed outside of containers. I pin my necklaces right by my door so I can grab one on my way out. If you can't use push pins or nails in your wall, just find a nice frame and cork board and get the same look.
8. If you are sharing a room, have one space that is truly your own. Sharing a room that's already cramped can easily turn into one of those college experiences you don't enjoy. Luckily, I roomed with someone I knew from high school and now she's my best friend on campus. But in our first year living together, we each had distinctive spaces in the room so our stuff didn't spill over. We both lofted our beds, and underneath we each had our very own little sitting areas. If you really want some privacy, you can put up a cute curtain or tapestry and really make the space your own. Even if it is just a chair and a light, having that "me zone" will help when you feel about ready to pack it in and move back into your room at home.
9. Have one visual focal point that ties the room together. Mine is always been my rug. While I had a great, huge blue and pink rug that I used in my rooms in the past, this year my single room was too small to be able to fit it. I still picked up one that I'll be using for years to come from World Market and everything else fell into place. You can also get a patterned wall hanging, a colorful bedspread, or utilize a gallery wall for the same purpose. Even doing a bit of all three of those can work, as long as one thing is clearly the most central.
10. WAIT until you move in to decide whether you need everything on the "what to pack" list your school may send you. I cannot stress this enough. You do not need every. single. thing. that you see on packing lists. I recommend coming to school with the basics and adding extras only after you have lived on campus for a few weeks. Would I ever have used an ironing board? Absolutely not. But a mini fridge and a microwave? Pretty awesome in a freshman dorm where you more than likely don't have your own kitchen. And one thing that I definitely wish I had in years past was a vacuum cleaner that actually worked. Living with another girl meant a TON of hair on our rugs. But I never would have originally thought to bring something so bulky into my tiny room until after I realized it was a priority.
While these are mainly tips on making your room look its best, it is a great foundation for functionality in any space. Maintaining a good atmosphere will hopefully inspire you to keep organized and only bring what you need. Of course, this doesn't cover specific questions about packing or social issues, but feel free to comment below or email me. I would love to help you out along the way!