The college experience is chock full of learning curves. While some struggle to learn when (and, sometimes, how) to do laundry, others prioritize understanding how to make their mark in an echoing lecture hall. But sometimes the steepest learning curve is determining what items will make an empty dorm room feel like your new home.
I’ve survived three years of college, and am going on my fourth. This means, all the dorm-related tips and tricks that I have for nervous freshmen are fresh in my mind. You can find the evidence in my childhood bedroom where my dorm essentials and accessories are awaiting their final return to my 130-square-foot dorm room.
Now, each school has their own rules dictating what you can and cannot do or even own in your dorm — but, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of room for homemaking and personalization within a college dorm room.
Below, I’ve rounded up every single dorm essential that I think a college student should have to make this living experience a breeze. From bathroom must-haves to organization hacks, these products are the key to optimizing the space within your dorm room, while still making sure it feels like home.
College Essentials Checklist
Whether or not you decide to invest in a mini fridge, a Brita Water Filter Pitcher is the key to ensuring you’ll never be slurping water from the communal bathroom sink. The included filter reduces the amount of chlorine, mercury, copper, zinc and cadmium in your drinking water, according to the brand. I recommend decorating the pitcher with stickers to distinguish it from the hoards of Brita filters in your residence hall.
Do yourself a favor and invest in a mattress topper before you arrive on campus. In my experience, a good night of sleep is hard to come by on a bare dorm mattress. That’s why after one week of tossing and turning, I invested in this 3-inch memory foam mattress topper. But beware, once you lie down on your newly transformed bed, you’ll have a hard time resisting an early bedtime or afternoon nap.
If you’ve tuned into the great water bottle debate, you’ll know that factions have emerged and opinions are strong. While it’s hard to pick a favorite water bottle, the price of Owala’s FreeSip water bottle is hard to beat. The brand promises the water bottle will keep beverages cold for up to 24 hours, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy cold water without investing in a mini fridge.
One of the biggest shocks I faced my freshman year was just how fast dust accumulates. But once I got over the shock, I invested in a number of dust-fighting devices, including a metal shoe rack. With enough space for nine pairs of shoes, according to my experience, this shoe rack will keep your dirty shoes off your dorm room floor.
Each college stocks its dorms with different furniture, but a shortage of storage space seems to be an ongoing trend. To give myself some extra closet space, I grabbed this standard rod garment rack that detaches for easier moving days. Since I consciously fill it with sundresses in the summer and jackets in the winter, it makes an aesthetic Zoom background, too!
On the subject of optimizing your storage space, a hanging closet organizer is the key to making the most of the storage furniture your college provides you with. I use this three-shelf organizer to store my intimate items, T-shirts and other garments I want to be easily accessible and not out in the open.
One lesson that you’ll take into your adult life is that you can never have enough hangers, and most colleges won’t provide you with this organizational staple. This 30-pack has built-in shoulder grooves to keep your items in place.
After you’ve organized your clothes, you’ll need to sort through your jewelry. I love this jewelry organizer that I scored during Prime Day, and you’re in luck because it’s on sale for 36% off right now. The jewelry stand includes a base tray for smaller items, 10 hooks for necklaces, 16 spaces for dangly earrings and two rods for hoop earrings, bracelets and rings.
Communal college bathrooms are anything but glamorous, and grabbing yourself a plastic shower caddy is more than essential. In my experience, plastic shower caddies are best because they’re easy to clean and sturdy to carry. This shower caddy includes two compartments so you can keep your skin care and hair care products separate.
Shower shoes are key to keeping your feet and the murky communal shower floors separate. These non-slip shower shoes have drainage holes to avoid amassing a puddle of shower water in your shoe.
If you scored a dorm room with air conditioning, consider yourself lucky. But not all of us have won that jackpot, and adding a powerful fan to your packing list is a necessity. Since warm weather doesn’t always last the whole school year, this $30 option has three speeds that you can adjust as the temperatures fluctuate.
College dorms are notoriously dusty, and an air purifier can keep your sanctuary feeling clean from the odors and smoke that might cramp your living space. With a $50 price tag, this air purifier is an affordable option with nearly 12,000 verified five-star reviews.
When homework starts to pile up and you’re running low on clean clothes, a hamper on wheels will be your best friend. It’s definitely mine. Once you’ve decided it’s laundry day, you can simply wheel this slim laundry hamper down to the laundry room. A few hours later, you can roll it back upstairs without breaking a sweat.
From spilled breakfast cereal to lost coffee, your dorm room floors will welcome a slew of mystery substances, and a Swiffer will be the no-hassle solution you’ll be reaching for. This $16 set comes with a swiffer sweeper and 19 recyclable refills, so you can say goodbye to that spill without a second thought.
If you’re not cleaning up liquids, you’re cleaning up crumbs upon crumbs. But space is definitely not infinite in college dorm rooms, which is why this stick vacuum is the perfect option that you can keep out of sight and out of mind. Depending on the size of your mess, you can convert vacuum from a stick vacuum to a handheld style.
Whether you’re hosting a study session or forgot to charge every device you own (we’ve all been there), a power strip is the solution to your qualms. This $16 power strip includes a surge protector to keep you and your devices safe from electrical spikes, according to the brand. Some dorm rooms only have one outlet, so a power strip can support all your chargers, lamps and other electrical items.