Kids leaving to start college is always a stressful time, and one of the biggest questions on a freshman’s mind is about their new living situation. Whether your kids are moving across the country or staying close to home, they’ll need a space that meets two (sometimes competing) needs: form and functionality. While your first concern may be your kid’s ability to finish assignments at their desk, their first concern is probably less academic and more about style. But with a little effort, you can help your new college student set up a dorm room that meets both needs at the same time. With that in mind, here are some tips and tricks to remember to help your freshman feel right at home, away from home (no crying!).


Dorm rooms are notorious for bare, concrete walls, drab off-white colors, and boring furniture, none of which create a warm and inviting living space. Here are some easy tips and tricks for personalization and decoration.

Lime green painting accents can really liven up the study room
Comfortable and practical
  • Color: If your student’s college allows painting, great! That’s the perfect way to add color to a boring dorm room. Unfortunately, students usually aren’t allowed to paint their dorm room walls, but that doesn’t mean they can’t add color. Wall decals are a recent trend that can easily be used in dorm rooms to create some style, and as the pieces are totally removable, students can take them along when they move on (and you won’t have to buy another set). Ditto for removeable wallpaper. Check out brands like Casart Coverings for easy, stylish options; students can ‘paint’ an accent wall or even use a piece to create a faux headboard for their drab, university-assigned bed.
  • Gallery: As excited as new students are, they’re bound to feel a pang or two of homesickness in that first semester. Help them choose photos of family and friends to laminate and organize on a wall (try a grid layout or a circular collage), or frame a bunch and gather them on a shelf for a classy display. Or, hang twine and use clothespins to create a less formal look for their photographs that can be switched out whenever they want.
  • Go green: Indoor plants are proven to help you feel happy, and bringing them into a dorm room can help the space feel more comfortable. Companies like Succulent Oasis sell plenty of DIY kits that students can use to grow easy-to-maintain (and hard-to-kill) succulent gardens right in their dorm room.


Along with having no inherent style, dorm rooms also lack enough storage for most students to actually stay clean and organized. But a messy room doesn’t create a great space to be productive and can even prevent A+ work from being done. Set up some extra storage from the get-go to help them stay better organized; your student (and their roommates, and their professors) will thank you.

Blue tinted everything for a more relaxed take
Neat and organized
  • Think vertical: Limited floor space may mean your student has to think about creative ways to store their stuff. There may be an option to loft their bed, creating some extra space below for a desk or wardrobe, but if not, definitely invest in bed risers, and look for the type with electrical outlets built in. Suggest using their empty suitcases for roll-out, under-the-bed storage for extra clothes or winter coats. If the school allows it, install shelving above your student’s study area and hooks along the walls for bags or coats, or help them reface existing cabinet doors, permanently or with removable options. Install a combination cork/dry erase board on the wall near the door or above their desk so they have a place to jot down notes, write messages to a roommate, and keep loose papers tacked up and organized.
  • Transparent bins: Most students live in a different dorm room each year and are required to take the stuff home over the summers. With this in mind, help your student pack their belongings in transparent bins that come with lids: these will be good for transportation to/from school and for storing stuff through the year, especially if the bins can be stacked up along a wall.
  • Hanging storage: If your student’s school is really gung-ho against making changes to the room (putting holes in the walls, bringing in extra furniture), try finding hanging organizers for the closet and for over the door. With lots of transparent compartments and vertical storage, these can help clear precious floor space from shoes, extra clothes, even pens and pencils.
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