These college organization ideas and products are selected by a professional organizer and mom of three college students. They work for every budget and most situations. This ultimate guide shares our top 100+ tips and product recommendations.
I’ve sent three of my babies off to college more than 10 hours away from home. Each year we had only one opportunity on move-in day to set up their dorm rooms because we live so far away. As a result, we were careful to select organization products that were more flexible and useful. We needed to get it right the first time. Plus, we didn’t have an unlimited budget to replace items that just didn’t work.
When you send your college student off to school freshman year, it’s a huge adjustment for all college students and for the parents. Knowing you’ve helped prepare your child for making the most of dorm room organization will give you peace of mind when you (have to) depart on move-in day.
Why being organized is important in college
- You are living in a very small space with other people. You need to keep your things organized in college so you have space to move around and actually live in that room without a ton of space.
- You have all items that at home are kept in different spaces all in one very small dorm room without much space
- Clothing kept in your bedroom and in a coat closet
- Study items and office supplies kept in your bedroom and in a home office storage area
- Bedding kept in a linen closet
- Extra towels kept in the bathroom or linen closet
- Kitchen items kept in the kitchen
- Bathroom and personal care items kept in the bathroom
- Laundry supplies kept in the laundry room
- Suitcases kept in storage
- And your roommate has all the same items, too, in your dorm room
- When you’re organized, you save time and stress looking for things. No one needs more stress in college.
- When you’re organized, you save money not buying items you already have just because you can’t find them. Every college student needs to save money.
- Being organized helps you maintain focus and concentration, which helps you succeed in your studies.
- Being organized helps you establish discipline and good habits that will help you in life and in your future career.
- Living in an organized small space is simply more functional and pleasant.
College Organization Ideas
Many of the same principles used in organizing a small space apply in college dorm room organization, both for organizing the space and organizing your time and schedule.
While you are reading about these tips and products now for college, you can use most of these ideas for your first apartment after college, too.
What you need to know about college organization
Only Take What You Really Need and Have Room For
The number one tip is to only take items to college that you really need. While you don’t have to be a minimalist, less is definitely more when it come to choosing what to take with you. I’ve seen many families drag loads and loads of things up to the dorm room on move-in day, only to see mom and dad dragging a significant amount of stuff back out to the car later in the day. Move-in day is crazy hectic, don’t make it even more exhausting by bringing too much stuff with you.
If you go to college close enough to make a mid-semester visit home, consider taking just summer and light-weight fall clothing to college at first and then change them out for heavier fall and winter clothes when you visit home mid-semester. This makes a world of difference in a crowded tiny dorm closet and creates a closet you can actually use.
Take Advantage of Vertical Space
You can’t change the square footage of your room, but you can maximize how you utilize the vertical space. Look for products that help you utilize all the wall space, and even ceiling space, to store items. Command hooks will be your best friend. They come in a wide variety of sizes and styles.
Take Advantage of Otherwise Wasted Space
Space on the back of doors and behind items are a great place for additional dorm room storage. In addition to command hooks, over-the-door organizers are a simple way to take advantage of this space.
Look for Items that Fold Up or Collapse
Choose furniture and items that can be folded up and stored out of the way when not in use. Being able to fold the item up and slip it behind the dresser or under the bed can significantly increase the open floor space (and breathing space).
Organizing clothes and the closet
Bring only the clothes and shoes you’re really going to wear. You don’t have room for anything extra. Focus on bringing items you’ll wear frequently and are easy to wash.
Take the time to fold clothes to put on shelves or in drawers to maximize the space. You can find all my clothes folding tips:
- How to fold clothes and more – Includes a list of all my free tutorials on how to fold 10 different clothing items and bed sheets.
- My How to Fold Clothes ebook – It’s 37 pages of clear and simple steps, with images, for folding 22 articles of clothing. Plus, it includes 2 pages of clothing care information. You may find this $7.99 ebook more convenient and comprehensive.
Choose slim hangers, multi-level hangers and adjustable closet rod extenders to maximize the storage space in the tiny closet. Also, look for spaces to add Command Hooks for hats, scarves, purses, coats, and robes.
To store shoes, look for stackable shoe racks and under-the-bed shoe bins. You can purchase multiple sets of the stackable shoe racks depending on the number of shoes and space in the room. This allows you to maximize the vertical storage and space and the great thing is that you can change how the racks are used in each new space depending on your needs and space. The rolling version of the under-the-bed storage is a convenient under-the-bed option.
Of course, over-the-door shoe pockets work well in small spaces. Consider whether there will be door space that you can use. Depending on the weight of your shoes, you could also hang the organizer on Command Hooks if you have open wall space.
Organizing your desk in college
Organizing your study space is critical for a successful college experience. Some dorm desks come with a shelving unit that really increases the storage space of your desk area. If your desk doesn’t come with a shelving unit, consider bringing one with you.
Document and photo storage boxes are invaluable since you can use them on a desk, on a wall shelf, in a drawer or in the closet. They can be used to store office supplies, first aid items, socks, underwear and accessories. They’re functional and attractive. They a perfect way to add a pop of color to your dorm room.
Drawer inserts and organizing trays can also be a great idea for organizing limited desk drawer space and take care of a messy drawer.
These 55+ desk organizer ideas I’ve shared before work just as well for college organization as they do for the home office.
Organizing the bed and under the bed in college
Storage tips and products for the bed are the foundation of college organization since it’s the largest piece of furniture in the room. The key organizing principle of using vertical space is put to good use when it comes to the college dorm room bed.
Many college dorm rooms come with beds that are adjustable in height. This allows you to change the height of the bed by up to 24 inches. (Mom Tip – if your dorm room has an adjustable bedframe, be sure to take a rubber mallet with you on move-in day to make it easier to adjust the bed height). That extra space under the bed is perfect for storage bins and drawers which work well storing clothing, shoes, bedding and kitchen items.
You can also use your suitcases for storage under the bed.
If your bed is not adjustable in height, bed risers are a popular solution. These risers give you an additional 6- 8 inches space. That space works well for shoe storage and shallower storage bins.
Some people also choose to use over the bed storage racks. Check the dimensions of the shelf unit you choose to see if it can accommodate bed risers to maximize vertical storage.
You may find that there are no tables or shelves conveniently located near the bed and one of these bed organizers are an inexpensive solution.
If you will be purchasing furniture for your college apartment, look for furniture that serves more than one purpose or includes storage. Some common options are storage ottomans, a coffee table with drawers or a bed with built-in storage.
Other College Organizing Ideas
Look for bathroom storage that best fits your dorm situation and personal preferences. A shower caddy is the go to solution for college students.
The locking shower locker (below left is the best thing for a shared hallway bathroom (trust me, my daughter had some stomach-turning stories of what happened to shower caddies left on the storage shelf in the common space). Your student may find that having their own hook for over the door or shower rod will give them a convenient spot to hang their towel. And this toothbrush case (below right) is my absolute favorite. It stands up and holds your toothbrush without falling over.
- Using magazine holders are one of my favorite organizational hacks for a small space and particularly dorm room organization. They’re incredibly versatile storage bins.
- You can get them in different colors to coordinate with your décor
- Use them to store papers and books as a desk organizer
- Use command hooks attached inside cabinet doors to organize bathroom items (like hair tools) and in the kitchen to increase storage space
- Place in tiny closets to store shoes
- Use to store water bottles (you know how frustrating it can be to store them neatly)
- Use them to hold gloves, scarves, jeans, t-shirts, etc.
Collapsible and easy to store Cardboard, affordable & very useful Easy to clean and sturdy
DIY College Organization Ideas
- DIY Laundry Bag – a beginning level sewing project that I personally used to make laundry bags for all three of my children when they headed off to college
- Free Shoe Storage Idea – it’s absolutely free and both of my daughters used this idea for all four years of college, plus for their first (tiny) apartments
- 10 Recycled Office Storage Ideas – with a little creativity you can make beautiful organizers for just pennies
- DIY First Aid Kit – a beginning level sewing project
- Free Pillow Sham Pattern – I created this pattern to make a pillow sham for my second daughter’s dorm room. She used it for all 4 years of college
- Binder clips are a great inexpensive organization tip for dorm room organization. You can use them for:
- Organizing loose papers and important papers. Labeling binder clips makes it even quicker to find the papers you need during the busy or stressful times of college life.
- Clipping cords out of the way on the side of your desk, a shelf or dorm room bed. Simply clamp the clip the edge and thread the cord through the silver handle portions.
- Clipping clothes on hangers to dry or skirts and pants to regular hangers.
- Closing open bags of chips or crackers.
- Used with a Command hook to hang items in a closet space.
College organization ideas for time and schedules
Organizing your time, goals and tasks is just as important as organizing your dorm room. This is the best way for you to take advantage of all the extracurricular activities available, while also doing well in your studies and get enough sleep, too.
- Use the alarm on your phone not only to get up in the morning, but also to set reminders, and schedule study breaks. I also highly recommend an old fashioned alarm clock as a backup for those critical exam mornings (after a night of not nearly enough sleep).
- Be purposeful in setting your schedule so you can maximize your time management
- Use a to do app to keep track of everything you need to accomplish, including homework assignments. The free Remember the Milk app is my favorite.
- Use a planner faithfully. You can choose a digital calendar app, printable bullet journal template, a make it yourself bullet journal or a paper planner (find out why the Happy Planner is my favorite choice in my Essential Guide to the Happy Planner).
- Time Organization and Productivity Tips – Looking for more time to do what you want? Use these 10+ time organization and productivity tips for school & personal life to help manage your busy life.
- 125 Productive Things to Do at Home – This list of 125 productive things to do at home is perfect if you are bored or looking to make the most of the time you have.
Expert Tips for College Organization
- Look for versatile storage ideas that can be used for the first year in addition to all four years in four potentially different spaces and for different purposes.
- Plan for ways to provide extra storage (you can never have too much storage in a dorm room or college apartment).
- Look for products that are sturdy and easy to move in a small elevator and up and down stairs.
- Choose furniture and large items in neutral colors. Use accessories for pops of color that are easy to replace as roommates and tastes change.
- Choose items that collapse for storage in the dorm room and for ease of moving and storage at home over the summer.
- Choose items that will fit into your car or truck for move-in day.
Looking for more college ideas?
- How to Pack for College – These tips on how to pack for college will make moving to college less stressful for you and your child.
- 10 Tips to Prepare for College – Sending your child off to college doesn’t have to be difficult. With these 10 tips to prepare for college it can actually be easy so you have time to focus on your child.
- Top Tips for College Success – My top 30 tips for everything college related.
- Dinner Ideas for College Students – 45+ recipes perfect for 1-2 people and dorm or apartment cooking.
- Care Packages for College Students – 20+ of the best care package ideas in a variety of themes.
- Saving for College – 40 Tips for Real Families – These are ideas anyone and everyone can use to save as much as possible to for the investment of going to college.
Other organization tips you might have missed
- Desk Organizer Ideas – 55+ ideas and products to organize your desk and office supplies
- Storage for Small Apartments – 45+ tips and products for organizing a small apartment
- Space Saving Products – More than 55 innovative space saving products and organizing tips
Be sure to pin for later so you can find these college organization ideas to refer to again and again and again (trust me, I know from experience).
I’m a mom of 3, a veteran and military spouse. I’ve moved into 20+ homes all around the world. My passion is helping busy people make the space and time for what’s really important to them.