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College Dorm Room Ideas: 5 Important Principles of Dorm Decorating

Updated on October 9, 2014

Are You Looking for College Dorm Room Ideas? Dorm Decorating Principles are Important!

If you've arrived at this page, you are probably in one of a couple of categories.

-You are the college student excitedly preparing to enter into a world of freedom as you live away from home


-You are a parent sending your child off to college and looking for interesting ideas as you purchase dorm items.

Maybe the big sendoff has already happened, and you are just beginning to realize what you didn't bring or anticipate.

Welcome to an overview of decorating principles for your dorm room.

I'm not coming from the perspective of interior designer. That's definitely not my specialty. I'm coming from the perspective of former student, former residential life staff member, and now parent of a college student. I care about these issues as my children reach college age because I lived these issues for 5 years in residence halls.

As a student, I lived in 3 different dorms over 5 years' time. One was the oldest dorm on campus, another a couple of decades old, and another only a few years old. I'm sending my daughter off to live in a brand new dorm, and there are even more unique issues in that setting. I realize the challenges associated with various settings, and I realize how important livening up your space can be.

If you are a student, you may be looking for cute themes or cool furnishings. As a parent, you may be looking for ways to connect with your adult kid or you may be looking for ways to make college more fun. There are some important things to think about that can affect you at the end of the year, and there are some serious consequences for stepping outside of defined limits at your college or university. My lens is here to help by addressing some important dorm decorating issues.

You are here because...

You want to...

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How are you going to liven up your dorm room?

How are you going to liven up your dorm room?
How are you going to liven up your dorm room?

I thought we were talking about dorm rooms...

Why are you showing me dorm exteriors?

Whether you've toured campus or not, recognize that the building styles are going to be diverse. Old buildings made of brick and fitted with radiators are vastly different from new buildings with sophisticated climate control. Building style affects decor.

Which Dorm Room Issues Do You See Here? (Image credit: borman818 at Flikr)

Which Dorm Room Issues Do You See Here?  (Image credit:  borman818 at Flikr)
Which Dorm Room Issues Do You See Here? (Image credit: borman818 at Flikr)

Some of the issues in the photo...

What stands out as you think about decorating?

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Boys vs. Girls and College Dorm Decorating

Let's be honest...not too many college males sit around thinking about their dorm room decor. The photo above pretty much captures everything. I'll admit that there are probably exceptions. However, having spent 5 years as a dorm resident, I saw many boys dorm rooms as plainly decorated with minimal posters or wall decor. There were basics in terms of bedding and belongings. One of the biggest issues was neatness. You might see some dorm rooms for men that looked sophisticated, but many were disaster areas.

As a girl heading off to college, you may be thinking, "How do I avoid this (the image above)?" Shouldn't be tough. If you have an interest in how your room looks then you are off to a great start. As a parent of a male student heading off to college, don't stress. Is his room any more decorated at home? If it is, is it his doing or yours? This is his time to be independent, which may mean having a simple room.


Now that we've gotten through the issues, how about those principles? Remember, these are helps. You can adapt as you wish.


is more!

Less is more...

College dorm decorating can be overdone!

I don't have a lot of sense when it comes to pulling a theme together in a room. Not gifted. I loved posters as a college student and had a huge collection by the time I graduated. I haphazardly covered my wall with them, and gave little thought to whether my roommate would care to use the space. Overdone. Bigtime!

As seen in the photo above, a dorm room can be small, and it's usually shared. There's not a lot of room for extra stuff. Granted, the posters in this dorm room are kind of simple and there's not a lot of life and luster in the environment, but I wouldn't expect much more from a boy's dorm room.

When you see all the cool Walmart and Target ads with dorm furnishings, you may be thinking, "Cool! I like this. I want that!" Slow down and think again. Don't bring the futon. There's not likely to be room. You have a set of basic furnishings, and you need to start right there. Your bedding and your wall decor are the main elements of style that you bring to your room. You can plan for them, but beyond those elements, you will need to see and experience the room first.

Dual Use...

How can you get more mileage out of your decorative element?

Dual Use Furnishings...

Getting more out of your dorm can involve making things do double duty. This is particularly true with storage bins and containers. I used old milk crates to move my belongings up to school each year. I used boxes, too, but those milk crates truly came in handy. I could construct a book case out of the cubicles, or I could turn them upside down to create a media center. Of course, in my college years we still used record players, boom boxes and eventually CD players.

You will find cheap milk crate designs in bright colored plastics today. Need a television stand? Use your crates or bins. Create an accent table or nightstand by covering your stacked bins with a pretty blanket or with a sheet. You find the design you love, or find the materials you have.

Storage ottomans are nice examples of dual purpose furnishings. You get an extra seat or foot rest, and you have a place to keep things put away.

Explore your belongings and think about moving supplies that can double as decor.

Find Milk Crates for College Room Decor and Moving...

Go Vertical...

The least used space can be your best asset.

Going Vertical (Image Credit: ofeverydaylife at Flikr)

Going Vertical (Image Credit:  ofeverydaylife at Flikr)
Going Vertical (Image Credit: ofeverydaylife at Flikr)

Using Wall Space for Furnishing and Decor

The image shown above is a great example of "going vertical." One caution with mounting shelves. Get the opinion of your residential life department. End of year inspections can result in fines. If you leave the room damaged, you can be charged. You are responsible for large holes, so don't put up a shelf like this unless you are confident that you can take care of any holes when you are moving out.

Stacking shelves and storage units are excellent. Tall bookcases can be great. Work with your room height if you need to make more storage. Decorative elements can be placed atop shelves and wardrobes.

Many dorm rooms of today include bunk beds or loft beds. This can provide for better use of space in that a desk and storage space fits below the bed. However, some students don't like the height of the loft or bunk style bed. If permission is given, you can change heights in some cases. It's important to think about how that will affect your study and storage space. Look at that first dorm room picture again. Looks a little crowded, right? Think about that room with loft beds and with desks underneath.

Shelving Ideas for College Dorm Room Decorating

MELANNCO Floating Nesting U-Shaped Wall Mount Shelves Set of 3 Espresso
MELANNCO Floating Nesting U-Shaped Wall Mount Shelves Set of 3 Espresso

Shelves can be iffy, but if you can place them carefully and attend to hole filling and painting afterward, they can be excellent for finding more space for your stuff and for creating nice decorative elements.


Neatness Matters...

Containing and Limiting Messes

Will You Keep it Neat? (Image Credit: prayitno at Flikr)

Will You Keep it Neat?  (Image Credit:  prayitno at Flikr)
Will You Keep it Neat? (Image Credit: prayitno at Flikr)

Strategies for Avoiding a Disaster Zone

I think I drove my roommates a little crazy. I'm one of those individuals who isn't very organized. My roommates were polar opposites. This creates stress for both. Even on my own in a single room, I tended to be a bit untidy, but with more space, I was a little better.

Space issues can lead to messy decor. Finding ways to arrange your room to open things up can be tough, but if it's do-able, then it will help many people to keep things tidier. Some are going to be sloppy no matter what. If you want your room to look good, you have to take care of your stuff. This takes us back to the "less is more" principle because with more stuff, you have more mess potential. You only get so much space.


Sharing can be a challenge!

Sharing a Room Means Being Flexible (Image Credit: Tulane Public Relations at Flikr)

Sharing a Room Means Being Flexible (Image Credit:  Tulane Public Relations at Flikr)
Sharing a Room Means Being Flexible (Image Credit: Tulane Public Relations at Flikr)

Cooperation and Communication

Unless you have a single room, usually a more costly alternative, you will have at least one roommate. Some colleges have triples. Everyone needs to have a say in the decorative elements, and no single person can hog all of the prime wall space. Of course, my roommates didn't seem to object to my haphazard postering, but it's still better to ask.

Realize that your bedding may clash with your roomie's. Your idea of cute may be completely different. Work together to avoid duplication of appliances. You'll have to do a little initial decision making over the dividing up of decorating space. It's going to be fun, and you will have ideas throughout the year. Just don't rearrange without discussing it.

The "neatness" principle comes into play as you deal with a roommate, too, because your habits affect each other. Whether you are neat or messy, you will find that differences can be challenging. One of my daughter's first questions from her roommate was, "Are you messy?" I was! My roommates weren't. Challenges, but you learn great communication skills in the process.


Thinking about taking it down?

End of the year concerns...

Yes, the end of the school year will arrive. You will have to think about packing everything and storing it or toting it home. If you got it to the dorm, it shouldn't be that hard to get it home, right? If you acquired decorative elements or furniture after you arrived, you may have some challenges.

Make sure that you allow yourself time for repairing nail holes and for cleaning. Try to be organized in packing so that things you will need right away are accessible. Packing is a challenge because it usually has to fit in with finals week, so start planning a few weeks in advance. If you have a local storage method, you can gradually get things moved. If you are packing up and driving it home, or if your parents are picking you up, you will have to make things fit.

If you need to get rid of things, there's always the trash. However, you might donate useful things to a charitable organization. If you have items like fridge and microwave that you don't expect to need the following year, consider selling them to others with an interest. That's how I obtained my fridge for later years.

Overwhelmed about College Decorating or just about college in general?

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    • sagebrushmama profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @kburns421 lm: Isn't that the truth? It's tough being the one who has to do the checkout at the end, too. My daughter will be in a brand new facility, and I can't imagine how the first year wear will seem.

    • kburns421 lm profile image

      kburns421 lm 

      6 years ago

      Your tips are perfect. I lived in a dorm for two years, and what you said pretty much sums up the most important elements. In order to maximize space, you need to find dual uses, go vertical, and use walls. And I know I was always worried about "undecorating," as you say, because I didn't want to get charged a fee for messing something up!


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