Tuesday, May 8, 2012

37 You Asked: IHeart Answering - Organized Dorm Life!

Raise your hand if you have some sort of organizing dilemma?  I know I do.  I also know that a number of hands just went up in many homes across blogland as well.  It's OK, no one can see you.... raise that hand!

As this happy little blog space of mine has grown over the years, so have the number of emails from sweet souls, looking for organizing ideas and advice.  And as the number of emails and questions continue to grow, my time stays the same, which unfortunately means that I can no longer respond to each and every question.  I have tried to avoid that reality and still dig through old emails to frequently attempt to play catchup, but in the end it has been a bit of a losing battle.  This makes me incredibly sad, as I have a strange love for problem solving and coming up with organizational solutions.

Therefore, a new idea has been born!

I often notice that many questions that I receive, carry a common theme or relate to one another.  I also know that if one person has a specific dilemma or question, that many other peeps may be in a similar situation as well.  And then there are those questions that leave me perplexed and I think, "Wow, what a GREAT question!"

To manage the questions in a single place, I have set up a new form that can be completed and submitted hereYou will also notice there is also a section to now submit your Reader Spaces, so be sure to carefully fill out the correct submission form on the page based on your specific scenario.

All of the questions will now be logged in one central location and will occasionally be selected from and replied to via a blog post right here on the blog in a "You Asked: IHeart Answering" segment.  Pretty sweet eh!?

I thought it would be fun to launch the new format today with a real life example, the very first official post of the new You Asked: IHeart Answering series!

Ashley wrote:

"Hi Jen! I found your blog the other day via a link on Pinterest and instantly became addicted! But I was wondering if you have any suggestions about organizing for college dorm rooms? I am a college student and I would love some tips on how to make the most of a dorm, since space is usually quite limited."

I have to admit, I went straight from living with my parents to living in a decent sized house with four other roommates, so I never had the super fabulous dorm life experience.  However, many of my good pals did, so when thinking up ideas I tried to put myself back into their itty bitty shared college dorm rooms.

Here is what I came up with for organized dorm life living:
  • If possible, start out by working closely with your roommate before move in day,  to determine who is bringing and contributing what to the dorm.  This way, you can avoid duplicating items to save on valuable space.
  • Using the space under beds and tapping into vertical space is essential when organizing and maximizing dorm space.  That means using bed risers to allow for under bed storage boxes and using the backs of doors to hang shoe organizers {which don't necessarily have to be used to store shoes}.
  • Since dorms equal school and school equals studying, a good workspace is a must.  However, too many desk supplies can instantly cause chaos and clutter in a small space.  A simple desktop organizer with paired down essentials keeps the clutter at bay.  Binders make great filing systems and a dry erase calendar is perfect for keeping schedules on track.
  • Snag a laundry sack for stashing away dirty clothing.  They are really wonderful for easy grab and go convenience when heading to the laundromat.
  • Command strips will be your decor bff.  Instead of using sticky tack to wildly display all of your photo memories, stick your favorite moments into frames and use the Picture Hanging Command Strips to create a simple gallery wall.  This will give your space a larger, less cluttered feeling.
  • Scour fashion blogs for ideas on how to keep your wardrobe down to the basic essential pieces which can be mixed and matched to achieve multiple looks.  Use hugable slim hangers to maximize hanging space.
  • Since us ladies love cosmetics and toiletries, finding a good caddy that can hold them all and easily be toted around will save dresser top space and make trips to the shower super simple.
  • Add storage drawers near the fridge and microwave to hold dry food items along with a few simple dishes and utensils.  Again, only the basics and what you have the capacity to store.
  • When selecting cleaning supplies, just a single bottle of all purpose multi-surface cleaner and a microfiber cloth should do the trick.
  • Whenever possible, keep all media digitally.  This means everything from photos to movies to music.
  • Don't forget the labels.  Labeling your belongings at the beginning of the year will make it easier to remember who contributed what at the end of the year when packing things back up.
  • Look for multi-functioning furniture and electronics.  Storage ottomans can not only add seating, but can also double as concealed storage.  Certain gaming devices have the ability to also play movies and music, as do many iPads and laptops.  Task lighting can also double as a charging station for electronics.  When space is limited, items that work harder will really maximize the space you do have.

And to live vicariously through Ashley, I decided to go on a little virtual shopping spree, using my own dorm living advice:

{ 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 }

Ooooh, I want to make over a dorm room now!  There are so many fun and fresh items out there!  Of course, many of these items are available in many shops and stores for a variety of price ranges, these were just a few that caught my eye along the way.

Thank you to Ashley for submitting her super duper question!

Now here is where we get to have more fun!  Surely I haven't thought of everything.  Just because people are writing in and asking me, I want to share these questions on the blog because many of YOU are the experts and have great ideas to share as well. 

So feel free to leave a comment and chime in other ideas for organized dorm living!  What has worked well for you in the dorms?  Any "must have" products that you couldn't have survived without?


  1. Awesome ideas! My sister is going to college in the fall and I am going to pass this stuff along. Thanks so much :)

  2. Ashley,
    After completing 2 years of living in dorms I have a few tips for you:
    1. Back of the door hanging shoe organizers really are the best. They are great for holding extra shampoo, hairspray, hot tools, hair brush. Also last year I folded running shorts and t-shirts and put them in matching sets next to each other in the shoe organizer, it saved tons of time before class in the morning.
    2. There is usually lost space underneath the desk. Sometimes there is room for plastic bins or Sterilite drawers.
    3. Hang a small mirror above the desk so it doubles as a vanity and you won't have to bring all your hair and make-up stuff with you to the bathroom.
    4. It's not eco-friendly but paper plates and plasitc utensils are a lot easier than trying to wash dishes in a gross community bathroom.
    5. Make your room reflect yourself and have fun with it!

    1. my daughter has a very very small closet. Lots of room under bed. Any ideas on how to store boots and winter things/. Thanks liz

    2. I love stackable drawers or bins that roll under the bed like drawers. :)

  3. I wish your bloggy had existed back when I was living in the dorms!!! Love the ideas/tips!! =) I have been SCOURING my old computer trying to find photos of what I did to my dorm [including the wall-to-wall fabric I covered an accent wall with... it was my happy place for sure!] but I haven't located any yet! eek!

    Closet jewelery/makeup/accessory holders that are fixed to a hangar are worth their weight in GOLD when living in tight spaces -- I still use them to this day!

    Jenn @ Peas and Crayons

  4. After living in a dorm for two years, I can relate to a lot of things that you already mentioned. My roommate and I divided up materials for the dorm and that worked out great. It as much easier at the end of the year to remember who brought what. -Also, the over the door shoe organizer was wonderful and it also limited us on our shoe consumption. -In our dorm, we had to share a closet, one side for each of us. Our 2nd year we found these really neat closet organizers. They were metal and hung on the already existing rod making a lower rod for jeans or more shirts, they were a great find!

    Hope this helps! :)

  5. Use vertical space in the closet by getting a double hang closet rod.

  6. I feel like when I was in this girl's position, I bought a lot of cool things for the dorm but couldnt really be used in transition to an apartment or in my case, a house. I would keep that in mind befor eyou buy crazy different colors in things and have it look so pre-teen-ish like I did. I would have rather thought ahead to my apartment and at least kept that in mind. Just a suggestion :)

  7. We will be sending our 2nd off to college in August, 12 hours from home. Space Saver bags are a must for comforters, pillows, sheets, bulky linens in general. Space in the car is at a premium. Our other daughter used plastic storage drawers for everything from clothes, toiletries, office supplies, snacks, etc. And, if on rollers all the better.

  8. I second the double hanging closet rod. I bought one for my dorm and it's probably still my best organizing purchase ever.

  9. I didnt live in a dorm in college, but I shared a 3 bedroom appartment with 5 other girls. We shared very small rooms. To help with space, I raised my twin bed up on cinderbocks, and underneath my bed was where I stored my dirty laundry and other misc items. My laptop and printer were also stored under my bed since the room was too small for a desk. Hope this helps!

  10. I'm not sure how safe this was, but I remember my roommate and I put my (it had to be mine, right?) bed up on our two dressers. We put towels on top of the dressers to keep them from being damaged. Then, we had her bed underneath, coming out from the wall. As I'm writing, that is sounding crazy to me, but we did it, and it gave us a lot of extra space. People seemed to always end up hanging out in our room. A dry erase board on the outside of the door was great for us, so people could leave us messages (these were the days before iphones and texting - HA!)

  11. Similar to what Jen mentions above, some colleges will loft your bed for free, which does give you a lot of extra space under your bed. I had my bed lofted one of my two dorm years and put both my desk and dresser underneath. It gave me and my roommate a ton of extra space to play with. Also, dont forget to utilize the floor of the closet. I bought a couple of the storage drawers (like the ones above) and stuck them in my closet. I used one for books and other school supplies and one for my shoes.

  12. Boy, college days! They were great! My dad took my brother and my old bunk beds and created a loft with it. He also made it higher so my computer desk fit under it. It allowed us to put our fridge under there as well as a love seat so we weren't sitting on our beds.

  13. I lived in dorms for 2 years.

    When sharing your bathroom with just roommates/flatmates (not community showers) put tension rod shelves in the shower and use shower curtain rings to hang your loufas by the string.

    bunked beds are the best option or lofted beds.

    a pocket organizer that hangs on your bed is great if you study in bed. Even if you don't, I had a roomie who used it for Kleenex and cough drops when she got sick.

    If your roomies aren't squeamish about it, you can do your laundry together and save on hamper space (and money).

    If you don't use it at home, don't bring it to college with you, even if aunt Sally gave to it you special for college.

    I used to work IT at college, so this isn't an organizational tip, but an IT one. Bring the recovery disks (Windows disks) and Office disks with you to school. You never know when you're going to need them. It's worth keeping them in the back of a binder.

    Skip the printer and get a thumb drive instead. Most (all?) colleges give you some amount of printing for free. Why pay for ink and paper when the college is giving it to you? You just have to go to the computer lab.

    Get a...I don't know what they're called, we called them butt pillows, the cushions that you put on hard chairs. They were essential when pulling all nighters on those hard wooden chairs that the school provided.

    Get a shoe mat and take shoes off right away. Especially if college is someplace rainy or snowy. And hang hooks on the back of the door to hang up coats if it gets cold at college. I had this one year but not the other. It was so much better to put coats there instead of over a chair. It's also a good place for towels.

  14. Oh, my. I have to second the loft idea. That was definitely the most important space saver (however, I did wake up one night and sat straight up. Ugh, conked my head good.). For two years I had this and e third year I didn't. I got thru, but definitely not as much space. Also, make as much of your closet space as possible.

  15. I agree with Rachel Larson: I had a "pink and brown" scheme in my first year of living in the dorms and bought a lot of...pink and brown things. I grew tired of this color scheme pretty quickly. A lot of the plastic bins and such weren't really functional when I moved into five different apartments in the next three years. I know it's hard when stores advertise all the things you "need" for college, but I think it would've been best if I had waited to see my actual room and then pick out the organizational items that would work best for the space. It's best to think "long-term use" instead of just what is cheap and looks cute.

  16. One of my favorite tricks was to get a nice set of metal adjustable shelving and put it on top of my desk. It fit perfectly and helped me gain tons of valuable vertical storage space.

  17. I love the new ask/answer idea! It actually gave me an idea that I would La La LOOOOVE to see on your site! (I'm by no means a tech guru - just a genius) :) I think it would be really NEAT to have a Forum broken down by room! When I have a dilemma with my toddlers closet, it's hit or miss whether that is the topic of discussion (I read your blog daily) - but if you had a forum, where I could click "closets" and post my dilemma and get advise from other readers of your blog - WOW-Yowza! Think of all the potential creative juices that could flow from that! If I got a great idea from the forum, I'd do it, post a before and after, and then you could occasionally feature ideas on the blog from the forum! Talk about an ocean of awesomeness! Like a self sustaining organizing community :)

    1. This is a GREAT idea. With a 22 month old and 4 month old I'm facing creating a toddler room and a playroom with what are currently a baby room and guest room. Pinterest has some brilliant ideas but there are definitely some awkward areas I would love to get advice on. Especially since we rent.

  18. I would add that college dorms are always SO WARM, so don't pack a million blankets. I think regular sheets plus a comforter plus one fleece blanket would definitely suffice. I made the mistake of packing way too many linens when I went off to college.

  19. I LOVE the storage ottomans from Target. I actually used them in my playroom. Both my kids LOVE Legos and we use them at the play table for them to be able to sit and play and then they can put projects they are "working" on in the ottoman to keep them safe from each other! Kind of like your bucket idea. I too never lived in a dorm and this SO makes me wish I had.

  20. Get a small plant to keep on your window sill - it really cheers things up. If you feel crazy, you can decorate it for all the holidays....

  21. Two great ideas I used when I was in a dorm a few years ago: We built a custom piece for my dorm-sized refrigerator. It allowed the fridge to be eye-level, which made it so much easier to use. I had plenty of storage shelves underneath for food and dishes. The other idea we used was to get the dimensions of the dorm desk (on the school's website) to build a custom hutch of shelves that fit perfectly and added tons more storage. The way we built it didn't take away any of the valuable desk space, but we added cork board to the back for posting school papers I needed at a glance. The desktop also had plexiglass which was perfect for viewing my calendar and displaying photos.

  22. I just bought two of those ottomans in turquoise !!! They were on clearance for $3.74!!!!!!! Might just be my store cuz they're doing renovations.. Lauren

  23. I've worked with college students for the past 6 years...and Jen's list is pretty good.

    BUT make sure you check with your university's policy on dorm items. Some schools won't let you bunk your beds, or hang things from the wall. And my dorm had captain's beds, so no way to store things underneath the bed. You'll need to look into that, especially before you purchase things! I'd wait until your son/daughter moves in, and then head to a big box store that day to buy the organizational stuff you need. That way, you'll be sure it fits their needs!

    And the bathroom caddy is essential. The one on Jen's list isn't made to be in the shower, so I would suggest a plastic one.

  24. I just graduated and lived in the dorms for 4 years.

    I was overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork that I collected, even in just my first semesters. I started a plastic file box full of every document I saved. This included loan and financial aid info, a campus directory, and all of my papers from classes. I always saved my class work so I could share it with others :) After it was returned, I sorted through and only kept some of the major things- big papers, tests (to be honest I saved the ones with high scores :) ).

    I still have my storage ottoman that holds my DVD's and a few sets of card games.

    For moving, I used large storage tubs that kept my things contained during the summer. My parents took them home/I took them home soon after I moved in, so they were out of the way.

  25. The storage ottomans are a MUST! I'll be going into living in the residence halls 3 years starting August. My space had a living room, kitchen, 2 bedrooms and 4 bedrooms. I put the ottoman in the living room and it functioned as board game storage and a foot rest :)

    I bought milk crates (2). One for filing paperwork, the other for holding textbooks and binders.

    I would suggest a clamp lamp for your bed over a desk lamp - you'll probably end up reading in your bed over at your desk - so save the desk space!

  26. People I know in this area of NYS started a business building loft beds in 2002 when their son was about to go off to college. They have a wonderful selection, for kids at home or college. Love their products... http://www.collegebedlofts.com/

    When I was fresh out of high school and living in an apartment (oh, so long ago!), I made a bookcase with concrete blocks and 2x4 pieces of wood. Did the same for my daughter's toys when she was little.

    The shoe organizer is, as others said, a handy thing to have around. Mine hangs in my clothes closet and holds tools, nails, string, tapes, etc. Great for small spaces.

  27. Don't forget this advice when you leave your dorm room. This is wonderful advice for anyone in any living situation. I myself am looking at purging anything in my house that has not been used in the past 12 months. I live with my husband in a 928 sq ft home and we are looking at rebuilding smaller or downsizing within the next 5-10 years. Simplifying your belongings will simplify your life in other areas and you will gain time and peace. Great ideas and recommendations!

  28. Does anyone have any good tips of how to easily store binders? Because I use generally about one binder per class and I have the hardest time trying to get them to sit right on a shelf, and I feel that its counterproductive for me to leave them in my backpack all the time. They just don't sit right on a bookshelf, so I don't know what to do! Suggestions PLEASE! :)

    1. Depends on how big your binders are, but I actually used 2 oversized magazine holders to keep my binders upright.

  29. Magnetic boards...we actually started our business because our daughter left for college three years ago and needed organizing for keys, id lanyards, photos, reminders, etc.

    Hanging magnet boards can be used on an over-the-door hanger to save precious space in the dorm room. Freestanding boards are great on desk on countertops and used with magnetic hooks are nice place for keys, lanyards, etc.

    Magnetic locker/fridge boards -- great for refrigerator for those last minute reminders.

    Our etsy shop has a large number to choose from and there are other etsy shops with magnet boards as well. Lots of possibilities.

    - dianne

    Rememory Designs

  30. Love these ideas! I did alot of searching and finally found something I cant live without. I have been living in a small apartment for the past 2 years and cant find any place to put all my things. My best friend turned me onto a hanging organizer that doesnt take up any floor space. It has wall mounts or hang options, no tools necessary (good thing because im not very handy lol). It comes with storage bins and shelves in all different colors. I found them on www.offthefloorezstore.com check it out i love it :)

  31. I am in my second year in college and I found that there are some things that really good investments for college dorm room, like under-bed storage and desk lamp is a must-have item for college dorm. I actually write about best investments for college dorm room in my blog : www.dearcollegestudent.blogspot.com

    thank you :)

  32. I tried to find out what that white storage unit in the top of the picture was, but couldn't get to a link. I absolutely love it! Where can I get one??

    1. Hi Kristen!

      Here is the link: http://www.containerstore.com/shop/dorm/storage/drawers?productId=10027797&N=78110



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