Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock

Writer & Blogger

My name is Melissa and I’m a longtime admission professional, personal finance writer, editor  and parent of two (very!) busy kiddos. I couldn’t make it all happen without my husband, Steve.

I hatched my site because I’ve heard so many head-scratching questions from parents. I’ve journeyed in the footsteps of hundreds of families, trekked to dozens of college fairs and even weighed the (billions?) of college savings options for my own two kiddos.

10 Totally Simple College Dorm Hacks on the Cheap

by | Jul 28, 2020 | College Money Tips | 0 comments

I’m camping in Colorado right now (er… we’re glamping). That made me think of living in a dorm room, so an idea for college dorm hacks on the cheap was born! 

Plus, August is screeching around the corner! You may be spending loads of money on college tuition but might draw the line at accessorizing your child’s dorm room. (That can get so expensive!) Here are some tips, tricks and dorm room hacks to make sure room decor and accessories don’t cost an arm and a leg.

1. Organize with Plastic or Wire Storage Containers.

Space is limited in a dorm, so what’s the first thing you need to get squared away? Yep, storage. There’s no better way to do that then to get small plastic or wire mesh containers. (I suggest getting smaller items. Giant plastic storage containers are great but who wants to dig and dig and dig to find stuff at the bottom? These can go under beds, in closets, even under bathroom sinks if your child isn’t sharing a bathroom with a huge number of students. 

2. Use Duct Tape as a Cure-All.

Duct tape is the savior of so many things, whether for cords that beg to be strapped to the back of a desk or for a really old textbook from the “really used” book bin. It can bind a loose textbook or even hold the inside of a winter jacket together if your child’s really desperate. Duct tape is cheap and can (literally) do anything. I remember watching a couple of guys duct taping the bumper of a car back together — it lasted that way all semester during my junior year.

3. Decorate with Fabric Decor.

Residence hall rooms are usually pretty dull and uninspiring. White walls, carpetless floors — they’d make even the most savvy decorator cringe. You don’t need to be an expert designer to work miracles. Grab some fabric and cheap frames at a hobby store and frame the fabric. Your student can choose from a variety of wild and fun patterns and spend next to nothing. Your kiddo can even skip the frames and stretch fabric on canvas if it’s cheaper. Cinder blocks may never have looked so beautiful!

College dorm hacks: Stop buying fancy, expensive rugs and use carpet remnants instead!
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4. Use Carpet Remnants Instead of Rugs.

Skip the rugs — they’re so expensive! See if a flooring store will give you cheap (or free!) carpet remnants. They can be way softer (and homier!) than the usual utilitarian floor in most residence halls. Carpet remnants can be used or tossed at the end of the year. 

To go an even cheaper route, find someone you know who’s getting new carpet and ask for remnants of the (new) carpet. They might even give it to you for free.

5. Make Good Use of Dryer Sheets.

Yep, you can totally use dryer sheets for laundry, but there’s another way to save money. Your child can put them on the fan or even the air conditioning unit! Regular air freshener is expensive and your child is not allowed to have candles and wax melts in most residence hall rooms.

College dorm hacks: Use scarves instead of expensive curtains! (Those dorm room windows aren't that big anyway.)
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6. Use Scarves as Curtains.

Curtains can get super expensive, so why not use a colorful medley of scarves? It’ll at least block out those tacky rolscreen windows with built-in blinds. Your child can opt for sheers or solids and make it as colorful as she wants to. You may even want to sew some together if you’re not too concerned about getting them back.

Dorm room hacks: Get rid of plastic hangers. They take up too much space in those minuscule closets!
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7. Forgo Plastic Hangers for Wire Hangers.

We all know there’s super limited space in dorm room closets. The metal bar for clothes may only be a foot or two long, so use wire hangers instead. I learned this trick at my parents’ business. My dad owned a dry cleaners and we only used wire hangers at our house. Trust me, they take up way less space and you can buy them cheap.  

8. Use Hair Ties to Create Double Clothes Hangers.

There’s a reason I listed clothes storage twice — it’s a big problem in dorm rooms. Instead of buying more hangers (that won’t fit in the closet anyway) twist hair tie ponytail holders all the way down to the neck of the hanger, then loop them there so you can hang an extra shirt or pair of pants in front. You can also use pop tabs if you have a lot of those laying around, but hair ties are often bunched up in all sorts of drawers (they are in our house, anyway!)

Another piece of advice: Make sure your child doesn’t take every single piece of clothing she owns to college. It won’t fit and she likely won’t wear all of it, anyway. If you can, plan to take just one seasonal wardrobe at a time. For example, take fall gear to school in August with one light jacket. If you live close enough, you can meet up with winter gear in October or November, or have it shipped if your child is going to school far away.

9. Use a Storage Cart for Bedside Essentials.

Thrift store finds like a storage cart can be perfect to store bedside essentials. It’s a great place to stash a laptop because your kiddo’s too tired to make it to the desk in the middle of late-night studying. Your child can also store books, phone, snacks and more on it if there’s just the teensiest bit of energy to slide these materials off the bed.

Dorm room hacks: Rehome some things from home. There's no reason to spend thousands at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
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10. Rehome Some Things from Home.

There’s no reason your kid needs to buy brand-new things to make a residence hall room cute. There’s plenty of stuff lying around that could migrate to school. Why not paint Grandma Flora’s lamp that hasn’t been used since 1975? Rehome pencil holders and use old paint cans for storage — once they’ve been decorated? 

Now’s the time to get creative! What else can be reused? A duvet stashed in the back of the closet? Who says everything needs to be brand new?

Final Tips

Dorm room hacks shouldn’t be as hard as helping your child figure out her college major. This is easy stuff. Do you live close to the college where your child is planning to attend? You may be able to tour your child’s future residence hall room. If you’re a little further away, you may be able to have someone from the admission office take photos of the room ahead of time so you and your child can plan some great ways to decorate that cinder block room.

Don’t forget a few other essentials:

  • Surge-protected power strip: You’ll need one to set up your child’s electronics and protect them from electrical surge damage.
  • Long phone charging cord: There are a limited number of outlets in rooms, so an extra-long charging cable can come in handy.
  • Mattress pad: Don’t forget this little detail! The pad makes the mattress comfier and feels like home.
  • Trash can: Residence hall rooms don’t come with trash cans in most cases. You can pack things in a trash can when you’re packing up your child’s school items, too!
  • Command strips: Don’t be destructive when you’re hanging things on your kid’s walls. They’re perfect for hanging heavier things, too!
  • Masks: Don’t just bring one mask — they’ll need to be washed every other day or so.
  • Hand sanitizer: Don’t forget to have an ample supply of hand sanitizer on hand for your child.
  • Disinfecting wipes: Buy disinfecting wipes or make your own. It’s easy!


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