Furnish Your Dorm Room or College Apartment for Cheap

Furnish Your Dorm Room or College Apartment for Cheap


Moving into temporary student housing (dorms, student apartments) is quite different from moving into an apartment. Often times basic furnishings are provided but nice-to-haves are not (carpeting). After living in student housing for five years and moving twice a year, I have become a pro at balancing minimal, affordable furnishings that are easily mobile.

Keep practicality in mind when going dorm room shopping. Here are some rules:

  • All items should easily fit into a car (not necessarily at the same time, but just size-wise). You will not need a moving truck.
  • You should be able to carry everything by yourself. You will not need a moving crew.
  • Small rooms and shared spaces. You cannot have a lot of stuff, period.

Keeping those rules in mind, here are my tips for practical, cheap items to furnish your student space.

  1. First Aid Kit. Stock up a small container you already have at home with multi-sized band-aids, neosporin, gauze, and antiseptic. Keep it in a common area and let all roomates know where to find it.
  2. Collapsible Laundry Storage. I don’t care if you use a pop-up hamper or a laundry bag, but whatever you do, do not buy a laundry basket! This takes up too much space and is not convenient to lug to the laundry area or carry out to your car.
  3. Hanging Decorations/Photo Frames Do not bring knick knacks, photo frames that you cannot hang, or anything that is going to take up space without adding any value. Instead, use hanging photo frames to keep your memories near-by without adding clutter. Make your own with just string and hot glue!
  4. Rugs/Curtains Your dorm is probably not carpeted, so add some comfort with a few cheap throw rugs (I bought ugly ones for $2/each but even prettier ones can be cheap). For “curtains”, I simply thumbtacked some muslin over my windows. It’s dirty but cheap and temporary! Both of these items are easy to transport, too.
  5. Extra Storage Your dorm room and apartment should be furnished so I would not waste too much money buying extra furniture. If you do want to add something, look for multi-purpose items like this ottoman that doubles as a storage container.
  6. Desk Lamp Bring one, good desk lamp that is small, easy to transport and adjustable. I bought a lamp similar to this ten years ago at Walmart and I still use it today.
  7. Power Strip Bring a few of these and you won’t have to fight with your roomate over the only outlet near the bed. You should be able to get some on Freecycle.
  8. Collapsible Organizers. Your closet is going to be small, even in an apartment. Use collapsible hanging storage for shoes, outfits, or any small miscellaneous items. Use collapsible drawers that fit right in your closet under your already-hanging clothes. It makes for a easy transportable dresser. Take advantage of any extra space possible with under-the-bed containers. Put your seasonal clothing there or even extra food (soups, snacks).
  9. Bathroom Supplies. If you are using a community bathroom, you will need a little shower caddy to carry your items back and forth. You will also need a few towels, just bring some from home. There really is no need for anything special.
  10. Mini Fridge Purchase one from Craig’s List or check bulletin boards at your college. At the end of the semester, a lot of people sell theirs.

What are your cheap must-haves for college living?


7 Replies to “Furnish Your Dorm Room or College Apartment for Cheap”

  1. for those of you thinking to buy a mini fridge and have to pay for your heat/hydro/power- try to skip it if you want to save cash! they use up a lot of energy! (but yeah…waaay better to buy on craigslist than buying new! :D)
    this is a great post!! i’m totally in that same boat- moved almost 3 times per year since 2007. here’s hoping that stops soon!

  2. Great post! Luckily, our dorm room came with a mini fridge, and our electricity costs were including in housing costs, so that wasn’t an issue. I skipped rugs and curtains in my two dorm rooms because our windows already had blinds, so they did a good job keeping the light out for afternoon naps. ;)

    Desk lamps and power strips – crucial! I bought a desk lamp that was used all the time since I had a roommate who liked to go to bed early (whereas I am a night owl). Without my power strip, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my laptop, printer and lamp on my desk at the same time. (Not to mention cell phone charger!)

    I would add “bathrobe” to the list of bathroom supplies. Our dorm floor was all girls, but girls often had their boyfriends over at all hours of the day. It’s a little weird walking down a hallway in a towel when there are strangers everywhere. I had a big pink bathrobe that I wore to and from the shower.

    One tip I read years ago that was crucial when I lived in the dorm was to stock up on underwear and socks. I rarely found time to do laundry and having extra undergarments meant I could go longer without washing clothes. Am I the only person who wore jeans no less than four times before washing them? ;) Great tips, Leslie!

  3. @Thalia: I would only recommend a mini fridge if you live in the dorms (where you are not paying for utilities). If you live in an apartment with roomates, there is no reason not to make enough room for everyone in the fridge.

    @Red: Not using a bathrobe is just personal preference for me. I have actually never owned one and got by just fine. If I recall, I just changed into comfy pants and a loose t-shirt in transit from the bathroom to my room.

    I still get by on doing laundry about every two weeks (sometimes three) so perhaps I just have a whole lot of clothes in general!

  4. It definitely is a matter of personal preference! Personally, I can’t put on clothes until I’m completely dry after a shower. I hate that sticky wet feeling I get when clothes cling to me. So I liked having a bathrobe to wear in transit. :)

    I’ve forced myself to do laundry once a week by limiting my underwear stash. ;) But since I do laundry while at work, it really doesn’t affect me to do it that often. When I had to do it at the laundry mat, I tried to stretch it out to three weeks as often as possible. :p

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