Dorm Sweet Dorm

Posted by at 1:28PM

My frosh residence was Rinconada, aka the best freshman dorm ;)

The class of 2015 will soon realize that transitioning into college involves a bunch of emotions– excitement, anxiety, and homesickness, to name a few. Having a dorm room that makes you feel comfortable might ease the process more than you’d expect. While Stanford’s dorms are pretty nice compared to others, a blank space with a bed and a desk can be intimidating (cinderblock walls don’t exactly scream warm and fuzzy). Here are my tips for how to bring warmth to your space while maintaining some organization and cleanliness. Please leave any comments with tips of your own!  I’ll also provide a list of stores in the area where you and your more concerned parents will find just about everything you might need.

Use as many or as few of these tips as you desire. Don’t worry about making your room “perfect” or getting everything done at the start of the year. If anything, I advise you to get out of your room and meet people; you will be able to add a personal touch to your room as the year progresses. Keeping your door open and getting to know your neighbors trumps decorating every time. If you don’t want any tips, just skip down to the list of stores. I won’t be offended. Remember: don’t hesitate to express yourself in the room but be considerate of your new roommate. If you plan on doing anything that affects the whole space, ask him or her first. Unless you like sleeping with one eye open.

One room double in Okada- A good idea of what you'll be walking into.

Creating Warmth

Floor and Windows – Two easily implemented things that make a surprisingly huge difference are a rug and a set of curtains. Pick up a tension rod and some curtains in your preferred color from Walmart or Target. All the rooms I’ve seen on campus are carpeted, but putting down a small area rug adds softness and a pop of color (forgive the HGTV lingo. I just cringed a little bit).

Bedding – This should be something you love but don’t mind sharing with others. I don’t mean anything dirty by that– with limited space, the bed is going to be the go-to for seating in your room. Don’t shell out a ton of money for dorm bedding. Stay away from white, unless you plan on washing your comforter frequently (trust me, you won’t. Odds are it will hardly even cross your mind). I personally prefer a nice solid colored quilt with some details so I can bring in more patterns and colors with accessories without going too crazy. That being said, it’s totally up to you. If your favorite blanket from home is neon green and covered with polka dots, go for it.

Decorate your walls – Including pictures of friends and family is probably the most obvious way to add a touch of home to your new room. My old roommate had this crazy wall of pictures she printed out. The color pictures bordered the black and whites in the center. She even spelled her name with color photos in the middle. That took dedication and time but the result was amazing. My freshman year roommate attached some pictures and some of her own artwork to string with clothespins to make a simple, unique and really cute wall feature.

For the more impatient, less artistically inclined readers, make a picture border around the room or get a French memo or bulletin board. You can also simply frame some pictures and put them up with Command strips. Different sized frames, like this set from Urban Outfitters, totally work for this.

Posters are another fallback item for wall décor, but you don’t have to go for the stereotypical smattering of oddly-angled Eiffel Tower and beach pics (unless that’s what makes you happy, of course).  A friend of mine printed and taped together a large piece from her favorite street artist. You can also print out images on high quality poster paper and use inexpensive frames from my favorite section of IKEA (the accessories area on the main floor) to save on cash.

Peel and stick  whiteboard and chalkboard panels are fun items to put on your walls. You can use them for any number of things– writing down schoolwork, drawing, making lists, etc.

Plant Life – Look for a small plant that you don’t need a green thumb to keep alive. Bamboo, which I managed to kill last year, is supposedly one of those plants. I’ve seen it sold at IKEA as well as some pharmacies.

Lighting is crucial – The right lighting can make such a dramatic difference in your room. Odds are you have a pretty bright, semi-industrial looking light on your ceiling. You can drape a large scarf or another sheer fabric over it to soften the look. Layer some Command strips on the ceiling near the fixture and use pushpins to secure the fabric to the strips. That way you won’t damage the ceiling. My sources tell me that  mini string lights may not be allowed in rooms…but they look really good (you didn’t hear that from me). If you decide to loft your bed but you already have a floor lamp like this one from Target,  you can use tape to attach it to the side of the bed after unscrewing the stem from the base. Obviously you can buy another lamp that clips to the bed, but this way you save on floor space and have a double duty item. You can also add small lights like this one to your shelves. Overall, I like to make sure that there are multiple light sources in different parts of a dorm room. Nothing else can make a small dark space feel cozy and bright.

Seating – If you can make enough space in your room, getting some more seating is a great idea. If you loft your bed you may have enough space for a futon underneath. A papasan chair is another comfortable seating option. You can also use pillows to make a comfy sitting area under your bed without having to purchase additional furniture. Any pillows work for this, but I love floor pillows from import stores. Add a cushion to your university provided desk chair to make it a little comfier, or store it and bring in your own office chair.

Get Organized

The Art of Self-Control – There’s really no getting around the fact that storage is quite limited in any dorm room. My first tip is to consolidate your items. I had waaaay too much stuff my first year. The ratio of number of shoes crammed in the armoire to number of shoes actually worn was shameful. If you’ve been on campus for a day or even an hour, you know how laid back we tend to be (i.e. you will not need a different outfit for every day of the school year). Before you pack everything but the kitchen sink, think, “Do I really need this?” And remember– your parents can always send you something if you decide you just can’t live without it.

Storage and Organizers– If the shelves, drawers and closet space in your room aren’t enough, get a set of plastic drawers to fit under your bed. Storage bins for items you won’t need everyday (e.g. first aid items, extra toiletries, cleaning products) can fit right on top of your armoire. If you want something a little more aesthetically pleasing, baskets are a good option for this too. Look for items with space saving descriptions in their titles (“overdoor mirror,” “underbed storage,” etc.) Closet and desk drawer organizers will help keep your things in their place. If you plan on bringing a mini fridge, set it on a fridge cart— you’re taking up the floor space anyway and the drawers will be useful for dishes, utensils, and food.

Consider Lofting – When I lofted my bed to the limits last year, people would ask me, “Do you really climb all the way up there to sleep?”  …Um yeah. It’s not Everest, you get a ladder, and you free up precious floor space for seating and storage. Those fearing a Hitchcock moment will be happy to know that a) you get two guardrails for the sides of the bed and b) there are multiple height settings.

Lofting- Aim for extra floor space, not a game of The Princess and The Pea

Hooks – Removable hooks are great for hanging towels, shower caddies, jackets, and bags. The difference might not be as dramatic as the commercial promises, but they are useful. You can stick them in your closet or armoire to get things off the floor. I can never remember where I put small items, so using a mini hook to hang my lanyards saves me from calling in a search party every time I need my keys.

Build Upwards – I have reiterated several times now that floor space is limited in a dorm room. Building up the walls will make the most use of your space. I love these foldable, stackable shelves from The Container Store. Last year I stacked two and used them for my books, speakers, paper, printer, coffee maker and some decorative items. I fit my TV in by folding up one of the shelves, which leads me to my next highly hypocritical point…

Unnecessary Electronics – TVs and stereos are a couple of very inessential items. You can watch movies and shows on your laptop. Get speakers to plug into your computer and you are definitely good to go. If you need a TV for some reason, your dorm lounge will have one and so will a couple of your neighbors.

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

…Or not. It really depends on who you are. I know some people who feel most comfortable in a room that appears to have been recently burglarized. I am not one of those people. When you are living in a small space, clutter builds up fast. Doing just a couple of things makes a huge difference. These tips are easy, even for the proudly messy folks out there.

Make Your Bed-ishYou couldn’t pay me to do this when I was younger, but it makes a world of difference in the appearance of your dorm room. Even if you are  faking it by tossing the comforter across your bed, you will see an immediate improvement.

Aim for the Hamper – Letting dirty clothes pile up on your floor until you are just desperate enough to do laundry is going to get old. What’s simpler than throwing something in a hamper?

Cleaning Wipes – Though not as economical as a bottle of cleaner and some rags, cleaning wipes are convenient for quick clean ups. Dust gathers unbelievably fast in dorm rooms, so allergy prone individuals may be especially interested in investing in some wipes.

Vacuum every so often – Your floor will play host to foot traffic, crumbs, and plenty of other stuff. Girls in particular may notice the amount of hair that piles up on the floor. Your dorm will have multiple vacuums for you to use, so you don’t even have to get your own.

Consider your roommate – You had to rate your level of cleanliness on your housing application, so odds are you won’t be placed with a neat freak if you happen to prefer a pigsty. That being said, you have to consider your roommate. Keeping old, smelly food  and dishes or letting your mess take over the room isn’t cool.


If you like organization you may just hear angels singing when you walk into this store

Most of these stores are close to campus. Check the Marguerite (Stanford’s complimentary shuttle system) schedule and routes if you need a ride to places like the San Antonio Shopping Center. Knowing that thousands of other college students are going to be shopping around campus might motivate you to head a bit farther out to guarantee your items are in stock. Don’t forget to check out thrift stores in your own area to find cheap and unique items for your room before you come to school. Spend your money on the right things– get sturdy storage items and shelves that can be used for the next four years and beyond, but don’t invest too much in expensive decorations.

The Essentials

Target – You know this place has everything, especially in the Room Essentials section. Rugs, room décor, storage, cleaning products, etc.

Mountain View – 555 Showers Dr. Mountain View, CA 94040

Redwood City – 2485 El Camino Real, Redwood City, CA 94063


Mountain View – 600 Showers Dr, Mountain View, CA 94040

IKEA – I could live here. Futons, lamps, frames, posters, rugs, and more – all at a reasonable price. Plus you’ll be fluent in Swedish by the time you rejoin the rest of civilization.

East Palo Alto – 1700 E.Bayshore Rd, East Palo Alto, 94303

Bed, Bath & Beyond – Title says it all.

Mountain View – 2470 Charleston Road, Mountain View, CA 94043

Redwood City – 1950 El Camino Real, Redwood City, CA 94063

The Container Store – An organizer’s dream.

San Jose – 3080 Stevens Creek Blvd. Suite 1000, San Jose, CA 95128

Home Depot Surprised? Home Depot actually has a lot of useful items for dorm rooms– inexpensive rugs, mini fridges, cleaning products, lower priced storage bins, and more.

East Palo Alto – 1781 E Bayshore Rd, East Palo Alto, CA 94303

Import Stores

Cost Plus World Market – I’ll move here when they evict me from IKEA. Great for unique accessories, pillows, art, and other decorative accents.

Mountain View – 1910 El Camino Real West, Mountain View, CA 94040

Pier 1 Imports – They have some floor pillows and unique items too.

Cupertino – 20610 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino, CA 95014


Urban Outfitters – Hipster associations aside, UO has some really cute stuff under the Apartment section of its website, including great photo frames. The print shop has some nice pieces that you can order in different sizes. – Once again, I love this site’s cute apartment section. – You’ll find some good items if you browse for a while. There’s usually a sale going on around back to school time so there are some good deals to boot. – They have a bit of everything. Don’t miss out on the benefits of Amazon Student. – Basically Stanford’s Craig’s List.

Your Mailing Lists – It might be annoying, but people are going to be selling dorm items, books, and more on your email lists. You might as well take advantage of it if something stands out to you.


9 Responses to “Dorm Sweet Dorm”

  1. Chris says:

    Any news on what night band run is? Or did I already miss it?

  2. Sam says:

    Wow, thank your for this blog post. Lot’s of interesting stuff to think about.

  3. Frankie says:

    Really good blog post thanks so much

  4. K.B. says:

    Not all freshmen live in doubles; some live in quads. Here’s what that would look like:

  5. Decal says:

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  6. bramki obrotowe says:

    Cool article! I was looking for this kind of info in the whole web.

  7. Adam says:

    Great article! I’d add Goodwill and Savers to the list of places to check out. They’re thrift stores, and you can get pretty cheap furniture and accessories. Check out Savers for cheap furniture (10 dollars for desks, tables) and Goodwill for cheap art (2-15 dollars for almost all the art in the store, big selection).

  8. Audrey says:

    My daughter is an incoming freshman. Can you tell me if the beds have headboards and what do single room dorms have in them. Can you post a photo if you have one.

    Thank you for this info. Very helpful.

  9. Kristi says:

    The beds don’t really have headboards – you can see dorm beds in the stacked bed photo above.

    Normal incoming freshman dorm rooms have some subset of a bed, desk, closet, wall shelves, and a movable clothes cabinet. This website’s photo is a pretty good example:


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