VICE Guide to Life

How to Make Your Dorm Room a Place People Actually Want to Be

Empty bottles of alcohol aren't art, and other tips teenagers need.
September 14, 2018, 4:00am
Photo illustration from a stock image via Getty

Welcome to the VICE Guide to Life, our imperfect advice on becoming an adult.

We've all been there—you bring your date home, and the mood is ruined by your horrible dorm room. Maybe it's the fact that you don't have a second pillow and you try to convince your date to rest their head on an old sweatshirt. Maybe it's the odor. Or maybe it's the pizza crust on the floor. Or maybe it's the fact that your roommate is sitting in the dark, gaming and drinking Diet Coke.


No one can help you with the roommate problem, sorry. But there are some very basic steps you can take to create a space that looks like an adult lives in it—somewhere that's fun to pregame in, that your parents will be impressed with when they visit, and that your date won't run away from.


It's one thing to furnish your dorm room, and it's another to give it ambiance. The latter requires putting enough thought into the layout to indicate you are actually living there instead of just haphazardly passing through. I'm assuming your dorm room includes a twin xl bed or bunk bed, a desk, and then some kind of closet or dresser. But there will be other items colleges don't supply that will improve your life greatly.

Get a bedside table. Get. A. Bed. Side. Table. There are so many great things you can put on it, like your phone as it charges at night or the book your were reading for class, instead of throwing it on the floor or falling asleep with it and letting it invariably get stuck in the gap between the bed and the wall. You can go as cheap as a wine crate—tell people you're into that rustic vibe. Or you could get one with drawers, to keep things handy when you need them, but out of sight. It's magic!

If you have a lot of miscellaneous storage boxes, stash them in whatever meager closet spaces you have, or see if your bed can loft a bit to fit them underneath. Otherwise, find a way to make them useful to you—like as a bedside table.


The over-the-door hook concept is great, because most dorm rooms aren't cool with you destroying the wall with nails or screws. The back of the door is prime real estate for a big mirror (which can also be fun for bedroom activities, if you're into that), or you can add a hook to dry out towels and robes.

Your dorm room is probably too small for actual furniture furniture, but you may share a living room or common space with roommate(s). Coordinate with them so that you don't double up on furniture items and don't get into extremely passive-aggressive situations where people are throwing chairs into the garbage in the middle of the night because they hate them, which you think is hyperbole until it happens to you. As for getting things on a budget, most colleges have a Facebook page where people sell everything from couches to microwaves. It can be hard to know how long a sofa has been in commission (or what it has seen), so make the time to actually check it out in person before you haul it in. Navy is the best color—light colors show wine stains, and black can throw dust into high relief. Don't spend more than you'd be willing to part with in case the couch does get spilled on.

Artful Decor

If you have posters, please use a poster hanger or at least make sure you stick the adhesive behind the poster so that each corner isn't covered in ugly scotch tape. The only time this rule should be violated is if it's a Fight Club poster, in which case you should just burn it. Framed art looks the most professional, and if you're willing to do a bit of crafting, Goodwill frames can be cheap and easy to repurpose. If you've got artsy roommates you can even consider a gallery wall.

Empty bottles of alcohol aren't art.


A very easy way to make the color palette of your room cohere is to start by purchasing neutral-colored items and bring in only your favorite pieces of art. You'll start to notice a theme in the kinds of colors and shapes you prefer. You can then buy supplementary items as you can afford them, like extra throw blankets or a bookshelf so that your textbooks aren't strewn about.

If you really want to step up your game, buy some plants. Contrary to popular belief, succulents aren't the easiest to look after—most of them still need lots of direct sunlight, which many of you won't provide because you never open your damn curtains. Here are a two varieties that are cheap and thrive in low light and minimal water: devil's ivy (also known as pothos) and viper's bowstring hemp. The first one is so hard to kill it is literally named after Satan, but keep in mind these are alive, and you will need to pay them some attention if you want them to stay that way.


Dorm beds are notoriously uncomfortable. Mattress covers and pads are nice for making them more tolerable, in terms of both hygiene and comfort. Egg crate–style toppers are the most affordable—they're a bit bumpy but can be made softer by putting a blanket between that layer, the mattress cover, and your fitted sheet. If you have the money, getting something cushier, like down or even memory foam, can make dorm beds extremely cozy. Of all the places you can spend money, sleep is the best investment because it will affect all aspects of your college life (and the comfort of anyone who might want to share that bed with you).

Make sure you have good loungewear for your dorm, especially in the winter months. You probably already have shower shoes—get some if you don't—but indoor slippers or furry socks can go a long way. Neutral fleece blankets and throw pillows can be found affordably at places like Ross or T.J. Maxx. You should have an electric kettle for boiling water—they're cheap and much better than stovetop kettles (plus, many of you won't have a kitchen). The nice thing about having these types of cozy items is that you can also easily offer them to a guest who might be cold or in need of a little comfort.


If your dorm room doesn't retain heat very well and you're in a cold climate, you can use old rags and a bit of duct or gaffer tape to seal the cracks between the window and the ledge. It may look janky, but it's better than freezing to death. Stuff them in the cracks, and then roll them up tight to compact them and make them less visually unappealing. Tape in straight lines, if possible.

Oh, and if you do want to bring someone home, make sure you have a fucking pillow for them, and a separate blanket if you know you're a blanket hog. Sharing a twin bed sucks, but don't make it worse than it already is.


Many dorms don't have any kind of overhead light. You'll want to make sure you have at least one fixture that shoots light at a particular location—like a desk lamp or a bedside lamp—so that you can see clearly when you're studying or trying to find your phone at three in the morning. The clippy lamps with flexible necks are really great for helping you not smash your head on the underside of a bunkbed. It's probably best that this be a bright white light. The limited range means you can turn it on without disturbing a roommate.

You'll also want one light that disperses softly and evenly throughout the room. This is the one you'll want to plug into the outlet that connects to your light switch (if you have one). A yellow light will be the most flattering choice—harsh white light tends to wash people out, yellow is a bit softer and more forgiving. You can go with the $20 college-classic, multiple-necked, multicolored lamp monster. But I like this cheaper, classier IKEA alternative for that sexy, soft light. If you're using your room for sexytimes, turn off the white lights and turn on the yellow light.


Bonus points for fun and practical options, like a dim red or blue LED, which is particularly useful for coming home late at night if your roommate is already asleep, and you don't want to disrupt them with your phone flashlight as you try to make your way to your bunk.


There's nothing less appealing than walking into a room that is covered in detritus, to the point where the bed is impossible to get into without walking on top of trash or soiled clothes. Your room doesn't need to be sparkling clean, but you should make sure that it's possible to navigate and that the bed isn't covered in your stuff.

Buy a trash can and plastic bags to line it with (or re-use grocery bags). Make a schedule for you and your roommates to take it out, which is lame but better than having to deal with roaches. If you take dishes from the dining halls, please return them at some point before they get crusty or the milk curdles into cheese (in college, my friend saw this in a guy's room and she did not hook up with him). You should at least have a hamper to collect your dirty underthings. And launder your sheets at least once a month. We know your parents did it for you at home. Do better.


In college, two of my best friends took me candle shopping with them with the express purpose of divining the scent that would most make me "wanna fuck." While there is truly no candle on earth that can do that, having a candle is at least a way of masking truly unpleasant scents. For colleges that ban candles because they're a fire hazard, lots of candle brands have corresponding diffuser offerings. Be careful with certain aerosolized air fresheners that might be bad for you.

If you're somehow a lucky bastard with a bathroom in your dorm, or shared by a few friends in a communal living space, Poo Pourri is pretty nice, and makes your shit smell like lemon drops.


If you play a sport, for the love of everyone's nose, please have at least two sets of your uniform so that you can wash it in the intervening time. Put the smelly one in a ziplock bag so the scent doesn't waft.


If you're going to hook up in your room, everyone you share a wall with will appreciate hearing something other than your sex noises. Even a laptop playing music will suffice, but some sort of external speaker is better. As for what you should listen to, well, you can do more than relax/study to lofi hip-hop radio.

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