Home & Garden

Dorm rooms done right

SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s easy to spot Dormzilla on “Move-In Day.”

She’s the college freshman who shows up with enough oversized chairs, lamps and bookcases to fill a model home, plus a year’s supply of bottled water and snacks.

But this school year could be different.

“I think the economy may keep the dormzillas at bay,” says Kevina Brown, community relations coordinator at San Jose State University. “But it is really important to us that the students make their room feel like home so that they will continue to stay on campus.

“So we’re OK with them bringing anything that stays within our guidelines.”

That means you can haul in the vintage shag rug or hat collection if you must – your new roommate can be the judge of your taste – but leave the candles, halogen lamps and pets at home.

The list of what to bring hasn’t changed much over the years, says Marty Takimoto, a director with the Residential and Student Service Programs at University of California at Berkeley, who has been through 30 move-in days at Cal.

Students will need the basics: linens for an extra-long twin bed, a lamp for reading, towels, toiletries.

What has changed, however, is how roommates connect with each other. Instead of meeting on “Move-In Day” with each toting a TV and mini-fridge, students are now introduced to one another before their arrival. They can check each other’s preferences via Facebook, phone or e-mail and decide in advance who brings what.

That’s important when space is at a premium. At Berkeley, many freshmen will find themselves in triple rooms. At San Jose State, it’s doubles and some suites, but still, not a lot of room for those enticing butterfly chairs and futons that look so comfy in the stores.

“I’ve seen some people bring in a favorite video-game chair, but there might not be room for two,” says Brown, who is gearing up for her fourth move-in day on campus.

Some college perennial favorites such as the papasan chair – a staple since 1969 – and the butterfly chair take up a lot of room. So think before you buy. The butterfly chair folds for storage, but then again, you need a place to actually store it.


It can be tough for students to strike a balance between frugality and sustainability, but colleges are encouraging green practices.

Take bottled water. Although it’s tempting to stockpile crates of water, Brown and Takimoto say campus officials are encouraging the use of refillable water bottles. The Cal student store, for example, sells bottles that are free of Bisphenol-A with Berkeley lettering on the side.

Takimoto goes so far as to suggest students skip the Costco run entirely. There’s just no room to store big boxes of toothpaste, tissues and other toiletries. Remember, he points out: “We have drugstores in Berkeley.”

But it’s hard to forgo the mini-fridge. So campus officials suggest you consider renting an energy-efficient fridge/microwave combination to save on space and energy.

And although San Jose State provides some recycling receptacles, Brown says it’s a smart idea for students to bring some smaller bins of their own.


First-year students and their parents can expect to fork over about $600 for the transition, experts say. Not all of that is for pillows and posters. Smart shoppers with an eye on the bottom line will be able to walk away with the right stuff and still be able to pay the bill.

At Target, for example, you can grab a 13-piece “dorm in a bag” ($69.99) that includes comforter, sheets, pillowcases, towels and laundry bag. If you’re a fan of Chicago Bears plaid, you’re in luck. The neutrals are pretty neutral.

For a few dollars more, you can pull together your own sets. There are reversible comforters with shots of mood-brightening turquoise, fuchsia and lime ($25 on sale) that can be paired with sheet sets for less than $20.

If you know you won’t be in a bunk bed, you can try the bed lifters at IKEA ($9.99 a set). The lifters, which come in black or white, look like overturned flowerpots but can give the bed some height, providing welcome room for underbed storage.

And storage is a key. Consider a three-drawer unit on casters that can be zipped around the room or slipped into closets. Storage cubes and lidded storage containers provide space for CDs, DVDs, school supplies and toiletries. But keep them down to a precious few.

Hanging storage is a decorative piece and useful. Check IKEA’s children’s department for rainbow colors.


With such little space to work with, one of the best places to personalize a dorm room is on the walls. How you hang your art – think posters and photographs – depends not only on the rules about nails and tape, but also on the surface. Brown points out that some of the walls at San Jose State are concrete.

It’s the dorm walls, Takimoto says, that trace the evolution of the college student. When they move in, the photos on the walls will be of high school events. As the year goes on, those photos will be supplanted by those from the college year.

Students often bring a reminder from home as well. Takimoto says that might be a stuffed animal or even a piece of a “blankie” from childhood that folds neatly under a pillow.

“Something that reminds them of home,” he says, “but not too uncool to have in a college room.”

Save room for new memories, too. Soon there will be football posters, new photos and new memories.