Dorm Room Chic: College Students Share Tips to Avoid the Jail Cell Look

moving into a dorm room

Preparing your child for college is a bittersweet milestone filled with excitement and a touch of anxiety. One of the most crucial tasks on your to-do list is ensuring they have everything they need to thrive in their new dorm room.

Enter IKEA, the one-stop shop for all your dorm room essentials. Known for its affordable, stylish, and functional products, IKEA offers a wide range of items that can transform a basic dorm room into a cozy, organized, and efficient living space. From versatile furniture to clever storage solutions, IKEA makes it easy to create a home away from home for your college-bound student.

I’m sure you already have a long checklist covering all the basics — from towels to trash cans — but we know it takes more than dorm room essentials to make a dull dorm room a little more functional and exciting. I found a Reddit thread where college students (past and present) chime in on the IKEA items that made dorm life better for them.

1. Nice seats for friends

Photo Credit: ÖSTANÖ Chair,

“Consider getting a couple of nice chairs for use when your friends come over to hang out. Or, if you have a desk in your room, then a good office chair from IKEA would be a nice upgrade,” Xtlas comments. Get stackable chairs so they don’t take up too much space when not in use. An ergonomic chair like the HUVUDSPELARE will also go a long way in supporting you through intensive all-nighters.

2. A compact kitchenette to cook your faves

compact kitchen island
Photo Credit: Sara | Sally

Another recommendation is investing in the smallest table or desk system you can find at IKEA that will fit your dorm room. Then, tuck a mini-fridge and trash can (or anything else!) underneath to maximize space. On the table, place your microwave or any of your essentials. The island frees up floor space and transforms the sterile dorm room feel into a more personal space. “I did this during my second year in the dorm, and in addition to increased storage space, my dorm looked less like a jail cell.”

3. Make it last with a stainless steel shower caddy

ORDNING colander,
Photo Credit: ORDNING colander,

MaroonTrojan suggests, “If you’re in a bring-your-shower-caddy-to-the-communal-shower situation, I recommend the ORDNING colander instead of a traditional shower caddy. Plastic ones break and get covered in gross soap scum; “Metal” ones are usually non-galvanized metal covered in crappy chrome that ends up rusting off. But the colander is stainless steel, so it resists scum and won’t rust. Plus, it has plenty of space for everything you need and drains well. And it’s unexpected and unique.”

4. Storage and secret pong table

KALLAX shelving unit,
Photo Credit: KALLAX shelving unit |

Adding the 2×2 KALLAX shelving unit for storage is also a possibility. “It’s tough as hell and looks alright. Plus, throw a sheet of OSB on it sideways, and you have yourself a nice little pong table,” Sterling Archer says.

More Inspiration: 20 Creative IKEA KALLAX Hacks To Try This Year

5. A cart for everything

ikea raskog cart
Photo Credit: | @robineggsbluecreations

If you have space in the room, the RÅSKOG Utility Cart is also an awesome choice. It’s versatile storage on wheels that can hold everything from kitchen supplies to study materials, and even serve as a bedside table.

Learn more: The IKEA RÅSKOG Cart And 14 Hacks We Love Most

6. Peg it up

SKÅDIS Pegboard,
Photo Credit: SKÅDIS Pegboard,

If you have a free wall, you’ll want the SKÅDIS Pegboard on it. Maximize vertical space for organizing everything from stationery to makeup accessories, keeping your desk clutter-free.

Maximize the SKÅDIS: 15 Ways To Make The IKEA Pegboard Even Better

7. Add a versatile side table

LACK Side Table |
Photo Credit: LACK Side Table |

Another popular choice is the affordable LACK Side Table. It is inexpensive and lightweight. Now, you can even nest it with the smaller 13″ version. This table can serve multiple purposes, such as a nightstand, coffee table, or extra storage. Top it with a cushion, and it will even work as extra seating.

Upgrade the LACK: 26 Surprising Ways To Hack The LACK Side Table.

8. Work from bed

KLIPSK Bed tray,
Photo Credit: KLIPSK Bed tray,

While you’re at IKEA, pick up a KLIPSK Bed Tray. It’s a handy tray to prop up your laptop when you want to work or watch a movie from your bed.

Unpack The Essentials With IKEA Starter Boxes

IKEA Starter Boxes for dorm room
Photo Credit:

IKEA’s Starter Boxes are a brilliant way to take the stress out of furnishing your dorm room or new digs, especially for those on a tight budget. Compared to buying each item individually, IKEA offers a 15% discount on the college starter pack. Getting everything you need to settle in is as easy as grab-and-go. There are four starter packs to choose from, each catering to a specific need.

Bed & Bath Starter Box ($49.99)

back to college starter box - bed and bath
Photo Credit:

This box ensures bathroom bliss with towels, a shower curtain and shower curtain rings, a bedspread, and the essential shower caddy.

This Starter Pack could be beefed up with thoughtful inclusions like a SLIBB hanger to dry small items, a pillow, or a mattress protector for more comfortable sleep.

Utility Starter Box ($59.99)

back to dorm starter box - utilities
Photo Credit:

Never underestimate the power of organization. This box comes with storage bags, a trash can, a toilet brush, and even chargers to keep your space tidy and tech-ready.

IKEA could have thrown in a few cable organizers, a desk organizer, and a phone stand into this starter kit to help keep things tidy.

Cooking & Eating Starter Box ($69.99)

back to dorm starter box - cooking and eating
Photo Credit:

Whip up dorm-room delights with this box that includes a cookware set, a colander, kitchen utensils, cutlery, cutting boards, and the very important pizza cutter. However, very few dorm rooms have a kitchen, at most a microwave, and a mini fridge, so the core items in this box (pots and pans) may be totally useless.

What I found missing in this starter pack are a few ziplock bags and chip clips for food storage.

Dorm Essentials Starter Box ($99.99)

back to dorm starter box - essentials
Photo Credit:

The ultimate all-rounder, this box combines 33 items ranging from bedding and towels to kitchenware and cleaning supplies, getting you quickly set up for dorm life.

Perhaps a few picture frames to remind one of home would have rounded it up.

Customizing Your Starter Boxes

moving into a dorm room
Photo Credit: cherryandbees/Depositphotos

One of the best aspects of IKEA’s Starter Boxes is the ability to customize them. While the pre-selected items cover the basics, customers can add or remove items based on their specific needs. This flexibility ensures you get the most value for your money without accumulating unnecessary items.

While the Cooking and Eating Starter Box is less ideal for dorms, it’s a fantastic option for furnishing a kitchen in a new home with all the essentials. It’s so practical and affordable that it might even make a seriously cool housewarming gift for a friend starting fresh in their new place.

This article originally appeared on IKEA Hackers.