How to Organize a Tiny Dorm Room on a Tiny Budget

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THE OTHER KIND OF CRAMMING

There are many creative, cheap ways to maximize space in a dorm room. Going to college is expensive enough, so don't let a plan to organize a room in the residence hall ratchet up the tab even more.

USE VERTICAL SPACE

Dorm rooms are not known for having generous footprints, making it important to use every last inch -- and that means more than floor space. Rather than a laundry basket, bring along a laundry bag and hang it high from the back of the door or in the closet. A set of bed risers (starting at $15 for four at Bed Bath and Beyond; a set containing an electrical outlet goes for $30) will lift a university-issued bed higher off the ground, opening up precious space beneath. Fill the newfound storage area with items that won't be used very often, including suitcases for weekend trips home or books from previous semesters. Label boxes clearly to find things fast.

LOFT THE BED

Another popular way to maximize space in a tiny dorm room is to loft the bed almost to the ceiling, like a bunk bed without the bottom bunk. The necessary supports come in a pre-cut kit that costs $300 to $500, depending on bed size. Instead, go the full DIY route and cut expenses by more than half. (Either way, the frame must be assembled in the room.) Place a desk underneath for a secluded study area or add a couch and TV for a bonus lounging area. Check with school officials, though, to be sure lofts are allowed and find out the legal dimensions.

SAVE STUFF TO RECYCLE

To make a dorm room livable without buying much, stockpile throwaway items over the summer and recycle them in clever ways. For instance, soda can tabs can double the capacity of a closet: Slide one onto the neck of a clothes hanger, then slip the hook of another clothes hanger through the remaining hole. Cut up cereal boxes and cover them with decorative paper to use as organizational aids for a desk or dresser. Soup cans make excellent holders for pencils, rulers, and pens; try tuna cans for smaller items such as paper clips, push pins, and erasers. Use seemingly worthless plastic bread ties to label the power cords in your surge protector and make checkout before holiday breaks a snap.

REPURPOSE EVERYDAY ITEMS

Before hitting back-to-school sales, hunt around the house to see what's already there. You may be able to repurpose more than you imagine. Ice cube trays keep jewelry organized in drawers. Glass in a standard picture frame can be used as a dry-erase board (add decorative paper behind it for a personal touch). And instead of buying a fancy nightstand, which there probably isn't room for anyway, flip over a metal wastebasket and cover the top with a large, colorful cloth napkin. Over-the-door shoe organizers come in handy for snacks, school supplies, and accessories -- not to mention shoes.

REMEMBER THE TRIED AND TRUE

You probably won't be able to nail anything into the wall of the dorm room, so turn to over-the-door hooks or removable, sticky hooks. They cost about $3 for two and can be placed just about anywhere for anything -- a coat, a bathrobe, a towel, or dirty gym clothes. A bulletin board sells for as little as $6 and is a dorm room must-have for reminders and mementos.

FILL UP DRESSER DRAWERS

A messy drawer is precious wasted space. Students who take just a few extra minutes to fold their clothes will be shocked how much more fits into each drawer. With the clothes in the dresser, the space where the spillover went (likely the floor) can be used for something more valuable.

DECORATE WITH PIECES OF HOME

Forget about picture frames that gobble up valuable desk and shelf space. Make a collage and tape it to the door, the wall, or the space behind the desk. The room will feel more personal and homey, and free of clutter. (Check the dorm rules on tape first.)

DON'T STORE SNACKS JUST ANYWHERE

Food can take up a lot of space and, if it isn't stored correctly, be a breeding ground for rodents and bugs -- not cool. Consider using hanging fruit baskets or crates mounted to the wall (with sticky strips, of course, such as 3M's Command brand) to keep food out of the way, organized, and bug free.