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The Zen of Dorms: Advice for New Students

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” ~ William Norris

When figuring out what to pack for college, you have to make a lot of choices. Dorm rooms are small, and easily cluttered. 

You also have to have the accoutrements to every aspect of your life within your half of an 11 X 14 foot room. That’s 5.5 X 7 square feet full of your clothing, gym bags, pictures, towels, shampoo, dish soap, cereal boxes, shoes, CDs, DVDs, books, a book-bag, school supplies, blankets, a hamper, detergent and more. It can be overwhelming.

 And, a messy or cluttered dorm room is something that can be depressing to come home to. As painful as it may be to leave the comfort of your knick-knacks and just-in-cases at home, it really helps to pare down your belongings to the bare minimum. You have to work with the space that you have.

I really don’t think that students need to buy a matching room set to cultivate a nice living space. Just keep it as un-cluttered as possible and display a few unique objects that you appreciate, find beautiful, or have personal meaning for you.

A lot of the time, I think we hold onto things out of habit. Souvenirs, sweatshirts we wear twice a year, shoes that only go with one outfit: these things all serve a purpose but spend most of their time just taking up space.

If you are going to commit to owning something, it should be useful; in a tiny space like a dorm room you have to be fairly ruthless. If you don’t use something at least once a week, it probably shouldn’t be there. (I guess a rain coat can be an exception, and maybe some band-aids and Neosporin.)

A good place to start getting rid of extra stuff is your wardrobe. If you haven’t worn it in the last six months, get rid of it -- sell it to a used clothing store or donate it. If you only wear it on days when nothing else is clean, get rid of it. If it doesn’t fit well or make you feel good in it, get rid of it. 

It’s better to have 15 articles of clothing that you love and use all the time than 75 items you’re indifferent towards. Laundry will also be a lot easier when you can get it all done at one time, with minimal trips and only one laundry bag or hamper. Plus, if you have less stuff, you’re not as likely to end up rummaging through piles of junk to find that nice black tee-shirt that you actually want to wear.

Get rid of CDs and papers that can be stored digitally. Keep CDs on your iTunes, and recycle papers you’ve gotten back from professors. Backup the documents on your hard-drive that are meaningful to you. If you want to save a very few number of things, papers with your professors comments written on them for example, designate a spot for them, keep the spot organized, and only keep it if you really think that you’ll look back and find it useful.

Keep your school materials organized. Disorganized notes scattered throughout different notebooks or handouts shoved haphazardly into textbooks can make it difficult to settle down and study efficiently. If you can make an effort to keep everything organized in the first place, you’ll spend less time looking for things when you need to study. That means less study-time overall.

Try to keep your desk as clean and uncluttered as possible. Avoid knick-knacks unless one really does have a special meaning for you. If it’s important enough to take-up space in your room, you should display it prominently and keep the area around it clean. Avoid letting drawers get cluttered with papers and odds and ends; it really does feel good to have an organized workspace.

Two other big things that make a difference in the feel of a room are the bed and the garbage. Make your bed as often as possible and empty out your room trash on a daily basis. A made bed will make the room feel clean, and tiny rooms start to smell like garbage really fast, so make sure to keep up with that one.

Though it can be frustrating to have such a small living space, in some ways it’s freeing to edit your possessions down to the bare essentials. Often we have more than we need in the first place and don’t even realize it.

It’s also a lot easier to vacuum or dust when surfaces are cleared, and it’s always nice to not be embarrassed if people stop by unexpectedly -- something that happens a lot in college, where your bedroom feels a lot more like a living room that you happen to sleep in. It’s worth taking the time to make your small chunk of living space somewhere you actually want to be.




Originally published in Fuse: The Zen of Dorms: Advice for New Students.