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Moving into a dorm for the first time can be overwhelming – especially if you’ve never shared a bedroom before.
Whether you’re rooming with a randomly assigned stranger or a lifelong best friend, you still need to figure out how to split the dorm room so that everyone is happy, and so that space is maximized for all the daily living that happens in a dorm.
In an effort to streamline the experience and find some great tips, tricks, and hacks, we turned to a few pro organizers to ask for their best advice.
How to split a shared dorm room
With dorm dwellers in mind, here’s what they had to suggest.
1. Prioritize your individual needs, then compromise
Compromising is key when it comes to splitting a shared room, and Mary Kathryn LaVallee, the owner of OrderUp Design, says that’s why it’s important to consider your own preferences before committing to anything.
‘The key is to look at the layout of the space,’ she says. ‘If you have the traditional dorm room with two XL twin beds and two desks then I suggest keeping a side to each individual.’
This is the easiest way to create your own space tailored to your own lifestyle, as small as that space may be. Then, work with your roommate to find a solution you’re both happy with.
MK LaVallee started her professional organizing business, OrderUp Design, in May of 2018. Thought it started purely as a part-time dream job, LaVallee discovered just how many people need help in the area of organization. With years of professional organization experience plus a background in social work with Understanding and Treating Hoarding Disorder training, helping people get organized is LaVallee’s true passion.
2. Consider function first
Put down the string lights and back away from the succulents. Yes, decorative elements are important in creating a cozy dorm room, but LaVallee says she sees people making the wrong decisions based solely on their vision of what a dorm room should look like. Instead, consider how it feels.
‘A lot of times people layout their dorm room without thinking about function first,’ she says. ‘While I am all about an aesthetically pleasing space that feels homey, it is important to create a space that also works for you.’
For instance, if you know you’ll study best in the library rather than in your room, it might not be worth it to blow your whole dorm budget on desktop organizers and accessories. But if you require a solid eight hours of sleep with no interruptions, your room layout might require some major consideration to help you sleep better.
3. Make the most of your closet space
Most dorms offer two closets – one for each roommate. But if that’s not the case or you have additional roommates using less space, then Amanda Wiss, founder of NYC-based home organizing company Urban Clarity, says it’s important to use your limited closet space to its maximum potential.
Wiss says slimline, velvet hangers, available at Amazon, will help to make the best use of the storage space in your dorm room. ‘These will not only give an organized look to your hanging clothes but also will allow you to hang a few extra things up because of the horizontal space that they save,’ she says.
Amanda Wiss is the founder of Urban Clarity, a home-organizing company awarded NY Magazine’s Best of NY 2023. She is also the founder of home staging studio Urban Staging, whose design-savvy team gets homes market-ready, to intrigue brokers and buyers alike. The two companies work in conjunction to do full move management, getting their clients completely unpacked and beautifully settled while minimizing stress.
4. Use labels
‘Consider clear or labeled bins for the top shelf. They can be stacked to the ceiling,’ she says. ‘Labels pay off when you don’t have to waste your time pulling down the wrong bins! I also highly recommend using shelf separators from The Container Store for neat folding, and bins for smaller items.’
This can create a natural separation between your items and your roommate, while also allowing for everything to be clear and visible.
Meredith Goforth has a passion for stylish organizing. Before founding House of Prim, Meredith was a Bookings Editor for magazines, where she planned, produced, and executed cover shoots and fashion stories, making sure every detail was picture-perfect. A former New Yorker, she now lives in Westport, CT with her family. With three boys being born within three years of each other, and having moved house six times in five years, Meredith says the only way to stay sane was to become truly organized.
5. Raise your beds – don’t loft them
Lofted beds are usually highly recommended, but LaVallee says she’s not convinced. Instead, she feels it’s better if both roommates raise or lift their beds using risers. This creates a space for under-bed storage, rather than creating new zones for sitting or studying.
‘Almost everyone I talk to who lofted their bed highly regrets it!’ she says. ‘Plus, while the room itself will look bigger, getting in and out of your bed can be a pain.’
Still, some people do prefer a lofted bed, so LaVallee says you should consider how you want to use this space. ‘Think about pieces that will still add storage space,’ she says. Include a side table with drawers or a bench that lifts open.’
6. Create vertical separators
When it comes to creating zones for each roommate, Tammi Brown, Franchise Business Coach, ShelfGenie, a Neighborly company, says it’s best to go tall and stackable, creating separation that can double as storage.
‘Think vertical not horizontal,’ says Brown. ‘Tall, skinny-wheeled utility carts with baskets are great for toiletries, towels, makeup, books, and more. Multi-pocket organizers for the back of the door also work and can be shared.’
7. Plan ahead
Of course, there are some things you can’t do until you arrive – but however possible, try to chat with your roommate to make a game plan. Make a list of things you’ll each bring to avoid duplicates or overcrowding and try to find more commonalities than differences.
What is the easiest way to divide a room?
If you want to create a physical barrier, try a curtain. A rolling rack or tension rod could be a great way to separate your room, creating privacy when needed. It can also easily be opened. Other grate options include backless bookshelves that can be accessed from either side, artfully arranged desks, or a wooden screen.
Hopefully, on move in day, you’ll find the perfect home for everything to prepare you both for the year ahead.