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Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters

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Dorm Shopping 101: Everything You Need and Where to Get It

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Dorm shopping can be overwhelming. There's so much to get (twin XL sheets, a shower caddy, task lamps!), you're prepping to share everything with room mates you possibly haven't met yet, and you'll be moving right back out in only nine months. For as staggering as prepping to ship out to college is, it's also really fun. You get to set up your own environment, from desk to dishes, for the very first time—a significant step in defining your adult self.

You'll want to start with a list. Your university might provide one based on its specific dorm accommodations, and big stores like Target and Bed Bath & Beyond have them, too. Ours cuts out any upsell-y extras and focuses on actual must-haves. We call out the areas where it makes sense to go with the big retailers (The Container Store makes great modular storage and no one can deny it) but also the opportunities to find something a little cooler, prettier, or better working where it makes sense (we love the new brand Snowe for towels).

For even more decorating and organizational guidance, check out our lists of the best home goods and organizational stores online.

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You'll never, ever need pesky twin XL sheets after this year, so embrace personality bedding with reckless abandon.

Sheets and comforters

Urban Outfitters nails the bohemian vibe (including some above-average bed-in-a-bag options); West Elm tops the heap for sophisticated-but-not-stuffy, while Crane & Canopy does subtle prep with panache, and no mom can argue with L.L.Bean's classic options.

Pillows, mattress pads, and other comfy things

Dorm beds aren't known for being plush—be sure to BYO comfort-enhancers. Bed Bath & Beyond (or any of the other megastores) should have your needs covered.


Give that standard-issue study station the best year of its life. And pro tip: There's no "right way" to get your desk in order. Just do what makes sense for your unique brain.


Muji has inexpensive, streamlined desktop organizers that perfectly reflect its Japanese roots (check out the stationery while you're at it); Ikea's Kvissle series is cheap Swedish design ingenuity at its best (this cable management box is genius—The Container Store has a whole cord control section, meanwhile); look no further than Poppin to fill your color needs.


Ikea has the work lamp down, and they start at just nine bucks.

Dry erase and bulletin boards

PB Teen has an assortment of dry erase calendars, wall-mounted to-do lists, and no-nails-needed bulletin boards sure to make any overachiever's heart sing.


Cram it in.


These aren't the most attractive, but super-slim, flocked hangers are the answer to cramming all your clothes when you're faced with a teeny-tiny closet.

Shoe storage

Again, not great-looking, but an over-the-door organizer is really your best bet in small spaces.


Like a junk drawer on wheels! Here's a classic, inexpensive trunk from Bed Bath & Beyond, and a handsome (but more expensive) style from PB Teen.

Door mirror

These are really more of a "Is this stained?" checkpoint than something to judge your appearance by. You can find 'em in the $10 to $20 range at any big box store, but for a significant upgrade try this one from PB Teen (it's sturdy and has hooks for accessories).


There's no magic chute.

Hamper or bag

The crucial point here is finding something you can carry down to the laundry room with you. A pop-up hamper is a classic (this camo style from Wayfair is neat); Urban Outfitters has a good selection of cool-looking, backpack-style laundry bags like this ombre one; Crate & Barrel's Clean Slate has a ton of pretty hampers with removable liners and canvas bins on wheels if you want to get serious about the matter.


So much easier than an iron and ironing board. This compact Steamfast model is inexpensive, heats up quickly, and is powerful for its size.


Welcome to the world of roommates, where the passive-aggressive battle over whose stuff is (and isn't) where never ends.

Drawer and bin systems

The Container Store is all over this (its modular Like-it series is especially compelling); Bed Bath & Beyond is another no-brainer for modular storage (these cubes are perfectly sized for these fabric bins); PB Teen is a prepster's dream, classy storage cart included.

Baskets and boxes

Ikea hits the mark for form and function with stacking boxes, textural baskets, and bins that perfectly fit its bookcases.

Under bed

Everything from bed risers to garment and shoe storage boxes can be found at The Container Store.


How to survive a shared shower.


Any big home or department store will have a cheap towel set that'll get you through the year. For something a little more exciting (but not too precious), try Nate Berkus at Target for solids in grownup hues and subtle prints or Trina Turk for full-on Palm Springs brightness. Check out Snowe for well-made, not-crazy-expensive basics that'll last you way past freshman year.

Shower caddy

This canvas and mesh caddy slings over the shoulder and has ample pockets for the necessities, plus you can get it monogrammed so no one mistakenly waltzes off with your favorite products.


Make running to and from the shower as easy as possible by picking up a robe before you ship out. A waffled style is lightweight enough for the non-winter months while being more absorbant (and less clingy) than jersey. Plus you'll feel like you're at the (world's worst) spa.


Eventually, the dining hall/Chipotle will lose its luster. Be prepared with the basics: Stuff to cook with and things to eat off of. All of the mega-retailers—Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ikea, etc.—offer packaged sets for dining and cooking, but here are some even cooler ideas.

Plates and bowls

Unbreakable materials like melamine are king here. Target can be trusted for a huge variety of individual pieces and sets in a wide array of colors and prints, while Crate and Barrel has a substantial selection of solids you might actually want to take to your first apartment. It's also worth checking out the outdoor entertaining section at any home store, since they use the same durable materials and are typically on super-sale this late into the summer.


Tough acrylic doesn't have to be totally ugly. CB2 does awesome non-glass drinkware (check out this eight piece set from Amazon as well); World Market has some fun takes like these cheeky ribbed tumblers (not unlike the Solo cups you'll come to know and love/hate). For a splurge, check out Jung Lee's selection of gorgeous, unbreakable goblets and tumblers.


Embrace the shared kitchen and throw matching to the wind with this set of mix-and-match cutlery from Urban Outfitters.


Joseph JosephCore Bamboo, and OXO all make attractive, functional kitchen necessities. Case in point: This collapsable steamer basket, which folds into itself, taking up minimal room, and expanding for all of your berry rinsing/pasta straining/veggie steaming needs.

Water pitcher

Especially useful if your dorm doesn't have a sink. You can always go classic Brita (available at any of the big box stores), or try the lovely-looking Soma pitcher, which is made of shatter-resistant glass.

Small appliances

Pick up a Nutribullet for easy smoothie making without all of the countertop real estate a blender requires and make sure you have a coffee maker. A pour over or French press is great for smaller servings, and you're instantly the sophisticated suite mate (an electric kettle makes either process extra easy).

Food storage

Be sure to buy a set of food storage containers with a few different sizes (and understand that you'll lose 30% of the lids); try bento lunch boxes for transporting food with more than one component. Zojirushi stacks jars vertically, while Mon Bento more closely resembles the divided boxes you know from Japanese restaurants.


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