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Dorm Room Hacks

Maclean's / April 2015

The simplest things can make a spartan residence room a whole lot more comfortable.


Now in her last year at York University’s Osgoode Hall law school, 26-year-old Jessica Lastuk has (mostly) fond memories of dorm life while completing a psychology degree at Western University. “I remember when I first walked in, I was like, ‘I don’t think I can do this,’” says the aspiring criminal lawyer. “It was already so tiny, and to share it with another person? Oh, no.” Luckily, a few little tricks helped Lastuk—she began her style and design blog, Jessica Melody, during a year off between undergrad and law school—to survive the semester with “no big fights, so a success!” She now lives in a slightly larger space with her boyfriend, who kindly lets her make all design decisions.

Favourite dorm-room hack: “In a small space, everything is clutter,” says Lastuk. “Don’t have too much.” Easier said than done, especially for girly-girls like Lastuk with far too many clothes, jewellery and beauty products. “If you like makeup the way I do, a hanging shoe rack is perfect.” Not for shoes, though. “They’ve got all these little pockets and inserts that are perfect for all your bathroom products,” she says. Bring the whole thing to the communal bathroom. “You can literally carry all your stuff on one hanger and have everything you need.”


It’s been many years since Colette Robicheau, a 54-year-old professional organizer and life coach in Halifax, lived in a dorm at private school, but that doesn’t matter. “Dorm rooms are basically the exact same,” she laughs, “and space issues are definitely the same.” What’s different is the ample rooms kids are used to these days. “Homes have gone way up in size, while the number of children has gone down.” Anyone comfy in a big bedroom and her own bathroom might be in for a lifestyle shock, which is a good time for a professional organizer. Using all the latest gadgets and contraptions, Robicheau can organize anything—even an eight-by-10-foot concrete block.

Favourite dorm-room hack: “When you’ve got limited space, you can only really go up or under,” explains Robicheau. If your bed doesn’t already offer storage, and it isn’t built into the wall or floor, head to your local home or hardware store.“There are these things called bed risers, which you tuck under each leg. You can get an extra six inches,” says Robicheau, enough room for bins of shoes and clothes to slide beneath. “Always buy clear bins, otherwise things get buried and you won’t find them until you move out. Keeping things visible is key.”


For a few hundred dollars, Toronto-based Dorm Essentials is a huge help to thousands of students and their busy parents (90 per cent of credit cards processed are mom’s or dad’s). “I started this business eight years ago in response to life as a student,” says director Courtney Whiteside, who did her master’s in international political economy at Warwick University in England.“Being away from home made me realize a lot of student services could be, and should be, offered.” Bedding, towels, fridges and safes can all be pre-ordered and delivered on move-in day. Better yet, Dorm Essentials will pick up in April and store your stuff until September.

Favourite dorm-room hack: “Students are pretty ingenious,” says Whiteside, by storing knick-knacks in shoes or balled-up down coats in pillowcases. But they’re not great at planning ahead. “Most students have access to their roommate’s info months in advance, but few will utilize it.” A polite note should mention the stuff you already have in order to skip duplicates (coffee makers, fridges and toasters are classic space-eaters). Save space and money with a quick item-check in advance.


Despite all this talk of organized minimalism, what if your design taste is of the more-is-more variety? Residence adviser JoJo Das has every inch of wall space covered with posters and memorabilia. After four years in a boarding school and two more at UBC, the 19-year-old has lots of stuff and just as many hacks to accommodate it all until he moves out. “Maybe next year, but I did already apply to a new residence,” he admits. “Dorm life has embraced me.”

Favourite dorm-room hack: “Always immediately re-arrange your furniture,” says Das. Move your bed against the shortest wall to maximize horizontal floor space. Das currently lives in a suite, the penthouse of dorms, but his closet is still too small—without tricks, that is. “I collect soda-pop tabs,” he says. He likes to thread one tab over a hanger, then “hang another hanger off that. Double the closet space!”


Interior designer Suzanne Vachon remembers her dorm room with glee. “I was quite excited to have a room of my own and decorate it,” she says. She built a bookshelf of bricks (the original hack), hung a black-and-white Marimekko print above her bed and a mobile over her desk. All a fine start for a budding designer, whose blog, Deco Girl Montreal, advertises “98 per cent inspiration, two percent budget.” That’s about right for a dorm room.

Favourite dorm-room hack: Let your bed be the star. “Use simple white bedding with a big colourful statement piece as a headboard,” she says. Not an actual headboard, of course—a poster, a piece of fabric or framed fashion magazine pics all do visual work without gobbling space. “I consulted with a student studying photography; we used her photographs as decoration, hanging on clotheslines from the walls with wooden pegs,” says Vachon. Dorm decorating is a careful art, but it’s also more creative: “The bed, walls, even the ceiling are important when decorating a dorm room. Every inch counts.”