What to Pack for Your University Dorm Room: The Best on a Budget

Fourteen of the best-reviewed, most practical picks for your new home (plus, one bonus we couldn’t resist)

Alicia Cox Thomson
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Dorm room. (Rilueda/istock)

Dorm room. (Rilueda/istock)

There are myriad ways to decorate your dorm room depending on your style and budget—search #dormlife on Instagram and you can get lost in a sweet wormhole of string lights, bed hacks and poster quotes. Personalizing your space is important, but that’s not what we’re talking about today. Instead, these are the practical items that you’ll use daily. Consider this list—with items selected to get you the best bang for your buck—the first assignment of the year. It’s a fun one, we promise.

1. Sheets

Wamsutta ultra soft sateen 525-thread-count twin flat sheet ($29.99) and fitted sheet, $29.99: These sheets receive stellar reviews for a good reason. They’re made from high-thread count, 100% Pima cotton woven with sateen, come in 13 colours, wrinkle resistant and the pricetag is bananas (especially if you can score them on sale).  By the way, thread count just means that there are more threads packed into each woven square inch, which translates into softer, longer-wearing sheets. Look for a 400 count, at least, and you’ll be thanking yourself every night.

2. Coffee maker

Bodum Caffettiera 8-cup French press ($22): Coffee and college go hand in mug. The French press (which, trivia fiends, was actually patented in Italy) is a no-fuss, reliable, environmentally friendly way to brew a perfect cup. You’ll just need an electric kettle and coarsely-ground beans. Pour freshly boiled water over your grounds, let it steep for 3-4 minutes, then press the plunger down slowly.

3. Travel Mug

Contigo Autoseal West Loop Travel Mug, ($27.99 for 16oz to $32.99 for 20 oz): A good travel mug should do three things well: keep hot drinks hot, cold drinks cold and all drinks inside. No one needs a leak on a laptop. Contigo’s patented system is nearly perfect—you can toss this mug in your bag without worry. It’ll keep hot drinks at the desired temperature for up to seven hours and cold drinks for up to 18 hours. It’s also dishwasher safe and made of BPA-free stainless steel. Contigo products are a bit of an investment, but so well-reviewed that they’re worth it.

Spracht Konf-X Buds™ In-Ear Noise Canceling 3-Mic Headset. (Staples)
Spracht Konf-X Buds™ In-Ear Noise Canceling 3-Mic Headset. (Staples)

4. Noise-canceling headset

Spracht Konf-X Buds in-ear noise canceling 3-mic headset ($59.99): One of the best things about dorm life—having so many people around—can also be one of the worst when you need to concentrate on crushing that paper. Noise-canceling ear buds and headphones can often cost more than $200, but can be a good investment if you have zero tolerance for background noise. These Spracht buds are a low price but offer quality—they cancel 90 per cent of outside noise. They’re made for conference calling, which students don’t usually do that often, but the multiple mics will also offer high-quality sound when listening to music, podcasts or lectures.

5. Condoms

Crown Skinless Skin latex condoms, ($7.99 for 12): If you’re sexually active, having condoms on hand is a responsibility. And sure, you can get them for free from the campus health centre, but they’ll likely have limited options. You probably won’t find Japan’s #1 brand, Crown. Known for the tag line “The closest thing to nothing at all,” Skinless Skins are some of the thinnest condoms on the market. They’re tasteless, odourless and lightly lubricated, so you may want to experiment with lube. You may want to experiment with a lot of things. Might as well protect yourself while you do!

Homesense task lamp. (Homesense)
Homesense task lamp. (Homesense)

6. Desk lamp

Task lamp with marble base ($49.99): A lamp is a no-brainer, but what kind of light is best? A task lamp will keep the peace with your roommate if you’re pulling an all-nighter. The cone-shaped shade focuses light onto your workspace so that it doesn’t brighten the whole room. This vintage-inspired version hikes the design quotient so you’ll actually want to keep it when your dorm days are done.

7. Duvet

Ikea Rödtoppa duvet, ($49.99 for twin): The Swedes understand cold weather, so it’s no surprise that Ikea mastered making an affordable, quality duvet for even the chilliest nights. The Rödtoppa is medium weight, so warm enough for winter, but light enough that you won’t roast during spring and fall. It’s a hypoallergenic mix of cotton and lyocell to absorb moisture and keep you cool along with polyester filling for warmth. Ikea also makes warmer duvets, which are heavier and retain your body heat better, or lighter ones if your dorm tends to overheat.

8. Mattress Topper

Sleep Country five-zone memory foam topper, ($99 for twin): Truth: many people have slept in the bed that is now yours. Give it a fresh start with a padded mattress topper. Not only will it add a layer between your sheets and the mattress, but also significantly improve sleep comfort and quality. This version is made with temperature-sensitive memory foam that molds to your shape when you sleep, and springs back when you rise. It has five separate zones to distribute weight evenly and allow air to circulate.  Here’s a heads up: Make sure you get a topper and not a mattress pad which won’t offer the same support and comfort.

9. Humidifier

Sunbeam Ultrasonic cool mist humidifier ($59.97): Dorm rooms can be dry, especially in winter when the heat is cranked high. And when you have a cold, a humidifier can be your saviour. Sunbeam’s compact Ultrasonic has no filter to clean or change and emits cool mist, which helps to prevent mold build-up. It also offers a 24-hour run time and you can adjust the mist strength and speed to your preference. Plus, it’s known for being one of the quietest humidifiers on the market, so it won’t bother your roommate.

10. Popcorn Maker

Nordic Ware microwave popcorn popper ($10.99): Once you’ve had fresh popped popcorn, you won’t go back to buying microwavable bags. It also saves money while reducing waste, so you can feel extra good when you have a big bowl for dinner (We’re not judging). The Nordic Ware popper goes in the microwave, and pops in 3-4 minutes using kernels and a bit of oil of your choice (though you don’t need any). The popper is made from BPA- and melamine-free high heat plastic, and has a five-year warranty.

MORE: Cheap, easy dorm-room cooking: Essential tools for food that rules

11. Duvet Cover

Urban Outftters T-shirt jersey duvet cover ($119 for twin): Feel like you’re sleeping in your favourite t-shirt every night with a duvet cover made from 100 per cent cotton jersey, which is light and soft while still retaining warmth. Choose from eight colours; for $34 you can add the matching pillow cases. When buying bedding, you want to stick to cotton for its breathability and longevity. It also stands up well to wear and tear and often gets softer with washings.

12. Fridge 

Danby 2.6 cubic ft. compact refrigerator ($189): When researching mini-fridges, we looked at price, size, capacity and energy efficiency. This model by Danby consistently came up as the best choice—not only is it one of the highest capacity fridges under $200, it has tall bottle storage, adjustable shelving, and is Energy Star compliant. This is one essential you can’t live without.

13. Shower Tote

ShowerMade shower tote ($15.87): Schlepping to the shower shouldn’t be a juggling act. When searching for the perfect shower caddy or tote, look for plenty of pockets, a sturdy handle (multiple bottles can get heavy) and a quick-drying material that’s also easy to clean. ShowerMade guarantees their tote for two years, no questions asked, so you know it’s made to last. Mesh dries fast and the extra-long handle makes it simple to hang from the shower head.

14. Laundry Hamper

Neatfreak skinny hamper ($24.99): Make laundry as convenient as possible with a hamper designed to squeeze into small spaces and carry with ease. Neatfreak’s patented technology helps reduce smell, a feature you and your roommate will appreciate. And it has two sets of handles, for top- or side-carrying.

Feminist note-pad. (Urban Outfitters)
Feminist note-pad. (Urban Outfitters)

Bonus: Feminist sticky notepad ($10): You are going to need sticky notes, they’re helpful study aids. So why not splurge a little on a stack that clearly states your position on women’s rights? Trust us, you’ll earn instant cred with woke pals of all persuasions with these little gems.