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Tips for an organized dorm room

MaryAnne and I have been answering emails requesting homekeeping and organizing advice since 1999! Over the years, we’ve kept our favorite emails and want to share them again.

Here’s one from an 18 year old college student who wants advice on keeping her dorm room clean.

From:            ChristyDisorganized Room
To:                 MaryAnne & Jeanne
Sent:              Sunday, September 24, 2000
Subject:         Hello

Hello, my name is Christy. I would seriously like some advice about keeping my room clean. I am a 18 year-old college girl, and obviously don’t have time to take any [our How to Clean] classes, but my room is always a mess, and everyone always stops by, and I just want to keep it clean so I’m not embarrassed when people stop by.

Thanks so much, Christy

From:              Jeanne & MaryAnne
To:                   Christy
Sent:               Sunday, October 1, 2000
Subject:          Re: How to keep your room clean

Hi Christy –

Thanks for your question. This is a very common problem. Here are some helpful suggestions.

  1. Take 3-5 minutes and determine what you hope to achieve. Remember that it is important to be doing this for you, and not your friends. Before you start your 3-5 minutes, turn off all of the distractions in your room. Now you’re ready. Take the time to determine what your goals are. Think about what you would like your room to look like at the end. Then work backward, determining what steps are needed. For example, if you want to have all of your surfaces in your room clear, then you will probably need to put those items away in clear plastic boxes. If you don’t want to see any clothes on the floor or the backs of chairs, then you need a laundry basket and need to make it easier to hang up clothes in closet.
  2. Before you start the decluttering it is important to assemble your tools. At the minimum you need big garbage bags for throwing out and giving away, a timer, and some floor space. The floor space is to create your piles: one for throwing out; one for giving away; and one for the things you aren’t sure about. The timer may be the most important tool. We like to start a project by setting the timer for 20 minutes. This is the perfect amount of time. When the timer goes off, take a look at what you’ve accomplished and what needs to be done. The timer keeps you from getting lost in the project and forces you to be efficient.
  3. Now that you’ve determined your ultimate goal, take an honest look at your room and decide what things you can get rid of or give away. This is the easiest way to clear clutter. For example, look at your sock drawer or t-shirt drawer. We always laugh about how there are only 7 days in a week, and most people do laundry at least once a week, and yet these people have a month’s supply of sock in the drawer (not including orphan socks). You really don’t need 15 pairs of white socks. That many socks makes the drawers cluttered and is a roadblock for keeping a room clean. Same with t-shirts. Save your favorite t-shirts, and give away the ones you never wear. If it is a t-shirt you want to save for special reasons (a great concert) then take it out of the drawer and put it in your memento box. I have saved about 7 really special t-shirts because one day I would like to make a quilt out of them. I don’t know when I will do this, but I have them up on the back of my closet. For all clothes, it is important to determine what you wear and how often you wear it. We like the rule that if you haven’t worn it in 2 years, then get rid of it, the odds are you will not wear it in the future.
  4. Think about this: every item needs to have its own place. Have this in mind as you work. If you use the item often, then it should be towards the front of your closet. The least used item should be in the back of the closet. If you have a hole punch on your desk, and you only use it once a week, then think about taking it off the top of the desk and putting it in an organizer on the side of your desk, etc.
  5. One of our clutter problems used to be our old magazines. We loved them too much to throw them away, but they were taking up way too much space. To conquer this problem every so often we sit down and take out the articles we want, and then throw out the rest. We staple all the pages together, and then group the articles together by subject. For example, pictures of clothes we like, all go together. Articles about parties, all go together, and so on. You don’t have to take away from homework to do this. Start small, if you’re watching television, then also go through 2 magazines. Or if you need a break, go through a magazine. It doesn’t have to be a huge event. It is also helpful to use post-its on your magazines as you read them, that way you don’t have to hunt for the article later on.
  6. Ask yourself what else is cluttered in your room. Too many shampoo bottles? I have a friend with over 20 bottles of lotion on her bathroom counter. When you walk in, it looks horrible. She just needs to put them in a plastic box under the sink. Are your walls cluttered? Make-up bag cluttered? Go through and throw out the old items and colors you can’t stand. Mascara has to be thrown out every 3 months. What about fingernail polish? How many bottles do you need? Throw out the ugly colors and the ones that are clump. When you get rid of something, you are making room for the new.
  7. The less you have, the easier it is to clean. If you have a collection of something , then display your favorite items in one area, and box the rest. You can always rotate what you have on display, that way you can enjoy your entire collection without having clutter.
  8. Schedule a time with yourself for upkeep of your decluttered room. Figure out what is the best time of your week and be honest. Don’t say 8:30 am Saturday morning, if you never wake up that early. I like to clean-up on Friday afternoon, after I get out of school. That way I have a clean room for the weekend. On Friday from 3:30 – 4:30 I take the time to run the vacuum, sort my laundry, empty waste baskets, pick up the clothes on the chair from the rest of the week, etc. I try to do this every week and now it is a habit. If I can’t spend the full time, then I do as much as I can. Even a little bit makes a difference.

Good Luck Christy! If you start now, this will stay with you for the rest of your life. If you have any more questions, then let us know. Also we would love it if you emailed us about your success.


MaryAnne and Jeanne