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13 Tips for Making the Most of Your Dorm or College Housing at an HBCU

Whether you’re heading to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) campus for the first time, returning for another year in campus housing or moving to your first off-campus apartment, this article is for you.

If you’re moving into an HBCU dorm for the first time, know this: Living in a dorm will be one of the best parts of your time at your HBCU. You’ll have late-night study sessions, join in fun rivalries with other dorms and make lifelong friends.

Even the best dorms tend to be on the smaller side. The average dorm room in the United States is about 12 feet by 20 feet. Before you move into your first dorm room, you should think about ways to make the most of a living space that’s likely smaller than what you had at home.

Returning HBCU students should also think about maximizing space. Some HBCUs have gorgeous, modern apartments and suites. These quarters tend to be larger than most dorm rooms, but they’re usually not terribly large. So, upper-level students should also learn about ways to make a smaller space more inviting.

Regardless of where you reside, these tips will help you turn any space into a cozy place you’ll love to call home.

Tip #1 – Take only what you’ll need

The best way to make sure that you’ll have room for everything is to bring only the things that you will absolutely need. You might want to bring a favorite collection or sentimental items, but remember, space is precious. Everything you bring will take space away from something else. So, when you’re deciding what to bring with you, be selective. If you can live without it for 30 days, you’ll probably be okay if you leave it at home or in the store.

Tip #2 – Look at your layout

Before you buy things for your new place, learn as much as you can about your room, suite or apartment. Study the floor plan. Get exact measurements, if possible. (Most HBCUs have this information on their websites or you can simply call and ask.) If you’re not providing your own furniture, ask about the size of the standard dorm beds and desks. After you account for these things, you should have a good estimate of how much room you’ll really have.

Tip #3 – Think about your storage needs

After you decide what to bring and look at your floor plan, think about how much storage you’ll have. Many HBCU dorm rooms have closets. Some also have dressers. But if you think you’ll need more storage space, there are fun ways to get it. Bed risers lift your bed off the floor to create or increase underbed storage space. You can also buy storage items that fit over your door, on your bed or over your mini-fridge. There are lots of possibilities limited only by what you can buy – or make – for your needs.

Tip #4 – Find pieces that can do double duty

One of the best ways to make the most of a small space is to find furniture that doubles as storage. A storage ottoman can be a place to rest your feet and a place to store office supplies. There are desk/bookcase combos, coffee tables that open for storage and many more options. Investing in these pieces will maximize space and add a little flair to the room.

Tip #5 – Colors matter

If the walls in your new studio apartment are a pale tan, should you buy the burgundy bedspread that you fell in love with? The rules of interior design say that you probably shouldn’t.

You can use color to make a small room seem bigger. One way to do that is to use lighter, neutral colors throughout and to match your furniture and decor to the colors of the wall. A pop of color here and there is probably fine, but staying within the same general color palette as the walls – especially for the larger items like beds and sofas – will make your space seem much larger than it actually is.

Whatever colors you choose, make sure that they reflect your unique personality.

Tip #6 – Use natural light

In close quarters, natural light is your friend. Sheer curtains that let sunlight through will literally brighten up your space. The light will make the room seem bigger. So, avoid thick, dark window treatments (such as blackout curtains) and opt for light, sheer coverings instead.

Tip #7 – Mirror, mirror

A carefully placed mirror can make a small room seem larger. It’s all about the choice of and placement of the mirror. Pick a large mirror with a thin frame. (A thick frame with an elaborate design can overwhelm a small room.)

Placing a mirror across from a window will reflect natural light. More light makes a room brighter which makes it feel bigger. Even better, a mirror that reflects natural light will effectively become a second “window.” If you don’t have a window in the room you’re trying to brighten, you can get the same results by putting a mirror behind a lamp.

Tip #8 – Think vertically

Vertical storage options take up less floor space. And because most rooms have fairly high ceilings even if they aren’t very wide, they give you lots of additional space. Best of all, stacking vertical storage and decorations to the ceiling can draw the eye upward and trick visitors into seeing a bigger space.

Tip #9 – Give everything a little space

As you plan your design, think about where things will go. If you put too many things too close together, instead of looking elegant, things will look crowded and messy. To avoid this, put a little space between each item. Letting things “breathe” will help create the illusion of extra space.

Tip #10 – Make use of unusual spaces

One of the best things about living in a smaller space is that you’ll have lots of opportunities to flex your creativity. If you have a wall and some removable hooks, you have a new storage space. Got a corner in the back of your apartment that’s not being used? You can buy or build a storage unit that fits into it. With a little creativity, you can turn any unused space into a chic storage area.

Tip #11 – Separate the space into zones

Separating a single room into multiple areas is an old decorating trick. You might think that dividing a small room into even smaller pieces would shrink the space, but the opposite is true. When you create clear zones, people who look around the room won’t see one room. They’ll see lots of tiny “rooms” which will make them think they’re looking at a bigger space.

There are lots of ways to create zones. You can use the traditional method – folding screens. You can use curtains. You can put a bookcase between your work area and your “dining room.” When it comes to zones and dividers, your creativity can lead you to some great places.

Tip #12 – Follow simple rules for furniture

If you’re moving off-campus or into an on-campus apartment at your HBCU, you’ll probably need a few pieces of furniture. For small spaces, the ideal furniture is small, light and movable.

  • Small. Big pieces of furniture can overload a compact space. On the other hand, petite pieces can make a room feel proportional. Given the choice, opt for small.
  • Light. If you have to choose between a solid oak end table with wide, chunky legs and a glass table with thin, reedy legs, choose the second one. Boxy, bulky pieces stand out because they take up lots of actual and visual space. But thinner items seem to let light pass right through them. (If they’re made of glass, light actually will pass through them.) Look for pieces that seem to have lots of space around them. If you can see most of the floor around the object, it will probably work in a smaller space.
  • Moveable. Furniture that can be stored or moved when you aren’t using it is helpful when you’re in a dorm or other small living space. Today’s stores have lots of stylish, practical – and affordable – options.

Tip #13 – Organize and clean!

Nothing makes a small space shrink faster than clutter. Here are some tips for keeping the chaos at bay.

  • Keep your surfaces clear. All surfaces – counters, ledges, windowsills and floors – should be free from clutter. When everything’s out in the open, having things hanging around randomly will make your place look messy and disorganized. Hang things on your walls to keep the surfaces clear.
  • Have a place for everything. If you are living in just one room, you must give every item its own designated space. Create an area for cleaning tools and supplies, another for games and cards, another for personal items and so forth. Buy storage items that fit your style and you’ll be good to go!
  • Clean a little bit every day. Tiny messes turn into medium messes that grow into giant messes. To break the cycle, clean up a little at the end of every day. It’s a good habit and it will help you stay ahead of the clutter.

Bonus Tip – Have fun!

These tips should help you find ways to make the most of your dorm room, studio, suite or apartment. But the most important tip of all is to have fun! Your goal is to create a space that feels like you. If you do that, nothing else matters.

Keep reading The Drill for more tips about making the most of all parts of your HBCU experience.

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