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Boy Oh Boy - Dorm design with a guy in mind...

Your boy is headed off to college – that’s so exciting! As a mom with two kids in college, I can relate to how you must be feeling – excited and eager to get him settled, but also concerned that he’ll find his stride once he’s there. Mostly, you’re just hoping he’ll be happy in college.

I’ve found one of the key ingredients of happy college kids is helping them create a dorm they can call their own – one that’s comfortable, organized and, most importantly, feels like home.

The more “at home” and relaxed they feel in their dorm, the smoother their transition into college will be, the better they’ll sleep, (which is so incredibly important in college), the easier it will be for them to study, and the more comfortable they’ll feel about inviting friends over to hang out in their dorm.

To help you find the inspiration you’re looking for, I’ve scoured the Internet for the best-of-the-best dorm ideas for guys. And, considering the fact that most guys prefer a “no-fuss” set-up in their dorm, you’ll find plenty of ideas here that offer everything he needs in his dorm, but still keeps it low-key and understated. 


This dorm has all the comforts of home without being over-the-top fussy. The cool tapestry and posters give the room a personal flair while the multi-functional nightstand with drawers keeps everything he needs right within arm’s reach. Check out the cozy bed – guys, just like girls, love their bed to be “sinkably” soft, (even if they don’t admit it), so be sure to make his bed as cozy as possible with a memory foam topper, (preferably 3″), plush mattress pad, soft sheets, a cozy comforter and plenty of squishy pillows.

Many dorms are TwinXL or Twin. The difference is in the length, not the width. So while you can get away with a twin, twinxl, or full blanket or comforter, you'll want to research your bed's size for sheets and mattress topper.

I sent 2 sets of sheets with my son, so he could have a replacement while one set was in the wash. Bamboo sheets and 100% cotton ones are great choices for wicking away moisture and keeping the student from overheating especially if they are naturally "hot" sleepers. If your student doesn't use a top-sheet (like mine) you can use it a few different ways - they make great inexpensive bedskirts. And if your bed is lofted and against a wall, you can make the bedskirt hang down longer on the non-wall side. They also do well as a lightweight drapery option. Alternately, there are packages with just the fitted sheets included!

Do you need deep-pocket fitted sheets? Not usually. Even with a 3+ inch topper, dorm mattresses are so thin that regular pocket sheets work just fine!

- Comforter Thinner comforters or duvets that you can pair with blankets for layer options are great in new climates. They are also easier to run through the washing machines. Remember, Twin XL beds are just slightly longer than traditional Twins, so depending on how your bed is oriented and if you want "hangover" you have flexibility in using a Twin, TwinXL or Full comforter as they all work fine on a Twin XL bed.

- Blanket

- Pillows

- Pillowcases

Initially I thought a mattress topper was a luxury item and not really necessary. Until I went to my son's orientation and saw the mattress they offered. Now I knew what all of the parents on the dorm fb pages were talking about!!! It (along with the air purifier) is the top item I recommend to any new student. Many schools have opted for thin, plastic or resin coated mattresses to prevent bedbugs and mold. They are very similar to the sleeping mats from preschool classrooms or like thick gymnastics mats. The Lucid 3' was recommended to us and I'm so glad we got it. It added cushion without being too hot or marshmallow-y.

They can also be found on the Home Depot site and often are on sale during Prime Days so add it to your cart for updates. Another popular option in the same price point is the Linenspa brand. As you get closer to the school year these often are sold out so if you are in a position to buy earlier you likely will have more options!

We went with a zippered waterproof protector pad to keep the mattress topper and mattress encased together. Kids are harder on their beds at school than they are at home because a bed is also where they often eat, study and watch TV. The mattress pad keeps the topper from sliding, makes it easier to change the sheets, and prevents sweat, spills and dirt from reaching that topper to keep it nice for years of useage. Even if your child will only be in a dorm for a few years, many people re-sell their topper to new incoming freshman to use later if they have been protected.

Some people put the zippered encasement around the mattress to protect everything from the previously used mattress. If your dorm or apartment has an old-fashioned fabric mattress then that is a smart move. Encase it to prevent exposure to mold/dander/etc. But, if your mattress is one of the plastic gym-type pads that can be sanitized from the outside, it isn't necessary.

- Pool Noodle or Pipe Insulation & Zip Ties - These are for lofted beds. You put them around the metal or wood edging to prevent knocking your head when going underneath. Do this FIRST at move in.... ask me how I know :) In this photo, you can see how they used black pipe insulation to line the metal bar directly under the white comforter. That way, when the kids are accessing the underbed space their heads are protected.

- Bed Shelf, Bag or Raised Nightstand - Lamp, water-bottle, glasses, book, phone charger, emergency flash light for fire drills... they need things by their bed! And having things handy can be a challenge if your bed is lofted. We went with the black shelf shown as well as the hanging bag and it was ideal for everything he needed. Cough drops, allergy medicine, notepad.... The shelves attach using compression so they work on multiple bed frame sizes and do not damage the furniture.

Organized, Yet Accessible

As a genereralization - guys tend to prefer open storage (bins vs boxes with lids) that you can just toss items back into their spot. Easily accessible is important (not tucked behind other items). Every parent has a story about packing up the dorm in the spring and kids saying "oh I didn't know I had that!"

Easy on the Eyes & Comfortable

Understated, yet totally stylish, this dorm, with its monochromatic color scheme, is easy on the eyes and still comfortable enough to come home to after a long day of classes. Toss in a few simple storage containers like baskets or bins and you’ll have the perfect set-up to keep all his things organized and neat.

- Desk Lamp  - one with dimmable lights or the ability to change between warm/cool/daylight colors helps with eye fatigue. Some even come with additional USB charging ports.

- Additional shelving or drawers

Stackable drawers that can slide under your bed give extra storage to maximize space. Often kids have to change dorms or move to apartments in later years, so these versatile solutions are great for adapting to beds of different heights or working later in larger closets.

SAFE -Allergens & Mold

Often your dorm isn't in the same 20 mile radius where you have been living so new foliage / pollen and molds will be present.

This is another example similar to the mattress topper where I wasn't 100% sold on it being a necessity at first. Then I heard more and more parent recommendations. Ya'll. It's so true. It's so gross. Do you remember when you took your sweet child to preschool and they got sick with a drippy nose for months at a time? College is the same biome of new germs, detergents, perfumes, sweat, molds and allergens. And even if you live in the same city where you grew up, it likely has different foliage and pollens. This air purifier kept my allergy-prone son and his roommate healthy all year. They needed to replace the filter once and they are really cost effective. No matter what brand you get, be sure to get one that is rated for MOLD which is a big concern in any multi-unit housing situation.

- Fan

What in the woozoo?! If you are new to the world of dorm-conversations, you're about to hear the word "woozoo" a lot. Like, a-lot. Woozoo fans are super quiet and distribute a large amount of air. There are different styles and number of speeds. Some versions come with remotes or occilate or tilt in certain directions. Amazon and Costco both seem to be great places to find deals - but just like with the mattress toppers, the closer you get to August the harder they will be to find.

However, any fan will be a great addition to a stuffy room when you're trying to sleep or study. Be sure to bring an extension cord so it can reach up to your bed.

- Flashlight - Phones do have flashlights but often hopping out during a fire drill or finding a zip drive that fell behind a desk are easier with a tangible flashlight. Dorms often have fire alarms go off in the middle of the night (microwave popcorn is often the culpret) but having a flashlight, your phone, keys and a sweatshirt handy in a pinch to grab on the way out the door is a smart idea.

- Medicine & First Aid

Start making a list of what your child needs with regard to routine medicines and first aid. Companies make premade first aid kits which are great, but I found it to be more cost effective to get a craft toolbox and fill it with things my own child was already familiar with. These included but were not limited to : BANDAIDS, LARGER BANDAGE WRAPS, BANDAGE TAPE, ALCOHOL WIPES, SCISSORS, THERMOMETER, ASPRIN, IBUPROFEN, ALLERGY MEDICINE, ANTIBIOTIC OINTMENT, STOMACH MEDICINE, COUGH SYRUP, DAYQUIL, NIGHTQUIL, COUGH DROPS, BENADRYL ANTI-ITCH CREAM, ATHLETE'S FOOT SPRAY (community showers, yall), Q-TIPS, ANTACIDS, EYEDROPS, TWEEZERS, DECONGESTANTS.

I also included these items because when you need them you need them right away and don't want to run to a store : CAN GINGER ALE, SALTINE CRACKERS, GATORADE, SOUP. I put them in the same medicine box so they were easily accessible. I also included these two write ups specifically for my own kid but you get the idea :

 Cleaning & Laundry

Situations will vary on what laundry and cleaning supplies you will need. Think about your child's space. Do they have a lot of carpet? Do they have their own bathroom to clean? Do they prefer to deep clean or barely wipe things off? Use this info to determine what supplies will be most helpful to your child.

Some things that might be added to your list will include :


This is one of the most often asked question. Do you want a laundry basket, rolling cart or backpack? Well, a lot will depend on WHERE you have to go to wash. Rolling carts and backpacks keep your hands fairly free which is important for 1) safety 2) ease of using doors / elevators 3) carrying study materials or hanging clothes back up. Most of the kids at my son's school opted for laundry backpacks.

Whether you are sharing a shower with one roommate or an entire floor of people, a shower caddy keeps your items together and clean so you don't end up forgetting what you need. Mesh caddies dry really fast and prevent mold. They are also easy to toss into the washing machine if you start to get soap build-up. Caddies like this one have a large center container for large bottles but also side pockets for smaller items.

So we set up a "wet station" in the dorm room right inside the door featuring this boot-tray where my son could put his shower caddy down after using it. The mesh ones dry really fast but there is still a little moisture when they first get back to the room. He also hung an S-hook off the bed for damp towels to hang over the boot tray. It's also where his rain-boots and umbrella went.

Water-Resistant Laptop Backpack. They need one. They're going to get caught in a rain storm or 100 of them. Laptop backpacks have extra padding on the bottom to reduce shock and some come with an additional power source.

Taking Advantage of Space

Every ounce of real estate in dorms count. Take advantage of vertical and horizontal space and, if your son is on board with the idea, try lofting his bed for even more space beneath. This dorm maxes out space while putting everything, including the fridge and a few snacks, right at his fingertips.

- Ottoman To Climb Into Lofted Bed

For storage and for climbing in/out of lofted beds. Make sure any ottoman you get is sturdy and built for sitting / standing on. Also check into loft-steps which make climbing easier.

Cool Guy Hangout

The one thing you want to strive for when setting up your son’s dorm is multi-functionality.  This dorm bed, with its propped back cushions, makes it easy to relax on the bed, study, have friends over or enjoy a snack, while still making it a cozy space for sleeping.



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