Gather up your freshly-sharpened pencils, your crisp new notebooks, your completely unscuffed shoes: it’s back to school time!
Dorm rooms are many people’s first home of their own. I remember almost a decade ago, arriving at college, climbing four flights of stairs and meeting my first roommate ever. Shayna and I got along splendidly, and worked hard to make our dorm our own. We learned so much, and even though I’m now living in a house, I can still use what I learned in Helser Hall.
Let’s get in the seasonal spirit and revisit the dorms (or visit for the first time, if you’ve never had the privilege of living with a stranger in a 10×20 room!).
Six lessons I learned in the dorm that have stayed with me through the years
- Everyone needs their own space. When you’ve got two people in a small cinder block room, you have to tread carefully — no matter how good your relationship. By using furniture to make zones, you can keep clearer expectations about who cleans what and who needs privacy when. In the dorms we divvied up everything — Shayna kept her side spotless and I’m sure mine was strewn with underwear, half-finished drawings, and leaves I brought home. In the house, Scott and I get along much better when he’s got a work zone/desk, and I have a studio.
- Focus on the fun. Our first priority as a newly-formed duo was to name our dorm room, decorate the door with public declarations of lewdness, and draw all over the brick walls with chalk. In the second year we made a tropical cove under Shayna’s bunk in which we could watch TV, cuddle up in the cold, and, occasionally, cuddle up with our boyfriends. Having a place we could retreat to took the edge off stressors. The nook didn’t make the room any bigger, but it made it 100 times more pleasant. I learned to take on projects with my cohabitants — we both felt productive, and we both reaped the benefits.
- Organization is king. So, Shayna was my polar opposite. Her clothes were organized by color, ROY G BIV style. But she kind of had to be a nut about it! The girl finished her undergrad and Master’s degrees in five years — AND held jobs. It took me a while longer to learn, but there’s nothing better organization can’t help with. Whether you’re in the confined space of a dorm room or a McMansion out in the suburbs, life gets more complicated when you don’t have a place to sort mail, keep track of bills, or organize homework — or when your dresser is so covered in toiletries and pocket findings you aren’t able to find your keys.
- There are always improvements to be made. Even if you can’t paint the walls, or can’t drop a load of cash on new furniture, you can find a way to get what you need from your home. We have a whole mess of posts about no-damage decor. And look at that! We’ve also got all these posts handling upcycling — for as little as $0, you can make all kinds of furniture, organizers, and decor for your home.
- Ownership is important. I’m not talking about whose name is on the lease. Devise ways to bond with where you live; it helps you feel grounded in a home base. Shayna and I named the trees outside our window: the first year our neighbor was Herman. The second year we lived next door to Carlton. Even when I felt homesick or lonely, I felt like I had a Christmas light-strewn oasis with familiar neighbors, and I was proud of it.
- Anthropomorphism makes life fun. My roommate and I wrote each other notes, posted signs on the door, and put stickies on the food in the fridge written from the food’s point of view. I recently acquired a housemate, and with three people in one house, the notes have come back. They’re fun. They give the house life.
I got a good start from my dorm years — even though I was glad to leave. What have you learned from less-than-ideal homes that you still find useful?