Sustainable Back-to-School Dorm Room Style: 5 Ways to Save Money and Waste Less

A dorm room from the past.

It’s back-to-school time again and that means millions of students are headed to college for the very first time. That also means many are faced with dorm room living—and decorating! Unfortunately, the move-every-year nature of college means that there is plenty of waste. But there are solutions (and they are all budget-friendly to boot!). 

I live in a college town (yes, I’m a townie). This time of year us townies know better than to even think about heading to any of the those large retailers like Kmart, Target, or Walmart. They are all madhouses right about now with all the college kids and their parents looking for extra long twin fitted sheets, bulletin boards and shower shoes. It’s actually quite scary to go into one of these stores just after move-in weekend, because it looks like a disaster hit–the shelves are bare and there’s the detritus no one wanted all over the floors!

It’s also kind of scary because of the sheer mass-consumerism of it all. The stress and worry of a new undertaking (for both parents and students) is enough to drive some to make poor consumer choices. Remember the mantra “reduce, reuse and recycle” applies to dorm room shopping as well.

One area that is particularly fraught is dorm room decor. In an effort to create a home away from home many are tempted into over purchasing by large retailers looking to cash in on the college crowd.  So, in the rush to personalize the dorm room, don’t throw your commitment to sustainable living out the window. Here are some low-impact ideas.

1. Thrift Shop and Yard Sales

Dorm room style vintage lamp.

Image: VintageSmiths

In my town, there are several thrift shops and many folks plan yard sales during move-in weekend, so there are lots of opportunities to find secondhand dorm room needs. Check Craigslist, college message boards, and bulletin boards around campus for flyers.

2. Leave Them Bare

Dorm room YOLO poster.


While there’s a need to hit the ground running when it comes to things like bedding, there’s no need to feel obligated to cover the walls by the end of orientation. Consider that whatever tastes students may have a brand new freshman might change by the end of the semester. It’s actually pretty common! Leave the walls bare and leave room for those inspirational sayings and bands students are going to discover.

3. Scale it Back

Truly think about what’s a necessity and what’s not. Every year at the end of the semester the university in my town places dumpsters around the area for all the waste that will be thrown out when the students vacate their dorm rooms. Think about that when deciding what you cannot live without.  Not every room needs a microwave–especially if the community room has one!

4. Make Sustainable Choices

Sustainabl dorm room cotton sheets.

Image: Hand Made Organic

When you have to purchase new goods, choose eco-conscious products where possible. By planning ahead and purchasing online, it is possible to purchase  organic cotton bedding, curtains and more. Plus, more retailers are including sustainable products in retail locations as well. Do a little research.

5. DIY

Dorm room jewelry organier.

Image: OSD

Allow for a little creativity to shine through and consider adding some diy touches to the dorm room like an old wooden frame remade into a jewelry organizer (like the one pictured above). There are literally millions of DIY instructions online for almost any project, so try Googling “DIY” and whatever you need (garbage can, towel rack, etc.).

Top Image:  Michigan State University Archives

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Jen Wallace

Jen Wallace shares her indie life by writing about making, creating, cooking, learning, playing, decorating, and pretty much anything else that strikes her fancy from indie biz tips to the modern history of the American hemline.