Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

6 Bits of Dorm Room Wisdom that Can Be Applied to Any Life

For many of us, college was one of–if not the–happiest time of our lives. It was a time when meeting people was easy. The world was full of possibility. We traveled light. Everything seemed new and exciting. We were unshackled from the chains of parental guidance.

Then something happened. We moved off campus. We graduated. We got jobs, donned suits, got married, had kids, bought cars, acquired homes with yards. We suddenly had little time for friends. We got stuff–lots of stuff. And endless possibility was replaced by endless routine. We became our own restrictive parent.

While many go back to school to recreate these halcyon days (read: MFA), there are lessons we might learn from our former, freer selves–lessons that can be applied without going back to school and to lives that include careers, children and regular bathing. Here you go:

  1. We live to connect. This is surely the most important aspect of college life. Many of us made lifelong friends in college, and studies have found that humans with high degrees of social interaction live happier, longer lives. It also found the converse to be true: For example, people who live with low social interaction suffer the same health hazards as someone who smokes 15 cigarettes a day. The beauty of the college experience is that connection is in the architecture: Long hallways, small rooms and compact campuses help create collisions of connections. Many corporate campuses nowadays try to replicate this phenomena.
  2. We don’t need that much living space. The typical American dorm room is around 180 sq ft, and often that space is shared with a roommate. The amount of space humans need is very plastic. In fact, the average American takes up three times as much as space as he did 60 years ago.
  3. Privacy is overrated. It’s funny how we often think fondly of our dorm days–days sharing a tiny room, traveling down the hall to go to the bathroom and eating in large cafeterias. Sure, there were times when the lack of privacy wasn’t so great. But many of these low spots trained us how to live with others. Despite the benefits of public living, many of us strove to make our post-grad homes into fortresses of solitude. Everyone needed their own space–all resulting in more isolation and less connection. Face it, you want to be around people–even when you think you don’t.
  4. You don’t need that much stuff. Remember all of that great stuff in your dorm room: The sandwich press, your 50 state silver spoon collection, your 10 speaker surround sound system? Of course you don’t, because you didn’t have that stuff. You had a clothes hamper and a boombox you cherished, and you were just fine.
  5. Learning is good. Sure, you might have not been the most attentive student, but we bet you learned something–even if it was unconsciously picked up while you slept in class. Research is showing that we can improve mental health and even ward off degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease through learning new ideas and skills such as a language or instrument in later life.
  6. Walk more, commute less. In our college days, everything was close and we walked everywhere. A growing body of evidence suggests that commuting makes us miserable. Take a tip from the student and ditch the car wherever possible.

College Student Image via

  • “Face it, you want to be around people–even when you think you don’t.”

    No, I’m really quite sure I don’t. But I’m on board with the rest.

  • DianaBGKY

    On Meyers-Briggs, I’m an E. That means I am supposed to get energy from being around people, and it is true that I do. But I also like to have my own space, an element of privacy. There is room in life for both and with planning room in homes also.

    Good article.

    • i was considering bringing up the myers-briggs info. as far as i remember it (i couldn’t quickly verify this), the vast majority of people are extroverts. this is not to say some privacy is bad, merely the ideal of perfect isolation is overrated.

  • cityotter

    i like this article. it reminds me of why i live in new york city. most of what you mention–the smaller living space, neighbors down the hall, short commutes (despite what US News says) and learning just by being outside the home is built into the lifestyle here. also, i’m so introverted at times it hurts. i bought my own home years ago, but needing to have a roommate to cover the mortgage has forced me to be less insular. there are times when i want the world to just go away, then my roomie comes happily into the kitchen, oblivious to my low mood, and just starts talking. for the first few minutes i want to lop his ear off with my butcher knife. then, before i know it, he’s got me laughing and out of my brooding thoughts. american ‘Independence’ and doing it on our own is a great marketing scheme, but a terrible recipe for happiness.

  • Paul

    Interesting points about the commute. A lot of my friends are moving (or talking about moving) outside London or to at least the very edge – so increasing their commutes. Even after talking to them about it I still don’t really understand why they want to do it (they have enough money to stay) and it seems to be a very ingrained thing -> live in the city, get a bit older (30’s), get married, move outside city, have kids etc. Personally I I’m doing the opposite: I started in London zone 5, moved to zone 3, and recently moved to zone 2. Maybe by 50 I’ll live in zone 1 (if I can afford it! ;-))

  • Mitch

    This is probably my favourite post on this site. Much as I’d like to try out a super-tiny house on wheels (I’d love a teardrop camper) this post is a reminder of what I can do each day to live a simpler life. I first read this a few months ago, did a trawl of the house and ended up selling enough stuff on eBay to cover three mortgage payments so it was a nice kickstart.