With the school year coming up fast, hundreds of thousands of young people are gearing up for another great year of learning—along with cafeteria food, less-than-luxurious housing, and the occasional beer (or three). Pumped? Bummed out? We put together some of the best hacks to make dorm life a little more manageable. With tips on everything from brewing coffee without a pot to the world’s cheapest AC, come summer, you may even miss those twin beds and cinderblock walls.
1. Instant climate control. Cram enough people into the same building, and it’s bound to get hot. So if dorm AC is inadequate—or nonexistent—cool a room instantly by hanging a damp towel in the window. (Pro tip: keep another window or door across the room open to create a cross breeze, letting the towel-cooled air circulate.) If the room has a ceiling fan, make sure it’s set to run counterclockwise—which creates a breeze instead of an updraft—for optimum cooling power.
2. No-cook scrambled eggs. No kitchen? No problem. All it takes is a microwave and a mug to make scrambled eggs. Spray some cooking oil in a mug, crack in a few eggs, and microwave for 90 seconds. Remove, stir, and microwave for another 90 seconds, then enjoy!
3. Study smarter just before bed. We’re all about finding ways to boost brainpower, and who hasn’t needed that extra help in college? Studying before bed is a simple trick to help retention, and studies suggest doing so can help the brain store more material. (Take that, Chem 101!) Memory for Semantically Related and Unrelated Decalartive Information: The Benefit of Sleep, the Cost of Wake. Payne, J.D., Tucker, M.A., Ellenbogen, J.M., et al. Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33079. Epub 2012 Mar 22.. But it's a good idea to avoid studying or doing work in bed or the dining hall, two spots the brain associates with activities meant to relax or divert our attention.
4. Brew coffee without a coffee maker. Sometimes we need a little jolt, and coffee makers aren’t always handy. So use a disposable cup, filter, and rubber band to make a one-mug-sized filter for coffee you can put right over that favorite mug. Add hot water and enjoy another few hours of cramming time.
5. Chill booze fast for an impromptu party. Peeps coming over but don’t have cool drinks to crack? Chill the booze of choice quickly by placing ice along the bottom of a bucket and adding a layer of salt. Place your bottle (or can) of choice on top, then surround to the top with alternating layers of salt and ice. Fill the remainder with cold water. The ice will lower its melting point, melting the outside portion of the ice and letting the coldest interior ice crystals chill the mixture. The drinks will be ready to go in record time.
6. Get wrinkle-free. It's a good look when a semiformal's coming up, or when we just want to look put-together for a change. Get the wrinkles out of clothes by tossing them in the dryer for 20 minutes, then hanging immediately. Still need an iron? Hot pans or kettles can make great substitutes when a real iron isn’t lying around. Just make sure to go easy on the heat or dab some water on beforehand to help steam out imperfections.
7. The world’s cheapest fridge organizer. All those beverages can take up valuable (mini) fridge space, so use a binder clip on one of the shelves to keep bottles stacked neatly.
8. Sleep like a pro. The college social schedule isn’t always the best for peaceful rest, but it’s not a lost cause. The body’s natural sleep cycles are regulated in part by exposure to light, so for more restful sleep on even the craziest schedule, install blackout curtains to keep light out when it’s time to snooze Light treatment for sleep disorders: consensus report. Eastman, C.L., Boulos, Z., Terman, M., et al. Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center, Chicago. Journal of Biological Rhythms. 1995 Jun;10(2):157-64.. And avoid digital alarm clocks with bright displays in order to minimize extra light when sleeping.
9. Build your own sit-stand workstation. Hunching over a laptop can cause some serious back soreness, so make your own sit-stand workstation for a posture-friendly study center. Just stack textbooks on an existing desk until you can place a laptop at a height comfortable to use while standing. Voila!
10. Prep food like a pro, no equipment required. Sometimes it’s nice to go a little fancy, but don’t splurge on a new set of knives for a dorm wine and cheese party. Just use dental floss to cut soft items—this includes everything from cheese to birthday cakes. And if you’re minus a corkscrew, just bust out the tool kit. To open stubborn bottles, insert a screw into the cork and pry it out using the back end of a hammer. (Best to try this one sober.)