college student allison studying at her home in northern california

Organization Tips For Living At Home During College

Like so many other students, Allison Lui found herself in an unexpected situation this year: living at home during college.

The sophomore at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign had gone home for spring break when she learned she would be finishing her spring semester at her family’s Northern California home.

While many students are staying home this fall semester because of the global pandemic, it had already become more common for younger adults to live at home, and for a longer period, according to a 2017 Pew Research report.

Living at home during college might not be ideal for everyone, but some organization tips it can help make this semester go smoothly—no matter where you are.

“I was never great at focusing in my room. There was a desk in the family room where I would go to do my high school work,” Lui said. “I readopted the area and started doing my work there— it was a nice throwback to high school.”

We talked to Lui, a college professor and even a professional organizer for some tips to make living at work, so students can ace those tests — virtually!

Organizing Your Daily Tasks

college student cleaning her computer screen in her bedroom

No one wants to have their parents walk in the background of their Zoom class so make sure you have a conversation with your new “roommates” about day-to-day expectations and goals for the school year.

“They need to sit down and discuss what the semester is going to look like,” said Professor Matthew Mayhew, professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Ohio State .

If you think you’ll have a hard time adjusting, then don’t be in shy in asking your parents for some quiet time in the house during classes, studying or tests. That might also mean you skip out on daily house chores.

“I think for some students it will feel overwhelming to be a full-time student and doing this from home,” Mayhew said.

Once everyone outlines their expectations and responsibilities, the better everyone will be able to organize their days, he said.

Lui had to tell her parents and older brother one day she needed the house to be absolutely quiet for a test monitored by a proctor.

“If the (proctor) heard something they would count it as cheating and the teacher would have automatically docked points,” she explained. “My family had to tiptoe around the house for three hours.”

Another helpful tip: get a planner or app to help you organize your day.

Lui is on track to graduate in three years with a degree in finance, but she acknowledged she initially had trouble organizing her schedule and setting a routine when she first transitioned to online classes.

At first she fell behind schedule watching pre-recorded classes, and it wasn’t until she downloaded Simple, a meal tracker app, that she began to organize not only her meals but her school day. Soon, Lui was organizing her class work load by setting daily tasks and goals.

Identifying a Study Area

Many students have an area campus where they prefer to study, whether it was the library or in the student center. Well, it makes sense to do this at home, too, said Mayhew.

“It would be beneficial for students to try to claim a space when they have to go online to learn. ‘This is my learning corner or my learning space,’” Mayhew said.

That could be anywhere in the house, since students are mobile with laptops and other portable devices.

“Having a designated spot is really helpful,” she said. “That might be at the dining room or some place that isn’t a traditional desk and I think that’s completely fine as long you know that will work for you.”

Lui agrees. Back in Illinois she would use the study rooms in her residence hall to do her school work.

“It was easy to stay motivated especially because you were around others who were studying,” she said.;

Setting Up A Study Space

Female college student studying at her home desk

Now that you’ve decided on your study spot at home, it’s time to set up study space.

Setting up your space should really be about the essentials: Do you have internet and cell phone reception in this corner of the house? Is there enough room to have a laptop or desktop and still spread out materials to do any reading or writing, or do you need to move things around?

“When it comes to paperwork the younger students are pretty good about being digital and don’t need a lot printed out,” said Amy Trager, certified professional organizer in Chicago.

If you do require a lot of space for paperwork, then you’ll need something to corral all those documents. Trager suggests avoiding a traditional in box because it tends to pile up “and we forget what’s in there.”

“Something vertical — whether it's a file folder or magazine holder — works well because it's easier to flip through and see what you’ve got,” Trager said.

This way, if do have multiple classes you can use a vertical system to separate and organize materials for each.

For Lui, she found that a minimalistic approach to her desk area helped. Luckily for her, she didn’t need space for books since they were all accessible online.

“I tried to keep it very tidy and free of distractions, as it would be if I were at the public workspace in my hall,” she said.

Trager has one last bit of advice: “The more organized your space, the better it will be to function.”

For those who are going back to their campuses this year, here’s some dorm room decorating ideas and organizing tips. Here’s some tips for how to stay organized for the school year and 8 must-have finances tips for college.