If your college’s dorms are similar to mine, then you’ll be lucky to get around 120 square feet of personal space. That might seem comfortably cozy to some, but to others, cramming a year’s worth of personal belongings and supplies into that space can be a nightmare. Just a few weeks after moving into my dorm, I realized what was essential and what was simply hogging my precious space.
What You Really Need
Clothes! Depending on your school’s climate and how far you are from home, you can work out a system so that you don’t end up lugging an entire wardrobe around with you. If you’re only heading home for major holidays, you can plan on staggering your clothing load. Pack late summer/early fall staples like light jackets, scarves, dresses, and boots right off the bat. Once Thanksgiving or Winter Break roll around, you can swap out the items you don’t need and bring back heavier winter clothes. Then when Spring Break arrives, you can bring home those parkas and stock your dorm with tanks and shorts. Obviously, keep your basics-like jeans, sweaters, neutral shirts, socks, etc.-with you throughout the school year, and don’t hesitate to keep an extra pair or shorts or warm jacket on hand for unexpected weather. The same goes for shoes; keep the essentials on hand and rotate the seasonal styles.
Bedding. It goes without saying that you’ll need some cozy bedding to crash on year-round. However, if you’re attending a school with drastic weather changes (from dry late summer heat to winter blizzards and wet springs), you may want to get some solid basics and go from there. Start with comfortable sheets, and then get a mid-weight comforter. That way, you can add more blankets when the weather gets cold and bring them home once it heats up again, without having to do a major bedding overhaul.
Desk Supplies. You don’t need to tote along every Hello Kitty pencil you own, but there are certain things you’ll want to have on hand. I suggest some tape, a stapler, scissors, a good set of pens and pencils, highlighters, a glue stick, index cards, post-its, and perhaps some colored pencils or markers for the artsy type. I also like to bring some stationary to reply to any letters or send a thank-you card. Any incidentals are usually on hand at your school’s bookstore.
Electronics. You will need a computer and a printer if you won’t have easy access to a communal one. An iPod is certainly handy, as well as an alarm clock. A small camera is a must for capturing college moments, as well as a few extra batteries and any necessary cords.
Toiletries. Go through your bathroom and start with only the essentials: toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, razors, lotion, deodorant, face wash, makeup (and no, you really do not need to bring all 20 shades of eyeshadow), band aids, and hair ties/bobby pins. Then go through and pick out what else you can’t live without-one or two perfumes, bronzer, nail polish, etc.
Medicine, Etc. If you have a prescription, then certainly ensure that you are able to get your medicine refilled near your school. Other than that, bring basics like Advil, Midol, Tums, and perhaps a cold medicine. In reality, you could just as easily go without these items and pick them up if the need arises. Most college bookstores stock basic medicinal items.
Decor/Extras. This is an area where you could bring absolutely nothing or go totally overboard. I only brought a few knick-knacks to brighten up my room and make it feel more homey. A small vase, a trophy, picture frames, or other little items that are easy to pack and move are ideal. You don’t, however, want to bring every soccer trophy, all your pictures, or your entire stuffed animal collection. Your once-organized dorm can suddenly become a stuffed cave that could rival any hoarder’s house if you insist on bringing every sentimental item. Try to limit yourself to 3-4 small decor items and 2-3 sentimental items.
Posters/Boards. This is one area in which you can go crazy. As long as cluttered walls don’t bother you, feel free to fill up your allocated space with bulletin boards, pictures, and posters. Stock up on removable wall hangers to mount your boards and ensure that you don’t damage the paint.
Jewelry. Don’t bring everything, and don’t bring valuables. I packed about 90% of my jewelry collection, and actually wore about 5% of it. Pack your favorites, and be judicious about what valuable items you bring. A Tiffany bracelet should be fine, but not your grandmother’s heirloom emerald ring.
What Your Really Don’t Need
Your entire book collection. Since you’re heading off to college, I’ll assume that you at least don’t mind reading, and that quite a few of you might have a sizable library of books at home. Consider a few things before lugging around extra tomes: first, you’ll be quite busy with required reading; second, you will have a well-stocked library at your disposal while at school. Additionally, books can add quite a bit of weight to your load while moving in and out, and certainly take up dorm space. Pick out one or two books you plan on reading, and then swap them out as you come home for holidays or visits.
Picture frames. I know I mentioned bringing along a picture or two to make your tiny dorm feel like home, but remember that you have plenty of wall space to plaster with photos. Take your favorite shots and put them above your bed, which will brighten up your blank walls and save room on your desk or table.
Rugs. Dorm floors can be disgusting, but after seeing classmates struggle with heavy rugs, I’d recommend against these unwieldy decorations. Instead, get a fuzzy bath mat to place next to your bed. You’ll still have something clean and soft to land on in the morning, but you’ll save space while moving and skip the back strain that comes from hefting around rugs.
Food. Only while moving in, of course. Unless you’re attending school in some far off forest, you will have a market close by. Don’t pack up your car with snacks; wait until you arrive and move in before stocking up on essentials. Even then, don’t buy the whole store. It may be tempting to go to Costco and load up, but cases of water and huge boxes of Pop Tarts are both unattractive to stare at and huge space-wasters. Clip coupons and shop judiciously to still save while buying in small amounts. Most food bought in bulk goes uneaten anyways!
Scrapbooks/Personal Items. There are a lot of things can can fit in this category, which basically covers sentimental things like certificates, scrapbooks, photo albums, newspaper clippings, etc. These things may be dear to your heart, but they will honestly only be a nuisance at school. Keep them in a safe spot at home, and revisit them on trips home.
DVDs. Like potato chips, you really can’t just bring one DVD along. To some, that can have epic consequences. One of my roommates ended up having to lug 40+ DVDs home by the end of the year, and most discs went unwatched. You can either use a system similar to the clothing and book swaps during home visits, or just go without.
TV. I know some simply can’t live without television, but to me, this was one more item to lug around and take up space. Most dorms have communal areas with television, and more often than not, you’ll be able to snag the remote and watch what you want. If not, there are sites like Hulu.com that allow you to watch all your favorite shows online. Plus, college is a time to experience a new way of life and celebrate with friends. Go explore the area or have a night out with friends instead of planting yourself in front of the tube. I promise you’ll remember awesome college memories far better than the season finale of The Bachelor.
There are a myriad of other items that probably should be on hand in your dorm, and many more that really don’t belong. When initially packing, try to box up only the essentials; then go back and pick out the extras you can’t live without. Before setting out for school, look back over everything you’ve packed and see if there are any items that you can leave behind, and trim down your load. It will truly make for a much more enjoyable dorm experience when you have a tidy room with some open space leftover. Plus, consider all the shopping you’ll do while in a new town and environment. I guarantee you’ll come home with some new treasures!