Walk into any major retailer this time of year and you can usually find a long checklist of everything you need to buy for a dorm room. Keep in mind that those lists were compiled by a company looking to make money — not to help you pack only the essentials.
In the wise words of Cynthia Bell, a rising senior at Seton Hall University: “You aren’t going to Antarctica. You are going to college.”
So here are some of my suggestions for what to pack (and not to pack) as you head off to school. I will also be online Friday at 11 a.m. to answer questions about moving to college.
Bedding: Most dorm beds require extra-long twin sheets, and one set is all you need, as long as you regularly do laundry. Pack a comforter — and extra blankets if you are headed to a cold region. You will also need a pillow or two, but there’s really no need for decorative throw pillows that will likely end up on the floor. (Shown to the right, bedding from Dormify.)
Entertaining: Decide who in your room should bring a television. Buying one? Get the one that weighs the least — the dad who has to haul it up five flights of stairs in August heat will thank you. Sign up for a Netflix or Hulu membership, or put your favorite DVDs into a small binder (they’ll take up less space). Most guys (and some women, too) like to bring all their gaming equipment. Make sure to pack extra controllers so new friends can play.
Dining: Remember, if you live on campus most of your meals will be eaten in the dining hall, so there’s no need for a full kitchen setup in your room. Check with your roommates to see who will bring a small refrigerator, microwave and a can opener. Bring a few microwave-safe plates and bowls, basic silverware, a coffee mug, a plastic cup and a water bottle. Remember, the more dishes you own, the more tempting it will be to let them pile up in your sink. (Shown above are plates from Crate and Barrel, and mugs from Anthropologie.)
Most dorm rooms come equipped with a desk, chair, trash can and basic lighting, but check to make sure. Buy a loud alarm clock unless you use your phone to wake up. You’ll probably want a small study lamp for your desk that you can use when your roommate is asleep. Along those lines, also bring earbuds.
Nearly all college students bring a laptop or computer to campus. See if your roommate wants to share a printer and a power strip to maximize your limited electrical outlets. And don’t forget all of your chargers for your phone, laptop, camera, MP3 player and other electronics.
You will also need notebooks, pens, pencils and all of the other basic supplies you routinely bought in high school. (Shown above are notebooks at Target.)
Washing: You will likely use communal showers your first year at school, so don’t forget a sturdy pair of flip-flops, bathrobe, and caddy to hold your shampoo, conditioner, body wash and other toiletries. Also pack a few washcloths and towels that aren’t too thick and will dry quickly while hanging on a hook. You may also want a full-length mirror. You need a laundry basket, detergent and a basic understanding of sorting brights from whites. A lot of students pack ironing boards and irons, but few actually use them.
Decorating: This dorm room will be your home for the next nine months, so make it look homey. Many roommates like to put a small whiteboard on their door so people can leave notes. Pack photos of friends and family that can decorate your walls, along with posters or artwork you created. You might also want a colorful rug to cover up an aging floor. (Shown on the left are posters at Urban Outfitters.)
Clothing: Bring your favorite clothes and comfortable shoes, but don’t feel the need to bring everything. Pack one or two outfits that would work for job interviews or fancy dinners. Don’t forget workout clothes and pajamas you wouldn’t mind everyone seeing you in during a 4 a.m. fire-alarm pull. And don’t forget to pack an umbrella. Seriously, an umbrella is important.
Other random things: Bring a first-aid kit, bandages and a few over-the-counter medications. Although your dorm floor will likely have a vacuum cleaner you can use, pack paper towels and an all-purpose cleaning solution. Pack a flashlight for emergencies (or late-night adventures). Bring at least one novel to read for fun. Oh, and a framed photo of your family.
Things not to bring: Leave your high school years at home — that means your yearbooks, letterman jacket, prom corsage and huge pile of club T-shirts. You are starting a new chapter in your life, and you need room for new momentos. (Like these odd James Madison University-branded boots, shown on the right.)
Most campuses are not far from stores selling things such as toothpaste and bottled water, so there’s no need to stock your tiny room like a Costco.
Most dorm rooms come fully stocked with all necessary furniture and there’s likely no room for any more. And someone probably gave you a tool set for graduation, but at most you need a screwdriver, hammer and sticky tabs to hang stuff on your walls.
Don’t bring candles, hot plates, space heaters or anything else that could set your dorm ablaze. And don’t bring alcohol, drugs, weapons or anything else illegal. On that note, check your college’s rules for what’s allowed and what’s not.
Okay, what did I forget to include on this list? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter using the hashtag #College101.