What a Dorm Room Needs & What it doesn't

I spent the last 5 weeks with a group of organizers packing dorm rooms and here's what I learned ...

#1 - they need a LOT LESS stuff. For many students this will be the smallest space they've ever lived in and possibly the first time they're sharing a room. Dorms are cramped and the less you have the easier it will be to stop the chaos from starting - clutter is stressful and that's the last thing a new college student needs. You want your kids to have the comforts of home but also to learn independence - for many things, let them figure out what they need and have them buy it later. Below I'll show you a mix of fun & practical suggestions for their new home.


THE BED. If your student is excited to shop for school - focus on the bedding - just remember, they may be in that Twin XL for only 1 year! Let the student choose their own comforter - it's the biggest 'decor' in the room and they have to live with it not you. Here are some ideas they might not think of:


A mattress topper and mattress pad are a must - no question. You can spend $50-$200 but it's worth it, even if they only use it for freshman year. I recommend at least a 3" topper. Check out this 4" inch memory foam topper at Amazon or take that Bed, Bath & Beyond 20% off coupon and put it to good use! Remember: the mattress topper needs to 'breath' for 24 hours - if possible, unpack at home and let it air out for a day or two. Unfortunately it does expand - roll it and put into a very large garbage back for transporting.


Extra Pillowcases. They won't wash sheets as often as they should and they won't use that extra set you sent. Pillowcases are easy to change - send a couple and remind them to change it. Natural organic materials are best for teen or sensitive skin. This pillowcase is ranked in Oprah Magazine as one of the "Best Silk Pillowcases". *Beware too many decorative pillows unless they can be used for back support.


Headboard. Most dorm beds do not have a headboard. Check out this No Nails Smart Faux Headboard from Pottery Barn. It's specially designed to hang with 3M adhesive tape that won't damage the wall and has a built-in USB port and three-prong plug for charging a phone and powering a lamp or laptop. The organizer in me loves the over the bed shelving unit at www.dormco.com (this is a great DIY project too).




Under bed Storage will depend on the room layout and the dresser & bookcase provided by the school. If you purchase storage make sure they have a lid for stacking like these from The Container Store.


There's a lot of room under the beds, but it can be hard to plan if you haven't seen the room before move in day. Keep it simple 2 or 3 extra should be enough.


**Bring a rubber mallet for lofting the bed.



FOOD / DRINKS. Every single room I packed had snacks & drinks - give them a place to keep it.


Send them with a couple of plastic tubs with lids like these from Sterilite. Start them off with a small care package of their favorite snacks. They can also be used as storage at the back of the bed.








Refrigerator & Microwave. If you're in driving distance of school I suggest buying a refrigerator - otherwise rent from the school. The student should negotiate this with their roommate. Buying a microwave is based on your kid - will they really use it? If you buy the smaller refrigerator, purchase a small stand to store their food.


Garbage Can Liners - remember they have to walk down the hall (sometimes outside) with their garbage AND it will keep the can clean. Teach them to put several bags at the bottom of the can - makes adding a new one quick and easy. If you're buying the can, get a decent size that will still fit under the desk.


Water Pitcher - Small Brita 5 Cup Water Pitcher - this depends on the size of your dorm fridge and if your student is a big water drinker.

Water Bottle. We had a lot of requests for items to ship home but everyone wanted their Hydro Flask. Don't bring too many water bottles and please put your initials on the bottom!

Microwave Safe Dishes. Send 1 mug, 1 bowl, 1 plate, & 1 set of silverware - this way they may be forced to wash them! Send a favorite mug to remind them of home.


Coffee Maker - this can take up some much needed space. If they REALLY need a coffee maker, look at the Keurig K-Mini Single Serve.


**When it comes to the water pitcher and coffee maker - think hard, do they use them at home? Do they wake up early enough to make coffee before school? These are things that can be purchased later if needed.


DESK. You don't want to start out with too many items on the desk - it will collect things along the way. Send a 1 small family picture to put on desk - no more.

Lamp. If they're going to be studying in the room, this desk lamp is a must. It's dimmable, rotates and has a USB port. It also folds for easy moving. If they don't like to study in their room or at a desk - they probably won't need a lamp.


Ethernet Cable. Dorm wifi is notoriously slow - adding this cable can be a lifesaver.


Makeup Mirror. It's much easier to put your makeup on in your room. Keep it simple - top of desk can get very busy.


Desk Top Shelving. As an organizer I say 'beware the flat space' - it will collect everything. This shelving unit provides additional vertical storage. You want to leave as much floor space free as possible.


Screwdriver. 1 of each to keep in the drawer.







Headphones. Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones. Give them a rest from their earpods with a soft, full around-ear headphone. Great for watching videos in bed and not disturbing your roommate.


Power Strip / Surge Protector. Buy them with the USB ports. They will need 2 - one for their desk and one for the bed. Use command strips to attach one to the side of the bedpost.


Extra Charging Cords. They will need a phone charger to leave plugged in by the bed.


CUSTOM SICK KIT. Once again - I found unopened first aid kits and medicine scattered all over the dorm rooms. Create a student specific kit - fill a plastic tote with their essentials. Include: bandaids, pain medications, throat lozenges, bug bite lotion, cold & flu meds, thermometer, reusable ice pack (if they have a freezer) - also consider adding cup-of-soup, crackers, Pedialyte. Customizing to your student is the key.


LAUNDRY. While the pop-up laundry baskets are very popular they can be difficult to carry. An XL Backpack style can hold a couple of loads and make the trip easier.













SHOWER. Hands down - everyone wanted a mesh shower tote. It needs to drain and be waterproof. Get a separate container for hair styling (blowdryer, straightener, brushes).


MISC. Just a few little extras: Doorstop - the doors can be heavy - make sure you get one that is tough enough. Whether it's just for move-in or to socialize with your neighbors.

Curtains - If your student wants curtains, bring a tension rod and grommet curtains for easier opening. You may have to call the school for measurements. If the curtain area has trim, consider the Kwik-Hang Curtain Rod Bracket. They mount on the trim and don't damage walls. Careful with blackout curtains - many students need that sunshine to wake up.


Boxes as Organizer

Drawer Dividers- Use the bottom of a shoe box inside of the drawers to organize socks & underwear. Tension drawer dividers are another simple option. I love the clear ones from The Container Store and have them in my drawers at home.





Shoe Organizers - While there are some very organized college students, I found that a large basket to toss shoes works just as well. Depending on the closet, a basic shoe stacker can also add storage space.


Command Strips - I prefer the velcro - put them into a quart zip lock and leave in their desk.


Less is Best. There are a lot of great organizing products on the market - but honestly, most of the students don't use them. I saw over the door shoe organizers empty and piles of shoes on the floor. If they're currently using storage in their room at home bring it.


TIPS: Keep your 'move-in kit' separate. You'll want quick access to: disinfecting wipes, doorstop, mallet, command strips, scissors, screwdriver & water! Move in day is CRAZY and too much stuff just makes it harder. You'll be looking for parking, waiting for the elevator and there will be a lot of people to meet.

Students are excited, stressed, nervous ... try to make it fun. Putting everything away perfectly isn't a priority. Some kids want their parents to hang up the wall decorations and make the bed while others want you to drop and go. It's all normal. If you're staying in town that day, check back with your student in a couple hours and maybe take them to lunch or shopping.


Consider leaving a small note behind that they can find later or sending a care package of items after you get back home.



There's always a place for the students to shop after you leave (Target, Amazon, etc.) Give them the time to settle in and the ability to decide what else they need - let them be independent, it's part of the learning experience. You can always get them a gift card or an Amazon Student Account (with a spending limit!).



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