What NOT to Buy: Don’t Waste Money on These 17 Frivolous Dorm Ideas

About a month before my daughter left for college we spent a fun day shopping together for items for her dorm room. And by fun I mean expensive. The number of dorm purchases she needed — or thought she needed — was staggering.

When it came time to pack it all up and stuff it all into our SUV for the 300-mile trek to campus, I had regret. When our loaded SUV resembled the Joad family truck from The Grapes of Wrath, I questioned our decisions. And when we carted about a fourth of it back home after setting her up in her new matchbook-sized room and I was gifted the task of making all the returns, I shed bitter-flavored tears at our judgment or lack of.

Shopping for all the new dorm room “essentials” is stressful, especially when it’s your first trip to the college rodeo. The suggestions and lists can be overwhelming and confusing, and the entire process can leave you spinning even more than you already are.

You don’t need that in your life.

Thanks to many Grown and Flown parents who’ve been in your shaking shoes, here’s a list of items to avoid that may provide some much-needed guidance. Because saving time means more time spent with your graduate. And saving money means more Chardonnay for you.

17 dorm room purchases that aren't necessary
An over-the-top dorm room can be a tase of money. (Photographee.eu/ Shutterstock)

*Disclaimer: As with all the advice you’ve been given for the past 18 years, use your own best judgment. These suggestions will depend on your child, their needs, where they are living, and how much they do not care about cleanliness. And, note: we are a reader-supported site and receive compensation from purchases made through some of the links in this post. 

17 dorm room items that are a waste of money:

1. Decorative pillows:

Lovely idea in theory, but since the bed is most likely the only place for people to sit when they visit, there’s just no room for them. Plus, since the bed is rarely made, they just take up floor space, of which there is none. Instead, try a bedrest pillow, as these are very popular among college students and will be used often.

2. TV:

Really, in this day and age, what’s the point? The laptop &/or iPad they already have — and that you already spent big bucks for — will work just fine, and is what they’ll watch on more often anyway.

3. Second sheet set:

I know you’d really like to think otherwise, but this is so not necessary. Pretend the sheets get washed more than once a semester, pour yourself another glass of denial, and resist the urge to vomit.

4. Extra towels:

See above. Bring two bath towels to save storage space, and hand towels aren’t necessary. According to my daughter, “if you need to dry your hands, just use a bath towel.” Most dorm bathrooms have hand dryers as well.

5. Plastic shower caddy:

Too bulky and they take too long to dry. Opt for a mesh shower caddy, instead.

6. Iron:

First of all, if your kid even knows how to use one, much less what it is, congratulations! Secondly, don’t bother. If your kid is one of the few college students who are occasionally concerned about wrinkles, get a hand-held steamer. Just make sure to tell them not to steam an item when it is on another person, which is a nugget of knowledge that would have been valuable for my college roommate to know before steaming my husband’s shirt … and his left nipple.

7. Drying rack:

Mixed feelings from parents about this one. Its usefulness seems to be in direct correlation to the number of leggings and bras that need to be air-dried. My daughter used hers all the time, but moms of boys overwhelmingly say it’s not necessary. Beds and desk chairs work well, too.

8. Dorm safe:

As many dorms have a drawer that can be locked with a padlock, a safe is expensive and will take up valuable floor sprawling space.

9. Cleaning equipment:

Vacuums, Swiffer mops, etc. are a guaranteed waste of money. Most dorms have things like this that can be checked out. Pretend your child will. Then send a canister of Clorox wipes (whenever they are available, again.) I promise it will last all year.

10. Eating utensils:

Most kids will pilfer utensils from the gigantic food court that is the modern-day version of the dining hall, even though they’re not supposed to. #college

11. Laundry hamper:

The mesh ones rip. Trust us. Get a plastic hamper instead. Laundry bags: Skip the drawstring bags with the cute sayings meant to separate loads. Your kid will just bring the whole hamper down to the washer and dump it in.

12. Dorm room packages from the university:

Most parents say these pre-packaged collections of sheets, towels, etc. are low quality and to pass.

13. Box fan:

Depending on where you live and how much air needs to be circulated, an upright, oscillating fan takes up far less space.

14. Corkboards (and other heavy items for the wall):

Because you rely on Command hooks and strips to secure everything to the wall, heavier décor items are fairly useless and will fall down. My daughter attached small wire with Command hooks and used little clothespins to hang photos and other things she’d typically put on a heavy bulletin board.

15. Over-the-top décor:

From small, decorative trashcans (useless) to ridiculously fluffy rugs that will soon be full of popcorn (not to mention jam the dorm-rental vacuum), trying to recreate one of the Pottery Barn dorm rooms that are all over social media is an astronomical waste of money and time. Besides, the beer can pyramid that’s inevitable will clash horribly.

16. Textbooks:

Obviously, have your child use his best judgment, but my recent college graduate suggests waiting until the first class to find out what the professor suggests. Over her four years, she had many professors tell the class that the book wasn’t necessary, despite what the packet said.

17. Extra (unnecessary) clothes:

Because of, you guessed it, limited space, experienced college grads will tell you that they brought too many clothes. They’ll most likely recirculate one of a few college mascot hoodies and tees anyway. Don’t worry; they’ll get washed with the sheets.

My suggestion for saving time, money, and stress? Pack the essential dorm room purchases and the decorative, personal items that will make the cellblock room feel like home, and finally, here are our best suggestions for move-in day.

After you have moved in and have seen what is available through the dorm and what there’s space for, order from Amazon or make a trip the Target. There’s one in most college towns for this very reason.

You Might Also Enjoy:

Do’s and Don’ts of Dorm Room Shopping That Will Make You Smile

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When you're shopping for your teen for their first dorm room, it's hard to know what they REALLY need. This list of things you don't need in your college dorm room is made by moms who have been their with their own teenagers. Here's what they use in the dorm and what they don't. #dorm #dorms #dormroom #dormideas #diydorm #dormlife #collegelife #collegekid #college










About Michelle Newman

Michelle Newman is one of the hosts and producers of The Pop Culture Preservation Society, a podcast dedicated to preserving the pop culture nuggets of our GenX childhoods, from Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees to Battle of The Network Stars. She’s spent the past nine years writing for publications like Grown & Flown, Entertainment Weekly, and The Girlfriend, as well as for her (now silent) blog, You’re My Favorite Today. A recent empty nester, Michelle finds immense joy connecting with others through the memories of their 70s childhoods. Follow the Pop Culture Preservation Society on Instagram and listen wherever you get podcasts!

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