Dorm Shopping List: THIS is Why it’s Such a Big Deal

A few things feel as satisfying to me as an excellent organizational project. For a few weeks, our finished basement has been command central for operation “get the girl ready for college.”

The floor next to the now-empty storage unit that once held Barbies, Polly Pockets, and later, sheet music, notebooks, and binders from each passing school year is lined with a succession of plastic tubs, each bearing the essentials of college life.

dorm shopping
A shopping cart filled with dorm supplies is about so much more than twin XL sheets.

What Should be on a dorm shopping list?

One tub holds laundry detergent and cleaning supplies; another toiletries, a first aid kit, cold medicine for the sore throats that plague actors, and Benadryl for the mosquito bites she’s so allergic to; a third holds pens, highlighters, a Dry Erase Board; and the final, a Laundry Basket, itself is home to nests of hangers and 3M hooks.

Amazon Prime Day recently added a hair dryer to the mix, and as I deposited this newest addition to the stash, I surveyed the contents with satisfaction. “We’re making progress on that list!” I thought to myself, carefully avoiding that the ultimate end to this progress would mean her leaving.

Having a dorm shopping list has brought out things in me I didn’t know there. Who knew I would get so excited over a Desk Lamp with USB Charging Port?

It’s taking everything in me not to cry.

It’s overwhelming, it’s silly, it’s monumental, it’s exciting…and it’s taking everything I have not to cry every time we darken Target’s door. Recently I decided that since dorm fridges now come with a built-in microwave on top (KIDS TODAY!), it stood to reason the girl would need at the least a bowl, a mug, a plate, and some utensils for late-night dorm munchies. Friends, searching for the perfect affordable and microwave-safe dish set has turned me into Indiana Jones looking for the Ark of the Covenant.

On a recent excursion, the girl turned to me and asked, partly laughing, partly mocking (the Force runs deep with this one, what can I say), “why are you so OBSESSED with this plate/bowl/mug thing?”

I couldn’t answer, not in the middle of Walmart, that it was because this felt like one of the only ways I could still actively mother her. All the other college preparations, the course selection, the PLUS loans (sigh), and the health forms are bureaucratic and removed. But the care and feeding of the girl is my turf, and it’s fast slipping from my fingers.

Recently, a longtime friend on an online mom’s group good-naturedly ribbed me about my “Great Big Dorm Shopping List.” Excellent in her “slacker mom of a teenage boy” identity, she poked fun at things like stain sticks and antibacterial wipes that nest securely in their bins waiting for move-in-day. And I get it.

Some of us deal with separation by focusing on buying things

Some of us deal with this looming separation by hyper-focusing on the list, and some deal with it by distancing ourselves from it. But neither approach covers the fact that these birds are flying their respective nests very soon.

I won’t be there when she gets her first lousy grade, has her first spat with a friend or roommate, experiences her first off-campus party, or has to go to the infirmary the first time. I won’t be there as she starts her campus job, auditions for her first college show, or pulls her first all-nighter. I won’t be there when she navigates her first campus romance, sits outside a professor’s door during office hours, or makes her first 2 am Denny’s run. Nor should I be.

With all its highs and lows, this path is hers alone to journey. So I focus on what I can do and sit with her over the Bed Bath and Beyond catalog to find the perfect comforter, remind her she’ll need a rack to dry all those cotton dresses that tall girls never throw in the dryer, and agree that yes that desk lamp is perfect. And when she’s not looking, I add some Advil to the bins… after all, that first hangover is out there too.

It’s easy to make fun of us college freshman moms. We get it; we can be a bit much.

We know they’re not leaving for good; we know they “all come back.” We know the four years will fly by. But we also know this is the beginning of the significant separation; we’re not just saying goodbye to our kids but to the hands-on role we play.

We are saying goodbye to a pretty significant part of ourselves. So give us a break and, instead of asking if we’re excited to be empty nesters, ask us what we’ve crossed off the list lately. We’d love to tell you about that sale on hangers we just found.

More Great Reading: 

What Your Mom REALLY Wanted You to Know That Day Dorm Shopping

How to Shop for College: 33 Bestselling Dorm Essentials for Freshman 2022

About Katie Collins

Katie Collins, a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 32 years, has been a contributing writer to Grown and Flown since 2017. A nonprofit development professional by day, Katie also has over 30 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded the NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. . When not working, writing or acting, she enjoys road trips and adventures with her wife and visits from her talented daughter, a college admissions counselor.

Read more posts by Katie

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates straight to your inbox.