With high school graduation behind us, Grown and Flown is focused in the day we will drop off our youngest kids at their freshmen dorms. Though we prefer to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the inevitable, it’s time to get them ready for the tiny new living spaces that will be their homes away from home.
Five years ago, we were rookie moms and made our share of dorm shopping rookie mistakes. Frankly, we bought a lot of crap. This time, with experience on our side, we hope to give you some thoughts on how to approach what might be your last back-to-school shopping trip….in life.
Note: We receive compensation from purchases made through some of the links in this post.
Dorm Room Shopping: What NOT to Do
1. Dorm Room Shopping is NOT like a School Supply List
My daughter’s college mailed a “What to Bring” list with seven categories and 82 separate items. My advice – do not treat this like the supply lists from your child’s elementary school where, scavenger hunt-style, you dutifully checked off each item while wheeling a cart through Staples. Instead, concentrate on the most important items, first. Anything and everything else can be picked up on move-in day or ordered later online.
In fact, before you grab your credit card and keys, take a look at Dorm Room Shopping: 50 Questions to Answer, First. We guarantee it will save you time, money and loads of aggravation.
2. Dorms are Minuscule
Keep this mantra in mind…..Less is more, less is more. Dorm rooms are tiny and spaces, shared. There is minimal room for the necessities and not much else for extras. Forget oversize.
3. Kids are Pigs
Ever seen a photo of a lived-in college room? Appalled? We were, too. The dorm room you help your kid set up will begin to deteriorate the moment you wave your tearful goodbye. In the next nine months, your son or daughter will welcome friends into that room where every surface will be treated as a chair.
Some of the “dorm room shopping essentials” you eagerly purchase this summer will be stuffed in corners, unopened and collecting dust, until they’re rediscovered in May.
4. Store Savings
Everything about college is expensive, and that definitely includes dorm shopping, so look for some great shopping deals. Many retailers hold college shopping nights and special promotions in exchange for your email address. Search online to see how to sign up and look for the details on free shipping, too. Here’s where you can sign up for the Bed, Bath & Beyond College Shopping events and offers.
5. Underbed Space? You Have No Clue
This is the single biggest question mark that your kid may not know the answer to until move-in day. Those bed risers you were convinced would be perfect? They don’t work with bunk beds and are unnecessary with many elevated beds.
Resist the urge to plan for this space until you know the dimensions. If your teen knows what dorm they are assigned to, check out the “residence life” section on the college website to see if a floorpan, with dimensions, of that specific dorm is available.
6. Be Careful with Meds
Stuffing a medicine kit for your college freshman can be dangerous. When at home and sick, our teenagers take the analgesic, decongestant, or antihistamine we dole out. We have decades of experience in understanding how over-the-counter medicines should be taken. Our kids may not and, if we send them off to college with all the meds and none of the wisdom, it is very easy for them to over medicate as they battle their first cold while trying to finish a paper and study for a test.
Prescription meds, band aids, a thermometer, cough drops, Neosporin, and one analgesic – yes. But leave out multiple meds that have the same active ingredients. One pharmacist mom gave us her best advice for her freshman son.
7. Don’t Buy Crap
Even the most careful kid will be hard pressed to keep their college possessions in good shape as they move in and out of dorm rooms and college apartments for the next four years. Fragile and dainty will become ripped up and broken. Whatever goes in your shopping cart must be judged for durability. Put it back on the shelf if it doesn’t pass muster.
There is a fork in the road here and you already know which path you will take with your freshman kid. If you are flying, it will be impossible to bring much more than your teen’s clothes, electronics, x-long sheets/comforter and prescription meds.
Seek out the special shopping/shipping services from major retailers. If you are driving, you may still want to use these services for a more comfortable ride.
9. No Room for Luggage
As adults, we are accustomed to traveling with luggage but we also have closets wherever we land. College kids have minimal storage space, so consider the collapsible duffel bag that is hanging around in your basement as the perfect piece of luggage. When our son began to drive himself back and forth to school, he used garbage bags for luggage which meant he had a starter pack for the trash can when he arrived.
And, of course, the blue IKEA Frakta bag is our favorite method for transporting college gear.
10. One Pillow is Not Enough
Your kid’s dorm bed will function as bedroom/living room/study and the pillow they sleep on will not be enough to lean back onto. Bring a second bed pillow, a large square pillow in a sham, or a backrest pillow to cushion the hard wood or wall.
11. Power Struggle
Your kid will travel to college with a phone, maybe a tablet, a computer, possibly a printer or a lamp, and, if the dorm is not air-conditioned, a fan. Girls may also throw into their bags a blow dryer and hair straightener. All of this translates into a serious need for extra outlets. Do not forget a power strip with surge protection on a long cord.
A mini-fridge is a real necessity and one piece of equipment that roommates may want to discuss before move-in day. There might be space for only one, so rent or buy, decide to share the cost, or someone can own it outright. This one with the chalkboard front by Igloo, caught our eye. It comes in two sizes and will hold the drinks, snacks and cold slices of pizza that your teen will enjoy having on hand in their room.
The summer before my eldest went to college, I had a powerful nesting urge, much like I did 18 years before when I prepared for his nursery. I poured over every dorm room essential, checklist and must haves at every store with a dorm shopping display.
This time my approach is completely different. I will buy two sets of x-long sheets and my daughter will pick out a comforter in a color that she loves. We splurged on a comfy mattress topper to add to the rock hard pad that is supplied by the school. She will pack her clothes, shoes and electronics.
Fortunately, she knows the dimensions of the under bed space in her dorm room so we will buy heavy plastic storage drawers that we can fill and tape shut for our drive. She will bring a poster she can stick on the wall (no nails in dorm rooms) with photos of friends, family and her dog. We know where the closest CVS is for stocking up on the generic supplies.
The stores all have college lists, but view them with a discriminating eye. Step stools? Paper towel holders? Lots of extra plastic boxes? Think twice.
Dorm Room Items We Won’t Be Wasting Money On
- Alarm clock – she uses her phone.
- Furniture – there is no space for a futon or any furniture that’s oversized or purely decorative.
- Kitchen – no toasters or blenders, no dishes, cups or silverware that must be washed after use.
- TV – Netflix on laptop is enough.
- Pictures in frames – ditto, just flip open the laptop.
- Plants – guaranteed to die.
- Cleaning supplies – in our dreams, only, as many (most?) college kids don’t seem to clean their dorm rooms. So no vacuum, no mop. The one exception may be Clorox wipes.
- Desk Lamp – worth checking first if it is needed. Many rooms have adequate overhead light and computers are backlit.
- Composition books, binders, dividers – some of these have gone the way of the dinosaur. Let your teen start class and figure out their own study methods. Many kids prefer to take notes on their laptops and have far fewer paper needs than they did in high school. Don’t rush to waste money on a bunch of dead trees.
- Desk chair – most colleges provide a chair and you will just end up driving it back home.
- Printer – might also be an enormous waste of money. Many schools have networked printers available to students and assignments are often turned in online. Desks do not have much room and the floor is a filthy place for an expensive piece of electronic equipment.
Well worth considering for the Dorm Room:
- An over-the-door set of hooks is a great space saver for hats. jackets, or wet towels and this is one of our favorites: Over the door organizer hooks.
- Fan – is a must have if the climate or lack of air conditioning suggests the need for it. Compact fans can do a big job in stuffy or steamy dorm rooms, no need to buy a big one. This Vornado fan could be a lifesaver at the beginning of the year.
- Hooks that stick to the wall are handy for jackets, towels or jewelry to keep things (wishful) off the floor. Definitely pick up a few packages of Command Large Utility Hooks for the drive.
- Small rugs are worth considering but be wary as this may not get vacuumed all year. Small throw rugs that can go into the washing machine might work best.
- Shower caddy – first check what the bathroom situation is. If your child is using a large communal bathroom at the end of the hall, this will be a necessity. This toiletry caddy can be hung up in the shower and to dry, later.
- Mattress pad and bed bug protector, money well spent! Here is a comprehensive list of retailers that sell dorm bedding.
- Trash can? Some rooms come equipped, others do not, worth checking first.
- Is your child a coffee/tea drinker? We fell in love with this K-Mini Coffee Maker which could be a nice treat to have in their dorm room.
- Towels – consider monograming or a distinctive color. Basic white are easy to mistake for anyone else’s towels in the laundry room.
One final thought about move-in day. It will be crowded, it will be hot, and there will be lousy parking. You child will come face to face with her new roommate for the first time and you will also shake hands with your counterparts. Help her make up her bed and pull the sheets snug.
Drive her to the nearest store for shampoo and her favorite body wash. Help her stock the mini fridge. Finally, slip her a letter telling her how proud you are of her and how this day is one you know she worked hard to achieve. Tell her you love her. Hug her tight and know that it is time for her to take it from here.
Check out all our top picks for dorm shopping, grad gifts, and other great ideas at the Amazon Grown and Flown shop here.