Packing for College Life

Packing for College Life

Just yesterday it seems we started her senior year. A day later we worked on announcements, a white dress and the celebration party. Yet, it is time to shop for her dorm room. The summer, which seems to offer long days, will soon evaporate into the infamous late summer move-in day.  While most dorm spaces are hardly large enough for two people to move around in simultaneously, local retailers suggest differently by the sizable “must buy” dorm lists.  In truth, many moms....especially first time moms, react as if they are nesting again comparable to the days before they anticipated the arrival of their first baby. They overbuy and over plan.

Since this summer represents my second time through this adventure, here are some thoughts about preparing for this quickly approaching undertaking of packing for college.

Shopping for a Girl vs. for a Boy

The first college bound kid leaving my house was a male. Early in the summer, his roommates were determined to gather the needed items.  The moms tried to communicate through the boys, but ultimately set up our own FB group to relay information about what items each boy intended to bring to share in the communal areas. As I mentioned, we planned to let the boys handle all the prep, but it we were working with two cleanies and two messies.  The conscientious ones eagerly assembled items they anticipated were needed. Since some of the larger purchases could be shared and did not require duplication, the moms were forced to establish a FB group to avoid overbuying. My son was not very interested in preparing for his dorm. It was about all I could do to scout out bedding and ask him to pick his favorite bedding set.

In contrast, shopping with my daughter resembles preparing for a cross-country road trip. With Pinterest assisting, she compiled a list of items needed for all parts of her new living space. Her university offers quad style dormitories. This means that roommates share a living room, and a galley kitchen.  Each student occupies one of the four compact bedrooms. Two rooms share a bathroom. So for my girl, we need to plan for her bedroom, shared bathroom and parts of the communal living room/kitchen.  

One list covered all of her personal needs while the other checklist itemized shared needs. Since her roommates are already choosen, she held a Skype session with the one long distance and a coffee with the other two. Everyone spoke stated the items they already owned or would purchase to contribute to their room. 

To prepare for my girl’s personal areas, we headed out for a shopping day with the detailed list in hand. Our stash began with a collection of repurposed and used items before we considered anything new. Some of our deliberations as we prepared were whether we should select something practical or cute. As you might suspect, we shopped from a list instead of randomly. Approaching any item we questioned whether it was a want or a need. These thoughts determined how we approach this task.

Repurposing vs New 

Some of the not-new items in the stash are some windows repurposed with mint paint, a chest from her uncle, a basket for storing blankets, mason jars, a desk chair, silverware, kitchen tools, bowls, glasses, and many other items. We are still looking for a square table and chair group at second hand locations.  The couch and coffee table will be made from discarded pallets.  Once we evaluated the items we could gather and rework we were ready to move to the question of how to select between practical and cute.

Practical vs Cute

Transportation to school, whether that means flying or driving, greatly affects decisions when shopping. Some stores aim to help shoppers by providing "click and pick up" services. The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target gladly allow you to make purchases of items they will send to the city and state where your student plans to study. Once at college, the student simply picks up the purchased items from the nearby store which is holding them. This eliminates much of the bulk in the traveling process resulting in a practical solution.

Temptation looms when selecting bedding, kitchen items and just about anything. It is almost like doing a wedding registry only you are purchasing things to set up a dorm not a whole house. Looking at the list some of the stores offer for “needs”, you might suspect that you can equip a whole house. The cuteness factor dominates as you browse.  So many items seem to include so many matching items.  How do you determine what is critical and what is extra? Here is where a list saves you.

Random or List 

If you are new to this process, you might have wandered out with an “idea” of what you needed. Perhaps the friendly greeter at the first store you entered identified you as the mother of a college student. Likely, you were accompanied by your eager soon-to-be college who looks most ready to shop. Wise marketing strategist have composed quite lengthy lists for every imaginary item one might need for a dorm. 

Before heading out to shop, investigate to see what the university suggests for their dormitories. Some provide a refrigerator and microwave. Some have furniture in addition to the bed and desk while others don’t. As mentioned, the internet offers a plethora of potential lists. For us, we could list her bed, closet, desk area along with a shared bathroom, kitchen and living area. In our case, the list broke down into two areas: personal and shared. Since we aim to stay in budget and not fall into impulse buying, the list is extremely relevant.  Discrepancies often lead to the next discussion which is, “Is it a want or a need?”

Want or Need

Deciding what is a need versus a what is a want must be governed by each individual party. Establishing a budget prior to going out may keep spending in check. Below are listed just a few ideas of thing that are truly needs and some that might be called a want.


  • extra long sheets (2 sets)
  • extra power strip
  • extra pillow
  • FB group once roommates are selected
  • mini fridge
  • storage containers that double as moving boxes
  • toaster
  • small vacuum cleaner
  • Windex
  • shoe racks for the closet
  • racks for hanging things on the back of your door.
  • Command tape - lots of it.
  • closet storage maximizers.
  • shower caddy or basket
  • mattress cover and bed bug protector
  • trash cans ( Some rooms come with trash cans.)
  • Keurig or small electric pot if your student is a coffee or tea drinker
  • towels - controversial subject. Some suggest monograming or picking some distinct pattern to avoid mixing them up. If another roommate ever uses your towel, it is time to have a talk as well as starting to hang your towel in your room instead of the bathroom.
  • rain gear - umbrella, a rain coat, boots
  • a warm jacket and scarf
  • drying rack for laundry
  • mini tool kit (screwdriver, hammer, wrench)
  • medicine kit - vitamins, cough drops, aspirin, bandaids


  • curtains
  • paper plates, cups and silverware to keep the kitchen clean
  • desk lamp ( Colleges often provides adequate lighting)
  • personal printer ( We made this mistake in buying our first student a printer.  He never used it and in the move lost the cords. Student email their assignments and access the network printers offered by the school.)
  • Mac book - Our students earn their computers. Most schools operate almost exclusively on the MacBooks. Don’t bother buying notebooks, binders, dividers and such. Most are online exclusively in upper level classes.
  • desk chair - While this is a want, a comfortable chair could mean less back issues which will insure more studying. This begs the question of whether it is a want or a need.
  • foam mattress
  • drawer organizers - not a “need”, but really great to have.
  • throw pillows and blankets for the couch
  • under bed storage - hard to determine until you know how much space is really under your bed.
  • dry erase board with calendar/ pin boardar
  • area rug for shared living space

This list is incomplete as it requires personalization. Have fun together!! Make these shopping days a time for making memories!

Move In Day

As you think ahead to move in day, keep in mind that it will be hot and crowded. The day will be full of new experiences. Help your student unpack, make her bed, run to the store for groceries and last minute items. If time allows, grab lunch together. Hide a note under her pillow telling her how proud you are of her and how much you love her. Hug her tight and try not to cry until you are out of sight. This scenario makes me teary just thinking about it. Looks like I will have to muster more composure. In closing, preparing carefully for this day will launch your student more successfully as he/she transitions into this next season of growth!!