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21 Not-So-Obvious Things to Remember for College Dorm Rooms

21 Not-So-Obvious Things to Remember for College Dorm Rooms
Last week I was on the road (over 50 hours in the car!) driving from Texas to Maryland to take my son to college for the first time. I wanted to share with you the things I learned that are helpful for most dorm rooms– things that may not be obvious to buy or pack.

I did not include the traditional "mini-fridge and microwave" kind of stuff in this list– only things that are not top-of-mind for most people in this process.

By the way, my son did let me set him up pretty well! Not sure how long he'll keep it that way, but above is a photo of how I left his closet.

And now, drumroll please… the list:

  • Lots of 3M Command adhesive hooks, various sizes and types. Our dorm rules did not allow nailing anything into any walls.
  • Printer paper. We bought the printer, but didn't think about how he'd need paper for it!
  • HDMI cable or monitor cable. We had an extra monitor for his laptop so he'd have two screens, but it didn't have a cable to connect them together.
  • Loooonnng ethernet cable. Making sure you can use a wired connection anywhere in the room.
  • Extension cords. Because you never know when you need them.
  • Power strips/surge protectors. There are never enough outlets in rooms like these, plus you need to protect your electronics from power surges.
  • Accordion file. Although students today have much less paper than their parents did, they still need a place for a few files to be stored for warranties and course syllabi and materials. An accordion file with 13 pockets or so is small and is perfect for starting out.
  • Light bulbs. Bought a new desk lamp, but it didn't come with light bulbs.
  • Bookshelves. There were not any bookshelves provided, which is weird because students have books. We put some together quickly from Target.
  • Paper towel holder & paper towels. Again, with the adhesive mount on it. 
  • Disinfectant wipes. Gotta clean something sometime, even if you are a college boy.
  • Disposable plates, cups, and utensils. For clean drinking cups, for that random birthday cake for someone in the suite, or for leftovers brought back from the cafeteria.
  • Zip closure freezer bags in quart and gallon sizes. I use these all the time, plus, to fly on a plane you need the quart size bags to put your liquid toiletries in. Unlimited reasons to have these! He will thank me later.  🙂
  • First aid kit. Basic Neosporin and bandages, etc.
  • Hangers. Should be obvious but it wasn't to me– duh!
  • Garbage can. They don't provide them. 
  • Oscillating fan. They don't have AC in Maryland everywhere like we do in Texas!
  • Bathrobe. Living in a co-ed suite, we insisted our son have one even though he never used one at home… also, it gets cold in Maryland!
  • Tide "Pods" for laundry. Kind of foolproof for college guys, and it won't be messy with spilled liquids or powders in the room.
  • Lap desk. I use one myself at home. They make it easier to work on a laptop and keep your machine (and your lap) cooler. It's even good for your hard drive and components because you can accidentally block the fan when you put computers down on soft surfaces.
  • Assorted drawer dividers. For the desk drawers for paper clips, pencils, pens, etc.

Of course there were many other things that we brought with us, but many of them are obvious and boring. What would you add to the list from what you've learned? Share in the comments!

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52 Comments

Anne Blumer

Hi Lorrie,
I traveled with my daughter to college (Hawaii) and agree with all that you listed, especially the 3m hooks! She is a girl, so a few girlie things:
1. Makeup mirror
2. Lingerie washer bag and soap
3. Swiffer (she wasn’t much for cleaning her room at home but she insisted on Swiffer, Clorox wipes, and Windex)
4. Vacuum or Broom/dustpan
5. Full length mirror (her room has one but her brother’s did not)
6. Lock for locking drawer or a lock box for valuables
7. She needed a router because her room does not have wifi
Great post idea!

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Stephanie Rasley

Great list! I would add:
– basic toolkit: box cutter, masking tape, screwdrivers, pliers
– basic office supplies: stapler, Scotch tape, scissors
– flashlight & batteries

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Maggie

We are from VA and would recommend a trunk that fits under the bed that can be locked. Put off season clothes in there. We have some warm days in winter and the kids will want a pair of shorts or it will be cold quicker than they think so will want a jacket. My daughter left her winter things at home and we shipped them to her later in the year. She brought some summer things home at Christmas so her room was not too crowded. She also used the trunk for snacks she did not want her roommate to eat. And this was a big problem her first year. The roommate and her boyfriend were constantly eating her food in the fridge so she kept everything locked up.

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Gina O'Flanagan

A smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector, should the room not be already equipped. There should be an alarm system in the building, but not necessarily detectors or alarms in the rooms.

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Beckie

Febreeze
Stainstick & teach them how to use!
A variety of Post-a-Notes, especially the ones to mark pages in textbooks) & a dozen of favorite pens
Iron (for those special occasions)My girls didn’t like wrinkles…still don’t.
Erase board for the outside of the door for messages
Jar of peanut butter for protein
Small tool kit and scissors.

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Nora

I’m a freshman in college and there is definitely some really great ideas and I agree with most but make sure that you read through the student handbook and go on a tour of the school before yuou buy some of this stuff. I know my school in particular has a strict rule against bringing in any outside furniture such as bookshelves or special chairs. Also as a warning no college in the United States allows you to bring in your own curtains because it is a fire hazard so you don’t want to waste your money on them because they’ll just end up getting your room fined instead. A lot if times it’s better to your the rooms before you start shopping on most tours they bring u into a model dorm which is admittedly far nicer that the actual dorms bit it gives u a dance of what you mayh or may not need. For instance I bought an over the door full length mirror and realized that the cvloset in my dorm didn’t even have a door. I also have several friends who bought bed risers which at some schools definitely aren’t necessary I had to purchase a small 2 step ladder just to be able to get into my non bunked bed without risers. Definitely look thoroughly into the schools rules regulations and standard dorms before you make any purchases. Oh and a little life back to keep the dorm from smelling but an oscillating fan and the car air fresheners that plug into AC vents in your favorite scent if you place one(or two I’m not judging the level of stink in ur room) in your faint will keep your dorm smelling fresh and clean while it’s running.

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TR

I noticed that no one mentioned bed lifts. Most dorms have more than one person and very little room. My son and his roommate used the bed lifts to raise their beds higher up so a small freezer (size of small microwave) would fit under the bed along with storage bins.
As for bookshelves… make certain that they are the kind that go on TOP of the desk since most rooms have almost no place for floor standing bookshelves. These shelves can also be used for computer, router and other items that need space on the way to small desks that are in dorms.

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Ellen Lopes

I started collecting little packets from take out, like mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, the whole nine yards and kept them in a very large jar. My son told me he and others were always going into that jar.
Baby wipes. They work for so much.
First aid kit. Definite.
Snacks in like a big plastic container, or they will buy them out of machines that cost way to much!!!!

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Nicole T

I would add:
Duct tape
a Sharpie Marker
a plunger (if the room has a private bathroom)
earplugs – you never know if roomie is a snorer!
scissors

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Devon H.

Hi! I’m currently a freshman at college, and I’m living in a single dorm room that was converted to a double. My roommate and I share 160 sq. ft. with bunk beds. Not the most ideal situation but we make it work. I absolutely agree with the command hooks. You can never have enough.
–Also, don’t forget possible wall decorations. I have some wall clings that make it a little more homey.
–Definitely under-the-bed storage (Container store has variety of sizes and shapes)
–Organizational desk boxes for extra binders, folders, and such.
–Lots of pens and pencils b/c you will lose them quickly.
–A bed organizer, especially if you are on the top bunk and need a place to put your stuff.
–Container store also sells a little dorm shelf that will attach around the post of a bed. I put my glasses on it at night, since I’m on the top bunk.
–Lastly, I suggest an extra change of sheets.Sometimes after I do laundry I’m too tired to put my sheets back on my bed. If I put the new sheets on when I take the dirty ones off, I’m already doing stuff so I’m more motivated.

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Lorie Marrero

Thank you so much for the student perspective, Devon! Great tips and product suggestions, too.

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Dami

I love the idea of the shelf that attaches around the post of the bed. I am going to check into getting one for my son who will be leaving for college this summer. One thing that I have done for him is made a binder with copies of all the important papers he may need but I’m not quite ready to give up to him permanently. Like his birth certificate, insurance info, immunization records, etc. This way I still have the originals but if he needs them he has them too.

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Amy

Good List, my daughter is going away to college in the fall.
May I suggest a roll of quarters for the laundry room….

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Cassia

– I agree with a simple bag of tools — all of the girls on my floor (& sometimes other floors) always came to my room to borrow mine.
– Can opener
– Flash drive/usb/ thumb drive(If you don’t already have one), you may have a laptop but there are group projects and it might be nice to have a backup copy of that 10+ page paper when your computer fails
– 2 laundry baskets (1 each for colors/ whites) plus when you have more than one load to do you can get your clean laundry in one basket while the other one is still holding the next load to be done
– Someone mentioned quarters for the washer: this depends on the school/dorm, at mine we pay a fee each semester when we pay housing/tuition and then we have unlimited use
– Various folders (manila, butterfly, normal pocket, report cover. etc.) I have had classes that often want you to turn in a project a portfolio in a certain kind of folder.
– Whiteboard/dry erase: allows others to leave messages for you or vice versa. When I didn’t have anything on mine my artistic neighbor would always draw a cool picture!
– Shower caddy ( I also would fill travel size bottles with shampoo/conditioner/bodywash so that I wasn’t always carrying the full bottles to the shower with me. Plus if you go on a trip with friends, club,etc. you are ready to go.
– Command hooks
– A trip to the store for food/snacks to keep in the dorm (perfect for late night studying/hangout sessions and way cheaper than buying it from the on campus mini-market type stores or vending machines.
– Ethernet cord definitely comes in handy when the campus wifi is down for maintenance or being really slow ( I and so many of my floor mates learned this freshman year!)
– If I think of anything else I will add it
(By the way, these tips are coming from someone starting their junior year this August!)

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Lorie Marrero

Wow, Cassia! Thank you so much for the insight. I will add this to the list for my second son leaving for college this summer.

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madison

Im going to be a college freshman this fall, but I’ve done a ton of planning for my dorm already, and have pretty much gone through it all since I’ve always gone to overnight camp.
-I would definitely get some plastic storage drawers (1 or 2 sets) that you can keep in your dorm or try to fit under your bed. in college you always need more storage space, whether it be for more clothes, or all the little things you dont want to just have lying around.
-an extra fleece blanket, throw or snuggie. your gonna need it in addition to your comforter.
-bulletin board(s)/magnetic dry erase board(s) to hang up flyers, post its, etc.
-an agenda or hang up calendar (or better yet, both). Most important thing ever when it comes to keeping track of all your assignments.
-a brita water filter – so you dont have to purchase water bottles all the time. Just fill it up in your room or hall’s bathroom, and the water is filtered and good to drink.
-lamps AND a desk lamp. and a flashlight. dorm lighting tends to be terrible, so the lamps will make the room less dull. and a desk lamp is good for studying. the desk lamp and flashlights will be helpful if you have to wake up way earlier than your roommate but dont want to wake them.
-duct tape, sharpies, and those white avery brand labels. You always need to label stuff.
-for shower products, get the extra large size. you never know when you’ll find the ride or the time to the store to buy more.
-lanyard for your school id, some cash and your keys.
-cheap microwaveable dishes. (in addition to the disposable ones) 1 or 2 plates, bowls and mugs will be fine for when you want to heat up some food, or make coffee/tea

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Chelsea

Our dorm rooms had small bookshelves mounted to the wall across from each other. We bought a board and rested on the top of the bookshelves and then had additional storage for cereal etc.

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claire

I would add a step stool. My bed at school is very tall, which is great for storage, but very difficult to get onto, especially if you’re short like me. So a stool is very helpful for both that and for reaching the top of the closet where I store extra sheets and towels and things. Also, a mattress topper is a must have. The beds are pretty uncomfortable. Lots of lights are great as well. I like using the christmas lights because they can be used as decorations and a less-harsh light source than the flourescents.

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Sammi

I’m starting college this year and have been doing tons of research. I’m attending a non-traditional school though, so we have student housing versus dorms. Much of it is the same, however I have my own room and even opted to have my own bath. I will share the kitchen, living room, and the laundry room with my three other “roommates”. Everyone has mentioned fantastic things, but for those who have a situation like mine, or kids going the same route as me, there are some other things to consider.
-A lounging chair is great. Especially a fold up one. That way you can pull it out when you need it (mostly for gaming if you’re like me!) but fold it up and tuck it away behind your bed when you’re not using it. I have this one from WalMart (http://www.walmart.com/ip/Mainstays-Butterfly-Folding-Chair-Multiple-Colors/20669448) that I won during my all night grad party and I LOVE IT! Comfortable and compact.
-Games and cards is another thing that will come in handy. If you’ve got friends over or you’re having a night in with the roommates, playing a game of rummy, go fish, or even a board game like monopoly, will easily get the laughs going and keep the boredom at bay! A football or volleyball would be another good item if you’re more of an outdoors kind of person.
-If you’re like me and rough on clothes, a sewing kit will come in handy! It’s not an obvious thing to bring, but you never know when you’ll need a quick stitch to fix something up!
-I’ll be living in a complex that is pet friendly and I am assigned to live with a girl who has a cat. In this case, a lint brush will be a life saver! Lint rollers are a good thing to keep around for nicer occasions and outings, but if you’re going to be living with a pet, it’s going to be one of those “didn’t-know-I-needed-it” must haves.
-Stamps are another good thing to keep in mind. If you’re going to be sending out any mail it’s nice to have these before hand instead of running around trying to buy some later.
-A 3 Ring binder with clear plastic sleeves for all and any owner manuals (for TV, alarm clock, DVD or BluRay players, or any gaming systems) so that they’re in one easy and accessible spot.
-All my amenities are paid for except for electricity. To try and cut down the cost even just a little, all my roommates and I are switching the existing light bulbs to eco friendly ones. Extra light bulbs (if you have to supply your own or even for lamps) are a good thing to have on hand if you have the space for them.
-Last but not least, over the door shoe organizers. Why? They can be used to store cleaning supplies, shoes, water bottles, any plastic body sprays, beauty supplies, deodorant, or even smaller things like paper clips and pens/pencils. The possibilities are literally endless. Plus, it hangs over a door and eliminates cupboard, floor, and desk/counter space. It’s probably one of the most underutilized organizers ever.

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Lorie Marrero

Hi Sammi! Thanks so much for the comprehensive list. I also LOVE over the door shoe organizers, they are so functional. Good luck at school!!
-Lorie

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Katie McCall

I’m a student and Indiana State University! Most of the stuff is covered but I would like to add what I brought freshman year and what I needed for the next.
-The command strips are a great thing to have! I had a few but not nearly enough.
-HDMI cord! All of the girls on the floor and myself are big movie watchers but we didn’t bring too many because we didn’t want to have to worry about them getting lost or taking up space. We would hook the cord up to my computer and my television and watch movies for hours straight!
-EXTENSION CORDS EXTENSION CORDS EXTENSION CORDS! Being girls we had a lot of things to plug in like curling irons, hair dryers, alarm clocks and etc.
-Air fresheners for sure! Putting two people in such a small place can get a little stinky. Especially when we didn’t like to clean out our bowls and plates.
-I would 100% suggest a cute sheer curtain to attach to the bed. My roommate had a boyfriend and when he slept over it was nice to pull the curtain down so I could have my privacy.
– Shower caddy that is big enough for all your stuff but not too big! I brought a big pink plastic one that I got from Bed Bath and Beyond and I hate it! It takes up so much space! I suggest getting a cute waterproof one from Vera Bradley (:
– A hamper that can sling over your shoulder! I had a Vera Bradley one and it was perfect! It was so big and could fit an endless amount of clothes! It also had a little zipper area for my quarters!

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Katie McCall

Almost forgot carpet!!!! Floors get nasty so this will help and a vacuum!

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Natalie

There are a lot of suggestions for trunks, storage bins etc. and these worked great when I went to college (ten years ago), but one thing that I found for storage that made a big impact in sharing a tiny space were those thin “bathroom” storage towers. They were thin enough to go in between the dresser and desk, the one small leftover space in the closet, etc. We had about 4 of them and they were great for that small extra stuff you really didn’t have space for or food that didnt fit in the trunk, etc. My dorm room didnt have a medicine cabinet and we also used one under the sink to store hairbrushes, makeup, toothbrushes, etc. They really were a lifesaver!

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Kam

A hot water dispenser is very useful for making tea, hot chocolate, ramen noodles, etc. Definitely my favorite dorm purchase, and my friends are always coming into my room to use it. Mine is the Sunbeam HotShot. It is much faster than a microwave for heating up 1-2 cups of water (boiling in less than a minute!)
I agree with the earlier comment that a step stool is important! At my school, the bed is designed so that the dresser and bookshelf fit under it. You can lower the bed, but that requires finding somewhere else to put the dresser and bookshelf, which isn’t always possible. So, my bed is rather high and I need a 1-2 ft step stool to get onto it.
For reference, I’m going into my junior year.

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Margaret

These are great tips and can also translate to first apartment as well :). Being a semi-recent college grad, I would add:
– shower curtain/hooks (if dorms have personal bathrooms, the provided shower curtains were barely wide enough)
– curtain and tension rod, you never know when you want some kind of room divider, or just to block out the sunlight for those late sleepers
– gift cards for gas, groceries, etc. These may be easier to stash than cash.

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Elsie W

Someone suggested a trunk to lock things up. My son used a small lockbox that hung in his closet. He could leave money/small valuables there. Never know how reliable your roommate is going to be about locking the door EVERY time, and it only takes a second for someone to swipe your wallet.

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rose

Great list! A few clothes-related things I would add: 1) Hanger Cascader/Wonder Hangers (search on Amazon) to maximize those teeny closets – make sure you get METAL ones, not the cheap plastic ones, as those will stretch and break from the weight, 2) a hand-held clothes steamer (might be easier than ironing, and good for freshening clothes when in a laundry pinch, which never happens at college, right?) and 3) a folding drying rack.

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Karen

When we moved our son in last year, we brought extra bungie cords. We used one to prop his door open while carrying in the boxes. They used it often to keep the door open
Office supplies were mentioned but I did not see presentation covers mentioned. These are often more expensive in the college bookstore.
Calendar with important family events listed and correlated greeting cards with stamped envelopes (I did not address them for him 🙂
The new blender cups and desired drink mix- can fill up with milk at breakfast on way to class

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hanna

an umbrella is always good to have just incase it rains and even rain boots if you usually wear those.
also, for bunked beds, body pillows are really nice because usually there is a safety bar on the open side of the bed and if you put the body pillow next to it, it keeps you from hitting it and waking up with bruises in the morning. target sells them for about 10 and they are great.
a flashlight is good to have too on the off chance that the power goes out in a storm or if you have to be up before your roommate does for an early class you can find your clothes and things without having to turn on all the lights and wake them up.
a small cutting board can be nice for the little occasions where you wanna make a sandwhich or cut fruit or veggies and it can double as a plate or platter for snacks and such. I have one that’s slightly curved on the edges with a handle and it’s only maybe 6ins diagonally.
fans are always good. more often than not the dorms will not have a/c and if the first and last few weeks of school it can be really hot and that’s no fun when youre trying to make friends or sleep or study for finals. my roommate and i have one that stands on the ground and then i have a clip one for up by my bed and we have another box fan that can fit on the window sill to help move air around. also this is coming from a sophomore this year

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Bob

College or no, less emphasis on things like Tide Pods would be nice. These needlessly come in a clear plastic container. Surely a college age boy can scoop a bit of powder from a cardboard box without dumping it everywhere?!

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Lori

Our college doesn’t allow laundry pods. Check before you buy. EVERYthing is spelled out online.

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Val Jones

I appreciate all these great tips. My daughter will arrive on campus this Fall 2014. (fist time away from home)

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Cindy w.

I sent my daughter with a sleeping bag and twin air mattress so that when a girlfriend or cousin came to visit her at school, she would have a place for her to sleep.We tucked it up on her top closet shelf since she didn’t need regular access to it.

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Madeleine

Laugh all you want but KRAZY GLUE!!! It fixes everything and quite easily! My friends and I broke water bottle lids, shower shoes, my cement door stop, and many more things. We went through two tubes of Krazy glue in one school year.

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lillian

If there is a communal bathroom shower shoes are important. Most just use dollar flip flops

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Stacie

A few things we learned my daughter’s freshman year.
Command hooks worked great in her freshman dorm, not so well in her sophomore dorm. We are looking for an alternative.
Tool kit, best thing I bought her we have used it several times. I got here at ikea it had a hammer, screwdriver with multiple heads, and pliers in it, just the basics. We needed the hammer to put together her bookshelf and to lowre her bed rails.
Hangers, we bought those velvety slim hangers that had hooks to double hang things,space saving too.
Rug, find out the room size and get a remnant that will cover most of the floor. Do not forget a small vacuum and a non slip pad.
Iron, her roommate last year was supposed to bring one, I had to buy her one mid-year because half of her wardrobe was unwearable and the roomie never brought one.
Rain boots and jacket, oddly her school gets a lot of rain I bought boots on her fall break. they came in handy as she also used them as snow boots and actually wrote them out by year end.
Finally if you are traveling to a school a bit far from home go to bed bath and beyond you can choose the things you want at your hometown store and pick them up at your college town school. You can even save up your coupons and use them when you pick up.
Good luck.

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Rachel

I was an RA trainer at 16 different colleges and universities. I like your list but I would call your residential living office before you buy some of these things, such as trash cans, light bulbs, power strips, bookshelves, and some other things people suggested like rolls of quarters and cleaning supplies. Most dorms I have worked in come equipped with a kitchen sized trash can, but no liners. But many do not have trash cans in the bathroom if one is attached to the suite. Some residential living offices supply things like light bulbs, even for personal lamps, because they don’t want students to have to store there own multi pack of bulbs and risk them falling and breaking. Some dorms strictly prohibit the use of powers strips, one dorm gave a $100 fine if a power strip was found in a room. Some rooms have spaces for books so I would check before you go crazy buying shelves that take up valuable floor space. Most modern dorms no longer work on a quarter system, but instead they type in a student number or swipe if card to use laundry facilities. I would also check and see if there are brooms and other cleaning supplies to check out at the residential living office before you buy and make your student store a lot of cleaning supplies. I still suggest disinfecting wipes because they are compact and are easy for quick spills. Sickness runs rampant in dorms so use disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and get a flu and Meningitis shot even if your child is not usually sick. Different diet, stress level and dirty rooms make for easily sick students. If a student get sick enough to miss a week or two of classes they could easily flunk a class and thousands of dollars wasted.

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Kate

If your dorm room has its own bathroom, don’t forget toilet paper. It seems like it should be obvious, but I always forget. Buy it in bulk so you don’t run out unexpectedly!
Also, bath mats for inside the shower and rugs for outside. Basically try to cover all the areas you’ll be stepping on with potentially bare feet because the floors in those bathrooms are always pretty disgusting.
Might want bleach and a scrubby brush and whatnot for the shower too, especially if you’re staying in an older building.
And a lot of air fresheners!! Put them everywhere. You never know if you’re going to be staying in a room previously lent out to a stinky person.

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Jayne

My son doesn’t iron much, but a steamer helps with last minute wrinkles. Did anyone put a sewing kit down? Index cards. We pack my son’s things in the large plastic storage bins and then nest them, the top one loaded with all the extras like paper towels, plates extra TP (for some unknown emergencies) extra shampoos, body wash, and tooth paste,etc. He has a TV and game boy, so an extra long coaxial cable with little command brackets to attach it the wall keep it under control and out of the way. Last year the cable outlet in his dorm room was on the other side of the room. Carabiners to attach water bottles to back packs and keys to belt loops. He uses an upside down milk crate as a printer stand.

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Debbie

My gift to the college bound is a document box full f office supplies like paper clips, scissors, ruler, pens and pencils, glue, stapler ant etc. It is always appreciated and I have lots of fun filling it.

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SailorGal

when my daughter went to college we got al the things listed, PLUS a mini-fridge with separate freezer, she had more room to put stuff. She was an athlete and had weird hours, so missed the cafeteria dining times a lot. They weren’t allowed coffee pots, microwaves or warming plates, but she did manage to sneak in a pot that only heats up water to make various food items. She also had her own TV, they got cable free with their room and a good heated mattress pad is great for those colleges in colder climates. She loved hers. Shower flip-flops and a good shower caddy was also a necessity.

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Tiffany

Our daughter is moving overseas for college this year so obviously we can’t take much and will have to buy it all there. Anyone else with this experience? What “hard lessons” did you learn specific to that situation?

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