Off to College

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I've got my oldest daughter going off to college next fall, and I was wondering if there are parents/kids out there who can give me the lowdown on what kids really need to take to their college dorm. How do we maximize the small amount of space that they are given? And, what's the cheapest way to accumulate those items? Thank you!

Graduation Registries

My daughter is going off to college this fall as well. We are registering for dorm room essentials as part of her graduation party. Any store that has bridal registries will also do graduation registries.

Things Needed for Dorm Room

My son is finishing his freshman year. So we've "been there, done that." When you tour the campus, here are some things to check out:

Laundry - Where is the nearest laundry facility? This affects your choice of laundry totes, baskets, etc. My son's dorm does not have a laundry facility and he has to carry everything down three flights and across two parking lots. He loves the collapsible mesh pop-up laundry totes, because they are so lightweight. We prefer a liquid laundry detergent. To lessen the weight, he just fills an emptied water bottle with a spout with the detergent. We bought the large detergent size with a spigot, which sits on a shelf. Powdered detergent could also be pre-measured into reusable containers for the trip to the laundry room.

Bedding - Find out the size of the beds. Some dorms only have extra long twin-size beds. We found that normal length twin jersey sheets (like t-shirt material) stretch to fit the XL mattresses all right. They are less expensive, but they don't seem to hold up as well as a high thread count sheet. I thought we just had to have a pair and a spare, but my son doesn't want to fold sheets. He just washes them and puts them back on the bed. We didn't get an extra large comforter, but the regular length works too, even though he is over 6 feet tall. In retrospect, I might have gotten a better quality comforter that would hold up to repeated washings. Consider making a simple duvet cover, if your daughter wants to change her decor or coordinate with a roommate. Don't forget blanket/s appropriate to your climate. For a fresher sleeping surface, we purchased a zippered vinyl mattress encasement. My son rarely studies at a desk. For him, lots of pillows were important for propping up in the bed.

Phone/Internet - You may have to provide a phone for the dorm room. My son's university provides a local phone connection to every dorm room, but if he wants to make long distance calls, he has to open a phone account or use his cell phone. A computer, printer and Internet service were really required, as the faculty sends the students important notices through their University email accounts. Find out what kind of Internet system your college uses. We had to buy a special modem.

Other Items to Consider:

Furnishings - My son loves his collapsible high-back nylon camp chair with arms. It's cheap, comfortable, durable and stores out of the way, if needed. A couple of luxuries that make the room more home-like include a bedside lamp/table/magazine holder combo and a 3' x 5' rug by his bed. The rug helps dampen that hollow institutional echo in the room, too. An alarm clock is a necessity. More than one may be good, if she has a hard time getting up or gets too accustomed to the sound. My son's university provides a small fridge and microwave oven, so I stocked him with kitchen extras, but I don't think he ever uses them. (I can't believe I thought he was going to wash dishes at college!) An under bed storage box on wheels is one of the handiest things we got. He keeps his extra sheets and towels there. Because of the restrictions against holes in the walls, you will find poster putty and Command adhesive hooks useful. My son's room has inadequate towel hanging space. A multi-armed floor-to-ceiling tension rod towel rack would be good.

First Aid Box - I fixed up a home med kit, including pain reliever, stomach remedies, and basic cold medications, along with Mom's First Aid Advice, in case my son couldn't get to a store or a doctor. Of course, there is a health clinic on campus, too. Be sure your student has a copy of their health insurance card.

Cleaning Supplies - Include paper towels, broom, dustpan, mop, trash bags, general cleaning solution, and toilet brush. If your daughter has a roommate, she may be able to share the cost on these items.

Tools - You can get a few basic tools at the dollar store such as Phillips head and flat blade screwdrivers and a pair of pliers. These are especially useful on moving days.

School Supplies - Include a couple of reams of paper for the computer printer, tape, stapler and staples, glue stick, a pair of scissors, notebook paper, a battery-operated pencil sharpener, and perhaps a calculator. My son wanted a dictionary, but there are also plenty of online reference resources available. Two backpacks are good. One to be used for Tuesday and Thursday classes and one for Monday, Wednesday and Friday classes. A student day planner is handy. We bought the type that has three rings and holds 4.25 by 6.5 pages. That way I was able to type up and easily add things like laundry instructions and his medical history to his reference section.

Personal Care Items - Include towels and wash cloths, an umbrella and clothing. Also include things like bath soap, liquid hand soap, shampoo, razor, brushes, blow dryer, toilet paper, facial tissue, cosmetics, prescription medications, shower shoes and something in which to carry toiletry items to the bathroom.

Cash In on Cast-Offs

As a veteran college instructor, I'm amazed at what students dump as they leave their dorm rooms for the summer. Go by your local college on move-out day, or cruise by houses used by students as they dump their cast-offs. You'll see what they use, and frequently will be able to pick up barely used furniture, mini-refrigerators, hot plates, etc. I'd also recommend asking student advisory boards. Most colleges have dorm monitors or mentors who can offer great advice on what's most valuable.

Hang Crates

I have one suggestion for utilizing the small living conditions in a dorm room. Hang crates!

I went to college a few hours from my parent's home. When I moved to college, I knew I would be home maybe once a month if I was lucky. When the weather got colder, I needed my bulky sweaters and sweatshirts, but there was such little space to store them in the dresser provided by the college.

Fortunately, our dorm rooms were built with a small ledge in the cinderblocks. My roommate and I took plastic milk crates and tied them together with bailing twine, then hung them with S-hooks from this ledge. We had added about five feet of storage space with these crates. They only used wall space, not floor space.

If you do not have a way to hang the crates from the wall, just stack them on the floor. As long as they are secured together, you should be able to create a nice tower of storage space.

Start Buying Things for Dorm Early

I sent my daughter off to college three years ago and I am sending my son next year. The best way I found to accumulate what they need was to buy a large Rubbermaid container and start buying the year before. I catch clearance sales throughout the year. I made a comprehensive list and distributed to all my family and friends and asked them to pick up any items they found on sale as well.

Contact the Roommate

I lived on campus for two years from 1998-2000 and really figured out what I needed in college. A mini-refrigerator and perhaps a microwave are a must in dorm life. If you have a communal fridge, your food will also be communal, even if you put your name on it. A laundry basket or bag is necessary for hauling all those dirty clothes. A TV and a radio are also nice, although not necessary. Also, most dorm rooms do not come with any more furniture than a bed and a desk. Space is really tight. If you can loft the bed, you will maximize the space. We picked up a loft from a student who was moving into her own apartment for about $100. It is certainly worth it if your child can bring his/her own computer and printer. I can't tell you how many hours I saved not having to wait for a computer. Plus, it's easier to concentrate in your own room. Finally, your child will need an eye mask and earplugs!

You can usually pick most of these things up cheap at the end of the school year from a graduating/moving student. Or if your child has a roommate, consider contacting them before the school year starts and divide up the necessities.

Also contact your school and make sure they allow things like lofts and microwaves. See what facilities and items are available and see what your child can do without. In many ways, setting up a dorm room is like setting up a mini-household. Consider all the other things they may need, like laundry detergent, iron, ironing board, etc.

Double Duty Furnishings

First, don't send any furniture item that does only one thing. A lamp shouldn't be just a lamp, but rather a gooseneck that can swing from the desk to over the bed without moving the base. A radio should also be a tape and CD player. You could even eliminate the radio if you make a major purchase of a laptop computer that includes all that stuff plus a DVD player, with plenty of memory. Everything else can be purchased at thrift stores. Just start visiting a few of them per week and browse, with a list of what she'll need, and you will have everything bought, with no pain, by the time she is to leave.

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