Those ubiquitous checklists of “dorm room essentials” for college freshmen are filled with items that will be ditched by the end of first semester.
Some parents “go to the store and grab a list like they did when their kids were in elementary and high school and just go straight down the list,” says Lisa Heffernan, mother of three sons and a college-shopping veteran. Or they buy things they only wish their students will use (looking at you, cleaning products).
You can safely skip about 70% of things on those lists, estimates Asha Dornfest, the author of Parent Hacks and mother of a rising college sophomore who’s home for the summer.
What not to buy or bring
Freshmen really need just two things, says Heffernan, co-founder of the blog Grown and Flown: a good mattress topper and a laptop.
Here are seven items you can skip:
Printer. Don’t waste desk space or, worse, store it under the bed; printers are plentiful on campus.
TV. Students may watch on laptops or on TVs in common areas or in someone else’s room. Bonus: Your teen gets out and meets others.
Speakers. Small spaces don’t require powerful speakers; earphones may be a good idea and respectful of roommates.
Car. Some colleges bar freshmen from having cars on campus or limit their parking. You also may save on insurance by keeping the car at home.
Luggage. If you bring it, you must store it. Heffernan suggests collapsible blue Ikea storage bags with zippers.
Toiletries to last until May. Bulk buying may save money, but you need storage space.
Duplicates of anything provided by the college, such as a lamp, wastebasket, desk chair or dresser.
Items left behind when students pack for the summer are telling. Luke Jones, director of housing and residence life at Boise State University, sees unopened food — a lot of ramen and candy — and stuffed animals and mirrors.
Jones says many students regret bringing high school T-shirts and memorabilia and some of their clothes (dorm closets typically are tiny).
What can you buy, then?
Before you shop, find out what the college forbids (candles, space heaters, electric blankets and halogen lights are common). Have your student check with assigned roommates about appliances (who’s bringing a fridge or microwave?) and color scheme if they want to set one. Know the dimensions of the room and the size of the bed. And most of all, know your budget. Not everything has to be brand new.
Ten things — besides the all-important mattress topper and laptop — that many students consider dorm room essentials include:
One or two fitted sheets in the correct bed size, plus pillowcases. Heffernan says most students don’t use top sheets.
Comforter or duvet with washable cover.
Towels in a distinctive pattern or light enough for labeling with laundry marker, plus shower sandals.
Power cord with surge protector and USB ports.
Basic first aid kit.
Easy-to-use storage. If it’s a lot of work to get something out, your student won’t, Heffernan says.
Cleaning wipes. Students might not touch products that require multiple steps, but they might use wipes, according to Heffernan.
Reading pillow with back support for studying in bed.
Area rug. Floors are often hard and cold.
Comfort items. Dornfest says it could be a blanket or a picture of the dog — something from home that will make the space a bit more personal.
Afraid you’ll forget something important? You might, Heffernan says. But chances are, you or your student can order it online and get it delivered. Consider doing this with some items simply to avoid the hassle of bringing them yourself, and remember that “dorm necessities” often go on sale once school starts.
Do a reality check
If you or your student still want to replicate the rooms you’ve seen on Instagram and Pinterest, think about how the room will actually be used.
Once your son or daughter moves in, the room will never look like that again. Opt for sturdy items and be realistic. Will throw pillows make the place look more homey and inviting, or will they be tossed on the floor until parents’ weekend?
Dornfest, a co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, offers a compelling reason not to make things too comfortable. “A freshman needs to be encouraged to get out of the dorm room,” she says. “Anything that pulls you into campus life can be good.”
She’s not advocating a monk-like environment, but rather one that encourages breaking out of routines. College should be a time to try new things and meet people from different backgrounds. Dornfest advises making the bed as comfortable as possible and keeping a few reminders of home. The ideal dorm room is more launch pad than cocoon.