Packing the Kids off to College? 20 Packing Do’s and Don’ts

Note: I originally published this article 4 years ago at a shopping website where I worked at the time. In order to make it easier to share this information with family and friends, I’m reposting it here, in slightly updated form.

University freshmen often experience “packer’s remorse” after arriving at the dorm on Move-In Day and discovering that they can’t fit all their stuff into their half of a closet-sized room.  A  group of experienced college students offered advice on the best things to bring—and what to leave at home.  All agreed that it’s better to rely on multi-purpose devices rather than a bunch of separate, single-purpose items.

Leave It Behind:

  • Alarm clock.  Every sophomore I spoke to mentioned this—who needs an alarm clock when you’ve got a cell phone?alarm-clock-300x300
  • Luggage.  Send it home with your folks after they drop you off.  All you’ll need is a small duffel for weekends off.  Those big suitcases take up plenty of space!
  • An umbrella.  No one carries umbrellas.  They just put up the hood of their sweatshirt and tough it out.
  • 50% of your wardrobe.  Even the girls agreed that they didn’t wear all the stuff they brought with them—not even those cute shoes!  They decided to pack smarter this year, bringing fewer clothes.  And students who plan to be involved in sports or school activities will be collecting plenty of FREE T-shirts, so don’t bring too many of those either.  What clothes DO you need plenty of?  Survey says:  socks and underwear.
  • Your CD and DVD collection.  Add all your music to your computer, phone or MP3 player and bring a good set of small speakers.  That’s all you’ll need.  For movies, sign up for a streaming service like Netflix and watch them on your computer.
  • Your book collection.  Chances are good that your university takes great pride in its well-stocked library.  Bring the books you know you’ll need and a couple for recreational reading—you won’t have time to do much of that anyway.  Or use an e-reader, iPad or tablet to keep a big library in a small space.
  • Prohibited items.  Most universities don’t allow you to bring candles, incense, toasters, hot plates, amplifiers and weapons—among other things.  Check your school’s policy before you pack.

Your Mileage May Vary:

  • Desk lampclip-on-lamp-300x300Many students don’t study at their desks.  A better bet is a clip-on lamp that can be attached to your headboard, or a floor lamp if you’re not using bunk beds.
  • TV.  At least wait until you know if your roommate is bringing one.  You may be able to watch many of your favorite shows on your laptop or tablet with an online-streaming service.
  • Storage units.  Until you know what kind of storage space is in your room, it’s best to defer buying these.  Sign up for Amazon Student and get free Prime shipping for 6 months.  You can find storage items at a great price and they’ll be delivered to your dorm in just a couple of days.

Don’t Leave Home Without It:

  • Ethernet cable, and make it a long one.  While most campuses have WiFi, it hasn’t always made it to the dorms.
  • Surge-protecting power strips for all your electronics.  Along with those network cables, campus stores charge a premium for these, so bring one more than you think you’ll need.
  • Flip-flops for the shower.   Just because you have to share a bathroom doesn’t mean you want your dorm-mates to share athlete’s foot with you.  Buy these now before they disappear with the rest of the summer items.
  • Earplugs.  Whether it’s shutting out a snoring roommate, city traffic or noisy neighbors, earplugs can save your sanity by helping you get much-needed shut-eye.
  • Air fresheners.  Even if your room doesn’t smell, you’ll find that odors from the neighbors can find their way in.  And a few strategically-placed air fresheners can go a long way toward combating the Smelly Roommate problem.gummy-vitamins-150x150
  • Multivitamins.  Get the “gummi bear” kind if you want, or bring a bottle of Flintstones; you’ll need to do something to supplement your diet of Lucky Charms, ramen noodles, and pizza.
  • Fan.  Climate control in dorms leaves a lot to be desired.  Even in winter, things can get stuffy.  In spring and fall, weather in the dorms can be downright oppressive!  Keep the fresh air moving with a small oscillating fan.
  • Mattress pad.  Egg-crate pads covered by a mattress protector do wonders for those thin, lumpy dorm mattresses.
  • Clear storage bin for your food. Make sure this has a tight, secure closure to keep mice and insects out of your Cap’n Crunch.
  • Tools of the trade.  Small screwdrivers, pliers, a can opener, scissors and a first-aid kit don’t take up a lot of room, but they’ll definitely get used.

Communicate with your roommate and decide on who’s bringing what, in terms of the big stuff like refrigerators.  Coordinated bed linens mean much less in the scheme of things than actually having space to live in your limited living space!

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4 thoughts on “Packing the Kids off to College? 20 Packing Do’s and Don’ts

  1. I was about to say I’m glad those days are over for me…and then I realized that I’m doing the same packing, except for an apartment. And I definitely am bringing too much stuff. 🙂

    • Apartments are completely different things. For example, all that about your book collection does NOT apply.
      That said, this mom would be happy if her older son, now on apartment #2 since graduating from college, would claim those 6 bins of stuff that’s all stacked in the garage and basement.

  2. Haha! my oldest is turning 26 and still has stuff here! She pared it down some last time she was here, but there’s still plenty. And she has no space.

    Great list. We’re sending one to a college apartment this week, and I’m still trying to get him to make a list. At least he has Amazon Prime AND Ikea next door.

  3. The only item I would add to the list is a lock for your laptop. It works lik a bike lock but fits into a spot on the laptop (I don’t have a laptop so I can’t say where but all the boys did when they left for college). My oldest lived with three other boys and I’m sure the door was left open a lot. I would not have wanted to receive the call that I had to buy and deliver and new laptop because it was stolen. You can also lock it to a desk at the library if you need to get up and stretch.

    Oh, and did you say first aid kit? And for girls — a heating pad to go with. And an ice pack isn’t a bad idea either. Geoffrey hit his head in the middle of the night one night and we got a call – “should I go to the ER?” I would have felt better if he had an ice pack. His RA was clueless.

    I agree most of the stuff they pack isn’t used, especially by guys.

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