Lovely reader Dena wrote in and said:
Could you do a “what to buy for college/dorms list”? With links to good stuff, maybe?
My daughter is actually a 2017 but Iâ€™m trying to get a head start on dorm shopping as sales come up (and soften the financial blow of next year) and have absolutely NO idea what she will need. For instance: how many sets of monogrammed towels (deep south colleges; all things must be monogrammed, right?) do most people send with their little darling? Does she really need that toaster oven she has been quietly coveting since 8th grade? Paper, plastic, or china? Will she need a memory foam topper for that dorm mattress? How about a bedbug bag for the mattress? Sheâ€™s ocd neat -â€“ will she need a vacuum? Cord or corded?
Are you sending your kid with a car to keep herself in things like paper towels and toilet paper? Should I just consider providing mine with an Amazon Dash button for necessities?
Help a sister out, please.
I love this, because my oldest is graduating in just a few months (*gulp*) and her younger brother is just a year behind, which means I’ve been hip-deep in dorm shopping/research for a few months, already. I’ll cover your questions as best I can and then I bet some other folks will chime in, too. Buckle up!
In my opinion, there are a few “must”s and a lot of “maybe want”s when it comes to outfitting your kid for the dorm. Some of this depends on your particular kid and the particular dorm room, too, so take it all with a grain or two of salt.
Must: Bed Linens
I cannot stress this seemingly obvious point enough, but I’ll try: Do not start shopping for bed stuff until you know what size bed your student will have. Obvious, yes? And yet! Yes, most freshmen dorms will feature twinXL mattresses, but not all. Don’t buy until you know what size. Assuming you know what size bed, here’s what you must buy:
* 2 sets of sheets
* 1 or 2 pillows
* 1 mattress encasement (I bought this one, not because I think the dorm will have bed bugs, but because it was a cheap “now you don’t have to think about how many people have done who knows what on this mattress before you” option)
* 1 mattress pad/cover (the encasement is to contain yucky stuff; the pad is to make the mattress more comfortable and/or protect a topper, if you use one) (we picked one up using Kohls Cash at Kohls)
* Some sort of comforter or blanket of your student’s choosing (we like a duvet with a cover for ease of washing, but this is personal preference).
If you buy only the above-mentioned items, your kid will be fine. In fact, if you were totally strapped for cash, you could probably get away with a single set of sheets (wash and replace), but I think a spare set is a good idea just in case of… who knows. Illness, a spill, whatever.
Consider: Bed Linens
The following are wants rather than needs, and will depend on your individual kid:
* a foam or gel mattress topper (this will make the mattress more comfortable, and you can spend anywhere from about $30 to $200 on such a thing) (I think ours came from Kohls) [Pro tip: If you go whole hog on the bed stuff, this is how you make up the bed: Mattress encasement, foam topper, mattress pad, then sheets. This way if you have a spill, the (washable) mattress pad protects the foam topper, and the encasement means the topper isn’t touching the mattress]
* a set of flannel sheets if they’ll be someplace cold or are otherwise delicate flowers
* throw pillows (I almost said this was purely decorative, but in a tiny room, they can also serve as additional comfort for floor seating, so figure out the goal)
Must: Bath Towels
I’m still giggling over your monogramming comment. (Note to self: Get everything my kid owns monogrammed before she leaves.)
Obviously the college-bound kid needs towels. There are a million lists out there telling you to buy a full set, to buy this many of that and that many of this, and my feeling is this: Do an honest assessment of what your kid wants and needs. My daughter, for example, likes to wrap up in a bath sheet and use a regular bath towel for her hair. A “normal” set of towels isn’t going to get me the bath sheets she really wants, plus she needs a stack of washcloths and she’s much more likely to wipe her hands on her bath towel than a hand towel. So for us, I got a great deal at JC Penney a while back on a couple of bath sheets and a couple of coordinating bath towels. A little while later I picked up a whole bundle of washcloths at Kohls for maybe $3. For us, that’s perfect.
If you’re the sort of people who use a towel just once before washing, bear in mind that this may not be practical for a student. Not only will the amount/frequency of laundry likely be overwhelming, most dorms do not offer a ton of storage space, which means they may simply not have room for all those towels.
A quick word about “bundles”
There are all sorts of places which will sell you a “dorm package” with your complete bedding bundle and such, and I know some people like the relative ease of these services, but if your kid is picky or you dislike paying for things you don’t need, these services are not for you. Most of them include microfiber sheets, for example, because those are cheap and pretty hard to destroy. Personally, I’d rather sleep on a porcupine than on microfiber. And remember the towels thing? Those bundles will give you a “set” of towels—maybe not the towels you actually want/need.
Must: Laundry Supplies
You can fall down the rabbit whole of laundry products for your college student and spend months down there, trust me. Really, all your kid needs is some sort of bag or vessel for transporting laundry back and forth, plus cleaning supplies. They may also want a rigid laundry basket—or may prefer to have a plastic basket rather than a laundry bag—but again, remember that space is usually at a premium in a dorm room.
After more research than I care to admit to, I bought this tote for my daughter. (It regularly drops to around $12.) It’s an oversize, 2-compartment laundry tote made of study canvas. To me, it was a good compromise between bag and basket; it can be shoved into a small space if needed, but is rigid enough that if she wants to fold clothes in the laundry room and tote them without everything getting squashed, she can. Two compartments means she can sort on the fly, if she wants, and the front pouch is large enough to hold detergent, dryer sheets, etc. She’s using it now (practice!) and it stands well on its own and holds a ton.
In terms of cleaners, of course this is personal preference, but I’ll cop to having fallen hard for the convenience of laundry pods (we mostly use these) even here at home, and in a dorm, well, no more lugging your giant tub of powder or bottle of liquid—just grab however many pods you need and go. Also? Buy your student some stain sticks and thank me later. Train them to hit those stains when they undress and it won’t even matter if they take two more weeks to remember to do the laundry.
Again, do some research before you buy anything. Some dorms allow microwaves in rooms, others do not. Some dorms have kitchenettes and allow small electrics, others do not. Find out. A toaster oven would not be allowed in a conventional dorm room, but I think you mentioned later that your daughter will have a kitchenette, so I’ll leave it to you to sort that out.
Most dorm rooms allow: a small fridge, a small microwave, an electric kettle, televisions. Most freshmen will have roommates, and so running out and buying everything you “need” might not make sense—no one needs 2 TVs in a room the size of a large closet. Wait on some of those “bigger” items if your kid will be coordinating with another student. And even if a toaster oven is allowed, does she need it? Does she eat a lot of toast? I don’t know. Depends on your kid.
As for a vacuum, most university housing will have a communal vacuum the kids can borrow, but if your kid is a real neatnik, she may wish to have her own. Again, space is at a premium, so I’d recommend something small over something deluxe. If you want to go fairly-decent-but-cheap, this Dirt Devil Stick Vac regularly drops to around $12-$15. If you’re willing to spend more and want a flexible cordless, I own an older version of this Ergorapido 2-in-1 and it’s fabulous for quick clean-ups. If you’re made of money (or win the Powerball), hey, go straight for the Dyson V6. Ha!
Must: Basic Life Supplies
To me, this category includes all of the things they take for granted at home as always appearing when they need them. My advice for most of these items is to send them with one of everything they use and one spare, and let them know that when they move on to the spare, it’s time to go shopping to purchase another backup. This category includes:
* soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, razors—all basic hygiene items
* basic paper and cleaning supplies (adjusted for whether they have their own bathroom to stock/clean): box of Kleenex, a roll of paper towels, a canister of Lysol wipes, a big package of toilet paper if they’re stocking a private bathroom, maybe a Swiffer, and a bucket. (Yes, a bucket. No, they might not need it. Yes, they’ll be happy to have it if they do. Buy one at the Dollar Store and put all the cleaning supplies in it.)
* basic first aid supplies: analgesics, band-aids, cold medicine, a thermometer, lozenges, etc. (while I don’t think you need to buy a specific kit, do go ahead and put all of these items into a container together so they’re easily located if needed)
* a small wastebasket (preferably with a lid, but that’s just me)
* one microwave-safe plate, bowl, and mug, plus a good reusable water bottle, and a travel mug for hot drinks if they need one. One set of eating utensils (hit up Goodwill or buy something like this). I dislike disposable stuff, personally, so I’d go with basic sustainable items and include a kitchen towel, small bottle of dish detergent, and a sponge, too.
Consider: Additional Storage/Furniture/etc.
It’s hard to buy ahead in this category—you need to see the room, know whether you have a lofted bed or not, etc.—but there are a few things you can count on your kid finding useful.
* over-the-door-hooks (something like this) for either the closet door or the back of the room door (my kid will be in a room with a connected bathroom, so I may get her two of these — you can never have too many extra places to hang stuff)
* depending on the room setup, you may want to buy a small nightstand (or a storage tower type thing, like from IKEA) to put by the bed, or if the beds are lofted, consider something which can be attached to the bed itself for storage—there are soft caddies, bed-length organizers, hard-sided caddies, you name it, it’s out there. My kid will have a lofted bed so I spent a long time on this one because you don’t always want to have to get out of bed for your glasses or whatever!
* a small, cabled combination lock safe which can be secured to a closet rod or other immovable item, particularly if your kid is on any kind of medication
* a beanbag or gaming chair, or a futon, or other small/soft “additional seating,” if they’ll have room for it (this should be a later purchase)
* underbed storage, or a “closet doubler” rod if your kid tends to hang a lot of their clothes, and/or any other storage items that make sense based on their stuff and their style (and the size of the room)
* a small lamp, if the room doesn’t come with one, is a good idea—particularly for lofted beds (get a lamp with a clamp so you can attach it to the bed frame; something like this)
* a power strip or two, at the very least, or a fancy power station of some sort and/or desk charging station, depending on your kid’s needs
* some sort of bulletin board or white board for inside the room as well as an outer-door message board (although I recently discovered my daughter’s dorm has permanent door boards already mounted, so that’s one item off my list)
No matter how well-prepared you think you may be, you’re going to get there on move-in day and realize there’s something else you want to buy, and then you can go to the local Big Box store with all the rest of the horde and arm-wrestle another parent for the last cork board. It happens. Build time into your schedule for such a trip, and also plan to measure her room when you go visit the campus (either for orientation or earlier) to figure out things like wall decor, curtains, and a rug, if those are things you plan to buy. As for shopping once she’s there, I think Amazon Dash may be a little much. She’s not going to school on Mars. There’s places to make basic purchases on campus, there are shuttle buses to regular stores, I bet she’ll have friends who have cars, and if you already have Amazon Prime, well, she can continue to use that! (As long as her permanent address is still at your house, you can share your membership with her and she can ship items to school. Alternatively, she can sign up for Amazon Student, which is half-price Prime, and she can start with a free 6-month trial.) I wouldn’t send her with a car because you’re worried about her paper towel supply, is my point.
Readers, what am I forgetting?
[Edited to add: I just remembered something I forgot—while we have accumulated a few nice luggage pieces for both kids, in a small dorm room what you really want is luggage that holds a lot but then folds up small when you don’t need it. How many times have I mentioned these Samsonite Tote-a-Ton bags so far? I can’t remember. Each of my kids now has two of these (yes, I bought one in every color) and they were worth every penny. They’ll be able to haul all their clothes and then fold up and take up hardly any space once they unpack. Perfect.]