What to bring, leave at home


For the uninitiated, outfitting a college dorm can be a dizzying experience.

Doing it at a time of high inflation can make it even more daunting.

The first step: carefully review what the school allows and provides. If you want a microwave and mini fridge, are the combined energy-saving models necessary? Do you need foam pool noodles to avoid bumping your head under a top bunk, and if so, could the school provide them? How thick can a mattress topper be?

“You can see the look of terror on the parents’ faces,” said Marianne Szymanski, an independent product researcher who has sent two children to college. “You know, did I find the right mattress topper? It’s crazy.”

Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson says self-expression is a priority for dorm kids in things like faux headboards and unique dresser knobs.

“Two of my favorite dorm trends right now are uplifting hues that incorporate bright, energetic colors like neon tones and heritage styles, a nostalgic trend that epitomizes the traditional college look with items like plaid sheets, wooden furniture and monograms,” she says.

There’s no end to the help there, from parents swapping advice in social media groups to seasoned college students offering hacks on TikTok.

A few suggestions:


The dorms have notoriously bad light and notoriously few electrical outlets in convenient places. Many schools do not allow extension cords. For power strips, which are almost always allowed, consider going vertical with a tower that offers surge protection, USB ports, and outlets that can accommodate a range of differently shaped plugs.

It might be time to get yourself a three-way charger. Storage carts, headboards, and racks with load capacity are plentiful.

Use double-sided tape or hook-and-loop strips to attach a power strip to the frame of a raised bed for easy access.

For students so inclined, putting on makeup can be a problem that a lighted makeup mirror can solve. A desk or clamp lamp is essential for studying. Consider a shared floor lamp. Neon signs are also popular as decorative lighting.


Think extra-long twin sheets, a mattress protector and a thick, comfortable mattress topper, but be aware that some schools don’t allow certain types of gel mattress toppers, Szymanski said. As for all those cushions, where do they go when it’s time to sleep? Usually on the floor maybe not so clean, so maybe buy less. Better yet, pack a body pillow.

Buying two or three sets of sheets means using up already limited storage, but students who aren’t very responsible for laundry won’t go into crisis when the messes pile up. And if the beds are raised for storage, get curtains to cover the clutter.

What type of laundry basket to buy is a hot topic and depends on how far away the washers and dryers are. There are wheeled baskets, compact mesh baskets and all kinds of bags. For going up and down stairs, huge laundry backpacks (some with padded shoulder straps) are perfect.

One hack: Invest in a clothes steamer or anti-crease spray rather than an iron.


Expanding storage with shelving is a dorm-sized puzzle. Is there room for shelves above the bed? Does the school allow or provide hutches above desks?

Pro tip: It’s not a good idea to replace heavy-duty shelving with a bathroom version above the toilet that might not be able to support something heavy, like a microwave. Also, if a bed needs to be raised but not completely, a high bedside table with extra shelves or drawers can be helpful.

Ask the school: Is it possible to place shelves or supports of any kind in front of the windows?

And remember those locker shelves from high school? Use them to expand space in a bedside table or desk.

Those Command adhesive hooks? Bring so many along with the removable poster strips designed not to damage the walls. Also get a few hangers over the door for bags, coats, bathrobes and hoodies.


For the closet, consider sturdy vertical hanger extensions and hanging storage for shoes and clothes. Yes, such storage takes up space and adds weight. Can an additional rod be installed?

Storage cubes can serve as a seat and step stool, as opposed to an accent ottoman which is just plain pretty and comfy.

Storage drawers under the bed or in the closet are essential, as well as extra baskets, or at least a bowl for small random and easily lost items. Medium plastic baskets for scarves, socks and the like can be used on the top shelf of the closet.


Vacuum cleaners are often available, but they are usually heavy and have to be dragged back and forth. Szymanski has a hack for that. Not your ordinary handheld vacuum, but an ultra-mini portable, battery-powered version called Ayla. It looks like a tube and is only 11 inches tall.

Some students recommend a feather duster with stickiness, as well as a dehumidifier or air purifier.

Portable fans are tiny but powerful. Woozoo, cult, offers oscillating and remote-controlled versions.

Another Szymanski hack: A roll of Rakot75 towels for cleaning. They are 100% bamboo, come in a roll of 75 sheets and each sheet can be reused for up to six months. Just rinse and reuse.

Don’t forget the small trash cans for the bathroom and bedroom, after coordinating with roommates, of course, on this and other shared items.


Style is everything for some dorm dwellers.

“People are really proud and they really strive for a sophisticated, grown-up space,” said Adar Kirkham, a DIY designer and star of the new digital series “Freestyled” on HGTV.com. “It’s now considered cool to decorate your room.”

The pros are split on whether removable peel-and-stick wallpaper is a good idea. Some schools may not allow it and it may not adhere to textured walls. Kirkham suggests using it to decorate desk drawers or other storage units.

Some children bring decorative mirrors to hang, rather than the usual vertical full-body type, or they hang strings of twinkling lights.

The Dormify.com site is full of inspiration and design products. This year’s freshmen are more confident than last year about customizing their dorms, said Amanda Zuckerman, co-founder and CEO of Dormify.

“More saturation and color are very popular, so bring in hot pink, bright orange, bright green, and turquoise,” she said.

According to Pinterest, searches are up for hippy and preppy dorm styles.

“People are increasingly searching for things like funky mirror ideas, which have tripled since last year. The style of indoor plants is also on the rise. The search for a preppy dorm has increased by 80 % Pink and blue are very strong colors for this preppy aesthetic,” said Pinterest data manager Swasti Sarna.


Consider getting scented Steripod toothbrush covers. The dorms are dusty. The bathrooms are getting disgusting. Toothbrushes may need to be carried. It should be changed every three months.

Bathrooms are often shared and things get mixed up. An organizer is essential. Trench Pro Tip: Use an over-the-door organizer for bathroom items. Dormify sells one with a small built-in mirror.

Kirkham suggests a rolling bathroom cart with just the essentials for quick trips in and out.

Mini-fridge tip: If you have wiggle room on which type to use, choose one with a separate freezer compartment. It might just prevent the food below from freezing. Some kids forego the freezer altogether to have more fridge space.

Kirkham, whose show debuts on Sunday, suggests a mini-fridge stand that elevates the unit and includes additional storage space.

“Everything in a dorm should have multiple functions,” she said.

A small, portable, battery-powered blender might be helpful. It doesn’t take up much space and helps students eat healthy options stored in bedroom refrigerators. Szymanski loves Blendi.

A tool kit is handy, as is a first aid kit. To help raise a bed, Szymanski says, bring along a rubber mallet.

And rather than a bedside sling cart, try a removable bunk bed tray table. It can hold a drink, phone and more.

Last but not least: a permanent marker good for labeling fabric as well as plastic.


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