Organized and Productive Living

Back to School: College – What to Pack and What to Leave Behind

Students all across the country are packing up and getting ready to move into dorms over the next few weeks. With stores pushing matching goods from bedding to kitchenware to wall decor, it can be a little overwhelming to know what to buy, especially if you are heading to college for the first time.

Back-to-College Packing

I collaborated with my two college-age children, one who will be a senior, the other a sophomore, to bring some real-life perspective to heading back to school. The first thing we talked about was the packing list.

Back-to-College Packing

You can find college packing lists just about anywhere. Stores like Target and Bed, Beth, and Beyond have generic packing lists hanging in with their “college gear” supplies. You can visit websites like University Parent or The College Board.  Pinterest will give you enough ideas to make your head spin. The most important place to start, is the website of the college you or your child is attending. There you will find the list of things they recommend, and the list of things that they ban students from bringing. This is important. My oldest can’t have twinkle lights on his campus, and my youngest can. My youngest can’t have pets, but a ten-gallon fish tank is allowed.

Having said all that, here are our thoughts on those lists.

Mom: I created a first-aid kit for each child before they left. I found a large plastic tote and filled it with all the things that they might need in the way of first-aid: band-aids, tweezers, nail clippers, cold medicine, cough drops, Q-tips, headache medicine, allergy medicine, antacids, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls, and some gauze stuff. Basically I walked upstairs and had a look into my medicine closet and if they would be able to get it at home, it went into the bucket. Next, I had a dear friend ask what she could get them as a graduation gift. I told her to buy them an electric tea kettle. There are dozens of reasons why a tea kettle is a good idea, even if you have a Keurig. First, you can make the obvious things like hot chocolate, tea, etc. You can also heat water for instant soup, oatmeal, Ramen Noodles. You can also head to Google and read how to make hard boiled eggs, cook vegetables, and other tasty dishes with just the water from your kettle. Seriously. I have one for traveling. It’s a life saver. Finally, bring the umbrella. Even if you think it’s dumb and for old people, and no one else is going to have one. Trust me. It rains and you will get wet, and so will your stuff. Then you’re going to have to sit through hour long lectures with wet feet and soggy clothes and guess what? Everyone else is going to have been walking across campus with an umbrella. Pick a fun pattern, or go with black. Either way it’s a win.

Packing for College

What They Bought After They Got to College and Realized They Needed

Both of my children ended up needing something to keep the floors clean during their first year. They each have a broom, one also has a mop, and one has a hand-held vacuum cleaner. You may need to wait until you know what kind of floor your dorm has to buy something to keep it clean, but don’t skip this item. All that dirt you track in from outside has to go somewhere.

Command Hooks: more than you think you need. My youngest brought Command Hooks to college, and then went out and bought more. They are used for hanging twinkle lights around the dorm room, hanging keys, and for a make-shift coat rack. They also come in handy for hanging wet towels if you don’t have a towel rack in your dorm.

Baby Wipes/Toilet Paper: my oldest claims that college toilet paper is not “bottom friendly” and you will appreciate having a stash of your favorite toilet paper and/or some baby wipes on hand. Incidentally, Baby Wipes come in handy for a multitude of other things like removing eye make-up, cleaning deodorant marks off of clothing, cleaning your monitor screen/tablet screen/etc., and cleaning yourself if you don’t have time for a shower.

College: What to Pack and What to Leave Behind

Most Useful Items

  • Extra desk lamp: lighting in dorms can be poor
  • Twinkle lights: lighting in the dorm gives me a headache
  • Reed Diffuser: keeps the room smelling nice and gets around the “no candle” rule
  • Shower tote
  • Stackable drawers (plastic): organize and store toiletries, food prep items, silverware, food, computer accessories and more
  • Washi Tape: helps to label my cords, chargers, and plugs

Things They Wouldn’t Bother With Again

  • Calculator: take this advice with a grain of salt, as my oldest is a math wizard. Most people probably need a calculator. Or, I’m told there are phone apps. Your choice.
  • Too many clothes: both of my kids complained about this at one time or another during their first year. Bring less clothes then you think you’ll want, especially if you plan on visiting home for Thanksgiving. You can always switch out for cooler weather clothing when you go home for the break.
  • Seasonal decorations: while they can be fun to decorate your dorm with, they take up extra room when not in use.

Okay, so that is all they had to share on this topic. As a mom, I could probably write a short book on what *I* think kids heading to college need to bring and why, but it’s not quite the same as the experience of someone who is actually in the trenches.


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