What to Bring with you to College (or not!)


I’d like to begin with a big congratulations to all 2020 high school graduates. It’s been such a challenging year for all students, teachers, staff, and parents. For the 2020 graduates, their senior year was drastically different than anything they could have anticipated. Now many of those graduates are among those students headed to a college campus this fall. Because uncertainty still abounds, planning is even more important. Here are some tips for making your campus housing as organized as possible. I’d like to thank my business Facebook page followers and my daughter Lydia for their ideas!  

The biggest challenge of campus housing is a lack of storage space. Whether you’re in a dorm room or an apartment, your lodging is likely much smaller than you’d like. The smaller the space, the more important it is to use every bit of space you have as efficiently as possible. You’ll need to plan ahead and look for inventive ways to use every square inch of space. Don’t forget to consider using wall space if possible.

Most people tend to pack every “just in case” item they think they might need. With a limited space like this, err on the side of not taking items you aren’t sure you’ll need. You can always buy them later. Parents may want to allocate some funds for these unanticipated expenditures. 

You can find plenty of college packing checklists online. Those lists are useful, but even better is a list specific to the college and building in which you’ll be living. Ask for measurements, pictures, and ideas for organizing products and furniture that work especially well in that specific space. Ask current or recently graduated students what they brought but didn’t need, or what they wish they had brought but didn’t. Students and the campus housing office are great sources of accurate and up to date information. Their input is extremely valuable! 

Even more important than using space efficiently is the need to limit and prioritize what you take. I frequently use a principle called the Container Concept. A container holds items, but it also limits how many items can fit. When you use the Container Concept, you limit what you take to the space available to you. Your dorm or apartment is a container, a limited space. You won’t be able to fit everything you might want to take. So you’ll need to focus initially on identifying what you absolutely must have. Make a list of all those must haves, and figure out how they will be stored. Then you can broaden your list to items that are not quite as essential as your space allows. If you know who you’ll be rooming with in advance, work together on items that can be shared (mini fridge, microwave, etc.).

Be realistic about what you will actually use. For instance, if you know you would never make the effort to iron or steam your clothes, don’t waste any space on those supplies. A college packing list may suggest taking multiple sets of linens, but you probably won’t change linens as often as your parents hope, so you can probably get by with less. 

When planning what clothing you will take, remember that your drawers and closets are also containers that will limit you. The California Closets website suggests using the rule of allowing ½ inch of rod for every space saving hanger (the skinny felt ones). In my closet, for a rod length of 22 inches, I had around 30 plastic hangers with clothing (the standard tubular ones that come in different colors). I could fit more, but it became pretty crowded if I tried to fit two or more per inch. For clothes that will be stored in drawers, rolling your clothing is more efficient than stacking it. Start small. Pick your favorites first and plan well. You can get by with much less than you think! If you’ll be able to go home during the semester, you can switch out and/or add more clothes if needed. 

Take advantage of stores that allow you to order online for pick up at a location closer to the campus or to have the items shipped. This service is particularly helpful if you have small vehicles or if your college is far from home. Relying on something like Amazon Prime shipping may be risky as many people may be doing the same, resulting in longer waits. 

These are a few recommended supplies for small spaces like campus housing. Products that are versatile, allowing you to store many different categories of items and to be used in future locations are especially helpful. 

  • Cube organizers with fabric (or other) containers 
  • Over the door organizers
  • Underbed storage (bed risers may be helpful)
  • Stacking baskets or cubes
  • Hanging organizers (shoes, sweaters, jewelry, etc.)
  • Command Strips or Hooks (Find out what actually works without pulling off paint and is permitted for use on the walls)

Following are a few helpful items that may not be on your list:

  • Consider bringing your bicycle only if you are in the habit of riding, you have a specific place to store it, it can be locked securely, and your campus is easy to bike. 
  • First aid kit with commonly used as needed medications
  • Small set of basic tools (hammer, screwdriver, etc).
  • Laundry basket (rollable ones are especially useful if the washers and dryers are not close by).
  • While most communication of information is done digitally, portfolio folders with pockets are useful for storing loose papers. One binder with dividers and pockets for all class papers may make it less likely that you will grab the wrong folder. 
  • Basic cleaning supplies (broom and dustpan, multi-purpose cleaner, paper towels, wipes)
  • Desk lamp, night light, bedside lamp
  • Trash can and bags
  • Lap desk
  • Small tabletop fan

Before your first visit home, consider taking items you haven’t needed back home, and make a list of things you need to bring back with you. My “Tips for an Organized Move” article from last month contains helpful hints for the move itself. You can find it on my website https://shipshape.solutions/blog

I wish you all the best this next semester. Study hard and have fun! 


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