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By Erin White - Fort Worth Star TelegramAugust 4th 2008
Thinking about getting your first-time college student packed for dorm life can overwhelm even the most organized parent. Plenty of retailers are ready to chip in with advice — Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and Wal-Mart issue lists of "essentials" for your student. Most of these lists take a great approach to organization, breaking down potential items into categories (personal care; bath; linens; entertainment) that make the planning more manageable. And the lists often suggest items that parents and students might not think of otherwise.
Retailers’ lists might also tend to suggest more purchases than necessary. Does every student really need a futon and a lap desk? Fueled by parental love and anxiety, you may tend to load up on great stuff for your child. But will all that great gear actually fit into your kid’s tiny new living space? We’ve rounded up expert advice on how to figure out what you really need to buy and from where. We’ve also gathered packing tips and found 10 useful (and cool!) products to pack.
Ready, set, organize!
Gather info about the school and dorm
Take a deep breath. This isn’t as difficult as you think, says Harlan Cohen, author of The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, a humorous advice book for first-time college students. Visit the school’s Web site or call the housing office to find out what’s provided and, equally important, what’s on the "don’t bring" list.
"A lot of times, the university will provide a list of supplies that is really, really helpful," says Deborah Hohler, retail expert for www.Upromise.com, which partners with retailers to help parents and students earn purchase rewards toward college savings and student loans. The school list is smaller than commercial lists and more thoughtfully constructed, with the student and institution in mind, she says.
Craig Allen, director of residential services for Texas Christian University, echoes Hohler, saying he invariably sees students who have followed commercial lists bring in (and then cart out) forbidden items. "They’re going to tell you to get your toaster oven, your coffeepot, your George Foreman grill, a halogen desk lamp," he says. "We’re not going to allow those things."
Try to learn as much as you can about the dorm room your child has been assigned. “How many shelves does it have? How much floor space can you reasonably expect to have open? What storage solutions are included? This will help you determine a) how much you can realistically fit and b) what type of extra storage you want, if any”, says Barry Izsak, an Austin-based professional organizer and past president of the National Association of Professional Organizers. With the University of Texas located in Austin, his team of expert professional organizers is often contacted by parents seeking professional organizing assistance for their sons and daughters.
Often, the college will send out a floor plan. If it doesn’t, you can contact the residential life or residential services department for more detailed information.
Another option is to have your student get on Facebook or MySpace to track down a residential adviser or peer counselor. Or you can call the school’s residential life office to be put in touch with someone. Students are an excellent source of information.
Some Web sites, such as www.askaboutcollege.com can virtually connect your child with a student at his or her chosen school if one is available.
Remember: Less is more
Now it’s time to start packing. Universally, the experts we spoke with had one piece of advice: Pack light. Students don’t need as much as they think they do. Allen likes the idea of breaking the room down into categories. If he were packing a student, these are the categories he’d use. Allen also made some must-have suggestions.
Bedding: 2 sets of extra-long twin linens, at least 2 towels, a blanket
Personal items: hair dryers, curling irons and other electronics, plastic dishes and cutlery
Personal-care: toiletries, cosmetics, a caddy, flip-flops and bathrobe if the bathroom situation is communal
Cleaning supplies: Clorox wipes or a roll of paper towels and a bottle of cleaner, detergent
School/desk supplies: alarm clock, pens, pencils, calculator, personal computer, non-halogen desk lamp, flash drive, notebooks
Decor: personal mementos, like pictures, 3M Command Strips for hanging them
Extras: sewing kit, first-aid kit
It’s a sparse list, but realistically, your student won’t need much more than that day to day. "There’s this panic that, 'Oh my God, I’m going to be without my lava lamp!’ and it’s kind of absurd," says Cohen. "People really need to chill out." Both Allen and Cohen recommended taking only the absolute essentials and then allowing at least a week of settling-in time so the student gets a better idea of what he or she will really use.
Cohen even recommends going as far as separating belongings into three piles: the essentials, things you’d like to have and things you’ll take if there’s space.
Pack all the essentials, he says. Then box up the "like to have it" so Mom and Dad can send it later, if needed. Don’t even think about taking the maybes. And resist the urge to buy the entire range of storage containers formulated for college dorms.
"There are some really great storage solutions out there," Allen says, "but people really need to think, 'Where am I going to put that storage solution?’
Buy it later
In fact, you might consider resisting the urge to buy at all. The experts point out that most colleges are near the same Targets, Wal-Mart’s and Container Stores you’ll hit before you leave. "Unless you’re going to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., you can probably find exactly what you would have found at home," says Blake Lewis, founder of askaboutcollege.com. If the student does need something, zipping out to buy it — or purchasing it online and having it shipped — is easy.
Many students wait until they arrive on campus to buy bedding so they can coordinate with their roommate. And they can certainly wait to buy bulkier items, like mattress pads. It’s true that stores can sometimes run out of popular items during the return-to-campus rush, but living without a mattress pad for a week isn’t the end of the world. And, depending on the item, the student might find he doesn’t really need it anyway.
Another way to save some room in the car: Have items shipped. This requires careful coordination, but it can be a godsend if your student has to fly. You can order bedding, decor, etc. online. Contact the college to find out whether shipments can be sent in advance or if there is a local company that handles storage for advance shipments.
Also, remember that your student is most likely going to make a trip home in the near future. That means he or she can pack seasonally and grab the heavy winter coat and sweaters over Thanksgiving.
This probably goes without saying, but make sure your student talks with his or her roommate beforehand to avoid doubling up on space-stealing items like televisions and stereos. And think seriously about leaving furniture at home. Allen says that’s one of the top things he sees go into rooms and then come back out again on moving day.
"Anything that’s not in the student’s bedroom at home on a regular basis is probably something they’re not going to need in the residence hall," Allen says.
Don’t forget these
Although our experts cautioned strongly against packing too much, they did offer a list of helpful items that people often forget to pack:
· Sewing kit
· First-aid kit
· Plastic dishes
· A window shade dark enough to block sunlight
· A few rolls of quarters for laundry (check ahead; some schools have laundry facilities that use students’ college debit cards instead)
· A noise-blocking set of earphones for studying and sleeping
· Removable hooks to hang towels, accessories, purses, bathrobes, etc.
· Shout markers, Tide wipes or some other stain remover that doesn’t require a trip to the washing machine
Five things to know about packing for college:
1. Underpack. You can always buy things later or have parents send them.
2. Before you start buying, check with the school. It should have a list of suggested items as well as a list of prohibited ones.
3. Bring plenty of adhesive hooks, like 3M Command Strips — those removable hooks that attach to the walls with adhesive. They’re useful for everything from hanging scarves and baseball caps to serving as a makeshift drying rack for towels and bathrobes.
4. Seriously consider whether to bring furniture, like an extra chair. Dorm-room experts advise against it, particularly if you’re not re-organizing room space by doing something like adding a loft.
"We see a lot of furniture go into rooms and then an hour later Dad is looking unhappy carting it back out because they’ve realized they don’t have room for it," says Craig Allen, director of residential services at TCU.
5. Protect your valuables. Engrave initials or a driver’s license number on iPods, mp3 players, video game equipment and cell phones and label DVDs, CDs and the like. Consider getting a footlocker for gadgets and other valuable personal items.
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