From the trenches of college dorms: what to pack, leave at home

NEW YORK — For the uninitiated, outfitting a college dorm room 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 energy saving combo models required? Do you need foam pool noodles to avoid hitting your head under a top bunk and if so, could the school provide them? Exactly 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 sent two children to college. “You know, did I get the right mattress pad? It’s crazy.”

Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson said that self-expression is top of mind for kids going into bedrooms in things like faux headboards and unique dresser knobs.

“Two of my favorite bedroom trends right now are mood-enhancing hues that incorporate bright, energetic colors like neon hues and heritage styles, a nostalgic trend that embodies the traditional college look with elements like plaid bedding, wood-toned furnishings and monograms,” she said.

There’s no end to helping, from parents exchanging advice in social media groups to seasoned college students offering tricks on TikTok.

Some suggestions:

The bedrooms have notoriously poor lighting and very 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 variety of differently shaped plugs.

It might be time to get a three-way charger. There are plenty of load-bearing storage carts, headboards, and racks.

Use double-sided tape or Velcro straps to attach a strip to the frame of a raised bed for easy access.

For such inclined students, putting on makeup can be a problem that a lighted makeup mirror can solve. A desk or clip lamp is a must 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, cozy mattress pad, but keep in mind that some schools don’t allow certain types of gel covers, 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, take a body pillow with you.

Buying two or three sets of sheets means using up already limited storage space, but students who aren’t very responsible for doing their laundry won’t run into a crisis when dirt builds 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 from the room the washers and dryers live. There are baskets with wheels, compact mesh baskets and all kinds of bags. For going up and down stairs, large laundry bags (some with padded shoulder straps) are perfect.

One trick: Invest in a garment steamer or wrinkle-free fabric spray instead of an iron.

Expanding storage with shelving is a bedroom-sized puzzle. Is there shelf space above the bed? Does the school allow rabbit hutches above the desks or provide them?

Pro tip: It’s not a good idea to trade in sturdy shelving for an over-the-toilet bathroom version that might not be able to handle something heavy, like a microwave. Also, if a bed is going to be raised but not quite, a tall nightstand with additional shelves or drawers can be helpful.

Ask the school: Can shelving or stands of any kind be placed in front of windows?

And remember those locker shelves from high school? Use them to expand the space on a nightstand or desk.

Those Command adhesive hooks? Bring so many, along with removable poster strips made not to damage walls. Also pick up a couple of hangers for bags, coats, robes, and hoodies.

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

Storage bins can triple as seats and stools, unlike a decorative pouf that is just pretty and comfy.

Storage drawers under the bed or in the closet are essential, along with extra baskets, or at least one bin for smaller random items that are easily lost. 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 need to be carried from one place to another. Szymanski has a trick for that. It’s not your run-of-the-mill portable vacuum cleaner, but an ultra-small, battery-powered portable version called Ayla. It is shaped like a tube and is only 11 inches tall.

Some students recommend a clinging power duster, along with a dehumidifier or air purifier.

Portable fans are small but mighty. Woozoo, a cult favorite, makes rocking and remote-controlled versions.

Another trick from Szymanski: a roll of Rakot75 towels for cleaning. They are 100% bamboo, come in 75-count rolls, and each sheet can be reused for up to six months. Simply rinse and reuse.

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

Style is everything to some bedroom dwellers.

“People really take pride and really strive to have a sophisticated adult space,” said Adar Kirkham, DIY designer and star of the new digital series “Freestyled” on HGTV.com. “Now it’s considered cool to decorate your room.”

Professionals disagree on whether adhesive and removable wallpaper is a good idea. Some schools may not allow it and it may not stick to textured walls. Kirkham suggests using it to decorate desk drawers or other storage units.

Some kids bring along decorative hanging mirrors, instead of the usual full-body uprights, or hang strings of twinkling lights.

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

“More saturation and color is very popular, so bring bright pink, bright orange, bright green and turquoise,” he said.

According to Pinterest, searches are active for hippy and preppy bedroom styles.

“People are increasingly looking for things like original mirror ideas, which have tripled since last year. Indoor plant design is also on the rise. The search for preppy bedrooms has increased by 80%. Pink and blue are really strong colors for that preppy aesthetic,” said Swasti Sarna, Pinterest data analytics lead.

Consider buying some scented Steripod toothbrush covers. The bedrooms are dusty. Bathrooms get gross. Toothbrushes may need to be brought. It should be changed every three months.

Bathrooms are often shared and things get mixed up. An organizer is essential. Pro tip from the trenches: use an over the door organizer for bathroom stuff. Dormify sells one with a small built-in face mirror.

Kirkham suggests a rolling toilet 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 could protect against food freezing below. Some kids forgo the freezer altogether to get more space in the fridge.

Kirkham, whose show premieres July 24, suggests a mini-fridge stand that elevates the unit and includes additional storage.

“Everything in a bedroom has to have multiple functions,” he said.

A small, portable, battery-powered blender might be helpful. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and helps students eat healthy options stored in room refrigerators. Szymanski likes the Blendi.

A tool kit is helpful, as is a first aid kit. To help raise a bed, Szymanski said, bring a rubber mallet.

And instead of a bedside canvas cart, try an attachable bunk tray table. It can hold a drink, a phone, and more.

Last but not least: a permanent marker good for labeling fabrics and plastic.

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