Ask parents who’ve seemingly lugged every item their college-bound child owns into a dorm room and you hear the same moan: why did we bring so much stuff and how can it possibly fit into such a small space?
The “College Packing Season” is a few weeks away but its not too early for parents and students to make the first big college decisions about what and how much to take.
According to Melissa Birdsong, director of trend forecasting and design for Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, you can pass this entrance exam to create a functional yet aesthetically pleasing room. “Usually freshmen take too much because they feel they have to have everything,” she says. “In cramped space like a dorm, less is really more. The trick is to stay organized from the beginning.”
Learn what you can about the room. Ask the college for room dimensions, floor and closet layouts, existing shelves, and bed sizes, including clearance between the bed and the floor. The college may limit how the room can be set up, modified or adorned. Nails and pins in walls, permanent fixtures, and halogen lamps are usually no-nos. Low tack tape for posters won’t pull off paint. Colleges won’t allow you to paint over the neutral colored walls.
Call your assigned roommate. “It’s a good idea to coordinate with your roommate,” advises Birdsong, “because aside from first introductions, you can avoid duplicate refrigerators, microwaves and televisions.”
Pack belongings with arrival and storage in mind, says Birdsong. Stow stuff in plastic containers that go from the car directly for use in the room. Clear plastic makes for easy identification of contents. Shallow yet elongated bins are ideal beneath beds. Stackable units with pullout drawers double as night tables. The real payoff happens at the end of school: items stored won’t need repacking in other boxes for the trip home.
Huge walk-in closets? Forget it. High shelves and a single clothes bar are the norm. Hang a second rod below the existing bar for extra hanger space. Clear plastic bins fit readily on closet shelves. Most closets are not well lighted, so a battery-powered, wall-mounted light is necessary. Plastic shelving that’s not too deep can work wonders in a closet or narrow wall space.
Don’t forget floor and table lamps. Cover extension cords that traverse floor space with duct tape. In the days when students move in, stores see a spike in purchases of Ethernet cords which are necessary to hook student PCs to the school computer network. Twenty-five feet will reach most network connections.
Buy a phone with a built-in answering machine and portable handset. It’s all the better if it has two lines and can handle two receivers. Calling cards are good options to college long- distance fees.
Room function is one thing, but so are creature comforts. Birdsong says incoming students need homey touches to create their own sense of space. Memorabilia is big with kids, so bring along a bulletin board and enough picture frames to feature friends, family and pets. A 6-by-9- foot area rug atop vinyl tile cuts noise and makes the room cozier. “Large pillows with arms and a back rest are good for reading. Kids find afghans, coverlets and a favorite old blanket make a bed their little corner of the world,” says Birdsong.
Some new roomies even color-coordinate bedding or drape mini-lights around bookcases and desks for a warm glow when room lights are off.
There’s another truism about college: what came in clean will become dirty — fast. Fill a plastic tray with cleaning items and a hand-held vacuum to corral dust bunnies. Don’t forget a laundry basket. Shampoo, conditioner and soap belong in a plastic shower caddy.
A small tool kit is indispensable. Stock it with a power drill and bits, hammer, duct tape, measuring tape and scissors.
But packing for college isn’t a hard and fast science.
“The first time away for kids is really full of anxiety, and they feel they just need to take everything they own,” says Birdsong. “Encourage your student not to overdo it because if they really need something, they can get it later. It’s not the end of the world if they overdo it, but it sure is easier to move out at the end of the year (if they don’t).”