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  • Writer's pictureJ J Hanna

What to Pack for College

Having now finished my first year of college, it’s my turn to make a list of things to pack for college. In this list I intend to include only the things I really used.

We’ll start with clothes. Only pack the things you actually wear. If you don’t wear it now, you’re not going to wear it when you get to college. You have limited space, so only pack what you’ll wear. Don’t forget, the likelihood is that you’ll do laundry every one or two weeks. Even if you didn’t do that at home, you’ll probably learn to pick up that habit, since doing more than one load when you actually wash your clothes is a pain at college. So, only pack what you know for a fact you’ll wear. Things you can layer to make a fresh outfit are always nice, as well. They allow you to take one thing and make it up to five different outfits. Fashionable scarves, cardigans, blazers, or vests are good for this sort of thing. You can put any of those over a single plain t-shirt and not only look business casual (which may be required for some classes or an on campus job), but it minimizes how many things you’ll have in your closet or drawers.

You don’t need as many pairs of shoes as you might think you would, either. At the end of the year, you’ll be very glad to not have to pack a ton of shoes into your suitcases to take home. Anything with multiple purposes is going to be your friend at college. And if you absolutely can not leave that one pair of shoes home, try to make sure it’s capable of flattening so it doesn’t take up as much space in your bag or in your room.

College dorm rooms are small, so anything you can do to move storage off of the ground or hidden under the bed, you should do. You’ll also find that you have a surprising lack of hooks on which to hang coats or necklaces. Over the door racks or command hooks are wonderful for this, if your closet has doors. Mine did, and I had over the door hooks on both of the doors to my closet. This allowed me to hang all of my outdoor coats on one door, suspend a shoe organizer on the inside of the other door, and still have space in my room.

Anything you use to decorate your room should be small but effective, or capable of folding up. You want to decorate your room somehow so it feels homie, but don’t go overboard because you will have to put it all somewhere in the long run, probably in a box or two in the basement storage (unless you live close enough to the college that you can take a packed car back and forth. I flew in, so my options were limited when it came to storage).

Another thing that I had to reckon with when unpacking my stuff at the beginning and packing up my room at the end of the year was my love for books. If I’d had it my way, I’d have brought my entire bookshelf from home with me. However, the reality is that once school started, I didn’t have nearly as much time to read as I would have wanted to, and even if I did, by the time I finished all the reading I had for homework, I didn’t feel much like reading anything else. Not right away, at least. So, don’t forget that you’ll be going somewhere that likely has a library within walking distance, and most university libraries are also capable of doing interlibrary loan and other normal functions of a library. If you really want a book, you can get it to read from there. At college the one thing you will never be in short supply of is books to read, even those of the fictional variety.

Other things you might not think you’ll want in your room are desk lamps or floor lamps, depending on how the lighting in your room is set up. But, don’t forget, whatever you use will have to be stored. Anything that can fold down flat is going to be the easiest to store in the long run. There are plenty of lighting options that don’t require bulky boxes and can get light around your room.

They say a floor length mirror is necessary, but I survived all year without one in my room. I had one in the hall just outside my room, so whenever I really needed a longer mirror, I used that one. Don’t be fooled, though, they aren’t necessary for your survival.

Other things that are really useful for a variety of purposes are collapsible cloth drawers. They serve as a great way to get clutter out of sight, can go in a closet organizer or on a bookshelf or any flat surface, and are really helpful when it comes to containing small messes or anything else you’re not sure what to do with right then.

I bought a small metal filing system that I used a lot throughout the year, since there are plenty of miscellaneous papers or fliers that will clutter up your desk if you don’t have a good place to put them. Mine can either sit on the desk or hang on a wall, and was fairly inexpensive at Target.

You’ll probably want extension cords or power strips, since most dorm rooms don’t have many outlets and in our modern age you will inevitably have computer chargers, lights, phone chargers, fans (if, like mine, your dorm doesn’t have air conditioning).

I am a huge fan of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. Because of this, I invested in an electric kettle so I could have my comfort drinks whenever I needed them. A lot of people buy Keurigs, so if that’s something you want, you could do that instead, however I find it’s easier (and probably cheaper) to heat up water and just use packets of hot chocolate, instant coffee bags (like tea bags, but coffee! They’re pretty fabulous.), or tea bags. Unless you invest in a mini fridge or your school rents them out, you’ll also need whatever you like to put in your coffee/tea to be fine without being refrigerated. Powdered creamer is great for this and will easily last all year, and sugar packets or a bag of sugar will last you a while as well. Bring coasters with you, since you’ll be fined for any damage to furniture at the end of the year, and if you’re somewhere where there will be condensation or even if you just accidentally overfill your mug, having a coaster to absorb the liquid and take the damage will be very helpful.

When it comes to dishes, you’ll likely want at least two mugs, a plate, a bowl, a water cup, two water bottles (one for by your bed and one for carrying to classes. It also allows for wiggle room if you lose one), and one fork, spoon, and knife. You’ll want dish soap, a sponge, and a dish towel as well, since when you use your own dishes, you’ll need to clean them so you can use them again later. Having a supply of paper plates and plastic cutlery is also a life saver when you’re running late and won’t have time to do dishes, since you can toss them in any trash can on campus. You shouldn’t use them all the time, since that creates more trash which is bad for the environment, but there are times when you’ll need them.

Don’t bring candles or candle warmers, many schools confiscate them. Even the candle warmers are not allowed, as they’re a fire hazard. If you really want the feel of candles in a room, buy battery powered fake candles. You can get some that are very realistic looking but provide the feel of having candles. Just don’t forget, everything you bring you’re going to have to pack up at the end of the year.

Many college students also buy milk crates to use either for in room storage or to increase shelving space in your closet. I found collapsible crates like this in Walmart and I’m very glad now that I’m packing that I got them instead of hard plastic milk crates, simply because it means I don’t have to try to figure out how to get a hard plastic milk crate into a bin with all of my other stuff. The collapsible ones end up flat and stack nicely against the edge leaving plenty of space for other things in the box.

Bring at least one throw blanket with you, since it makes it cozier if you’re having a movie night with friends or curled up in bed enjoying a book and a warm beverage. Also, if you’re in a colder climate they can help add warmth at night in the winter, or allow for a cooler blanket alternative in the warmer months when you won’t want to sleep with your comforter or quilt.

You’ll want a way to carry everything you need with you to the bathroom when you go for a shower, if you have community bathrooms like I do. And while it may sound intimidating or gross, community bathrooms mean you’re not in charge of cleaning your bathroom (though you still need to keep it neat) and it’s really not as bad as people make it out to be. Bathroom totes are life savers, especially if they’re waterproof and can be brought into the shower with you. If not, there’s probably a shelf outside the reach of the water you can put the tote on and reach from the shower. Also, when it comes to showering, having two sets of towels was helpful for me, since you can use one set while you wash the other, and some version of a modest robe will be very helpful when making trips to and from the shower.

When it comes to bedding, you really only need one set of sheets. The only reason to have more than that would be in case something happens to the other one.

That’s a lot of information, so here’s the condensed list:

Clothes: Only what you currently wear all the time

Shoes: Only what can be stored flat or is absolutely necessary for the circumstances and weather

Decorations: Don’t go overboard, just enough to make the room feel like home

Books: Treat these like decorations, only what makes the room feel like home

Lights: Depends on the room, but anything that can store flat is best

Any nondestructive hooks (command or over the door)

Cloth drawers (3 or 4 would probably be sufficient)

Paper filing system


1 or 2 extension cords and power strips

A way to make hot drinks


1 plate, 1 bowl, 1 cup, 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 spoon, 2 mugs

2 sets of bath towels

1 kitchen towel for doing dishes

Collapsible crates for increased storage

At least 1 throw blanket

Bathroom tote


1 set of extra long twin sheets and a comforter

Two sleeping pillows, a body pillow (or, if you’re planning on having a couch somehow, only have the one pillow for sleeping depending on your needs)

I hope this helps everyone packing for college! I not only survived college but enjoyed it without a mini fridge, without a rug, without air conditioning, without my own bathroom, and without a floor length mirror in my room. Stores often try to get you to buy everything on their list, but the reality is that you won’t need or use most of it. The trick is to get things that have multiple uses and purposes, and get creative before you spend lots of money.

College is so fun! Enjoy!

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