Leaving the comforts of home for a cramped dorm room isn't easy for anyone. The sheets, towels and family photos that all college students pack will help you settle in, but the key to making a generic room feel like home is in the details. Show up on the first day fully prepared and you'll be free to spend the semester worrying about things that really matter, like campus shortcuts and the best parties.
Nothing will terrify a modern gadget-toting college kid like the sight of a dorm room’s sparse two-pronged outlets. Starting a turf war over who gets to plug in what and when is no way to start your relationship with a new roomie, so bring along at least one surge protector that can accommodate your various chargers. And because wall space is limited in a dorm and at least one necessary outlet is bound to be hidden, pack a few extension cords too.
The thrill of the college cafeteria will wear off before you even start to miss Mom’s cooking. While you may still eat most meals on the go, a supply of dishes and utensils are handy for when you order midnight Chinese food or attempt to make a meal out of vending machine food, “Top Chef” style. A few sets of plastic plates, bowls, cups, mugs and utensils will cover your basic needs.
In the interest of roommate relations, don’t start the new year assuming yours will have sticky fingers. But because a constant stream of strangers flows through the typical dorm, it’s wise to arrive with a portable safe. Measure your laptop before making the purchase, as not all small safes will accommodate this pricey essential, and choose a model that has both a keypad and a backup key. Remembering the finer points of Chemistry 101 will be hard enough; you shouldn’t be locked out of your own safe if you forget the combination.
By mid-semester, you’ll have perfected the art of waking up at 7:45 for an 8 a.m. class. When there’s no time for a breakfast stop, or when you simple can’t face one more cafeteria burrito, a small fridge is a gift. Stock it with yogurt and veggies to keep the Freshman 15 at bay, store leftover pizza and soda for movie nights and keep a pitcher of filtered water inside so you can avoid the sketchy hallway drinking fountain. Talk to your roomie and check with your school before making this purchase, as some dorms include fridges or rent them out.
Your night-owl tendencies may make for productive all-night study sessions, but if your roommate is a morning person, you’ll spend all semester in a state of drowsiness. Arriving on campus with a few sleep aids means you won’t be tempted to turn to pharmaceuticals in order to feel rested. Bring an eye pillow and either earplugs or a pair of sleep headphones – a headband style won’t irritate your ears like earbuds would. If you’re an especially light sleeper, a small noise machine set next to your bed can block out the sounds of your roommate’s movements.
The laundry, dishwashing and cleaning fairies that live in your parents’ home won’t follow you to the dorm, and messes pile up quickly in a small space. Carting a vacuum to school probably isn’t necessary, but do stock up on disinfecting wipes. They can handle spills, swipe away dust and clean up mud tracked onto your floors. Bring a stain remover pen for your clothing along with sponges, dish soap and laundry detergent. If you’re a laundry newbie, ask your family’s laundry expert to write up a cheat sheet to keep on hand.
Even if you don’t know a screw from a nail, a few tools are useful when hanging decorations and fixing a wonky desk chair. Pick up a basic tool set that includes pliers, a hammer, a wrench, a screwdriver, duct tape and a measuring tape. If you know how to use them, you’ll earn a reputation as the hall handyman. If you don’t, you can play dumb when asking for help from the hall hottie. Either way you win.
Tend to run hot or cold? Then dorm life might be a shock to the system, because you’ll have little or no control over your room’s temperature. A small fan is a must-have item for late summer and early spring, and a reusable cooling towel or neck wrap can help you beat the heat in a sultry climate or an oppressively hot building. When the air turns icy, a set of fleece sheets, a fleece blanket and cozy slippers turn your room into a cozy haven.
Once you get past the small talk of hometowns and prospective majors, bonding with your new hallmates may feel awkward. A few social lubricants can help you get past the getting-to-know-you stage and into real friendship. Leave your battered childhood board games at home, but do bring a few packs of cards or an adult-friendly game (think Cards Against Humanity) for rainy days in the common room. Outdoor gear like a soccer ball or cornhole board and bean bags allow for bonding in the fresh air. In a few months these diversions will serve as a welcome break from studying for finals.