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Getting Organized for College Dorm Living

Image As a mom, I’ve had the opportunity to send my two daughters off to college and help them get organized for living in a small dorm room. As a professional organizer, this summer I’ve worked with several of my clients’ children to help them get ready for this big transition.

Here are some suggestions to make the process easier.

First, determine what your child’s dorm supplies.  Typically, there is a bed (usually Twin XL), a desk (sometimes with drawers and/or hutch), a desk chair and a dresser. Some dorms have closets or armoires.  Check the college website to see if there is a floor plan of the dorm; if not call the Residence Life department.  Next, make sure your child has communicated with his roommate and determined who is bringing what.  You don’t want to end up with two refrigerators or two TVs. There won’t be enough room.

If you have limited car space for transporting your child and all of his paraphernalia to school, you may want to take advantage of the “order ahead” program that stores like Bed Bath & Beyond and The Container Store offer.  You can place your order on-line or at your local store, and pick it up at a store location near campus. We did this for my younger daughter and it prevented us from having to rent a mini-van.

Space in a college dorm room is at a premium, so you want to maximize storage. Bed risers (I recommend the 7-inch variety) allow you to elevate the bed so that you can utilize the space underneath for storage. (Some schools provide beds that can be raised; check with Res Life or an upperclassman before purchasing the risers). Rolling plastic under-bed storage bins are great for storing extra bedding, food and snacks, sweaters, etc. You can also purchase stackable bins with lids or pull-out drawers.

Check to see what electrical appliances are permitted by the school.  For example, some schools permit coffee makers, others do not. You may be able to rent a combined micro/fridge unit through the college, but may be prohibited from bringing a separate microwave. If your child will have a microwave, make sure to send some microwave safe cups and plates, or get a large bag of paper plates.  A small hand-held vacuum can prove very useful.  A garbage can is essential if the school doesn’t supply one; don’t make the mistake my daughter made her Freshman year and purchase a mesh one — you want something solid (plastic or metal) that will prevent liquid from seeping out. If her dorm requires recycling, you may also want a separate bin for that.  Again, one of each for the dorm room is probably sufficient, so touch base with the roommate.

To capitalize on closet storage space, consider getting a second hanging bar that attaches to the one in the closet. Hanging canvas bags that attach over the closet rod are great for sweaters and shoes. Super thin hangers (Huggable Hangers and Slim Grips are two brands) allow you to hang about a third more clothes in the same space. Utilize bins to corral toiletries, scarves, baseball caps, belts and other bulky items.

3-M brand Command Hooks are great for robes, towels, as well as keys, pictures and anything else your child wants to hang.  Importantly, they don’t harm the walls.

Most likely, the bathroom will be located down the hall.  A plastic portable tote for bathroom supplies (shampoo, conditioner, razor, shaving cream, toothbrush, etc.) is essential. So are flip-flops to wear in the communal shower which is less clean that your shower at home!

Get a plastic bin with a lid and create a first aid box for your child. (He will tell you he doesn’t need it, but trust me, when he or a friend gets hurt at 2AM, they won’t want to walk across campus to get a bandage.)  A typical kit should minimally include assorted adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic cream, hydrocortisone, hot packs, cold compresses, thermometer, a pair of tweezers, acetaminophen (for aches and pains), ibuprofen (for inflammation or swelling), a roll of antacids, all-purpose cough/cold pills, Benadryl (anti-itch, allergic reactions, cough suppresant), laxatives and anti-diarrhea pills (you never know the effect  college food will have!).

A computer lock is essential.  This will allow the laptop to be secured to your child’s desk or bed when she is not there.  My daughter fought me on this, but when several friends had computers stolen, Mom was proven right!

Remind your child that her entire wardrobe does not need to go to college with her; there just isn’t room.  Encourage her to swap out seasonal clothes when she comes home for Thanksgiving and then again at Spring Break. A light jacket with a sweater should suffice until Thanksgiving unless her college is located in a very cold climate.

Believe it or not, your child will do his laundry while at school.  A folding laundry bag or an over-the-door option takes up less space than a plastic laundry basket. Laundry detergent “pods” are easier and lighter to transport than liquid detergent. If your child’s school doesn’t use a card swipe system to pay for the washer and dryer, also give your child a roll of quarters. If your child likes to hang his shirts or other items that will shrink in the dryer, you may also want to purchase a folding drying rack.

Wishing you and your child a successful Freshman year!  And don’t be surprised if your child hands you some things to bring home at Parent’s Weekend because there just isn’t enough room in the dorm!

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