I know, I know. It’s “only” mid-July. There are lots of things to think about other than college right now. Let’s see. There’s vacation, summer sports, summer jobs, maybe an internship and just having a good time with family and friends.
But the day you’ll depart for the walls of ivy will be here before you know it. That’s why you need to start thinking about what you will want to take with you when you make that move. Also, you’ll want to pay particular attention to what you need to leave behind.
Your living space at college is more than a bit smaller than a Walmart Supercenter, so there’s not a lot of room for those “not really needed but nice to have around” things that will just end up being pushed into your tiny dorm closet or create a trip hazard over in the corner.
Packing for college is an art and the least experienced packing artists are the first-timers. If you’re about to embark on your first year of college, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the “needed” and “not needed” lists out there on the web.
You’ll have to put sentimentality aside and let practicality rule. Know when to say, “Teddy, I’m leaving you behind [sob], but I’ll see you at Thanksgiving!”
So how do you pull off this miracle of economical needs gathering? Well, obviously, you can search the internet for advice on what to take and what not to take, but hey, you’re already here reading this, so I’m going to give you the advantage of my ongoing research, as I always do. Feel free, then, to copy my advice, paste it into your word processor and print it out so that you’ll have a handy list from which to begin your packing project.
Consider This Resource
Maybe the best all-around article I have ever found on packing for college comes from Reader’s Digest. It creates two lists, neatly divided into the categories of “Bring from Home” and “Buy at School.” Overly diligent parents often overlook the advantages of buying needed items at school. Parents sometimes feel that if your suitcases and duffel bags aren’t jammed with every conceivable dotted “i” and crossed “t,” then you’ll be caught unaware in an emergency, when in reality, all you’ll ever need is immediately available at the nearby Dollar Tree.
Now, let’s look at some items from that “Bring from Home” list:
- 2 weeks' worth of underwear and socks
- Clothes that will carry you through fall temperatures (you can bring your winter gear at Thanksgiving)
- Pajamas (you might be hanging around the dorm in them, so skip the skimpy ones)
- Raincoat and boots
- Fall jacket
- Hat and gloves (if climate-appropriate)
- At least one cocktail dress or jacket and tie (for semi-formal events, particularly if you’re planning to rush a fraternity or sorority)
- At least one pair of dress shoes
- Everyday shoes
- Hiking boots if you plan to explore the outdoors
- At least one bathing suit
As I review this list once again, some thoughts occur to me about how these items may apply to men or women. For example, consider pajamas. Speaking as a man, I can’t recall ever seeing one of my dorm pals wearing PJs. Most would sleep just in a t-shirt and underwear. If any of the guys on my floor wore “skimpy” pajamas (as noted above), I wasn’t aware of it, thankfully.
Boots could go either way. I see them for a woman’s wardrobe, more of a fashion item, especially in winter climates. For guys, “boots” could mean hiking-type boots (also on the list), which can be worn for everyday use and providing warmth and dryness in winter. As for raincoats, guys generally just walk through the rain in whatever they’re wearing. Men usually don’t check the Weather Channel first thing in the morning and think, “Hmm. It might rain, so I think I’ll wear my raincoat.” Nope. That’s not a real-world scenario. Most guys may not even know it’s raining until they walk out their dorm’s front door and then just hold their backpacks over their heads as they run to breakfast or class.
Skipping to some other items, we find:
- Cell phone (and charger!)
- iPod (and headphones!)
- Laptop computer (don’t forget the power cords!)
- Sports equipment (if you really think you’ll use it)
- Medications (plus your doctor’s phone number, any extra prescriptions and something that indicates your blood type)
- Driver’s license, insurance card, Social Security card (or copy), birth certificate (or copy), ATM card, checkbook, credit card, passport (if you plan to travel)
Modern “cell” phones, more properly called “smartphones” these days, can knock off the iPod and camera line items from the list, since they can stream music and take terrific pictures. I’m almost tempted to say that they can also cover many of the functions of a laptop computer, but you might find it annoying having to text-type a 10-page report with your thumbs on your Galaxy 9.
Check the Digest article for the complete bring-from-home list. It may look long, but these are mostly essential items that will support you through that critical first term or semester. In most cases, you may not be returning to your home (and Teddy!) until Thanksgiving, so you’ll need a fairly complete array of personal stuff on which to rely.
Next, what should you leave at home and buy locally after arriving at college? Again, a few selections from Digest’s list:
- Bathroom caddy or toiletries bag (you may be toting it from your room to the bathroom daily)
- Your favorite toiletries: Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizer, facial soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, hair brush, styling gel, baby powder, deodorant, razor, shaving cream, nail clippers, etc.
- Hair dryer
- Over the counter medications: Ibuprofen, antacid, cold reliever, Band-Aids, antibacterial gel, etc.
- Earplugs (you may be bunking with a snorer)
- Cleaning supplies: Surface spray or wipes, laundry detergent, dish soap, aromatic room spray, stain remover, etc.
- Air freshener
- Duct tape (you never know when you’ll need it)
- Water pitcher and purifier (like a Brita filter, to cut down on buying bottled water)
- At least one good coffee mug, bowl and travel mug
- Disposable dishes and silverware (or just collect when you order take out)
- Adapters, power strips and extension cords
- Desk and/or reading lamp (check to see if your dorm provides these first)
- Trash can (dorms usually provide these too)
- Desk supplies: Stapler, staples, tape dispenser & tape, pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes, scissors, white-out, printer ink, printer paper, etc.
- USB flash drive (or two)
- Microwave and mini-fridge (you can often rent these in your dorm for the school year)
- Coffee maker (if you can’t even make it to the dining hall without caffeine)
The buy-at-school list is considerably longer than the bring-from-home list. This makes sense for two reasons: First, it minimizes the amount of stuff you’ll be transporting. This is especially crucial for those of you who will be flying and won’t have the advantage of a car or spacious SUV to fill with stuff. Second, you may end up not needing even half (or less) the stuff on this buy-at-school list, thus, resulting in significant savings.
Perhaps the most important item on this list, at least from my experience, is duct tape! Duct tape can sometimes -- literally -- hold your world together. Stuff happens, as they say, and when it does, duct tape can usually remedy, at least for the moment, any number of crises. In fact, I would vote for buying two rolls, one for your dorm room and one to carry in your backpack. On windy days, you may need to improvise a sticky chinstrap for your freshman beanie as you walk across campus.
Okay, that should get you started thinking about The Big Move. As a final thought (and jest), here are a few things you absolutely must take to college:
- Refrigerator: … you are NOT going to want to eat in the dorm cafeteria every day. Your fridge is gonna be a lifesaver on campus — but whether you fill it with healthy snacks or leftover pizza is up to you!
- Washer and dryer: Nobody likes the smelly guy on campus. Between messy late-night partying and sweaty sprints to class the next morning, you’re gonna need to pack a reliable washer/dryer combo to keep things fresh.
- Spare truck tires: Whether it’s a weekend trip to clear your head or a quick run to Costco for toilet paper, getting off campus every once in a while will be a must. You’ll want at least one or two extra sets of high-quality truck tires with an A or AA traction rating.
- Your parents: The two absolute must-haves for your first year away from home. Your parents can help you cook, clean, remain on task and stay away from negative influences — the recipe for college success.
As you pack up the family car, van or SUV, remember one crucial thing: Keep the pile on the rooftop carrier low enough to clear all interstate overpasses and gas station canopies. You don’t want to dent that washer and dryer. Now go forth and pack!