Campus Life

Moving out From College

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The end of another college year is here. Soon, students will be moving out of their dorm rooms and going back home for summer jobs, relocating to other areas for internships, or, for graduates, beginning a new life working in the “real world.” It’s an exciting time, but there are ways to make this move smoother than it usually is.

I live about 50 miles from Penn State University’s main campus and the chief northwest route in this part of the state is Interstate 95, not far from my home. This time of year, and in late August/early September when I’m on I-95, I see many Penn State students moving to and from the University Park campus.


Some of the sights are comical. I recall one ancient Honda jammed with clothes, small furniture and other dorm-worthy goods. It was bad enough to see how obstructed the rear vision of this young driver was, but the car’s roof rack was stacked so high, covered with a plastic tarp, I was concerned about it clearing the overpasses on the way to campus. It looked like two gigantic steamer trunks were lurking beneath that rippling green covering. I gave the overburdened Civic plenty of room!

My own experience with our collegiate children resulted in renting a small U-Haul trailer, which we pulled behind our car. This required the installation of a trailer hitch, but it was worth the trouble and expense because that enabled more than one person to ride inside the car while all the “steamer trunks” were in the trailer. If that green-tarped Honda I spied on I-95 needed to transport an additional human other than the driver, the passenger would have had to have been lashed atop the tarp.

Consider These Common-Sense Tips

For the benefit of those students who are leaving campus soon (and their parents), I thought I would offer some common sense tips on how to do that without major difficulty or having to call emergency road service for help in getting unwedged from an interstate overpass. In addition to moving out, some non-graduating students who will be returning in the fall choose to store their items rather than transport them. These would include students who fly to and from their homes.

I found a perfectly titled article that’s packed with excellent moving ideas: Moving Out of the College Dorm, for the Summer or Forever. The introduction captures the truth about this time of year for collegians and their parents. These thoughts come from the site Grown & Flown: Parenting Never Ends, which has helpful tips for Moms and Dads.

Here is the best-kept secret about the college school year. It is about 15 minutes long. No sooner do kids return to college from spring break than they are ready to move back home for the summer. Moving into the college dorm or apartment was fun. The sheets and towels were new, the mattress topper was tightly packaged in its original box, and your college student was full of enthusiasm. Moving out is not nearly so exciting....

Isn’t that the truth? In fact, I often wonder how college students can really study and absorb the information they get in class when the school year seems to be so relatively short and is punctuated with so many breaks. Anyway, getting right to the moving tips, here’s a point to consider about deciding who will get involved in the move:

Some might argue that kids should do this on their own, that this is their move, not ours, their parents.  But if you are like us, you have missed your college kids and are happy to have this small chance to help out. This is also a great opportunity to teach our teens and young adults about how to organize themselves for a move, and who wants to pass up a teachable moment?...

My wife and I always helped our daughter and son move. It seemed like they always had so much stuff that we had to function as a team of inspectors, searching the nooks and crannies of their various dorm rooms and off-campus apartments, finding small but important -- and sometimes sentimental -- things that would have normally been missed and left behind, never to be seen again.

Accordingly, the following half-dozen tips, excerpted from the article’s 11, represent a parental view of how to “successfully move your kids from the college dorm back home for the summer or forever!” My comments follow the tips.

2. Three Piles

Before you arrive, ask your college student to think about three piles. Things they will need to use over the summer, items that will not be touched until next fall and those impulse buys that they never touched, didn’t really need, and should never have bought. If they separate their belongings into these piles before you arrive the whole move will go a lot smoother. However, if your kids are like mine, they will ignore you and have made no attempt at organization, and you will begin at square one after the Dunkin’ Donuts.

Our son and daughter were cooperative and had some semblance of organization when we arrived on moving days. Our daughter was more organized than our son, but we appreciated both of their efforts. The difference between their organizational thinking was stark. Our daughter’s biggest “pile,” by far, was the “things I’ll need to use over the summer.” It may have been 80 percent or more of all her stuff. Our son’s estimates were the inverse. Maybe 20 to 30 percent of his things were needed for summer. The rest could be stashed until fall. The contrast made me think of that old “Venus and Mars” theory about men vs. women.

3. Discard

- Even if they have not made the requisite piles, ask them to do this before you get there:

- Separate their belongings from roommates (after a year this can be harder than it sounds).

- Throw out trash, wrappers, old papers, bottles and cans and that includes the moldy contents of the tiny refrigerator.

- Return anything to the University that belongs to them and is not to be left in the room (sporting equipment or uniforms, library books…).

- Collect any belongings they may have lent to other students or left in lockers or elsewhere.

- Arrange to have any rented items, small ‘fridges, water coolers, etc picked up.

- Make a trip to the campus bookstore with textbooks to sell back. Otherwise lug them back home and sell them (and many other things).

This is where it was dangerous to have me on site helping with the move. I’m a well-seasoned hoarder. “You never know when you might find a use for that!” is my mantra. Our son, however, is a world-class discarder. “If I haven’t used this in the past month, it’s outta here” could be his motto. Our daughter is in between the father and son spectrum. End-of-school-year discarding is what leads to the various university sales, sometimes called “Trash to Treasure” where perfectly good items such as furniture, bikes, TVs, etc. find their way to curbside and are salvaged by schools for resale.

6. Need, Box for Next Fall, Never Used

Make the piles – Need, Box for Next Fall, Never Used. If your student didn’t use an item consider throwing it out or leaving it. Moving things to and from school that they never touch is wasted energy. It is tempting for your kid to just blindly put it all in the car. It’s tempting for us to do that. One of my sons and I moved a heavy blanket back and forth for four years, yet never opened the package. There were lots of people who could have used the blanket had we only donated it after freshman year. If your student has furnishings that have seen their full use and do not have a place back home, call Goodwill or Salvation Army to see if there is a day for campus pick up and make sure your kid gets them ready for that day. Quell all packrat tendencies and be ruthless in culling.

“Quell all packrat tendencies ...” Ha. That requires me to stay home. It’s surprising how much we can over-prepare for moving to college. “Don’t forget your overcoat!” Mom may say before fall departure, but -- really -- how many college students wear an overcoat? They wear shorts in winter! Consider a “Goodwill” purge before heading home. Donating unused or rarely used items is good for the soul, others in need and for packing space.

8. Black garbage bags

Black garbage bags are another key to making this move happen with the least amount of stress and strain. Bring the whole box, your child’s roommates (and their parents) will thank you. Large black trash bags will do double duty as the function for which they were intended (there will be garbage, mountains of garbage) and as suitcases which fit, snugly and perfectly, into your car.

I’ll add to this tip: Bring a roll of wide masking tape and a Sharpie marker. Those black garbage bags are the bomb, indeed, but they also do a good job of hiding and randomizing what’s inside. Therefore, as common sense dictates, label all the bags! Otherwise, what will happen is that when stashed at home, left unopened and unlabeled, your child won’t be able to easily find a needed item and, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, things will be bought when the very same thing resides inside one of those big black bags. Waste is a terrible thing to mind.

10. Ship

Your student’s belongings may not fit neatly into your car or the boxes they once used. Be prepared with the address, and hours of operation, of the closest UPS or FedEx before you leave home and bring along some shipping-ready boxes. You may have to shuttle a few loads to ship back before you pack up the car for the ride home.

I would say that shipping isn’t used by a lot of families, but it can save you from damaging items by smashing them into a too-small space in your car, SUV or van. Home Depot and U-Haul stores sell flat-pack boxes that are perfect for shipping and home storage. Just be sure to bring the proper box-shipping materials: good quality sealing tape and labels.

Finally, to address the moving out needs of students who live far from home, one final tip:

11. Store

Research on-campus or local storage options before you plan the big move. Moves don’t come cheap and, in a mere three months, you are going to reverse this process. In some cases it might be less expensive to just store the stuff locally. Or does your student have a friend who lives in town whose parents would not mind storing a box or two in their basement?

A buddy’s garage or basement can be a key asset when it comes to storing some or even all of your belongings close to campus. Of course, local rental storage facilities are everywhere it seems, so they won’t be hard to find. In fact, you may be able to share the cost of a rental storage unit with other students if they are loathe to haul all their stuff back and forth over just three months. The time to start researching this possibility would be the midpoint of your final semester each year. You would be surprised how many others are looking for an option like this.

Moving out can be exciting or a huge hassle. The keys are: anticipation and preparation. Don’t wake up some Friday morning and think, “Dang! I gotta be outta here by Monday afternoon!” Don’t hate the thought of all the work needed to pull this off efficiently. After all, leaving college at the end of the academic year can be a truly moving experience. [Sorry, but you had to see that coming, right?]