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How to Outfit a Dorm Room

Updated on April 17, 2019

Off to a New Home!

College bound.
College bound. | Source

The Scoop

• Sure, every university sends along reminders telling you and your student what to bring to campus. And, of course, every retailer in the country has a list of all their stuff you should buy for Mr. or Ms. College Freshman. But wouldn’t you like to get the scoop from real parents who’ve already done all the intensive comparison shopping for you? And wouldn’t you like some great tips on how to creatively outfit that dreary and cramped cell your kid is going to get jammed into? Well, simply read on, my friend, as I guide you through Outfitting a Dorm Room the right way!

Don't Sweat It

• First, don’t fret or sweat if either a) you haven’t much time left to get everything, or b) you’ve already moved your kid into the dorm and you’re now playing catch-up. Everything your student will need or could enjoy is readily available at a variety of cost-competitive national retailers with locations just about everywhere, so either you or your student can get them quickly and relatively inexpensively. Also, most of those retailers will also order, collect and hold items for pick-up, or even have them delivered or shipped at reasonable prices. (Check retailer websites for more info.) Just about every college has the capability of receiving shipped packages for students. (Check college websites for details.) Look for sales and press for the best deals you can get, both on prices and on reduced-cost shipping. Don’t be afraid to pit one retailer against another.

How to Make a Dorm Room Home

• Next, I want to focus on those things that will really make your student’s dorm room matter: style, personality, colors, features and careful pre-planning. (So it is not until later in this article that you’ll find all the typical and more mundane checklists of all those items to pack, acquire or consider.) To quickly and inexpensively decorate the dorm room, consider hanging a brightly colored fabric shower curtain on one or more walls. Many colleges prohibit painting or affixing items to walls, but you can apply removable 3M-adhesive pads and lightweight hooks to walls, then hang a fabric shower curtain by its eyelets to the hooks. Pick a fabric pattern and colors coordinated to bed linens and towels and you’ll quickly set a distinctive theme. Elsewhere throughout the room, you can add any of a variety of self-stick decals, from college insignia to multi-colored polka dots to even dry-erase appliqués. (The Wall Décor Store, for one, offers a variety of removable self-stick colored dots in different sizes.) Add posters and photos of interest to your student, always using a college-approved removable gum or mastic adhesive. (If you are concerned about your student adjusting to being away from home, be sure to include enough pictures of home, family, pets, friends, etc.) Consider a combination calendar/corkboard/dry-erase board, for your student to keep track of all classes, friends, activities and due dates. Key these to the dominant patterns and colors to complete the theme. A colored or decorated desk-pad can also add to the effect, as can a color-coordinated stapler, scissors, tape dispenser, desk caddy, desk lamp, clock, wastepaper basket, fan, storage bins, etc. When shopping around, consider combination space-saving items, and items that might be smaller, more compact or easier to store, stack, shelve, etc., as space will be at a premium. Don’t forget the silly, fun things that can make a dorm room more inviting and homey to your student: stuffed animals, colorful throw pillows, a wind-up toy, a goofy poster, comic-character slippers, etc.


Personalize That Dorm Room
Personalize That Dorm Room | Source

The Checklists

• Now, for the checklists; I have categorized them into major groupings, which may or may not apply to your student’s particular circumstances. For example, if your student is on a meal plan, and cooking or food preparation is banned from the dorm rooms, you may not have a need for kitchen or kitchenette items. However, remember that even students without kitchens need snackage: microwave popcorn, yogurt, cereal, granola bars, peanut butter & crackers, nuts, raisins, jerky, gum, mints, bottled water, etc.

Also, bear in mind these checklists are comprehensive, and you may decide to do without any number of items on each list. (In fact, you'd probably go broke if you didn't!)


• Furniture: Most dorms will provide to each student 1 desk, 1 desk chair, 1 dresser, 1 closet or wardrobe, and 1 bed with extra-long twin mattress. Most colleges will also prohibit cooking, stoves, hotplates, etc. in dorm rooms, though they may permit fridges, microwaves and/or coffee-makers. (Contact the college or check college websites for any variation from this, as well as available dorm room configurations and layouts, numbers of roommates, shared bathrooms, etc.) You’ll want to be sure to add a bedside lamp, desk lamp, clip- or reading-light, alarm clock/radio, fan or clip-fan, under-bed storage bins, stacking or collapsing crates or laundry hamper/bag, floor mat or small carpet, plenty of hangers, closet hanging rod adapter to double hanging space, drying rack, bedside caddy, and over-the-door clothes hooks.


• Electronics: Laptop computer (check with the college as many offer discounts and many have particular minimum requirements; also consider computer protection by means of extended warranty, hard-shell case, padded zippered case, padded backpack, keyboard cover, etc.) with suitable backpack and carrying case and power cord and/or battery charger and all necessary ethernet or USB cords, printer with all necessary cords and cartridges and paper, cell phone with charger, camera with charger and battery and all necessary cords and memory chips, iPod with headphones/earbuds and charger, AM/FM radio/alarm clock/CD player/iPod player, surge protector, extension cords, blank CDs, USB memory stick(s) or back-up hard drive, 3-to-2 power cord adapters. Consider pre-loading your student’s computer with their favorite music, family photos, software, screensaver, etc. to make the transition to a new home away from home easier.

Meal Plan or Not?

A cut above the average dining hall
A cut above the average dining hall | Source

Desk Supplies

• Desk/Office Supplies: desk blotter, calendar/assignment book/datebook, stapler with staples, scissors, pens, pencils, sharpener, highlighters, (graphing) calculator, notebooks, filler paper, folders, index cards, push-pins, paper clips, rubber bands, post-it notes, ruler, tape measure, desk tray(s), hanging files or folders, dictionary, thesaurus, stamps, envelopes and stationery.


• Linens & Laundry Items: You will need 2 complete sets of sheets and pillowcases (check with the college to verify if they must be extra-long twin), 2 pillows, 2 blankets or a blanket plus throw (perhaps a heavier one for colder weather months), 2 or 3 each of bath towels and hand towels and washcloths, mattress pad, (a ‘bed-bug resistant’ mattress cover is optional), comforter with or without duvet cover, and a bed-rest pillow (very helpful for studying), laundry detergent (cold water type is ‘goof-proof’), laundry stain remover, fabric softener (sheet type), iron, lint brush, sewing kit, rolls of quarters (for laundromats, though many colleges have laundries that operate from student swipe-cash-cards).


• Toiletries: Shower caddy (to carry items to/from communal dorm or shared bathrooms), flip-flops or shower clogs, shampoo, hair conditioner, bath soap, hand soap, hand and body lotions, perfumes or colognes, shaving cream, razors, toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, travel containers for various items, hair brush, comb, hair dryer, hair iron, hair styling products, bathroom tissue, facial tissue, make-up, nail polish and remover, feminine hygiene products, birth control products, nail clippers, nail files, tweezers, q-tips, and hand sanitizer.

First Aid

• First Aid + Medicines: Medical insurance coverage card, emergency medical information, any prescription medications, aspirin, ibuprofen, tylenol, tums, band-aids, cough drops, eye drops, first aid kit, vitamins and nutritional supplements.

A New World

Your Student Will Have a Different Life
Your Student Will Have a Different Life | Source

Kitchen Aids

• Kitchen, Kitchenette and Household Items: Unless your child is signing onto a full meal plan: 1 or 2 each of plates, bowls, mugs, and sets of utensils, plus a can/bottle opener, mini-tool kit, box cutter, paper towels, chip clips, trash bags, lightbulbs, batteries, lightweight vacuum or dust buster, ziploc bags, various sizes of storage containers, multi-purpose cleanser, dry- or wet-wipes, facial tissue, and any desired snackage: microwave popcorn, yogurt, cereal, granola bars, peanut butter & crackers, nuts, raisins, jerky, gum, mints, bottled water, etc.

Diversions and More

• Diversions: Frisbee, deck of cards, video games + player, sports equipment, puzzle books, art supplies, etc.

• And lastly, in addition to all of the other clothes you might be packing, consider the following additional specialty clothing gear: folio, wallet or pocketbook or travel purse, umbrella, galoshes or rainboots, winter boots, scarf, mittens or gloves, hats, workout attire, semi-formal attire.

Be sure your student is stocked for success, wherever they may go.
Be sure your student is stocked for success, wherever they may go. | Source

Transporting Everything?

And take it from the helpful parent of a dorm student, you would be wise to invest in a minivan or large SUV or truck prior to the start of your child's (or children's) college tenure. For seven years (4 years undergrad + gap year + 2 years grad school), we have trundled road loads up to 650 miles one way to keep our student equipped. In some instances, it has taken us several full minivan loads to effect a one-way move. The savings in trailer rentals, gas, time, frustration and effort are incalculable. Besides, a minivan or other spacious vehicle can make a great touring vehicle for leisurely or not-so-leisurely excursions for 2 adults and 1 near-adult (or more).


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