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Best Tips for Dorm Shopping

Updated on July 23, 2009
Photo credit: Bard college
Photo credit: Bard college

You've gotten into college, made your family proud, and are heading off into the wild, off-white, yonder of dormitory living. For the next year, you will inhabit a space that seems more like a glorified closet than a room, likely with a complete stranger thrown in just for fun. So, how do you make this feel like home sweet home? By filling it with you stuff, of course.

However, before you start shoveling everything you own into 50+ boxes, let me give you some tips on dorm room shopping and packing that will save you money and a few back aches.

School Supplies:

* For great deals on pens, pencils, paper clips, and similar items, try buying in bulk from companies like Office Depot and Staples. The supplies arrive pre-packaged and by having a surplus amount, you won't have to make repeated trips to the campus bookstore and suffer inflated prices.


Most colleges provide each student with a bed, desk, chair, closet, and bureau. The beds tend to have Twin XL mattresses, so make sure you buy the right size bedding, which you can find in most stores like Target or JC Penney.

To make the most of the space you've got, try packing your things in boxes that can be stored underneath your bed or in plastic, stackable drawers that can be placed on wheels. You can find these boxes in numerous warehouse stores like Costco, BJ Max, or Sam's Club. Specialty stores like Bed, Bath, and Beyond also carry these products, although they tend to be pricier, so watch for coupons that offer discounted prices on dorm merchandise.

For some schools, you do not need to worry about purchasing bed risers, because the dorm beds can be adjusted within their frames. The Housing Office should be able to answer any questions you have about dorm furniture.

To save closet space, I suggest using tiered hangers for clothing like pants or skirts. Each hanger can hold up to five pieces of clothing or more. Moreover, and some parents may want to close their eyes for this, if you don't plan on doing any ironing at college, do not invest in an ironing board. In my personal experience, they do not hang correctly off the dormitory doors and they take up a lot of space. Rather, to combat wrinkles, try folding your clothes immediately after they come out of the dryer, as you can smooth out the wrinkles with your hand if the clothing is still warm enough.

Ready-to-assemble furniture is perfect for students who are moving away from home, and is much easier to transport. Investing in a basic tool kit is a must, as college maintenance workers may not be readily available... especially if something breaks at three in the morning.

Dorm rooms can get pretty dark, so I also recommend a small desk lamp and some extra light bulbs. Moreover, these personal lamps are greatly appreciated by those roommates who like to go to bed early rather than study late at night.

Finally, if you are one of those students who will be living off-campus and are in need of more furniture, consider searching through the online classifieds. Sites like Craigslist and the MySpace Classifieds are well organized and easy to search. You can often find great deals on slightly-used furniture from past students who are looking to make a quick sale. Moreover, discount stores like Ross and outlet malls offer a wide variety of good quality, affordable products.

Mistakes to Avoid:

  • If possible, do not shop on the weekends. If you go during the week, not only will you dodge the crowds, but the salespeople will be able to give you their full attention.
  • Don't forget your hand truck or dolly... even the smallest ones will make moving-in easier.
  • If you are not living on the ground floor, be prepared to carry as much as you can up the stairs... relying on the elevators will take forever.
  • Do not bring string-lights, halogen lamps, candles, hot plates or little ovens, most colleges won't allow them due to safety regulations.

Last-Minute Advice:

  • Shop early to eliminate stress and allow yourself to have some more time with friends and family before you head off to college.
  • Don't forget the little things that will make your dorm your personal sanctuary: photographs, treasured mementos, posters, etc. Use sticky tack (the stuff that looks like Silly Putty) rather than thumbtacks so you don't leave holes in the wall.
  • Don't bring your entire wardrobe. Instead, bring only what you'll need for the fall, you can always go back for extra stuff during breaks.
  • Duffle bags are great-they can be stored under a mattress when not in use, they are versatile, and they're affordable.
  • Plants can add color and life to a room, plus they can help circulate any stale air and dispel a few odors.

Remember, your dorm room is your home away from home, so make the most of it and make it your own. As one student to another, let me leave you with one my favorite words:

Frugal adj.

(1.) "Characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources" (2.) A fancy way of saying "cheap" or "thrifty" (3.) A lifestyle that will leave you with cash for things other than textbooks


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    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 

      5 years ago from Miami Florida

      Mr. Mgjeffrey, thank you for sharing your article. You are kind.

    • Brupie profile image


      6 years ago

      As for cooking advice, your advice to leave hot plates and little ovens is right on about what is forbidden - most colleges explicitly forbid open burners such as toasters, toaster ovens and hot plates, but most colleges allow microwaves and rice cookers. With a little ingenuity, these two devices can create lavish meals.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I shopped at to get all of my son's dorm items and found everything in one place. It was really nice to get all of the shopping done (including a fridge!) and have it shipped right to his school. Definitely check it out!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Another tip is to get a tempurpedic, or other brand mattress pad. Dorm beds are usually kind of uncomfortable, plus you don't get a lot of time for sleep in college, so make it count.

    • Ellen_C profile image


      9 years ago

      A lot of sites like JCPenney have ship to store where you order it online for yourself or student and it ships to the store location closest to the school and they can pick it up there! No hauling things!

    • learn profile image


      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Great article! One thing to add -- as a spring semester transfer, I'd advise other spring dorm newbies to get their stuff in the summer at back to school time (July). You may have to store it longer, but a lot of the stuff is IMPOSSIBLE to find in January (decent shower caddies, bed risers, twin XL sheets, for ex.) or will be on massive sale in the summer (or better yet right at the end of summer... back to school clearance, anybody?)

    • themovingdiva profile image


      9 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Great article!  As if tuition for college isn’t expensive enough, on top of that I have to factor in moving my son’s clothes and bedding clear across the country.  I recently found that some moving boxes and supplies companies offer cheap college dorm room moving kits which include moving boxes and packing supplies.

    • profile image

      Darth Daddy 

      11 years ago

      Great tips... Handtrucks and dollies can be found in hardware stores like Home Depot... You might also look for collapsible luggage carts that can work well with stuff packed in plastic storage crates... It's great to work smarter, not harder when it comes to moving in and moving out...

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      It's also important to remember that you don't get to stay in your dorm room from year to year, so bringing and buying too much will just make it that much harder to move!


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