10 Ways to Outfit the College Dorm Room

10 Ways to Outfit the College Dorm Room

When it comes to outfitting the college dorm, you can ignore those glossy shelter magazines with the fabulous dormitory layouts, plush couches, stacked lofts and framed prints hanging on the walls. Dorm rooms look nothing like that. Your teen's home away from home will likely be a shared 10x10 cell crammed with extra-long twin size beds, chests of drawers, desks, and wardrobes. Extra furniture? That's funny. And no one's allowed to pound nails into walls. Here's what you actually need to buy (plus a handy downloadable list to take along):

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Comfy Bedding

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Most dorms have extra-long twin beds, so you probably will need extra-long twin sheets, pillows, a cozy duvet or blankets, and a foam pad to soften the industrial-strength mattress. It's mainly the fitted sheet that needs to be extra-long. The top sheet can be regular length, and you may not even need one if your child uses a duvet with machine-washable cover. Save a few dollars by using a regular length foam or egg crate pad - it will be a few inches short, but once the sheets are on, your kid won't even notice. In our wildest parental fantasies, children do laundry. In the real world, they'll change the sheets at least once if you include a second set. And if your child is headed to icy climes, one of those sets could be cozy flannel.

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A Really, Really Good Alarm Clock

Photo by Jackie Burrell

Some kids can set the alarm on their smartphone, bounce out of bed and head for that 8 a.m. class. But if you have a freshman Rip Van Winkle, a kid who had to be cajoled, threatened and dragged out of bed in high school, you might want to consider a more, er, authoritative clock solution: A little clock that catapults itself off the nightstand and scampers, madly beeping, under the bed, or one whose bed-shaking capabilities would register on the Richter scale.

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Towels & Toiletries

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Your child will need several bath towels and flip flops for the shower, plus soap, shampoo, and toiletries. It's nice to have a large plastic basket to tote it all but check the bathroom storage situation first. Some dorm bathrooms have individual cubbies or lockers, and the size can range from exceptionally narrow to spacious. Check out the storage situation when you go to orientation and ask if all the dorms have the same style restroom. Or wait till move-in day and add an appropriate-sized tote to your inevitable Target/Longs/Big Box Store run. In any case, buy duplicate toiletries so your teen has extra toothpaste, etc. You may also want to buy an over-the-door hook for hanging damp towels to dry.

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Laundry Supplies

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Your teen will need detergent, fabric softener, a laundry bag or hamper, and a jar of quarters, unless his college uses debit cards in the laundromat… plus, a rudimentary understanding of how a washing machine works and what happens when red T-shirts are washed with white underwear. (Although Shout Color Catchers actually work. Mostly. Compare prices on Color Catchers here.) Sending your child off with the same brand of laundry detergent you use at home will make his sheets, towels, and clothes smell comfortingly familiar.

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School Tools

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Your new freshman will need a desk lamp and bulbs, school supplies (notebooks, pencils, pens), a graphing calculator, extension cords and a power strip with a surge protector, a laptop and flash drive. What he probably won't need is a printer. Some schools want papers turned in electronically, typically through web sites such as Turnitin.com, which check for plagiarism. Every school offers printing privileges through the library.

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Mini-Fridges & Appliances

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A mini-fridge, microwave (if allowed), electric fan (for dorms without air conditioning), television and DVD player are considered dorm room essentials. Not essential: a landline and answering machine. But make sure your child checks the dorm rules first. Some older dorms don't allow microwaves, for example. Urge him to discuss who's bringing what with his roommate, and seriously consider renting, rather than buying the mini-fridge. Summer storage is a major problem, and chances are your student will have traded up to a real apartment with a real refrigerator by junior year.

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Storage Bins & Hangers

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Most of the colorful storage gear marketed to the off-to-college crowd is unnecessary and a few items don't work at all - those adorable stacking drawers, for example, are usually too small to hold more than a pair of underwear and the drawers don't slide. What your child actually needs are hangers for the closet and storage bins for under the bed. Choose squat Rubbermaid-style tubs that can hold a stack of towels, a pile of sweatshirts or the cereal boxes he will inevitably acquire. You should be able to fit at least three bins under the average dorm bed. A hanging storage unit for shoes is helpful if you have a daughter or son with a large shoe collection. If your son favors flip flops, he won't need a hanging anything.

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Other Important Supplies

Photo by Jackie Burrell

Most dorms supply bulletin boards, bookshelves, and wastebaskets. You'll want to provide thumbtacks, and plastic trash bags to line the ​wastebasket (and increase the odds that the trash will actually be emptied). Also handy to have: a roll of paper towels, tissues, a first aid kit, snacks, a cereal bowl, spoon, and microwaveable mug.

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Dorm Decor & Photos

Photo by Jackie Burrell

Posters, family photos, soft pillows and a teddy bear help personalize a room and soften the dorm-iness of it. A soft, fleece throw is a comforting decorative touch. Don't assume your child can hang things from the walls. Many dorms have cinder block walls, or rules about hammers and nails, so think lightweight or self-standing. Some students use tape - with mixed results - to hang posters and photo collages, or they prop a large, light-weight canvas against a wall and pin pictures, photo thumbtacks or even jewelry to it.

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Optional, But Lovely to Have

Photo by Jackie Burrell

A soft, colorful area rug makes a dirty floor look nicer. Easy-to-store, collapsible seating or floor pillows make friends feel welcome, and some students say they like to keep a sleeping bag on hand for overnight guests. Also very nice to have: noise-canceling headphones, an iPod docking station and speakers, and a favorite book or two from home. Students call them "comfort books." Your kid's health and happiness may not rest on having a cool, huge, dry-erase calendar decal to hang over his desk, but it's definitely a nice thing to have!

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Downloadable Dorm Shopping List

Jackie Burrell

Ready to go shopping? Or raiding your closets? Download this dorm shopping list so you don't have to drag your laptop along.