You don't really have to buy a lot of stuff for college. If your kids are typical college freshman, most of what you buy will never be used. These college dorm essentials are the items they'll actually need, no matter what kind of dorm they reside in.
As a parent of 3 kids I’ve sent off to college, you might think I’m an expert on the essential items your college freshman needs for their dorm room. However, I stand before you, not as an expert, but as a cautionary tale. Here’s just a short list of the many mistakes I have made when preparing for the college move-in for my freshman:
- Sending my oldest son off to college with a toaster oven AND a lava lamp (neither are allowed because they are fire hazards.)
- Discovering all my carefully purchased supplies for my second son crammed into a trash bag at the end of the school year (unused, of course).
- Insisting to my youngest daughter that she ABSOLUTELY MUST have bed risers. (Not needed AND not allowed.)
However, I now have the benefit of hindsight, the greatest teacher of all, and I reached out to my daughter to hear her thoughts on what items she truly used in her college dorm room. So, I finally feel qualified to share the 13 college dorm essentials your student will need in their room for their freshman year.
Before You Buy Anything
If you want to make sure you spend your money wisely when shopping for college, check out this list of 25 questions you should answer before dorm shopping. Knowing the answers to these questions will really help you pick the right items for your student’s particular dorm room when you’re out shopping.
Having said that, I’ve had 3 kids go to 2 different schools and all 3 found these items useful.
The 13 Dorm Room Essentials Your College Freshman will Actually Use
Essentials for the Shower and Bath
Whether your child has an en-suite bath or needs to shower down the hall in the communal bath, they’re going to need towels. This set contains 2 bath towels, 2 hand towels, and 2 washcloths and that’s really all they’re going to need. Any more is just going to be a laundry headache.
Try to get a unique color that your child can easily pick out as their own. And white isn’t a good choice because your child is not going to wash these towels as often as you hope, so maybe go with a dark color to help hide any stains.
These are obviously useful for communal bathrooms; my daughter wouldn’t even walk down the halls of her dorm without her shower shoes on. But they may be even more useful if your child has a private shower in their dorm room because – and I cannot stress this enough – they will not clean that shower.
A unique color is useful here as well.
Essentials for Bedding and Sleep
Your child’s bedding needs will depend on what kind of bed they have in their dorm, but there are a few items that will be useful in any situation.
Space is at a premium in the dorms so it’s unlikely your child will have a nightstand or shelf on which to store their phone, reading materials or anything else they need.
This bedside caddy tucks in securely and provides access to anything your child will need at night.
In most dorm rooms, the bed is the spot for lounging, reading, watch TV, and even studying. This sturdy bed rest has pockets for your phone or a remote and provides good support when sitting and reading or studying. It’s also useful for at least giving guests something to lean against if there’s no chair available.
Sometimes it’s just easier to sit on your bed to study. With this laptop desk, your student can work on schoolwork anywhere. Includes a slot for phone storage and an adjustable surface so your student can work in comfort.
Essentials for Storage
Storage will be your child’s biggest dorm room challenge. Here are a few products that will help.
You guys, how amazing is this over the door cabinet with full-length mirror? Dorm rooms just don’t seem to understand that people want to see their whole outfit from time to time and this mirror easily hangs on the door so it doesn’t take up additional space. PLUS, it provides tons of storage for almost anything your student needs.
When they go low (by providing very little storage space), we go high (up on the wall). There’s pretty much nothing you can’t do with command hooks: hang a shelf, hang curtains, hang pictures on the wall, provide a place for backpacks, purses, coats and curling irons. You’re going to need (and use) a ton of these guys.
My daughter and her roommate used these for so many things: they had a series of hooks by their door to hold coats, purses and backpacks. They used them to hold the hair dryer and curling iron by the mirror.
They even used them to hold their cell phones on the wall by their beds.
My daughter and her roommate used these to organize a variety of miscellaneous items: school supplies, make-up, first aid supplies, etc. Clear shoe boxes are cheaper than specialized storage containers and tend to fit in tight spaces more easily.
If your dorm room doesn’t provide options for under bed storage (some do!), then you definitely don’t want to waste the space under the bed. My daughter liked these storage cubes for storing bed linens, towels, sweaters, and miscellaneous items such as laundry detergent because the cubes weren’t so wide as to be unwieldy and they were easy to slide in and out from under the bed.
They won’t do it as often as they should, but at least these items will make it easier.
The laundry needs to get done now and then, whether it’s in a laundromat on campus or at home in Mom’s washing machine. This roomy backpack laundry basket can easily carry a large amount of dirty clothes and be stored on a hook out of the way.
I promise that nobody is going to eat them.
These Tide Pods are really the easiest way for new laundry-doers to get their clothes clean. All you have to do is toss one in the wash with the dirty clothes. It’s even formulated for cold water so your student can just throw in all their clothes at once without worrying about them running or fading in hot water.
These Tide Pods even come in packs that are easy to transport.
This handy lamp provides concentrated task lighting and customizable color and brightness levels while charging your phone via the USB port or wireless charger. It also has a timer so it can shut off after 60 minutes and offers a nightlight feature. The small footprint of this lamp is handy on college dorm desks which typically don’t have a lot of space.
Bulky power strips take up way too much room. This wall charger plugs into any outlet and provides 5 outlets and 4 USB chargers so your student can plug-in all their various electronics, etc.