Updated on 08.07.09

Dorm Room Clutter: What Do You Actually Need for College

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, I stumbled across a handful of pictures from my college dorm room (I considered posting them, but there are several people depicted and I don’t post pictures of people without asking them permission and I’m not sure how to contact them). As I looked them over (and enjoyed some memories), I couldn’t help but look at the background of the pictures, just to see how I lived then.

What I saw was a lot of clutter. A fridge I rarely used. A robe I think I used once. A big rack of rarely-watched videos. Way more clothes than I ever needed. Lots of little tchotchkes that just took up space.

When I was first planning for college, I had little idea what I was doing. I read lots of “here’s how to get ready for college” articles and vacuumed up the suggestions like a Hoover on overdrive. I spent the entire summer collecting and buying things I’d need for college.

When we finally arrived on campus, I had a pickup truck full of stuff. It filled up my half of a tiny dorm room. A dorm fridge. A microwave. A big television. A computer tower (actually, I didn’t get that one until I was on campus a while) and a monitor. A desk lamp. A giant teapot. A ridiculously huge shower bucket stuffed with stuff. Clothes that overflowed my dresser.

Virtually all of it was a waste of my time and my money. I didn’t use any of that stuff. I had little idea what I would actually use in advance, so I just more or less bought everything that I thought I might need – and it turned out I didn’t need most of it.

If I started college all over again, I could fit everything I’d use in a single backpack. Here’s what I’d take.

A laptop with a webcam and microphone This would take care of all of my research needs, report-writing needs, and, yes, telephone call needs. I suppose I might also take a prepaid phone with me for uses where I didn’t have a wi-fi signal.

A small reading lamp For studying and taking notes in dim lighting. I’d get a very tiny clip one that could go anywhere, powered by LEDs.

Enough clothes for about five days or so, rolled up tight Nothing fancy, just sturdy pants, shirts, and underclothes. I can do laundry once every five days or so.

Some basic toiletries Gotta keep clean.

Notebooks and writing supplies Obviously, for note-taking purposes. I find that taking notes longhand is the way for me to absorb complex ideas, but some people might find that just typing on their laptop might work – it depends on how you learn, which you should already know before college.

I’d also need textbooks, of course, but I could get them when I arrive via Amazon and re-sell them at semester’s end.

Sure, I might find that I needed some more items along the way, but wouldn’t it be better to find out the items that you actually need rather than buying a bunch of stuff you think you might need in advance?

Doing that saves money. It saves a lot of time. It saves space. It saves a lot of mental energy. It gives you a very clean and open space to rest your head and figure out what comes next in your life.

The next time you read a long list of things that people say you “need” for college, ask yourself a simple question: do you need it, or is it just something that seems like it might be useful? If it merely seems like it might be useful – even if you can envision a lot of scenarios where you’ll be using it – hold off. Pick it up later on.

My gameplan when I send my own children off to college is similar. I intend to send them with the minimum amount of stuff they need – basically, the stuff listed above, with variation based on the technology at that time. If they find they actually need more items, they can either use their own savings to get them or make the case to me with regards to it.

They’ll save time. They’ll save money. They’ll save energy. And in a college dorm, what exactly will they lose?

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  1. Hee. I guess it’s been awhile since you were in college. Do laundry every 5 days? Not a chance. First of all, no college student would do it. Second of all, you’re used to having your own machine at home–in college you have to use a laundromat, and it’s a pain.

    Also, a cell phone is pretty much a necessity at college if you want any sort of social life. Believe me, I know–I spent the first 2 years without one.

    On the whole, I agree with your principle– bring as little as possible. This is the same mentality people should use when traveling, too. I just thought those 2 points were off-base.

  2. Dan says:

    haha, i’d love to see those…just use photoshop to blur their faces.

    yikes, when i went to college, AOL just came out…my roommate had a gateway computer, i think it was a 60Mhz! Mortal Kombat and Madden 95 kept me up all night.

    some of the knick-knacks were various empty bottles of beers or alcohols that i’d tried and saved as momentos. (talk about a waste of money)

    nowadays, you don’t even need a dormroom…you can just do everything online…

  3. I’m sure I would have shared a similar experience as you Trent had I not gone to a 4 year “military” college.

    That was one nice thing about my school is you were not allowed to have anything other than what you mentioned in your article.

    No TV, no radio (although we could have laptops), we had to clean our rooms and make our beds everyday, and this was all verified by morning inspections!

    It was crazy but it taught me a lot about responsiblity, accountability, and saved me from wasting a lot of money on unnessessary things!

  4. I would have shared a similar experience as you Trent had I not gone to a 4 year “military” college.

    That was one nice thing about my school is you were not allowed to have anything other than what you mentioned in your article.

    No TV, no radio (although we could have laptops), we had to clean our rooms and make our beds everyday, and this was all verified by morning inspections!

    It was crazy but it taught me a lot about responsibility, accountability, and saved me from wasting a lot of money on unnecessary things! It also prevented me from becoming a “punk” college kid!

  5. Meg says:

    I couldn’t do just five days of clothes. And in my case the dorm fridge and microwave were high school graduation gifts, so no extra money out of my pocket. Although it was a pain to move it all out at the end of the school year.

  6. Carmen says:

    If I didn’t have an alarm clock, I would never have made it am classes…

  7. Katrina says:

    You forgot linens. Most colleges don’t provide sheets, blankets, pillows and towels. You probably only need one inexpensive set that you can wash with the rest of your clothes, but you certainly need them. No sense in sleeping on a (probably plastic covered) mattress without some creature comforts. And they probably have to be ‘long twin’ because that’s what most dorms come stocked with.

    Also, depending on where you go to school, you’ll need both warm weather clothes and cool weather clothes, but those can be switched out when the weather changes and the off-season set can be left at home.

    However, your point is excellent. Retailers hype what college students ‘need’ for school, when all they really need is basic creature comforts, clothes, toiletries and tools for learning. Suddenly students are spending loads of money on junk, when that money would be better spent on books, tuition or other college experiences. And those rooms aren’t too big to begin with!

  8. Sara A, says:

    My additions to your list (of what I would consider essential):

    Laundry detergent, hamper and dryer sheets
    Basic bedding (sheets, blanket, pillow)
    One place setting (plate, fork/knife, spoon; maybe a couple of plastic cups)
    Basic first aid kit + basic drugs (aspirin)
    7 days worth of clothes vs 5 days worth of clothes
    Basic cleaning supplies such as rags, some dish soap, and a surface/counter cleaner

    And, I would add: No TV or game console! Absolutely not! Don’t do it! Just say no!

  9. marie says:

    Alright, I’m going to argue on a few things here:

    -fridge: if somebody is at least somewhat intelligent about it, it can be a HUGE time and money saver. You can keep a ton of easy snacks in there: yogurt, cheese, fruit, veggies, leftovers, milk for cereal, etc. Since most colleges have outrageously expensive meal plans, keeping a small fridge, and eating half your meals (breakfast & sometimes lunch) is the only way to go unless you can afford those expensive meal plans.

    For example, a friend had a choice between the complete meal plan: $3630 per 8 months, or a smaller plan $1815. By buying a fridge $200, and $75 of groceries and snacks per month combined with the small meal plan at $1815, she will only pay $2625, saving about $1000. I think that is completely worth it.

    -I wouldn’t recommend sleeping on a bare mattress either. Although I’m sure its one of the things Trent says that you would realize you need, bedding can be pretty expensive when purchased new. However, bring a set of sheets, a couple blankets and pillows from home that are lying around is practically free. Saving: $100-200

    -clothes: you should have enough of the basics: socks, underwear, shirts to last 8 days. Jeans and sweaters can be worn twice so 5 are fine I guess. Realistically, doing laundry once a week is a lot more productive than every 5 days. That way you can pick a day where the laundry room isn’t as busy and call it laundry day. Plus, its always good to have a few extra clothes. You don’t want to become smelly guy in the room 208 or something like that. Also, if you already have one ‘nicer’ outfit at home, bring it along, you never know when you’ll need it. I’m not saying to bring your prom dress, but a suit or one dress can be really useful.

    -mementos/picture frames/yearbooks. Yes, bringing TOO much stuff can become really cluttering and distracting. But bringing nothing can make you feel homesick. Its okay to bring your teddy bear, or your grade 12 yearbook, or that picture with your grandma. Just don’t exaggerate.

  10. E.D. says:

    As others have said, there are a few things missing from your list. A cell phone with an alarm, headphones, bed linens and a lightweight robe are the big ones. I would also include some sort of small shower bucket that can go in the shower with you (theft was rampant in the bathrooms when I was in school).

    Depending on the dorm setup (hallway vs. suite), a room fridge and microwave shared among roommates would be useful and cost-effective.

  11. Kristina says:

    In our dorms, we had the opportunity to rent fridges from the residence association. I used mine plenty. I bought groceries (milk, cereal, bread, juice etc) and stored them in my room for breakfast. We had to purchase pre-paid meal cards for the cafeteria, but the food there was so darn expensive and students often ran out of money by Christmas! Making my own breakfast has saved me a lot of money.

    P.S. I totally agree with The Frugal New Yorker!

  12. I’ve never had to stay in a dorm, so I wouldn’t ever use a list like this. I’m sure a lot of people spend way too much outfitting their rooms like in all the commercials…

    For me, college essentials are: Laptop, note-taking supplies, minimum books I can get away with, scooter (to get across campus in five minutes flat!) and my car.

    I agree with the cell phone – texting is a must for a social life these days! My phone has like most of my life on it, lol.

  13. Phillip says:

    I enjoy your minimalist ideas but I don’t think they are realistic. As a current college student, I bring luxuries that are important to me… Golf clubs, backpacking supplies, wall decoration (takes away from the sterile feel of dorm rooms), various shoes for different occasions (cleats for intramurals, sandals, running shoes…), pictures of family, etc.

    In principle, I think you are dead on. Most college students bring far too much with them that ends up going to waste. But that is to be expected… They are venturing into a completely new stage of life and want to “be prepared.” Also, Mom tends to overload kids with extra luggage.

    College is a learning/maturing experience… I wouldn’t expect many 18 year olds leaving home for the first time to do so with only a backpack full of items.

  14. MB says:

    Yeah, I agree…you’ve obviously forgotten a lot about being in college. I second a third a lot of these things. 5 days worth of clothes, yeah right. And I definitely used my fridge and small microwave a lot. And photos, posters, personal items and personal linens made being away from home for the first a lot easier.

    And you saying buying what you need, when you need it is easier…well, that all depends if A) you have a car to get you where you need to go and B) you know where you need to go. Both can be difficult in a new city when you don’t know anyone. And expensive if you are forced to buy something on or right next to campus where prices are inflated.

    And definitely some utensils, like the one commenter pointed out. And, if I drank coffee, I would say a coffee maker. That would save you a lot of money opposed to buying it on campus.

    And I would definitely say that a laptop is a must for today’s college student.

    I also had a tv/vcr which was nice when I wanted to stay in and just watch a movie. But if I had a laptop, I could watch movies on it.

    Basically, I think making your dorm room homey is just as important as making your apartment or house homey. It makes you feel better, more comfortable and more relaxed. I think this is important for kids on their first journey away from home. I don’t consider that clutter.

  15. Kerrick says:

    Hey, great article! I’m a new reader, but I love your blog. I am headed into my second year of college, and I have luckily learned my lesson. Last year I had brought my computer, video game system, television, clothes, and nearly all the belongings I could fit into my car – and tried to live in a dorm room with all of that!

    This year, however, I’m only bringing what I feel that I will either need, or will use often enough to merit bringing it. Aside from my clothes, everything that I’m bringing with me (this year) fits into a plastic Tote.

    I’m bringing my computer, a few board games (which is what my friends do for fun), toiletries, the small TV that I bought (unwisely since I have a computer) before my first year in college, a few movies, and some winter jackets!

    In fact, at this moment said tote is already packed and I’m leaving for school tomorrow – but here’s hoping that plenty of people my age read (and heed) this article *before* heading to their first year.

  16. Courtney says:

    You are not at college just to study. College is a way of life for 4 years. Yes, you could get by on a backpack of supplies, but why would you? 5 days worth of clothes? Maybe guys could get by on this, but what about presentations? Interviews (for club positions or jobs)? Meetings? You definitely need at least some nice pants, a button down shirt and a tie. You finally meet a cute girl and want to take her on a date? Want to look nice for a party? Save yourself from hitting the mall to buy a new outfit and bring the clothes you already own. Don’t forget an umbrella or towels. Knick-knacks aren’t necessary, but some room decorations show your personality and can be conversation starters or make you feel less homesick. They can also make your dorm feel less like a white walled prison cell. I think you also missed the best money and space saving idea: Contact your roommate beforehand and split the expenses of a fridge, microwave or TV if you decide you want those things. I hope everyone reads the comments before sending their kids off to college, otherwise those kids are all going to sign up for the first credit card they are offered and buy everything that mom and dad left them without.

  17. Alexandra says:

    I think as a girl, five outfits is definitely NOT enough. What you wear to class is vastly different than what you wear on pub night or to go out for a weekend night.

    All the shops on campus were so overpriced that it was much smarter to stock up on essential toiletries (like razors, deodorant, etc.) and store them in your room.

    Also, many places have meal plans on campus, and a communal kitchenette, so I agree the microwave and fridge may not be neccesary, but it was also smart to bring your own easy-to-cook food from home and store it in your room rather than pay the for the overpriced stuff on campus. The meal plans only cover the basic meals, and the cafeteria had set hours, so any off-hours snacking is off the plan.

    I always liked the rooms that were nicely decorated and had a touch of “home” to them.

  18. Lauren says:

    Wow — that is a spartan list for college, even if you living only 5 minutes from home. My college provided a mini-fridge and microwave in each dorm room, and I can assure you that both got plenty of use.

    99% of people (especially college students) aren’t washing clothes every 5 days. One, it is expensive, and two, it is time consuming and no fun. I took ALL my clothes with me. I did laundry maybe once a month when I went home. My sister could go 6 weeks without doing laundry. Take lots of underwear and socks!

    The shower caddy, robe, and shower shoes are musts if your bathroom is down the hall.

    You need a few plates, cups, silverware.

    For fun, maybe your high school yearbook, a deck of cards, some books, maybe a TV. I had a small TV in my room (college provided the cable service) and I still graduated with honors. A camera — I love all the crazy pictures I have from college.

    If any of my college roommates would have just shown up with a backpack, I would have been seriously worried. Yeah, you don’t need all the cool knick-knacks Target is selling right now, but you do need some creature comforts.

  19. annie says:

    Don’t forget shower shoes! You really don’t want to get foot fungus.

    But seriously, my first day a kind Junior took me aside and explained all the things I’d really need and where to buy them. I think bring as little as possible to start and then find out what you’ll need from upperclassmen or experience. It’ll be different depending on living situation and school.

  20. Seth says:

    I like the idea you are going for when you said you plan to only send your kids with those minimal items, but I would encourage you to stay away from that thought. As much as anything else, college is a time of learning about life, and your kids will need to learn the same things you did, but they should do it on their own… don’t spoon feed them.

    My first year, I took just about everything I owned, then cut way back each year after… I learned that I wasn’t using the items and really didn’t like hauling them back and forth. But, like most lessons in life, it meant more learning it on my own rather than my parents telling me.

  21. steve says:

    One word of caution in regards to “buying what you need when you get there.” Do you remember how outrageous the markup can be at a college bookstore?

    I’d caution your readers to shop around for the best deals they can find, even after arriving on campus and learning what they’ll need to do well. Going a few blocks away from campus instead of heading across the quad to the student union may seem like a hassle, but in terms of frugality it may be the most worthwhile trips you make in college.

  22. Lawrence says:

    I’m still in college and from experience 5 days of clothes is definitely not enough. I’d recommend having at least 2 weeks worth of underwear/socks just so you don’t need to be making the trek to the laundry room every week. This is especially true if you’re someone that is somewhat athletic and will be playing sports. You then might need more clothes.

  23. Jessica says:

    Um, yeah.
    -What about in most of the country that gets winter weather, you’d need a coat, hat, gloves, scarf, boots and umbrella?
    -Athlete’s foot anyone? SHOWER SANDALS!
    -Did you have any “intimate relations” in college??? BIRTH CONTROL!
    -Ditto the clock and watch. No sense in going to college if you miss all your classes
    -Toiletries and detergent, as well as basic first aid kit and pain relievers.
    -Quarters for the washer!
    -Ditto the linens… and what are you going to carry your laundry in? you need a laundry bag.
    -clothes hangers unless you prefer to throw your stuff on the floor
    -a flash drive for transporting files between computer labs and your pc
    -no family photo, memento or security blanket for you?

  24. Sharon says:

    Yes, my school had a communal microwave, but the “kitchen” was locked at night. And leaving something in the communal fridge meant that not only was it locked up at night, you ran the risk of the food becoming communal as well…
    I think the posters have good ideas.

  25. Adam says:


    I think you have a good point, that lessons learned oneself can have more impact.

    Perhaps the way to apply this is to start earlier? If your kids are already used to living simply and/or traveling light, then this would most likely be the natural next step when planning for living in a dorm, no?

  26. J says:

    Your kids aren’t going to be taking a 5-day trip or going to the monastery, they are going somewhere to live for 9 months (at least — they might stay for a summer job). Unless they attend school in San Diego, they will need seasonal clothes (coats, boots, sweaters, sweatshirts, shorts, etc). They might also want to pack some dressy clothes for formal events, job interviews, or if they need to travel for something like a family wedding or funeral. Not to mention workout attire (running shoes, swimsuits, etc)

    I like the idea of packing light, but really this list is far too minimal.

  27. Maggie says:

    My oldest started college last year, and nearly immediately sprained his ankle and then got ill. I was glad we had sent him with some groceries and medications so he could recuperate without having to trudge to the store or the dining hall and enough clothes to that he could go more than a week without doing the stairs with all of his laundry.

  28. Maggie says:

    Plus to me it seems anti-frugal to not take what you already own and risk having to go buy something to replace it on short notice.

  29. Robin says:

    Maybe you should get rid of all the stuff in your house except this stuff?

    Seriously, though, people LIVE at college. There’s no way I could live 9 months on 5 sets of clothes. Not even on 5 pairs of shoes, lol. There’s no point until waiting until you’re there to buy more stuff (clothes, linens, fridge) if you know you’re going to need it.

    I do agree with not going crazy and buying everything the stores say you need… but you may as well take advantage of the stuff you have.

  30. First of all: CAN OPENER. I was the only freshman on my dorm floor to have one, and people were constantly borrowing mine because of it! Yes, we had meal plans, but we also had a campus grocery store. Which sold canned goods. Which no one could open without me!

    Secondly, I think Trent is taking this to an extreme here, and I think a lot of the commenters have noticed that ;) But I think there’s a middle ground: one or two plastic totes full of stuff could get you from Orientation till you go home for Thanksgiving break. Then you can decide if you need more stuff, or if you brought too much and want to take some back!

    Of course, I also recommend old notebooks and binders. I still have unused stuff like that, from high school… and I graduated from college this year! Don’t ditch them just cause you want cool new ones with the school’s logo from the overpriced bookstore. Spice up some plain ones that you already have by drawing on them with Sharpies!

  31. cv says:

    I agree with the theory that you should start with the basics and add as you need rather than the other way around (i.e. wait to get a fridge, and especially a microwave, until you’re familiar with the campus meal plan and food options and quality), but you did miss some important things like sheets and towels, laundry detergent, a winter coat, an umbrella, an alarm clock, shower shoes, clothes for situations other than classes and hanging out in the dorm, etc. It wouldn’t all fit in a backpack, but the basics would probably fit in a smallish car rather than the minivan I moved to college in.

    Perhaps it’s something to buy after you see your dorm setup, but I wouldn’t have survived college without a fan. Drowns out noise and helps you get through the early fall and late spring with no a/c.

    Also, don’t be too hard on yourself for some of the technology in your photos. You’re about my age, and computer towers were MUCH cheaper than laptops when we were in school. Streaming video hadn’t really come into its own yet, and virtually all mp3s at the time were pirated. iPods were just coming out as I graduated. Now you can get a lightweight laptop that replaces a computer tower and monitor, stereo, TV, VCR, phone, etc., but you couldn’t back then, at least not without spending a LOT of money.

  32. Jared says:

    My college we had free cable in the dorms. A simple TV tuner for your computer is about $50 and you can get ones for laptops too. Save you lots of space and money since, lets face, you are going to be watching lots of TV

  33. Amber P says:

    This reminds me of all the stuff I bought in anticipation of our first child. I soaked up all the lists of “must haves” and went crazy (including a sleep positioner in case he had reflux – he didn’t). My reasoning was that the last thing I’d want to do while recovering was go shopping. The funny thing is that I bought most of it online anyway.

  34. Kirby says:

    This seems a little too strict for me. You are LIVING there full time for months at a time. I realise you are there to learn but you are also there to grow as a person and experience things. I wouldn’t want to spend that much time in little more than a cell.

    A few things besides what was listed that would be needed in my opinion.

    -Check out the floors – if your dorm has tile I would recommend a very small area rug for the space by your bed. I learned that the hard way my freshman year – cold floors with bare feet is not the way to wake up!

    – Some framed pictures of family and friends. It can get lonely when you first move away from everyone you know.

    – A few of your favorite books – and if your dorm has lounges, maybe a few DVDs. You won’t be studying ALL the time. No need to bring your entire collection, just a few ones you really love.

  35. Kevin M says:

    I think Trent is on to something here. His title says “What Do You Actually NEED for College”, not what might save you a few bucks or be slightly more convenient.

    Linens are about the only thing I’d add to the list, because you will NEED to dry off after taking a shower and I don’t relish the thought of sleeping on a university-issued mattress without some layer in between it and my body.

    As a personal choice I would take more clothes, just because I’d rather not do laundry every 5 days. I wish laptops and cell phones were around when I went to school. I could have eliminated so much with just those 2 items – TV, desktop computer, alarm clock, stereo at minimum. And I’m only 34!

  36. Ruby Leigh says:

    Trent, with all due respect:

    I totally agree with many of the above commenters. While I see where you are coming from, as I do remember bringing a couple over priced knick knacks and purple lamps that were not used post college. (they were quite nice all through though… probably not needs).

    Rant on the note of “5 outfit plan” , I am not sure how this magic number 5 came to be… but it seems you think college is some sort of alternate existense where everyone loves doing laundry and things like various weather patterns, dates, exercise, interviews, banquets can all be participated in the same “jeans and a t-shirt style”… even considering that you were to bring one outfit for each ocasion – not everyone wants to wear a suit every week, and the amount of planning or lifestyle sacrafices to make that work would never be worth the supposed cost savings. Furthermore, doing laundry in college cost money and I know that I can fit more than “5 outfits worth of clothes” into a washer and dryer cycle… not not maximizing is sort of a waste of money, time and energy resources. Personally I did laundry once a month and ran all of the loads at once because of the access to lots of machines… it took me a few hours (including folding), but it was only once a month!

    All this to say, transitioning to college can be challenging and ripping out all of todays commonplace comforts (TV, microwave, fridge — honestly, think of someone who doesn’t live with these items that isn’t living an alternative lifestyle) will not make it any easier. While it may cost a little extra many things can be saved on by shopping at garage sales, splitting with roommates, and taking advantage of a good deal.

    These “extra expenses” will help ward of homesickness, which can sometimes leads to dropping out… Something that costs a ton more money than a few linens or shower sandals.

  37. jess says:

    One suggestion: a good quality laser printer. Professors still largely expect assignments and papers to be handed in in a hard copy form. As a graduate student getting my funding by teaching, I’m on both sides of this now, and I have to say that the laser printer has saved me $$$. To print at the library it is 9 cents per page, which would add up over the course of a semester, and certainly over the course of a degree. I am able to print my papers, my course readings, and research materials. I’m also able to help the environment, because my printer duplexes, so I use less paper. (But never for formal assignments)

  38. Ruby Leigh says:

    … just to say. I lived fine without a TV for one semester in college… just used my laptop to watch movies. I think the TV can be thrown out of the need camp… however a used TV is so cheap and “Movies IN” were a big thing my first year. and more movies in means fewer movies out – so savings!

  39. Nik Halik says:

    This is good advice – help your kids minimize what they they to college to minimize costs.

    However, I think it would be a big mistake to send your child off to college with only five changes of clothes. There is no way any college student is going to do their laundry every five days. I lived with some guys who didn’t do laundry once a semester, let alone once a week.

  40. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    I mostly agree with Trent. If I had it to do over, I’d bring the same things I do when I travel, which all fit into a single carry-on-sized duffel bag. A couple weeks worth of clothes, a laptop, cell phone, toothbrush, notebook, and really not much else. Like others have said, I’d probably need to add sheets and a towel, too.

    This is assuming I’ve got the meal plan and can just walk over to the dining hall for food.

    Robin (#24) says: “Maybe you should get rid of all the stuff in your house except this stuff? Seriously, though, people LIVE at college.”

    Exactly. Come see my house. If you ignore the kitchen, there’s really not a lot in it besides this stuff. There’s an extra couch and table, but you wouldn’t bring those to college, either. Sure, there’s a few other things lying around, but nothing I really need every day.

  41. leslie says:

    I’m fine with Trent’s list, except, his college schedule must have been much more flexible than mine. By the time I got home from work, all the cafeterias were closed so having a microwave and fridge in my room were necessary for me to not starve!

    My college did have linens and towels available so I did not have to bring my own and that saved me on laundry.

    I had enough clothes to last me two weeks – doing laundry every week gets very expensive!

  42. KC says:

    I loved my dorm fridge. I ate in the dorm a lot. The cafeteria wasn’t too healthy and it was expensive. I didn’t see the need for my parents to foot the bill for those meals, when I didn’t eat most of the food anyway. Plus I could keep soft drinks cold instead of paying $1 (or whatever they cost then) for them in the vending machine.

    A TV was a must, too. Course we didn’t have cable or anything like that, but it was a nice diversion. Usually my roommate would bring the TV and I’d bring the fridge.

    How could 5 days worth of clothes last? Need a raincoat, jacket, winter coat? sweaters? shorts? I went to college at North Carolina – we needed rain gear and light cold gear in the winter, but we also needed shorts and t-shirts at the beginning of the school year and end of it.

    I get your point though..we buy a lot of unnecessary crap to take to college.

  43. Livia says:

    Yeah, I’m going to have to second all the comments about laundry. Realistically, I only got to laundry every 2-3 weeks, especially when crunchtime rolled around. Rule #1 for all college students — make sure you have a large supply of clear underwear. Outer stuff can be reworn — but I’d still need more than 5 days worth.

  44. J says:

    I’m also guessing that by the time college rolls around, this will fall into the “battle I’m not going to pick with my teenager” category, since there are likely much bigger and important things to worry about like keeping grades up, dating, sex, alcohol, drugs and finances. If my kid has those things in order, then I’ll likely load up whatever crap they want to take to school in the minivan.

  45. Bill says:

    As they say hindsight is always 20/20. It’s like buying a computer – 6 months later you always say ‘I should have waited so I could get x’

  46. Jim says:

    People shouldn’t run out and spend $2k on stuff that they are supposed to ‘need’ for college. But whats it really going to hurt if you bring more of your stuff along with you? I see no harm whatsoever in bringing along misc. things like a coffee pot, stereo, fridge, TV, books, video game system, more clothes, hobby items, etc. I wouldn’t run out and buy everything new but taking your stuff with you isn’t going to hurt.

  47. When did you go to college? Here’s the thing, it’s just “normal” to have a lot of stuff when you move in. You don’t have much space, but still most feel better about moving away to a new place with new people when they have everything they “might” need. It just makes ppl feel more secure.

    If i was the only kid on my floor without a tv, game system, fridge, microwave, etc. it would be kind of weird. I’m sure others feel the same way. It’s just the way it is. You can send your kids with next to nothing, but they are going to be freaking out before and after they move in.


  48. J says:

    Keep in mind that you are setting your kids up to be the moochers on the floor. It’s OK to mooch something occasionally, but it has to work both ways — people need to be able to mooch from them, too. It was amazing to see how women would borrow each other’s clothes with reckless abandon to build outfits for going out at night. It was like the floor was one big closet and they all shared. Well, until the catfighting started :). On the guys’ side it was really common to swap video games, movies, food and so on.

    Kids should learn to barter, right? :)

  49. sarah says:

    @David: I didn’t have a fridge, tv, game system or microwave any of the time I lived in the dorm (not that many years ago). And I felt just fine. The campus meal plan was required for those living in dorms, so the food cost was fixed.

    I did have more clothes (enough to only do laundry every two weeks – which worked out to fully loads of each type, saving money on coin-ops) and basics like linens.

    Overall, I think I had less stuff than a lot of people, but still could have cut it back. Trent’s post is extreme, but a good starting point for the thought process. I’d rather start with a list like this and build than start with a retailers list and cut back.

    (PS – same goes for wedding registries – there is no way you “need” anywhere close to everything on the retailers suggested lists!)

  50. Michelle says:

    You missed some essentials: sheets and blankets were what really jumped out at me, but I agree with other commenters about the necessity of shower shoes, alarm clock, towels, and any outerwear that’s appropriate for the climate. It’s also a good idea to have 8 days worth of clothes (it’s a waste of time and money to run a half-full washer twice a week) and one business casual outfit. The basic necessities for college would fill a suitcase or two – not a pickup truck, but not a backpack either.

    I think you’ve got the right idea in general; people do tend to pack way too much stuff for such a small space. But your list of essentials is far from being a complete checklist.

  51. Scotty says:

    If I would have started all over again after high school, I would buy a laptop, cell phone, a couple bags of misc stuff, and that’s about it. I, like Trent, had lots of stuff, a huge apartment, large furniture (I basically went to town at Ikea).

    Although Trent goes a little extreme, the basic point in there. Being able to move in with a couple of bags is a huge advantage. Nowadays, a laptop can pretty much do you for whatever you need technology-wise (TV, Gaming, Movies, productivity), beyond that just a nice big duffle-bag of clothes and misc. stuff and you’re set.

    Being highly mobile has huge advantages. You can move whenever you want/need to, do it quickly without needing friends/trucks, etc, and most importantly, saving money. Not to mention, travelling becomes extremely easy, because if you want to spend a couple days/weeks/months overseas, there’s virtually nothing to worry about. You might just need to store a box or two of things at a friend’s or parent’s house.

    There’s an old joke I once heard – you can always tell the poor student/bachelor, they eat pizza while sitting on milk containers while watching their $5000 entertainment system.

  52. Technophile says:

    Heh, that’s it? I moved out of the dorms because our “super suites” were too small for the amount of stuff I have. Me and 3 other guys moved in to our on-campus apartment… I have tons of stuff, most of it I consider essential and other stuff are things I collected over the years (I’m a senior).

    When you’re a freshman, I think you don’t need as much stuff. If you’re a senior, living in an apartment, that’s another story. We’ve got a huge TV, kitchen stuff (pots, pans, silverware, plates, food, etc), bathroom stuff, bedroom stuff, computers, video games, posters, what have you.

    As a freshman, I didn’t bring much except my mini fridge, TV, and big desk. All were essential (I play games). The desk was great because the desks they provided had about zero storage capacity. Mine had different levels and drawers galore, it was excellent.

    For clothes, I brought about one week of underwear, because you can always re-use pants twice, and a bunch of t-shirts. Trying to do laundry in the dorms is hell, I am so glad we have a washer and dryer in our apt.

  53. Mrs. Smith says:

    It amazes me the amount of marketing aimed towards dormers. Whatever happened to hand-me-downs and mis-matched furniture? They build character.

  54. Craig says:

    A laptop makes so much more sense for a dorm room than desktop. Smaller, takes up less space and you can take to the library. No reason to have a full desktop now.

  55. anca says:

    i like your list, trent, and these are almost the things that i own now after college:)
    i have 2-3 kitchen stuff because i cook a lot – but keep it minimal even here and in the future i will buy a sleeping bag to not need a bed anymore as i love to sleep on the floor- much better for my neck

    and for other commenters, having a lot of stuff does not mean you have a life and that i do not live because i own a backpack of stuff

  56. k2000k says:

    I’d ad a caveat, sometimes you buy things that you do use in college, however, when it comes time to moving the value of that item isn’t worth the transportation cost. My younger brother goes to college across the state from my parents and every year without fail, he would through 660-70% of his non-cloths related items into the school dumpster. And I agree with the poster, 5 pairs of clothing isn’t enough. Cloths are light, and relatively cheap, doubling that wouldn’t be to much of a problem. I’d through in a nice suit, pair of shoes, belt, tie, and couple of shirts for interviews too.

  57. k2000k says:

    Craig, you can have your dinky laptop, my desktop eats 95% of all laptops for breakfast ;) But I need the power, don’t need a laptop, and desktops are far cheaper initially and in the long run, being upgradeable rather than replaceable, than a laptop. If you want to do anything more than casual user stuff, such as gaming, heavy photo editing, animation rendering, or incredibly complex calculations and you don’t particularly need mobility desktops are the way to go.

  58. Rae says:

    I definitely agree with your overall message here, but also agree with the other commenters – you are missing a few vital things. Mostly just the various extra clothing items + linens + cell phone. Then again, if you go to college close to home, you can always trip back to trade out winter clothes/spring clothes and don’t need to take them right away.

    5 years ago, when I was starting college, I also read all of the lists about what you need, blah, blah. I have to say that I would have been so much better off waiting until I was settled in to figure out if I needed most of it (which I didn’t). That said, if I hadn’t been prepared and needed to buy something once at college, it would have been immensely difficult to procure it; I went to small college 1300 mi away from home, and freshmen aren’t allowed cars (there is a very unreliable free van service that would take us into town during the year, but not during orientation week, nor during convenient times)

    Hmm, speaking of worthless college junk… here I am a year + out and still haven’t put that mini fridge up for sale…

  59. Rap541 says:

    I would say this seems a wee bit Spartan for an eighteen year old to live with for three months (aka the first semester) though I see the point Trent is making. There’s a cottage industry devoted to selling new college students dorm stuff and for the most part, the average middle class high school grad already has most of the necessary stuff on hand.

    Five days of clothes seems a bit too little though. You’re basically moving. Do you normally only own five outfits? If not, then bring more clothes.

    As a very basic list, this works although linens are a good point. I would add that it might be a bit too unnecessarily pared down. Is the issue not bringing anything but pure necessities? It’s college, not prison. Why not bring a radio/ipod if you already own it? Or – this was popular when I was in school – a bean bag chair, some throw pillows and a fav stuffed animal? The vast majority of my college gear was stuff I already owned, with mom and dad splurging for a few new clothes, and organizing stuff. It was just an issue of whether I *wanted* to bring music cds with me. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to outfit for school. If you look at what you currently own and *think* before you cave at giant displays of college stuff at Tagret, you probably own plenty of useful stuff that makes the dorm room nicer than a hermit’s cell to live in but doesn’t cost a cent.

  60. Marsha says:

    Good luck with convincing your kids that all they need for college can fit into a backpack!

    FWIW, some professors do not allow laptops in their classrooms, so students can only take notes by hand (unless they have phenomenal memories).

    Only 5 days’ worth of clothes, eh?

  61. A.M.B.A. says:

    I went to college way back with the likes of Fred Flintstone and the “must haves” were sure different. Anyone remember electric typewriters?! Yes, I’m that old…

    Tho old joke was “enter as a Freshman with a trunk, leave as a Graduate towing a U-Haul”.

  62. Yelena says:

    Overall yours is a great point about not buying into all the advertisements for “college must-haves”. But your list is incomplete at best.

    I know it first-hand. When I transferred to a college in FL, I packed a duffle bag with clothes and basic toiletries – exactly the stuff on your list minus the reading lamp – and hopped on the plane.

    Ok, my first day on campus I was busy buying things – linen, laundry hamper, a lamp, an alarm clock, and other really basic things.

    I didn’t buy a mini-fridge or a microwave only because as a transferring junior I had a studio-style dorm room with a complete kitchennete (and only 1 roommate who never used it). Otherwise I would’ve definitely bought these two items since I didn’t buy a meal plan.

    5 days worth of clothing – sorry, it’s not nearly enough (even for guys) whether you are in a cold climate or not.

    Here’s a much more radical way of saving money and avoiding buying useless junk in college – leave your car at home for at least your first year. I didn’t have a car until my last semester. Saved me a ton of money since I had to keep in mind that at the end of each semester all my belongings had to fit into 2 check-in bags and a carry-on.

  63. Jackie says:

    bedding, towels, not really sure how you expect students to live without those. A robe is also a necessity in a dorm where the bathroom is a common hallway away from your room.
    Clothing for 5 days must be weather appropriate, can’t wear the same outfit in January as in May in most regions.

  64. Battra92 says:

    Wow Trent, I think you really dropped the ball on this one.

    I think the linens/clothes thing has been beaten to death already. You must want smelly anti-social kids. ;)

    You WILL need a cell phone and you will most likely up the texting plan unless you are me and had no friends who texted but since I’m two years out I think I’m beyond the texting age.

    Plus you seem to make it sound like you were sooo stupid for having a desktop PC. Back when you went to college laptops were a lot more expensive than they are now. Honestly, I remember when $1,600 was the norm for an average laptop. Now you can get a good one for $500 (more if the kid must have a Mac.) I’d definitely leave the printer home as most colleges offer printing services.

    I was lucky though and I lived at home. It saved a LOT of money and I didn’t get all this junk I never needed.

  65. Lauren says:

    I forgot one thing — a rug or carpet remnant. My roommate and I didn’t have one the first week of college, and that was the one thing I remember getting over Labor Day weekend. The dorm room floor was cold, and it felt like living in an institution without carpet.

    I also rememeber requesting a DustBuster/Dirt Devil vacuum from my parents. There was a regular sized vacuum we could borrow, but the room was so small that it was easier to clean up dust bunnies with a handheld vacuum.

    And I was the only girl on the floor with a blender. Needless to say, I was very popular on Friday and Saturday night!

  66. Patrick says:

    You are going to college for a year – not traveling a foreign country on the cheap! Yeah, nuf said about the things he forgot.

    Overall, the post has a good point. We didn’t need all the stuff that we took.

    However, think about the difference in if you went back to college today, or if you had to go back when you started. If I had to go back when I started – my desk would still be overflowing from an old CRT monitor and desktop, and an old incandescent bulb lamp, a calling card, etc. Technology in the last ten years has been nice to us. Don’t forget all you people – cellphones are not a necessity – they just can be extremely useful tools to have along for the ride.
    Oh, but yes, you did forget to bring along your favorite boardgame or two. :)

  67. Neon Swan says:

    A.M.B.A., I had an electronic typewriter on which I typed my papers for the first two years of college. After that, I used my boyfriend’s (now husband’s) Atari.

    Living in a college town as we do, we had this discussion just last weekend. We both agreed that there are a lot of things we would probably do away with. Stereos, cassette tapes, and cds (kind of newish back then) would be one thing. His huge computer tower and CRT monitor (which he’d painstakingly packed in styrofoam) would be another. I think I’d spring for one of the new Kindles for reading digitized textbooks. Could make do with a dorm microwave (hey, we did) but a small refrigerator does come in handy when you wake up in the middle of the night needing a glass of milk.

    As for the rest of it…think you’d still need blankets and a towel, unless those are supplied by the university (ours were not). And as for *five days* of clothes? That’s the kind of claim that could only be made by a guy. ;) That said, I seem to recall my clothes, shoes, accessories, etc., fitting into a suitcase and a couple small bags (my husband probably had more than five days’ worth of clothes, but was probably closer to your ideal).

    There’s something appealing about the asceticism of a dorm room, if you’re academically serious. If you don’t have a lot of stuff, you’re less likely to be distracted by nonessentials and more likely to be focused on your work. It’s ironic that the Google Ad at the bottom of the post is for dorm room decor–seems like trying to maintain the material trappings of a lifestyle soaks up a lot of energy that could better be channeled elsewhere (and not just into studies).

  68. Patrick says:

    Another idea came to mind as I was reading the post and comments again. Seth(#17) made a good point. I did the same – took too much the first year and learned my lesson.

    But having too much may not be a bad thing for some people. If this is the first long adventure from home – having lots of stuff from home can provide comfort in your new place and make the transition a little smoother. Then, as the adjustment is made – stuff goes back home.

    One possible risk of arriving with too little at college – you may run out and buy, buy, buy.

    College is where you explore life on your own. Your counsel is good – Less is more, and you have photos to prove it. But in the end – if they want to haul their ‘stuff’ with ’em, that is okay.

  69. Chad says:

    I will throw two items on the list: a small flashlight (mine was a Mini Mag) and a multi-tool (the original Leatherman). It is amazing how many things you can do with those two items in a college dorm, and how often you will need them. Throw in some duct tape, and your kid can work his way through college as the dorm handy man or woman.

  70. chris says:

    Love this post, and the comments did bring up some good points on things that you didn’t include on your list (linens, etc)

    However, I am mainly reminded of going off to my first year of college and thinking I ABSOLUTELY NEEDED to bring my ginormous stereo system (turntable/tape deck/external speakers — this was in the days before CDs, mind you), when really, a small portable radio/tape deck would have sufficed. Now of course I would say an iPod with maybe a small set of speakers, but wow, I went to college a really long time ago.

  71. Erin says:

    I would love to see the look on your kids’ faces (especially your daughter) when you tell them you think they should only take 5 days worth of clothes to college. I do not think that’s realistic at all. Just the different clothes you need for weather changes requires more than that.

  72. Kate says:

    When my kids went to school I “suggested” that they take the minimum amount because they would just be moving it again in a short time. They did, for the most part, but they took more than they needed to. I think it is a fact of life–my husband and I always take carry on luggage when we travel and I usually kick myself for taking that one extra pair of pants that I never wear.
    BUT…definitely more than five days worth of clothes.

  73. Kelly says:

    Yep, alarm clock is a must, pillows and linens too. Something to carry those 5 days worth of clothes to the laundrymat might help. You’ll need more clothes if there are definite seasons or you plan on exercising, I don’t know, ever. Towels.

    I think a lot of junk is sold to make money but a lot of things may save money as well. Re-usable water bottles or a water filter for drinks. Some simple snacks to avoid late night runs to buy junk food. A backpack or computer bag to take your laptop to class or the library. Favorite movies you already own so there’s no cost for rentals. Some of your hobbies for the inevitable down time in the dorms and to make friendships stronger. Even an iron and ironing board so you look presentable at interviews and for campus events is a necessity in some cases.

    Often times a printer with refillable ink cartridge will save time and money over taking documents to the library to stand in a queue.

  74. .. says:

    Think like a college student..

    Without a fridge, where are you going to keep your beer?

    What kind of girl would want anything to do with someone who wears the same 5 shirts every 5 days?

    How are you going to know what’s going on and where everyone is without a cell phone?

    Forget the desk lamp – go to the library and study.

  75. Mneiae says:

    Thank you for this list! I started college on August 1st, but it’s nice to see a dorm room list that’s pared down like this. I have more clothing (four seasons and I’m a girl), linens, a cell phone, a hamper, a shower bucket, and a few pairs of shoes (including the shower shoes that everyone else wants you to have on this list), but other than that I’ve basically got what you put on your list. This is partially because I’m moving into my real dorm on Friday :) However, it’s been nice to find that I don’t need too much else. There are 2 printers in my dorm that I can use and a huge library is across the street. The biggest food court is also in my dorm and I have a kitchen downstairs that has a microwave, ice machine, stove, and oven. Thank you for posting this list.

  76. Brittany says:

    Yeah… second most of the comments. Minimalism is a good idea, but you take it to such an extreme as to make it seem comical. You’ve obviously been out of college way too long.

  77. laurenly says:

    I agree with the majority of the commenters and the remark on clothing is probably the thing I disagree with the most. There were many times in my college career where I needed nicer clothes… just five days worth would have been a big problem for me.

    One thing that hasn’t really been addressed is students who go out of state to go to school. I’m at school almost six hours away from my parents so when I’m at school, I make it as home-like as possible. Also, it would not be at all cost effective to have to either drive home or re-purchase additional things I needed.

    As a former RA, I agree that people bring way too much to school these days. I’ve seen freshmen drive up with U-Hauls. However, I think there is a lot to be said for feeling at home at school. I echo the sentiment that you’re not at college to just go to class… it’s a life style.

  78. Todd says:

    This nostalgic piece made me smile. I enjoyed remembering my college days in the 70s. Microwaves didn’t exist. Well, they did but they were enormous and expensive. Same with VCRs and most televisions. And stereos (with enormous speakers and boxes of vinyl LPs)which some guys lugged into dorm rooms, but not most people. No personal computers, of course, and no technology besides an alarm clock. There was one shared, corded telephone on the wall at the end of each hallway (no outgoing long-distance calls allowed–you could receive a long-distance call but if you really needed to make a long-distance call you had to call collect). The towels and sheets were extras from home. I moved in with two suitcases and one box in the back of my parents’ car.

    No one I knew would have dreamed of going on a shopping spree to “furnish” a dorm room. Somehow, though, we still managed to have some great times in those rooms.

  79. katie says:

    Trent, did you talk to any recent grads when you wrote this post? I think their input and fresh memories would be helpful. You can also consider the cheapest ways to get the things you forgot or did not realize you needed – probably the Goodwill or another thrift store. Kids should also try to talk to students at their school of choice before they move in to see what is available to them and at what hours. You and your kids will also benefit from any sleep away camp experiences. These can teach you and them what they want and need before they out as freshman.

  80. sara says:

    I moved into my first dorm room in college with the intent to movie into another building ASAP, so I brought very few things with me. It was very depressing. Eventually I decorated and brought more items and it made it feel so much more like home.

    Some items I found to be essential:
    -lap desk
    -the stuffed half chair (for studying on the bed)
    -huge coffee mug (roommate broke this in 3rd year!)
    -a big bin for laundry

    A smart aunt gave me these items as a gift and I used every item EVERY SINGLE DAY. Can’t get more essential than that. But I never would have thought of any of them as necessary. Live and learn!

  81. sara says:

    I moved into my first dorm room in college with the intent to move into another building ASAP, so I brought very few things with me. It was very depressing. Eventually I decorated and brought more items and it made it feel so much more like home.

    Some items I found to be essential:
    -lap desk
    -the stuffed half chair (for studying on the bed)
    -huge coffee mug (roommate broke this in 3rd year!)
    -a big bin for laundry

    A smart aunt gave me these items as a gift and I used every item EVERY SINGLE DAY. Can’t get more essential than that. But I never would have thought of any of them as necessary. Live and learn!

  82. Sunshine says:

    I agree with most of the posters above – the point of the post is great, but a few other items needed to be added.

    I would also add to the list that if one is going to use the microwave to cook with, have some cookware. Just a couple of those pyrex bowls that go from the fridge to microwave. I rarely used the dining hall and cooked a lot of stuff in the microwave. I had a small corning ware, a large cereal-type bowl (for ramen) and a lg coffee cup (ramen and soups), and a plate. That got me through my cooking needs.

    My roommate turned me on to “mexican” food and pasta as a super cheap way to eat but get some decent nutrition.

  83. Pat says:

    Adam has the right idea. My family has always lived rather frugalally and when we travel we pack rather light (a month in England – one carryon suitcase only). When my oldest left for college 3 years ago she tended to use this same sense. 8 sets of clothing and a nice suit. She wears all clothes (except underthings) more than once and does laundry on opposite saturdays when campus is pretty empty. Her first year there she was appalled by the amount of clothing other students brought with them. She does have a small frig, which I consider a necessity in this age. An alarm clock, and (oddly enough) a broom, which it turns out has been borrowed by about everyone on her floor at some point. A folding chair found it’s way to her dorm last year and a room-size rug on the cold floor too. Kids do need their own sheets, blankets, etc. She also had alot of postcards from places that we had visited as a family hung collage-style on her half of the bulletin board. It was cute and homey. Those WalMart ads really bug me when they insinuate that people have to buy desks, chairs, fancy bedding. I sure hope most parents don’t fall into that trap. Students do need their own lap-tops though and a mug for hot cocoa/soup whenever. Less is more.

  84. Anna says:

    I went to college even before Fred Flintstone (when #48 A.M.B.A. attended with his/her electric typewriter). My keyboard was on a portable Hermes manual typewriter, which the typewriter people assured me was the model taken into remote lands by archaelogists and other rugged types. I sat on my bed with the typewriter on my lap (hey—the earliest form of laptop!) and typed all my papers on it. The Hermes lasted me for years and years, while I wore out ribbon after ribbon, until I obtained, wow, an electric typewriter.

  85. Chris says:

    Saving time, money, and energy are great goals. Further, minimizing clutter is a key objective. With that in mind, students should use a packing list and challenge themselves to justify the item. You can find a great comprehensive packing list at http://www.dorminabox.com. The company currently sells directly to colleges on behalf of all students, but plans to sell to individuals next year. They provide three kits worth over $1200 for only $349 and deliver them directly to each dorm room so it’s there when they arrive.

  86. Caroline says:

    I wish I had been smarter about stuff then too. I took so many things I didn’t need (including tons of weird clothes from thrift stores). Funny thing was I didn’t even have a computer at the time, and not everybody had a cell phone yet (it was 1999) – but these are actually useful items! Stuff stuff stuff – books I didn’t have time to read, an entire cd collection (how ipods have changed things!). My parents tried to tell me I wouldn’t need it all, but I wasn’t listening. I paid for everything myself, so why wouldn’t I need it, right?

  87. reulte says:

    Dorm clutter . . nope, I didn’t take a lot initially because I was only 3 hours from ‘home’ and could get anything else I needed during the weekend. I think what stopped me from bringing too much was that I visited campus at the end of semester and saw everything that was being discarded!

    However, one semester, I brought the family van, parked it near the library and gym . . . and slept in that for a semester. It made for having a great parking space in the mornings.

  88. Shelly says:

    I definitely agree that those retailers go overboard (aside from the fact that you don’t need it, do they really understand how *small* most dorms are?), I also agree with the majority of the other comments that mentioned that this list here is a little extreme.

    The 5 days of clothes thing is a big one. If the weather varies, you’re going to need more than that. If you do an internship, student teaching, etc., you’re going to need dressy clothes as well as casual stuff. And most students don’t want to spend every 5 days in the laundry room doing their laundry. Plus, if you’re looking to be frugal, just think of how much it will cost to do that laundry every 5 days! Some colleges offer free washers/dryers, but others still charge, and you’ll be going through a lot more detergent (and don’t tell me you’re going to make your own detergent on-campus!). It will also cost a lot more in the way of time with all of those smaller loads.

    When I was in college, I did my laundry every 1-2 weeks. So I would suggest enough clothes for 14 days. At least then, when you’re doing laundry, the washer and dryer are actually full, so you’re saving money and making the most of your time.

    And the mini-fridge — this was *very* useful for storing leftovers, cold water, and snacks. The dining hall isn’t open 24/7, so having these things on-hand saved me from wasting money on vending machines. When I had a roommate, we split up who brought what of the bigger items and we shared. It cut on clutter but still allowed us to have some of the nice things.

    I happen to work for a college-planning magazine, and we have a couple of lists that I think are a little less extreme. There are a few things that aren’t absolutely essential, but they’re not as out there as the retailer lists. I linked my name to my favorite one.

  89. Caroline says:

    But hey – even if you want all that unnecessary stuff, the best way to get it is to roll up to the dorms when when everyone’s moving out the semester before you move in. All that crap that gets thrown away – most of it perfectly good – can be yours!

  90. Caroline says:

    But hey – even if you want all that unnecessary stuff, the best way to get it is to roll up to the dorms when everyone’s moving out the semester before you move in. All that crap that gets thrown away – most of it perfectly good – can be yours! Even if you’re going somewhere far from home, any college dorm will do. That’s some of the best “dumpster” diving!

  91. ema002 says:

    I definitely agree with bringing as little as possible. I had way too much starting off at college as well. I’m not sure how your dorm worked, but we had to bring bedding too – not sure if that would fit in your bag (although I would have been content sleeping in my compressible down sleeping bag).

    Also, you mention a prepaid phone for areas where you won’t have a WiFi signal. My husband and I have been looking for a pre-paid phone that does not require that you buy more minutes every 90 days or pay a small monthly fee. Have you found one? We would love to not pay monthly for cell phones but just load up a phone with minutes (that don’t expire)for emergencies and just use Skype/AIM on our computers for everything else, when we have internet. Does anyone know of a company that does that?

  92. Shelly says:

    Ha, forgot to link my name because I never bother giving a website when I post comments. The middle-ground list is above.

    (don’t mean to spam though, so feel free to delete if you think it’s such.)

  93. I haven’t read through all of the comments, so please excuse me if I’m repeating something. But I find your list a bit lacking, and I just graduated this past May.

    My university provided a microfridge in all of the dorm rooms, so buying one of those would just be silly. But it was very useful.

    Sheets and a blanket/comforter are also essential if you ask me. We had what we thought were the cheapest mattresses the university could find. Not something you’d want to sleep on. Plus the beds always doubled as a couch and you don’t want your friends sitting on that nasty thing either.

    We also had a dresser provided, so having more than 5 days of clothes was not a big deal at all. I did end up bringing too many shirts though.

  94. Blair says:

    My biggest bit of clutter was my CD collection. I should’ve just ripped everything into mp3s and left the jewel cases at home.

  95. Kim says:

    I think this is the difference between men and women. Women want their rooms to be PRETTY and HOMEY. What you are describing is a barrack. Pillows, blankets, photographs, rugs and stuffed animals can do a lot to make a home-sick student feel a little closer to home.

  96. Jessica says:

    I agree with many of the comments Trent. Linens are a must. Pillow good too. A laundry bag/basket is helpful to get those 5 days of clothes to the washer and laundry detergent helps. You can’t seperate most high schoolers for their cell phones and i-pods so those come too.
    These days I think the best cost saving measure is to contact your roomate(s) ahead of time. Let’s face it most college kids have allready found them on facebook. I had 4 roomates and one had an old microwave, one an old TV and so forth. So we didn’t need to buy all that stuff.

  97. Karen says:

    Ahhh…..memories….I also brought a typewriter….and made money by typing friends papers for $1/page.

  98. gt0163c says:

    As I spent more time in college, I found there were more, but different things that I needed.
    I enjoyed camping/retreats with different organizations or just friends, so a sleeping bag was required. I didn’t go home very often, and when I did it was only an airplane, so I needed to keep both warm and cold weather clothing at school. I loved having a small couch/loveseat in my dorm room. It gave me somewhere else to sit rather than in the uncomfy desk chair or on my (loft) bed when I studied, especially when reading. Adding a bit of carpetting/rugs was also helpful and made sitting on the floor (my prefered study location when I wasn’t on the couch) much more comfy. I enjoy playing cards and some board games with friends, especially when we were bored and broke. So, it was nice to have some entertainment options like that. And having a small tool box served me and practially everyone on my hall well many, many times.

  99. DivaJean says:

    And here is where I bring out my old chestnut of a story….

    Every spring, hubby & I dumpster dive and garbage pick “supplies” college students leave behind— and have a garage sale every fall with the same stuff– cleaned up. Sets of dishes, mugs w/ coffee grounds stuck on, kitchen tables/chairs, desks, dressers, underbed storage, shoe storage, even down to paper, pens and school supply type items. We run stuff through the wash if its clothing or linen and through the dishwasher if its tableware. A little elow grease and all purpose cleaner to furniture type stuff. Most of it, we find from kids living off campus, but dorm dumpsters can be a treasure trove. One year we made $2k from this practice.

    It is my goal to have my kid NOT be one of the ones who has so much, they feel nothing of just throwing it all away each year.

  100. Jen says:

    I brought a 2-gallon plastic bucket. Very useful for many things.

  101. korgo says:

    this is college people, condoms! . okay and I love blankets, pillows, towels.. etc etc :)

  102. Christina says:

    I hope you don’t have girls or athletes among your children because I personally would go through 3 sets of clothes a day depending on my schedule(class, work, and practice). Multiple nice outfits are a must if you are planning on joining a fraternity or sorority or interviewing for a job (At my school it is requried to be wearing business attire to enter the career fairs).

    As it was stated before, college is not just about going to class and studying- if it was they wouldn’t look at all your extracurriculars before you were admitted. That small dorm room is your home for most of the year, and it’s okay to bring a few extra things to make you feel at home. I personally overpack when I go away for one night, so for my freshmen year, yes, I brought too much stuff. Over time, I learned what I needed and each year I brought less and less.

    and a note about buying new things: going to college is a big deal. For most people, it is the first time they’ll be living on their own and their parents want to make sure they have EVERYTHING they need. My parents were of the opinion that if a little extra money bought them the peace of mind to know that I would be able to survive on my own, then they were okay with that.

  103. Steffie says:

    Sewing supplies are a necessity. Mommie will not be there to sew on a button on your pants 10 minutes before class or that big presentation ! Those little sewing kits at the dollar store are enough to get you through the semester. Of course this is a good way to get to know the others in your dorm. Once people know that you can sew on a button, you will be very popular.

  104. Sarah T says:

    I don’t actually want to comment on what you might need for college, but on this part of your article:

    “wouldn’t it be better to find out the items that you actually need rather than buying a bunch of stuff you think you might need in advance?”

    I have to tell you that the answer is usually, but not always, yes :) When I started riding a bicycle a lot, for example, I was very resistant to buying specialized gear, which seemed like a waste of money and storage space. I now have a pretty full range of bike gear — and a painful story of how I learned about the importance of each piece! It turns out that you do actually need bike shorts (to prevent unmentionable blisters), wicking jerseys (if you’re going to ride to work and home and don’t want to put a sweaty tee back on), and wraparound sunglasses (to keep cars from squirting windshield washer fluid in your face).

    In short, in this case, I could have saved myself a lot of pain by willingingly taking the advice of experts on what I would need.

    Here’s the complicated question that arose for me, though: when I was first getting into biking, I bought some things in cheap versions because I wasn’t sure how much use I’d get out of them. When I started riding a lot, these nearly invariably proved inadequate to my needs. How do you balance initial investment with the possibility that a new hobby might not be one that sticks?

  105. Dave says:

    I think the point of the article is to not get carried away. If I were going to college, I’d probably have a very similar packing list. Add linens, a laundry basket, detergent, a pair of slippers and extra clothes for me.

    See here if you don’t remember what getting carried away is all about: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-life/82285-z-what-bring-college.html?highlight=packing+list

  106. Dean says:

    Ouch, how much do US dorms suck? In the UK I paid £45 (90 USD ish) per week for a room to myself. I shared two bathrooms, and a kitchen fitted with 2 fridges, 2 freezers, 2 cookers, microwave and toaster. Heating, electricity and internet were all included. Tuition fees then (graduated two years ago) were capped at £1500 per year.

    Things that you need:
    At least seven, probably fourteen sets of underwear and tee shirts, half as many jeans and a couple of jumpers (climate depending). One pair of trainers. Doing laundry sucks, the laundrette have high capacity washing machines and you likely already have more than five sets of clothes anyway.

    Laptop, toiletries, hand towel, body towel, bedding, one set of eating stuff, one wok and one pan. A cell phone is an absolute must.

  107. Dean says:

    Shared = shared with 6 other people. For an extra £10 per week I could have had ensuite toilet and shower. My room did have it’s own wash basin.

  108. Griffin says:

    They have those “college in a box” things that I really wish had been around when I started college. They can save money, depending on what’s in them. Some of the better ones are from Box-o-Box, but they can be pretty pricey. You can make your own pretty easily.

    The big savers are the ones that break up huuuge packages and give you the part you will actually use.

  109. LisaZ says:

    I’m assuming that Trent’s kids will make friends with the kids that brought everything (simple tool kit, tiny sewing kit, digital camera, tv, basketball, can opener, Frisbee, etc.)

    I recall bringing tons of consumables (toiletries, paper, etc.) because then the parents paid for it instead of it coming out of my pocket.

  110. Sharon L says:

    Don’t forget a deck of cards! (Electric typewriter days… Ah,the memories of trying to get footnotes properly formatted!)

  111. Jakob Kastelic says:

    What about software you need for college? I think MS Office and LaTeX are a must, maybe other software

  112. DB Cooper says:

    What about a frisbee? A ball glove? A football to toss, or a basketball to bounce? Running shoes & clothes? A bike? Got to have some time to recreate or I’d go crazy! Seriously, I don’t go anywhere without a frisbee. Have to live a little!

  113. CollegeCheap says:

    I agree with Frugal New Yorker — it is costly to do laundry when you live in school housing. I did the calculations and the difference between taking enough clothing for five days and taking enough for seven days is just over $30.

  114. CollegeCheap says:

    BTW college ladies, if you really need to find extra room in your budget let me suggest forgoing the “intimate relations.” You won’t implode, and chances are the only things you’ll miss out on are a source of drama and spending 100 bucks a year on generic medication.

    Controversial, perhaps, but no crazier than peeing in the shower to save water.

  115. Joyful Abode says:

    Yeahhhhhh I know you’ve heard it a million times in the comments above, but your idea of going to college with a light load is great, while the actual list needs some work.

    I had to bring my own towels to school – they didn’t provide those. Did your school give you towels? Bath mat? Cleaning supplies?
    What about bedding? Sure there was a bed, but sheets, comforter, pillow(s), were brought from home.

    I also brought basic cooking supplies and bought some ingredients/easy to make stuff so that I could cook for myself when my meal-plan meals for the week were used up and/or when I missed the meal time due to studying, class, whatever… much more frugal to have a way to cook for yourself than to go out to eat in those cases.

    And if you’re doing laundry every 5 days, surely you’d need detergent, dryer sheets (if you use them), stain removers, etc… right? More frugal to get stains out of your clothes than to buy new ones.

    Come on… good idea, poor execution.

  116. Alex L says:

    Hmm. This is comment 81, and if anyone reads this one, you are super. (:

    I’m not even in college yet (senior), and I already know that this list will not cut it for any student who plans to LIVE during college. By LIVE I don’t mean go out party, drink, etc. I mean getting a social life, meeting friends that you’ll be with for four years.

    That’s kind of a random tangent, but something to keep in mind.

    If my parents sent me off with that, I would…not like it. Don’t get me wrong, I do not consider myself to be spoiled, and I have a pretty good understanding of their own expenses. However this is just kind of not enough.

    First off – clothes. I’m a guy and I like looking nice – nothing wrong with that. I am definitely bring more than 5 days worth of clothes. Wearing the same few shirts every day for even one year is just tacky. Sometimes, depending on which group you’re in, you might need a tux, suit, or semi-formal wear. I’m not going to include any of THAT into my ‘5 day’ regimen. Pants/jeans/shorts, meh. Doesn’t really matter, I guess. But still, if anyone expects to have any social life, 5 outfits will not cut it.

    Additionally, who really has time to do laundry every 5 days? Especially as a college student and when finals roll around…

    Everything else is just pushing it. I don’t want really list everything I’m going to pack, but I’ll categorize it.

    College IS for studying, but it’s learning to live too. During those moments when you’re not studying, what would you do in free time, with that list you’ve listed. Sometimes a TV might not be a bad idea. Maybe some sport activity.

    What people mentioned above pretty much covers what I have to say.
    Homesickness. I am definitely going to bring some pictures with me, even though they’re all available on Facebook. But there are some pictures that I just want in person. Senior yearbook as well.

    I dunno. There are some things that you just HAVE to bring with you, I think. If you’re like right by home (i.e. from where I live, UCLA/USC is 1 hour away), sure, don’t bring TOO much.
    But if I were to go to New York or even anywhere out of state, I would need to bring more.
    Think about it – if you’re an hour away, anything you need you can just drive to pick up.
    Further – not so easy.

    Sometimes the ‘bare necessities’ are not always the best for four years of your life.

  117. I haven’t read all the comments yet, good suggestions but I really like the gist of the article. I am such a planner and take everything that I think I might need and I overload myself by about 70% most of the time (i.e. I only need about 30% of what I brought). Linked to this on my weekly roundup under my name. Thanks!

  118. Jackie says:

    I just finished my freshman year of college, and I have to say that I used nearly everything I brought. In fact, the biggest thing that I brought and never used, you put on your list! I bought a desk lamp, turned it on once in around november, it took me ten minutes to try to get it to actually point to my work. I failed, at which point i quit and just turned it off. Biggest waste of room ever. After that night I took it off my desk and stored it under the bed.
    Also, I would say to bring not just one set of linens, but two sets. You don’t know how many times people came in my room, saw my unmade bed and went “Ewww do you EVER change your sheets?” simply because I put the same sheets back on my bed after I washed them. It’s embarrassing.
    TV is a must, nothing cures a Saturday hangover better than sitting in bed with your friends all day watching movies, and a laptop is WAY too small for more than one person to watch.
    I used my microwave daily, as well as the fridge, and although my roommates took care of them because I brought the TV, if I didn’t have roommates it would have been worth it to buy it myself.
    I was in a slightly unique situation because I lived in a forced triple, so we only had two closets and dressers for three girls, so in that situation I would also suggest a second closet bar that can be hung from the original, and maybe an extra set of drawers. My roommate had a set of drawers and without it we never could have split dresser space for all of us. I got the second closet bar halfway through the year, and it was great so that my roommate and I didn’t have to alternate laundry days anymore to get both of our clothes in one closet.
    Also, just a question, Where in the world did you get such a HUGE backpack that could fit five days worth of clothes, a computer, a lamp, and toiletries? Sounds like a magical backpack to me. My toiletries alone took up an entire storage bin. Of course since you’re a man, toiletries probably doesn’t include hairbrush, hairspray, hairdryer, makeup, tampons, perfume and such, so I could see that not taking up much space. It’s also true, my older brother needed much less stuff simply because he’s male. You men really need to get a clue though.

  119. Tyler says:

    “A small reading lamp For studying and taking notes in dim lighting. I’d get a very tiny clip one that could go anywhere, powered by LEDs.”

    You know, I’d actually get an LED reading lamp powered by batteries. LEDs have a tough time holding a charge…

  120. I agree with minimal approach in packing. Beside list i would suggest more things such as bedding supplies, cell phone etc.

    However, I cannot agree with just 5 change of clothes. It’s just not practical. I will make it at least 14-21 because doing laundry in college is not as easy as home, may conflict with last minute dash to finishscollege work. Above all, do people really wear same 5 things over and over again?

  121. Chris Cruz says:

    Just about everybody wishes they did something different in college. Whether it was take a different major or go after a girl you never had the balls to approach. College is more than a learning experience in the classroom. It’s transitioning from childhood to adulthood. So you’re definitely going to do somethings you’ll learn from and regret

  122. Ms. Ferret says:

    I was very minimalist in college, but don’t know if I could recommend it for most people. I came to college with basically a backpack and a duffel bag — I moved to WA from HI so it’s not like I could bring a steamer trunk with me on the plane, even back then.

    What I brought:
    – Enough jeans, T-shirts, and underwear to last a week or so. I was an angry metalhead girl in college so I didn’t care about having an endless supply of cute outfits. Yes, I did laundry a lot (IIRC in my dorm it was free).
    – One wool jacket I picked up at a Goodwill in HI. Previous to this I’d never needed a coat, so I only had a vague idea of what was required to survive a mainland winter. Yes, I was occasionally cold that year.
    – One pair of boots (I did buy a pair of athletic shoes later in the year, but never understood how my roommate could have so many pairs of shoes under her bed).
    – Rubber slippers for the bathroom.
    – A hand-knit blanket.
    – A knit cap and wool socks given to me by a mainland relative. I still have the cap.
    – A sleeping bag, used in place of an actual comforter.
    – A flask.
    – A swiss army knife.
    – A portable CD player and a couple of CDs.
    – Letters and pictures from family & friends back home.
    – A sewing kit.

    What I bought from Target upon arrival:
    – An alarm clock.
    – A lamp.
    – A pillow.
    – Two sets of sheets.
    – Two towels.
    – One shower bucket thing for toiletries.
    – Toiletries (soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss).
    – Paper, pens and envelopes.

    On one hand, I definitely didn’t bring too much stuff with me. I was able to focus on studies and socializing since I didn’t have any anti-social time-sucks in my dorm room (no TV, no video game console, no stereo).

    On the other hand, living this minimally can be kind of a drag, at least for the first few weeks. Sure, my section of the room was always neat, and I spent a lot of time out hanging out with friends instead of hanging out with my stuff — but I think that having so little stuff really made me feel more homesick than I would have felt with a little more friendly clutter. If I had to do it over again I’d probably bring some stuffed animals or something.

  123. Anna says:

    Well I approve the list in theory, but being English my university doesn’t have ‘dorms’ in the sense that you mean. We get a fridge with the room, and basic furniture, and since I have to fly to go there my stuff is necessarily limited. Although this cut down on tidying a bit, it did mean that my room looked somewhat Spartan!

    By the by could anyone tell me if it is true that you have to share a room sometimes in American dorms?

    And 5 outfits is not realistic. My university does several blacktie events, requiring at the very least two or three smart cocktail dresses etc, which doesn’t even include the outfits needed for class/ going places. I probably take several pairs of jeans, lots of jumpers and t-shirts, underwear, several dresses, several skirts and random other items, and I still find myself doing laundry fairly regularly

  124. This is a great post that should be applied to everyday life . . . minimalize and simplify.

    I hate to carry stuff!

  125. IASSOS says:

    Where does it say that you must change clothes every day? Three pairs of jeans at four days each will last for 12 days before washing. If they all look alike, nobody will know. Four shirts at three days each. And do your own calculation on underwear.

  126. Caroline says:

    I was thinking of this post again today (it made an impression when you originally wrote it) while figuring out what to get rid of next from my apt. I’m leaning toward minimalism in the most maximus way and I’m sick of distractions.

  127. Tony Marren says:

    If I had to repeat college again;
    this would be my supply of things to use.

    1. A supply of tee shirts from FinishLine shoe store–12–assorted colors

    2. Two hooded sweat shirts

    3. 2 crew collar sweat shirts

    4. Three pairs of black or blue denim pants

    5. White sweat socks by Dickies brands 12 pairs

    6. 12 pairs of underwear–fruit of the loom or hanes

    7. 2 pairs cross trainers and two pairs low cut oxfords

    8. One good poly or down outerwear vest for cold weather use if needed

    9. A good sturdy army surplus duffle bag king sized size XL to carry clothes

    10. Pillow,pillow cases (2) fitted sheets (2)

    11. comforter in full size or king sized

    12 LAPTOP–with appropriate programs for word processing and Internet connections

    13. A decent rain coat

    14. 3-4 polo golf shirts from Old Navy

    Make sure clothing is washable–not dry cleaned.

  128. Jessica says:

    I am going to college in the fall first time, and I am not leaving home. My college is less then 15 minutes away. But my mom wants to go out an spend 1000’s of dollars on things I dont want nor need. So since my birthday is Friday, I figured asking my friends and family for those things wouldnt be such a hassal. So I found this and I am sorry even if I werent leaving, how can anyone live off of 5 pairs of clothing I mean come on. PARTY’S, JOB INTERVIEWS. Have we heard of those things. I know college isnt just a place to learn or party, I plain on spending most my time studing and hanging out with my underclassmen from hight school. But my list for college is litteraly 21 items at the moment, because everything I need is already here. But if I were going to a college where i needed a dorm it would be more like 100 items. I know somethings I would never use, but the thought of being alone and with out the people I most care about bothers me. So I am sure it bothers most college students. I understand the mini list for beginers. But what you really need to do is use that list and think about your personality. I know for me, I am a shoe person so I would have a box or two full of shoes. Posters and Pictures, favorit blanket, those things define who you are. I do like the list for a starting point. But everyone is different and your personality will change in college from what it was in high school. But going in as a freshman your personality needs to be shown you dont want to send your kid off as a good kid whos never done a bad thing in there life, and they come back covered in tattoos whos prego and dating a guy whos goal in life is to go to 100 partys in a month. :) sorry but life is life people are people and needs are needs why waist time worring about what we cant change.

  129. Nancy says:

    Here’s one thing to consider. If you know for sure your child will be attending college, buy the essentials such as bedding and other non-perishable needs a full year ahead AFTER the back to school sales on clearance. We were able to get exactly what she wanted at 75% off the original prices.

  130. Nate Poodel says:

    Where did you all go to college? We weren’t allowed to have anything that produced heat in our dorm rooms. NO microwaves, NO irons, NO coffee pots etc…There was one microwave but it was locked up at night. I would have loved to have had a fridge but we could only have the smallest on possible. And, I never had money to fill it anyway. I was always forced to eat in the cafeteria and only the cafeteria.
    TVs were worthless as well because the university refused to outfit the rooms with cable. If you had a Tv you got to use the rabbit ears and hope for the best.

    If I was going into the dorms now I would take:
    1. a computer with the best printer I could afford.
    2. bedding
    3. school supplies
    4. contraception
    5. personal grooming products
    6. clothes

    That’s it! I don’t think I’d need anything else. LOL

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