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When you get to college, you get one space: your dorm room. That one little area becomes a kitchen, a bedroom, a dressing area, a gym, a study space and more — and you probably have to share it. That’s a lot of gear to pack into a small space. If it seems daunting, brush up on some organizing tips, roll up your sleeves and get ready to make every inch of space you get count.
But what items on the college packing list are really dorm room essentials, and what can you live without? Because the worst thing would be giving over tons of your precious closet space to a bulky appliance you’ll use a couple times in the first month and never look at again. (Ahem, iron and ironing board. That’s why Downy made the wrinkle release spray.) Before you head back to school, figure out what you’ll truly need with this checklist. Many of the items — including the bedding, bath and appliances — were top picks from the Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI), which is great because the last thing you want to do is pack, move and unpack something only to have it break. Others are editor favorites or Amazon bestsellers with stellar reviews. Stock up, and you’ll be ready for school.
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Those old college-issued twin XL mattresses have been around. If you’re sensitive sleeper, you might want to add a mattress topper to make your bed firmer, less lumpy and more comfy. Linenspa’s tested well with the GHI and comes in that awkward dorm-room size.
Whether you’re a side, back or stomach sleeper, you’re going to need some extra pillows to prop you up when you’re pulling an all-nighter on your bed with your laptop on your knees. These pillows tested well at the GHI and come in a pack of two.
Rugs help dampen sound for your neighbors below you, and they also keep you from having to step on cold floors first thing in the morning. This affordable rug also adds some much-needed color into a dorm space.
AeroSlim Handheld Vacuum
Robot™ XL Vacuum
When it comes to larger suites or shared apartments, more cleaning power might be necessary. With a self-emptying base, self-cleaning brushroll and room mapping, cleaning up after a late night snack has never been easier.
Your phone will never be able to wake you up like this. Not only is this alarm clock really, really loud, it has a disc that you can put in your bed that will shake you awake, just like Mom used to. Your GPA will thank you.
Plates, Bowls and Mugs
Even if you plan on spending most of your time eating in the dining hall, there are going to be days where you’re going to grab something back in your room. Be prepared with your own dinnerware: This set comes with plates, bowls and mugs that are safe to use in both the microwave and the dishwasher, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
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And don’t forget the spoons, knives and forks to go with it! This set comes with a neat rack to hang it all on, which is a boon for those who don’t get extra drawers.
Eventually the walls are going to be plastered with posters, photos and handbills, but when you first ship out to school, a plain cinderblock wall can be depressing. These prints look like real art, but come at college-student prices.
These super-affordable towels received strong scores from the GHI for absorbency, drying speed, softness and fabric strength. And at this price, you can buy a ton of them and procrastinate on doing laundry.
There’s not much you can do about the communal shower situation in a dorm. It’s best to invest in a good pair of waterproof sandals to wear in and out of the bathroom. The classic Adidas shower sandals are also available in men’s sizes and in a range of colors. You could also go with the very budget-friendly Vertico shower-ready flip-flop (currently just $13).
It might be a long walk from your dorm room to the shower, and you don’t want to be fumbling around with a towel the whole time. Find a nice soft bathrobe to wear for those trips down the hall. This one-size, budget-friendly bathrobe is a hit with both GHI testers and Amazon reviewers.
And what about all those shower supplies? This mesh caddy is big enough to take everything you need to and from the shower, and it can also be folded down flat when it’s empty to save space.
They’re light, portable, keep clutter tucked away and you can fit them somewhere in your dorm room — even if it’s under your bed. With the IRIS system, you can choose three, four, five, six, seven or ten drawers.
Bulletin Board/Dry Erase Board
Keep yourself organized, remind yourself about tests and projects, leave messages for your roommates and tack up some photos from home — all you need is a little bit of wall space.
Don’t go on the hunt for your most-used devices every morning. This stand wirelessly charges a smart phone, smart watch and ear pods, and it is compatible with Apple and Samsung devices.
It’s always a good idea to have extra seating for friends, or a cozy place to curl up and read. This eye-catching chair comes with a memory-foam cushion for extra comfort.
There’s going to be a time when you’re going to need to drown out loud music, roommates talking, or some other distracting noise and hit the books. The GHI liked this pair because it was more affordable than true noise-cancelling headphones, and they stayed in place very well.
Texting and FaceTime works, but snail mail feels really special. Stock up on some greeting cards and postcards to send to friends at other schools, and make checking those little P.O. boxes less of a fruitless endeavor.
Depending on your school, you might need to bring a wastebasket with you. Try to find one that doesn’t take up too much of your precious storage space, like this skinny one from Umbra.
This mirror is ready to hang over your closet or dorm-room door — no tools necessary! Plus, you can take it with you year after year.
Or, if you’d rather use your over-door real estate for more storage space, and over-the-door organizer can help you keep your essentials within reach. This four-pocket version has more than 20,000 positive reviews on Amazon.
Card Holder for Your Phone
At some schools, students barely ever use cash — the student ID is everything. Slide the ID into one of these adhesive card holders, which uses 3M technology to stick to the back of the phone. After that, good to go to the cafeteria without a wallet or purse.
Sure, you’ll probably be able to take class notes on your laptop. But, when inspiration strikes, there’s nothing like having pen + paper handy.
Weekly Planner Notepad
Yes, you probably have an electronic planner that keeps you up-to-date on your appointments, classes and deadlines. But for those little reminders that you need to see at a glance, this planning notepad makes it easy to take notes and tack them up on a bulletin board.
Because you need a place to hang up your towels. Command hooks stick to many different surfaces, hold strong and don’t damage walls when you take them down at the end of the year.
Duck Nano Grab Gel Tape
Since you can’t drill a ton of holes in the walls, when you need a quick stick, try this unusual tape. It’s strong — a five-foot roll can hold 20 pounds — but it’s also removable, washable and reusable. It’s great for decorations, quick fixes and the like. You can even use it to stick your phone to the wall to take a selfie!
Something no one ever warns college students about: You will never have enough plugs. Since you’re bound to have many devices to charge, it’s best to bring some backup.
Furniture Assembly Tool
If there’s a lot of flat-pack furniture in your future (hello, IKEA Billy bookcase!), this tool has different screwdriver bits and a bit that’s a hex wrench/Allen key. Genius! You’ll have your room all set up in a snap.
Rules about small appliances differ between schools, so you’ll have to check to see if you’re allowed hot plates, electric kettles, microwaves, or coffee makers. But if the rules allow or you’re heading to an off-campus apartment, this slim machine brews coffee from grounds or pods directly into a travel mug.
And about that mug: It wouldn’t hurt to have a few backups, especially one as pretty as this. (Note to parents: A personalized coffee tumbler makes a great gift!)
Plants make a dorm room feel all the more homey. These cork planters are just the right size, and you can use them as desk organizers if you’re not interested in greenery. (Note: Plants are not included, so BYO succulent.)
Multi-Purpose and Disinfectant Cleaner
It’s estimated (by me) that 90% of all college cooking takes place in a microwave. The GHI testers note that this microwave offers a lot of oomph (1,000 watts) considering the price.
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