Dorm Living

What to Pack for Dorm Living

It’s that time of year again!  Graduation parties are wrapping up, kids are getting those lists from their colleges on what they need to bring.  Parents are getting super overwhelmed.  I was there just last year so I know exactly how you are feeling and I am here to help!  I am soooo excited to share with you a post written by my daughter Emily!  She is 19 years old and just finished her first year away at college.  Emily is going to explain some things that worked, and didn’t, and what you REALLY need to pack for dorm living.


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Hello!  My name is Emily, and my mom is Wendy!  I just finished my freshman year.  College is so fun, and I cannot wait to go back for my second year!  The biggest adjustment to college life was dorm life.  I had never lived on my own, or with another person other than my family, who I never had to share a room with.  Buying all new stuff for my new life was so fun, but stressful at times.  Therefore, my mom and I want to help you out with some do’s and don’ts of packing for dorm life!




One of the most important things I had at school was my makeup mirror.  Not only because it was a magnifying mirror for doing makeup, but because it had a light on it.  My roommate and I were on completely different schedules second semester, she stayed up all night and slept through the day when I went to bed early-ish and got up well before she did for class.  I couldn’t just turn the light on and start getting ready for the day while she slept (no matter what time it was), and I couldn’t gather my shower stuff or get ready in the dark.  So, I had to find a solution to our switched sleeping patterns: I used my mirror light every day, and she used her lamp at night when I was asleep and she needed to do something in the room.  It is localized to my desk, but lit the room enough to allow me to grab something from the closet while not waking my roommate, unlike the overhead light or the lights we strung around the room.


A Brita

Two major struggles I had when I first moved in were money and water.  I live in the middle of nowhere in southwest Ohio, and the water is sketchy at best, so I bought water bottles and kept them cold in my fridge.  Not only was that expensive, I had to walk/bus 2 miles to Kroger, buy them, walk/bus 2 miles back with a 24-pack of water, then carry them up to my room every week.  It was difficult, expensive, and time consuming.  So, I finally bought a Brita and it was the best purchase I have ever made.  I just filled it up with sketchy Oxford water, let it filter, and chilled it in the fridge for delicious clean water.  


Keurig and Tupperware

Like I said, money was a huge problem when I first got to school.  The snacks my mom bought every week and the income I had suddenly stopped, and the Starbucks habit I had never given much thought to became $20 a week that I did not have.  A Keurig was a must have for me, it saved a ton of money because I stocked up on K cups before I left, then used my filtered Brita water in my room to make coffee every morning! Also, tupperware saved me a ton of money.  Put it in your backpack, bring it to the dining halls, put some food in it, put it back in your backpack, and go home.  It is a meal for when it is 5 degrees, snowing, and you don’t want to leave your room.  Or when it is past 8pm and all of the dining halls are closed and you haven’t eaten dinner yet (honestly, what college kid is done eating dinner by 8pm anyways?).


Smell Supplies

Even if you think you’re a pretty clean person, when there are two of you LIVING in a small room, it will start to smell a little funky.  Keep an upright laundry bin for your dirty clothes so they aren’t laying around the room smelling it up, and have a laundry bag to transport your clothes to the laundry room.  It is way easier to have a laundry bag than to carry around the basket every time you need to throw in a load!  Also, keep febreeze and Lysol stocked.  I went through a bottle a month, they were a life-saver.  I thought candles were a great idea to keep the room smelling great, but I quickly realized even though my RA didn’t know my name, let alone care if I had an open flame, it just wasn’t safe when there are two people living with a lot of stuff in a small room.  So if you want some extra good-smelling stuff around, use a wax melter instead of candles with open flames – much safer and more likely to be permitted by dorms than candles.



Only the Essentials

I brought a lot of crap to school.  When I say crap, I mean crap.  Those extra bottles of hand lotion you stole from a hotel five years ago – leave them at home!  While it is good to have one or two extras of the essentials you use every day (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, tampons, mascara, deodorant, etc.), don’t bring every cup you’ve ever acquired, all of the extra cosmetics you know you will never use, jewelry or makeup you haven’t worn since you were 12, and all of that stuff you know you won’t use but want to have “just in case”!


Extra/Out of Season Clothes and Shoes

Along the same lines, I brought my actual entire closet.  DO NOT do that.  YOU WILL NOT HAVE ROOM.  You will think you do, you don’t.  Trust me, I tried… and failed.  I try to only let myself bring the stuff I know I have worn in the past 6 months.  Make sure to bring stuff appropriate for the current season.  Trade out your closet over fall break, thanksgiving, winter break, spring break, etc with the stuff you left at home.  Always have a sweatshirt or two, but don’t bring your whole flannel collection and parka for August!  It is a waste of space and you will never use it.  Also, shoes.  For some reason I thought I was going to need all 7 pairs of sneakers, 6 pairs of heels, 8 pairs of Sperry’s, 12 pairs of flip flops, wedges, cowgirl boots, rain boots, the list goes on and on.  Bring a good amount of sneakers (you will wear them pretty much every day – class is far away), a few pairs of nice casual shoes, those boots you wear twice a week, rain boots (it rains, and now you don’t have a car so you have to walk a mile to and from class in it…bring a rain coat, umbrella, and rain boots!!!), shower shoes (a pair of old-navy flip flops), going-out shoes, and a few pairs of flip flops/sandals.  You most likely will not be attending any galas, business meetings, or any other real adult events that require stilettos and your Kentucky Derby best. (Rush is a whole other story – but they will let you know what to wear and when you will need to wear it).



As I am someone who travels to her friends for a sleepover with half her bedroom, I know leaving stuff behind is hard.  I brought all of my books and movies with me, along with other random clutter, and ended up taking it home the first time I went.  I felt like a fool having them, we don’t even have a DVD player!  Nor do we have the time to watch movie collections or read for fun (especially with gen-ed, weed outs, or any social studies courses).  If you enjoy reading, which I do, bring a book or two you can read on your down time, but trust me – I hardly got through one season of Grey’s my entire second semester I was so busy.  Clutter is hard to understand until you actually stand in that tiny room you’re supposed to live in, but I learned making the space feel clean and clutter-free was hard, but manageable when I removed stuff from the floor, leaving it open to walk around.  Only having a few decorations on my desk, clothes and books off the floor, and extra items like ottoman storage units out of the room or tucked under the bed helped a ton.

Overall, it took about a month to get the hang of dorm life no matter how many Pinterest posts I read.  My advice to you is enjoy your freshman year.  Spend as little time in your room as possible!  Go out and make friends and always do stuff.  Go to class, meet deadlines, talk to your professors, study hard and at the library, don’t go out every weekend, and enjoy freshman year.  It is the weirdest and best year of college, and almost always ends up being the best of the 4 (hopefully only 4).  Good luck, pack light, you got this!!


What do you think, natural born writer right?  I think so , but I am biased!  I will be completely honest, this girl did try to bring her whole room.  I don’t think they realize how small the room really is until they are standing in it with another person and all of their stuff just laying around.  It’s definitely overwhelming.  Below I am going to link some other organization things that Emily…I mean I….bought that she used to help organize all the crap 😆

Styling station – for hair dryers and straightners

Closet organizing hangers – this one is for tank tops, bathing suits – it holds a ton!

Vertical Hangers – This allows you to hang multiple shirts on one hanger, genius!

Vertical Hangers – These are for multiple pairs of pants/jeans

Hanging shoe organizer – for multiple pairs of shoes

Wide rolling cart with drawers – This was great for medicine, extra bathroom items and lots of other stuff.  And Emily put it right under her bed.


One thing Emily also did was put a rug on the floor in between beds, and have a cork board with pictures of all her favorite people from home.  She also had inspirational quotes above her bed….they need all the motivation they can.  She and her roommate coordinated their bedding, it wasn’t exactly the same but they used the same main colors then each had their own accents.  Here are some pictures of what her dorm room looked like:

Desk/Vanity Organization for Dorm Living

Three drawer chest for storing at the dorm.

The laundry basket for dorm living

Closet organization for dorm life

Dorm life

Necessities for dorm living.

Dorm Living

Dorm Living

Sorry for the dark photos….iphone pictures inside the dorm 😏

I hope this post has given you an idea of some good things to take to college and some things to just leave at home.  If you have anything to add in the do or don’t category I would love to hear about it!  Please leave your info in the comment section.  Have a wonderful year and good luck in college!!!


  • Kelli Denley

    This is SO true. I only lived on campus for 1 year, before I realized that it wasn’t for me. However, I loved the experience of meeting new people. The people on your floor really do become like family. But, I cannot express enough.. PACK LIGHT!! Hahah.

    • atlaneandhigh

      You are right about that, pack light! I am wondering Kelli, my daughter wrote that post, will she pack light as she goes back for her sophomore year in the dorm? We shall see….if I know her she will not! LOL

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