Decking Out the Dorm: Tips for Furnishing Your College Kid's Home Away From Home

by Team HomeServe
Cute teen bedroom

Dorm rooms are the perfect stepping stone into adult life. College students get a taste of independence and have some of the responsibilities of being an adult — albeit it with a safety net. You might even have dreams of turning your child's old bedroom into a home office or gym once you move them out.

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Bringing the essentials of dorm room life helps set your child up for success, but packing too much stuff could be an issue since dorm rooms are limited in size. Follow this guide on what to bring to college to make sure your college kid's dorm room is fun and functional.

What Should a Student Bring to College?

Most colleges provide the basic furniture to outfit the dorm room — a bedframe, mattress, desk, chair and some form of storage — so you primarily need to bring personal items. Your child will be living there full time, so they'll need all of the items they use on a regular basis. That said, you might need to scale back. If your child has an extensive book or shoe collection, for example, it's best to limit it to just a few beloved items.

Customize the list for your college student based on their needs. This helps you stay organized and avoid packing too many things. Look at your child's schedule and activities planned for college to help decide what to bring. Items that aren't necessities can wait until your child settles in and decides if they want them at college.

If your college kid has one or more roommates, coordinate with them on what you bring. Duplicate items are a waste of space. Before you move in, check to see who’s bringing the mini fridge and who’s bringing the sofa.

Put these items on your college packing list:

Bedding and Sleep

Almost all colleges provide the mattress, but you’ll need to bring the bedding. Dorm room mattresses are usually twin XL, which require special sheets since the mattress is an extra 5 inches long. Pack sheets, pillows and blankets for the bed. Some colleges allow you to loft the beds, creating extra space underneath. This requires a loft bed kit (usually available through the campus store or resident services) or the supplies to build a loft frame yourself.

Other bed and sleep-related items to consider include:

  • Bedside caddy that attaches to the side of the bed, especially if you're lofting the bed
  • Alarm clock
  • Sleep mask and earplugs to block out light and noise from roommates
  • Clip-on lamp or reading light

Clothing and Shoes

Scope out the dorm closet size before your college student packs clothing to keep it manageable. If space is limited, bring just a season's worth of clothes at a time. When your college student comes home for the weekend or for semester breaks, swap out the clothes for the next season. Outerwear for the colder season takes up lots of space, so leaving coats and boots at home until they're needed can help.

Consider the clothing and shoes needed for various activities, such as:

  • Class
  • Work or job interviews
  • Going out
  • Exercising
  • Other activities your child plans to do at college

Don't forget laundry items to keep those clothes clean. Pack a laundry basket, detergent and lots of quarters for the laundromat. A collapsible drying rack can also come in handy.

Closet Organizers

Whether or not your college student is a fashionista with an abundance of clothes, their dorm room might not offer a lot of storage space. Grabbing some closet organizing tools or building a DIY closet organizer makes it easier to utilize the space well. A plastic drawer set is an inexpensive option.

Small Furniture

Depending on the dorm room size and setup, you might want a few small furniture pieces. Most colleges provide dressers, but your child might want a nightstand, small TV stand or other furniture pieces to make the space functional. IKEA furniture is an inexpensive option that works well for dorm rooms.

Seating is another consideration. Dorms might include a chair with the desk, but additional seating is usually up to you. Coordinate with roommates to decide if someone should bring a futon, loveseat or other options.

Cooking Items and Small Appliances

Some dorms have shared cooking areas, so you may wish to bring a few utensils, pots or pans so your student can make use of the space. In dorms without kitchens, bringing a few small appliances lets your college kid keep snacks handy. Check the rules before you buy anything; many schools ban hot plates and similar items that could start a fire.

Consider packing these small appliances:

  • Dorm-sized refrigerator
  • Microwave
  • Coffee pot or electric water kettle
  • Handheld vacuum for quick cleanups
  • Floor fan or clip-on fan to attach to the bed
  • TV
  • DVD player
  • Video game systems
  • Radio or speakers

If your child plans to eat in the dorm room, grab utensils and a sturdy set of plastic dinnerware. A water bottle or travel coffee mug is also useful for staying hydrated during class.

Personal Items

The personal items your college kid packs depend on their normal routine. Have your child consider what they use in a day and the extras they might need at college, like:

  • Toiletries
  • Medication
  • First-aid kit
  • Shower caddy
  • Shower shoes
  • Towels and washcloths
  • Hairdryer and other hair styling tools
  • School supplies

Since learning is the ultimate goal of college, your student will need to bring some school-related items. Most colleges provide a desk for each student in the dorm room, but you may also need:

  • Desk lamp
  • Desk organizer
  • Laptop
  • Backpack
  • Noise-canceling headphones to focus while studying
  • Whiteboard
  • Calendar
  • Surge protector
  • Planner
  • Standard office supplies (pens, pencils, notebooks, folders)
  • Extra chargers

Avoid buying too many school supplies. Your student can always grab more items at the campus store if necessary. Some professors might require certain items, such as a graphing calculator for a math class or a specific type of notebook. These things are easy enough to buy later.

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Decorative Items

While decorative items are optional, it's often comforting to have a touch of home or things that show off the college student's personality. Dorm rooms are often plain and boring, so those little items make them homier.

An area rug softens a hard floor and adds a cozy look to the space. You likely can't nail anything to the wall, so any wall decor should be light enough to hang with tape or removable wall hooks. Tapestries, posters and string lights are popular options.

Miscellaneous Items

Some items don't get used often, but they're important to have in case they're needed. These items might vary by student depending on the circumstances, but here’s a good list to get started:

  • Umbrella
  • Boots
  • Bike
  • Bike lock
  • Flashlight
  • Tool kit
  • Contact list
  • ID
  • Insurance card
  • Car registration
  • Other important documents

What Should You Not Bring to College?

Some things are better left at home. Start with the things that are prohibited by the college. This typically includes weapons or items that could start a fire. You should also avoid things your student doesn’t often use or things that may take up a lot of space. Avoid items that take up a lot of space.

Leave these items at home:

  • Anything prohibited by the school
  • Unnecessary or bulky furniture
  • Duplicates of items shared with roommates
  • More than two sets of towels or bedding
  • Valuable items — especially irreplaceable items
  • Bulky luggage
  • Pots and pans
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Lots of books
  • Bulky sporting equipment
  • A lot of high school memorabilia (which can hold your child back from fully experiencing college)

Can You Bring a TV to Your Dorm?

Most colleges allow you to bring a TV to your dorm. With the popularity of streaming services, many college students opt to stream shows to a laptop instead. If you plan to bring a TV, coordinate with your roommate to avoid having two.

Can You Bring Your Own Mattress to College Dorms?

College dorms typically provide bedframes and mattresses, so you likely won't be able to bring your own mattress. You may choose to bring a foam mattress topper to make the standard bed more comfortable.

Review Guidelines on Dorm Room Essentials

Every college is different, and even dorms at the same college may vary in size, what’s provided, what you can bring and what’s prohibited. For example, some colleges only allow students to use approved microwaves or mini fridges purchased or rented through the campus store.

Your best bet is to familiarize yourself with the college-specific guidelines before buying anything. Items that are potentially dangerous will likely be banned by the college, but those prohibited items vary, so check the information specific to your housing unit.