NEW YORK CITY -- When New Yorker Wendy Koch's son Bob headed off to Ithaca College freshman year, the car was loaded with great stuff -- too much of it.
That the nice Pottery Barn rug barely fit in the car should have been the tip-off.
"We were taking our seventh trip up three flights of stairs to the tiny dorm room in stifling temps when his roommate turned to Bob and said, 'You could probably make a lot of money selling all this stuff on eBay,' " Koch recalls. "There just wasn't room in the room."
Making the shopping list for the first college living experience is exciting, but pros say to be prudent about how much stuff you buy. Rooms often seem smaller than the floor plans indicate. That spacious looking common room? More like a foyer. And as one veteran of the dorm wars notes, you will never again have the closet space you did at home.
So think about smart storage that maximizes space yet looks good.
Unless you are able to repurpose them as tables, suitcases may not be the best option; they might not fit under the bed or in the closet. Collapsible, storable bags work great. Samsonite's sturdy nylon Tote-a-Ton bag has 6,452 cubic inches of space. Dormco.com has the Clothes & Go system, which lets you take hanging clothes right out of the closet into foldable bags with a shoulder strap -- at the dorm, just rehang.
Bed, Bath & Beyond's got a ventilated, clear vinyl six-shelf sweater rack that hangs on a rod -- easy to see what's in it. Some online shoppers have raved about the retailer's Dorm Space Saver, which assembles with no tools and, being the same width as the bed, serves as an extra headboard or footboard with shelves.
Meg Volk, who graduated this spring from the Fashion Institute of Technology and has traded a tiny dorm room for an equally tiny studio apartment in New York City, recommends "small, lightweight, wheeled dress racks that will fit in your closet" for added hang space. If you do need to come with suitcases, she suggests, use them for out-of-season storage and last semester's papers.
Dorm gear is often grouped by classic gender colors and patterns -- pinks, purples, baroque and animal prints for girls, and surfer, sports, blues and browns for guys. It's better to choose neutral bedding that you won't tire of, and put the pattern and color punch in posters and memorabilia collected during the school year.
Ikea's Dokument series of functional mesh metal desk accessories might appeal to girls or guys. Its Kassett boxes are cheap and sturdy storage options for papers; choose from an array of colors including white, black and orange. The Olesby lamp is a good-looking task light. And Ikea's giant plastic shopping bags make great dirty clothes totes, for the Laundromat or for the bus ride home to free cleaning.
Dormco's Bunk Pocket is a convenient neoprene catchall for electronics that slips over a bedpost.
Kenyon College junior Trevor Ezell, who recently returned from studying in England and traveling around Europe, says a duffel bag was brilliant for studying abroad.
"They can be expanded to hold lots of stuff, yet collapsed to store away easily," he says.
What not to pack for long-distance study?
"Anything other than clothes," Ezell advises. "Students studying abroad run the risk of bringing things that might prevent them from absorbing local culture. If you bring a basketball, you might not throw a rugby ball. Bring one overcoat, not several. And one dress-up outfit."
Good advice even for students not headed to foreign lands.
Bed, Bath & Beyond and Walmart offer services that let you shop online and pick up the items in or near the college town. If your child is flying or your car is small, it's a great option.