Home & Garden

Dorm with flair: Live in room for a few days before buying some items

As soon as the residence assignments are sent out, some college students are eager to feather their new dorm nest.

But don't go overboard.

Leave the blender, grill or popcorn maker at home, advises Laura Jeanne Hammond, publisher and editor-in-chief of Next Step magazine, which is aimed at high school students planning life after graduation.

"How many fresh-fruit smoothies will you really be making in your dorm room?" she asks.

She also nixes the coffee maker.

"Going out for coffee is a great way to make friends; drinking it alone in your dorm room is not."

Next Step's suggested gift list for new freshmen includes fun items like a cheat sheet on clothes washing, stick-up touch lights, and even a small plant or aquarium.

Some experts suggest holding off on purchases till you've spent a few days at school. In that case, friends and family might consider giving gift cards to stores in the college area.

Many colleges also have checklists of recommended items on their residence websites. Make sure you know what the school won't let you bring; it varies widely. And get in touch with upperclassmen to glean insider tips.

An informal survey of some recent freshmen offers these tips on what's truly worth taking:

Many students say some version of a tool kit is essential: a couple of screwdrivers, a small hammer, duct tape, hex wrenches, rechargeable batteries, flashlight, pliers, picture hanging items. There's often something that needs fixing after the parents leave.

Unless a loft-style bed awaits, bed-frame raisers get a nod; attached to each leg, they provide added storage space.

With the likelihood that roommates will bring a lot of the same stuff, a permanent marker helps identify personal items.

A large magnetized dry erase board is necessary for keeping track of schedules and leaving messages.

Some like collapsible clothes hampers. Many suggested packing a big duffel bag with stuff, then using it to store dirty laundry.

DVDs and something to play them on appeared on most lists, as a great way to break the social ice. Noise-canceling headphones keep welcome sound in, unwelcome sound out.

Fans, for cool comfort and sleep-inducing white noise.

Depending on where your campus is, a folding camp chair is useful for outdoor concerts or trips to the beach.

David Ladetto, a recent University of Massachusetts at Amherst grad, put a shower curtain at the top of his list. "It was one of the most useful items I brought with me," he explained. "It's an easy room divider, closet cover and privacy protector. I have to apologize to my mother for this one, because she was right. I ended up using a shower curtain for so many things my entire four years in college."

Some kind of basic filing system ranked high: You'll be keeping track of a lot of forms and important papers on your own now, and even a simple paper accordion file will do the trick.

Several rising sophomores bemoaned the general lack of dorm cleanliness. While you might not be able to get your roomie on the same hygiene page, you can stock up on mild air freshener (check on allergies first, or opt for a chemical-free air cleaner), some paper towels and an all-purpose cleaner.

Toilet paper, if you want something softer than what colleges typically provide.

And for stepping into residence showers, flip-flops were a nearly unanimous choice.

Allison Kramer, a student at Kenyon College in Ohio, advised stocking up on vitamin C.

"Unfortunately, you spend a fair amount of time at college being sick," she said.

A nice throw rug and "your favorite lamp from home" can help offset a dorm room's institutional feel. Because for all the fun and freedom to be found in a tiny dorm room, there's still space for homesickness. Pictures of high school friends also can be comforting, some said.

For Trevor Ezell, another Kenyon student, it was his record player that provided solace. "Listening to a long-forgotten album, I found myself unable to forget my family. Perhaps more than anything else, my records helped me return home."

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