10 Must-Haves for the Dorm

If you’ve got a student heading off to college this fall, then you are probably elbows deep in lists and worries. But one thing you don’t need to stress about is what to pack for the dorm. I’ve got you! There’s a complete checklist of what to pack (and NOT pack) in my book Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage.

To get you and your student started packing, here are 10 must-haves for dorm living:

1. Simple First Aid Kit

Note I said simple. Think Band-Aids, tweezers, cortisone cream, pain relief (aspirin, ibuprofen), antacid, allergy meds, prescription meds and such. Keep in mind there will likely be a Walgreens or CVS nearby for unusual items, as needed. A pharmacist friend of mine recommends including a sheet of instructions about what to use for a particular ailment and how to do so safely. Her advice: you’ve likely handled the distribution and dosage of your student’s medications for the past eighteen years, so please don’t assume they automatically know what to do with them now. Don’t send your child to to college with all of the meds and none of the wisdom!

Bonus points: place a copy of your child’s health insurance card right inside the kit.

2. Fan

Resident Hall temperatures can be unpredictable. A fan is recommended not only for cooling off a sticky room in August, but makes a great “white noise” machine for sleeping. Many students prefer an upright oscillating fan over the big box fans. They take up less room and can be easily moved around.

3. Keurig Coffee Maker

For those of you who are my “vintage,” the days of the orange hot pots are over! In fact, most residence halls have fire codes that prohibit any appliance with an exposed heating element, which includes traditional coffee makers. If your student is a coffee drinker, then a small Keurig is the way to go. Plus, K-cups make an easy and much-appreciated care package item later on.

4. Extra Storage

If you’ve been in any dorm rooms lately, you’ll be amazed at the creativity that goes into making these small rooms homey. But no matter the size or style of the room, most students require some extra storage. Your student has plenty of storage options, including handy under-bed totes, stackable cubes and moveable carts.

5. Quality Bedding

Don’t skimp on bedding. While they surely don’t need to store 3 sets of twin-XL sheets, they will appreciate a quality mattress pad and extra throw blanket.

6. Disinfecting wipes

Keep germs at bay in the dorms by stocking up on disinfecting wipes! They also work on keyboards, desks, doorknobs and Spaghetti-Os spills.

7. Command Hooks

To avoid damaging the walls and getting fined at the end of the year, invest in adhesive products safe for painted surfaces. I highly recommend 3M Command strips and hooks. I promise I’m not a spokesperson for 3M. I just happen to know these products really work. The Command line includes hooks of all sizes. They are great for holding everything from pictures and hats to robes and towels. 3m also makes strips that work for hanging posters or heavier mirrors. Invest in a multi-pack. You won’t regret it.

8. Noise-cancelling Headphones

Sure they’re great for listening to their favorite music, but noise-cancelling headphones are good for so much more. Your student will use them for studying, de-stressing, meditating, or just blocking out the noise of the world.

9. Umbrella

Yes, it rains on college campuses. Nobody wants to show up soggy to class. An umbrella will protect their hair and their backpack (with very expensive laptop inside). They just have to remember to carry it.

10. Flip-Flops

Community showers. Enough said.


You’ll find complete packing lists along with useful tips and advice for navigating the “launch” in Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage. Get your copy today! 


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