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Packing for College

Answers to questions like: “What do I do with my CD collection?” and “Will I get kicked out for burning a Pop-Tart?”

Illustration by Dylan

If, this September, you are moving away for school, you may be going through a rollercoaster of emotions. Without sounding like a cheesy Hallmark card, this is a time for new beginnings—you can reinvent yourself, which can be both terrifying and exciting! Of course, once you’ve got your nerves settled, you’re still left with a bunch of pesky practical questions. For a lot of you, school will be the first time you move out on your own, leaving behind the bedroom you grew up in. Trying to distill everything you’re used to to fit into the considerably smaller space that you’ll be living out of for the next year can be tricky. Here are some tips.

You don’t need all that stuff, I promise.

When I was preparing to go to college, I had already been interning at and contributing to small magazines and newspapers. As a result, I had started to amass a considerable collection of print publications of all types; I told myself that this counted as research. I read voraciously and never threw a magazine away. When it came time to pack for school, I decided I needed to bring all of them; who knew when I would need to reference them? This was a bad idea—do you know how heavy a box full of magazines is? I would have to learn to survive without my archive of old Interviews.

It’s easy to get attached to the material goods you’ve had growing up. My magazines (along with my journals, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, and book-books—I amassed a lot of paper) served as a security blanket.

You might be concerned about feeling homesick or nostalgic, but try to separate those feelings from the things you own. Instead of trying to re-create your childhood bedroom in your dorm, pick just the essentials. Bring a couple of your favorite CDs or books, but leave the rest behind. You can find cheaper (and lighter) ways to make your space your own. In the summer before leaving for school, I had a get-together with some of my closest high school friends, and we all made little personalized postcards that I ended up hanging on my wall.

You’ll be amassing a lot of new textbooks over the year, and will need that shelf space. Plus, as I quickly discovered, most campus libraries have pretty impressive periodical sections, as well as book, movie, and music collections. You’ll be fine. More than fine. You’ll be overwhelmed with choices.

Figure out what will be provided for you.

Dorms are like snowflakes—every one is different (well, except for fact that a solid third of them seem to have Pulp Fiction posters). Some are suites with built-in bathrooms; with others you’ll end up sharing the showers with an entire floor of people. Some will come with more desk space than you’ll ever need, others will be nearly bare. Your campus’s website will have a list of everything that will be included, but it also helps to talk to current and former students to learn the details. How hot do the rooms get? Is there air conditioning? Should you bring a space heater? How reliable is the Wifi? Will you have access to a kitchen? Should you bring your own fridge anyway? Are you responsible for cleaning your own bathroom?

A tragic but true story: we weren’t allowed to have toasters in my dorm, but I brought one anyway. I ended up burning a S’mores Pop Tart my first week and in my paranoia never touched it again. If you’re braver than me, go ahead and bring the toaster and live on the edge. But figure out what you’re allowed to use beforehand (and will be willing to risk otherwise) and don’t waste your money.

Don’t buy anything new that you don’t absolutely have to.

Have I mentioned how great thrift stores are? You can find some amazingly sturdy kitchen stuff, including dishes, pots and pans, and kettles (kettles are useful—not to be a stereotype but if you’re like me, you’ll go through a lot of ramen and tea). You can be creative in what you use for furniture; one friend took the drawers out of an old desk, turned them on their side, and used them as mini bookcases.

Check on campus listings for students selling their old stuff, from fridges to course textbooks. (When buying used textbooks, make sure you’re getting the right edition for your course, so you don’t get screwed over when trying to keep up in class.) Keep your things in great condition and you can sell them when you move out! Circle of life, baby.

If you do have to go new, you still don’t necessarily have to pay full price. I got my mini fridge at a discount because it was the store’s floor model (which is also how my current roommate got our TV). Normally I wouldn’t recommend haggling at electronics stores, but this is one of those times when it doesn’t hurt to try.

Your future roommate is also a good potential resource. Lots of schools will give you her contact info—email or phone number—before you move in. Even if you get to pick them your roommate out yourself, there’s no guarantee that you will get along. You can, however, coordinate what you’re going to bring so you don’t double up on the bigger, more expensive items like fridges and printers.

Don’t forget the obvious.

While going through a typical day in your current home, make a note of all the things you use and the things you can’t do without. Some stuff might be so ingrained into your daily rituals that you don’t even notice that they’re there. It’s annoying to realize, two days into your freshman year, that you forgot to bring coat hangers, or nail clippers, or a can opener.

Rather than pack the cheap but large/heavy things you know you’ll have to buy new (cleaning supplies, notebooks, etc.), get those at the end of your trip so you won’t have to lug them with you the whole way, especially since you probably have limited space in your car/suitcase/tugboat/whatever.

Know your new city.

Maybe you’re not just moving to a new residence, but to a completely different part of the country. Are you not used to extreme temperatures? Do you need a coat and snow boots? Does your new city have a drastically different public-transit system from what you’re used to? You don’t need to be an expert on a city before you move there (half the fun of moving to a new town is exploring and figuring things out on your own) but knowing the basics will be helpful when you’re packing.

Get familiar with your campus.

By the time you’re reading this, you’ve probably already sought out every possible scholarship and student loan, but are still looking for money. Right now’s the time to start seeking jobs; lots of places on campus hire for the school year the summer before. Check your campus’s website for job postings, but also find out what separate businesses and services operate on campus and check their websites too.

Dealing with a job along with a bigger course load than you’re used to, and a new home and new people, can be stressful, but for a lot of us it’s unavoidable. And there are benefits to working on campus instead of somewhere in town. For one thing, it is usually way easier if you are an international student or even from a different city—most schools are used to employing students from all over and have systems in place for doing so. It’s also way easier when you don’t have to travel much to get to work. I lucked out and found a job at my school as a “chillout coordinator” (seriously)—I was responsible for setting out board games, snacks, and videos every Friday night for students with not much else to do. Yeah, I had to sacrifice some parties, but I got paid to do my homework and watch movies that I got to pick.

One of the most important things to remember when you’re moving into a dorm is that there are so many people all around you in the same boat. You’ll be sharing a building with other people your own age, many of whom are also learning how to live on their own for the first time. It can be a bonding experience, figuring out the best takeout spots in the neighborhood or how to make a little bit of laundry detergent go a long way. ♦


  • Beejuice August 23rd, 2012 4:07 PM

    I needed this article like a week ago, but this is still perfect!

  • fipo August 23rd, 2012 4:33 PM

    a random tip but in terms of packing clothing, etc: i am completely honest in saying that you should bring literally every pair of socks/underwear you can find and then you can go without desperately needing to do laundry for SO LONG

    it’s not gross. it’s college.

    • Mixolydia August 23rd, 2012 9:39 PM

      “It’s not gross. it’s college.”– truer words cannot be spoken haha

  • aliastro August 23rd, 2012 6:01 PM

    I think it’s super important to purge each time you move, always. If you hoard all your old stuff and surround yourself with it, you (literally! physically!) don’t open up space for new stuff. It’s a good time to think about the things you really love, and choose to bring those, instead of defaulting to bringing everything, very little of which you love.

  • youarebananas August 23rd, 2012 6:42 PM

    HAH, i opened rookie just now right before closing my computer to start packing for my freshman year–sooper helpful

  • thesexyzebra August 23rd, 2012 9:26 PM

    I board at my high school, which is in the middle of nowhere in northern Maine (www.mssm.org). It’s my third year here, and I just got a small electric rice cooker. I honestly don’t know how I lived without it before. It’s good for ANYTHING. Rice, obvi, but also lentils, soup, steaming vegetables, tofu, meat, even baking cakes!… no more crap cafeteria food for me! Mine cost me $17 on amazon, and I’d really suggest it for any dorm-itized foodies, health-conscious or budget-bound students reading.

  • Tyknos93 August 23rd, 2012 10:09 PM

    Damn, where were all these college articles like a YEAR ago :P !? Seriously though, good luck to all the Rookie Freshies. I hope your first year is awesome!


  • kellbell August 23rd, 2012 10:40 PM

    I wish I had this a week ago so I could’ve proved to my sister that she doesn’t need all the crap she’s bringing to college! At least I’ll have this for when my time comes next year. Very helpful!

  • thegrasshopper August 24th, 2012 5:49 AM

    With these articles Rookie is officially saving my life! I’ll be moving out in a few weeks and Im hyper excited and terrified at the same time. Thanks for calming me down and giving me the right advise at the right time.

  • laurenniee August 24th, 2012 9:52 AM

    This is a year too late for me, but now as an old wizened university student I can advise Rookie readers to seriously pack light. I had to move out of my room at the end of every term and every time I moved back in I ended up leaving a hell of a lot of stuff. And at the end of the day if you forget anything you can always get your parents to send it on to you/go back and get it when you go home to visit :) GOOD LUCK EVERYBODY.

  • baptisms August 24th, 2012 4:05 PM

    I was JUST thinking about this the other day. I start college in less than two weeks and I haven’t even started packing. I was wondering what the best way to pack would be and how to make as much space as possible. I live on the fourth floor so moving will probably a pain to get through, but the less I bring the easier it will be.

    Rookie you’re my go to source for preparing for college. You guys have the best advice for surviving, studying, and dorm decorating. Keep it up lovelies!

  • insteadofanelephant August 25th, 2012 4:50 PM

    great input! i love the thrifting idea, when i was a freshman i had a bunch of cheapo walmart/target college section stuff and i really regret not accumulating cooler furniture. most of the bins i bought cracked and so i say go with sturdy furniture that you can use for all your college years…and maybe even after you graduate!

    and it really does go by quickly. i’m already a senior! :(

    instead of an elephant

  • Spotty August 25th, 2012 5:40 PM

    also NEVER buy your books from the university campus bookstore unless you really have to, it’s a total rip off

  • caro nation August 26th, 2012 11:55 AM

    Rookies, I need advice. My stepmother thinks college would be a waste of my time and money, but both my parents went to Ivy league schools. This goes against everything everyone has ever told me, but my stepmother is successful and intelligent, and I value her advice in every other field. Attending college in New York has been a serious aspiration, but now I feel that my stepmother would be disappointed in me. I feel I belong in the Rookie community, so does anyone have any advice?

    • Anaheed August 26th, 2012 10:22 PM

      I think you should do what YOU want to do, and that your stepmom should support your decisions. Don’t live your life for someone else’s approval, you know? If you don’t go to college because of her, you might regret it one day, and wouldn’t that suck?

    • Khadejeh August 28th, 2012 11:56 AM

      Caro nation, you should watch John Green’s video “Is college worth it?” I think it would help you work through this problem.

      I’m not sure if Rookie minds links to other sites, but here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_N7MAr98CI&list=UUGaVdbSav8xWuFWTadK6loA&index=3&feature=plcp

  • Hannnah August 26th, 2012 6:44 PM

    any tips for packing for a room that i have to empty three times a year? like the bookshelf/drawers idea is great for extra storage but i don’t think i fancy lugging something that heavy home after each term!

  • beck950 August 27th, 2012 3:00 PM

    Haha brilliant! I’m from Ireland and these tips are equally as useful across the pond!
    Need all the help I can get….