Organize the Dorm Room

Going off to college can provoke anxiety and fear — in the hearts and minds of the parents of a dormitory-bound student, as well as the departing kid. Leaving for college usually marks the first time one’s child has left home for a prolonged period, and the first instance where Mom and Dad won’t serve as chief cook and boo-boo kisser, chauffeur and full-service laundromat.

Just the act of preparing for college life can cause formerly angelic older teens to act out in rebellious ways, and normally laid-back parents to tighten their grasps. While kids may appear to be chafing at parental control, it’s often the case that kindling small, pointless arguments allows them to keep their fears of the unknown at bay.


Moms and Dads — this won’t be the last time your child ever needs you, but it’s one of the last times you’ll get to formally offer your unsolicited guidance. Organized preparation can take the sting out of the empty nest/full dorm difficulties. Having a game plan for the process lets you and your teen battle the tasks ahead–instead of one another. Follow this plan, and you’ll be too busy to fight, and too organized to get stressed out.


Have your student call the university to find out what’s supplied in a typical dormitory room or suite. Your student’s registration materials should have contact information for something like a Department of Residence Life or Student Living — try that number if you don’t see anything relevant listed in the brochures or online. Avoid the temptation to use your own dorm experience, likely two or three decades out of date, to set expectations.

Some dorms are outfitted solely with beds, desks and closets/armoires. Most have bookshelves and bulletin boards, but they may not be adequate. Don’t over-purchase functional storage up front. You and your student can always stock up at Thanksgiving. If you plan to bring any furniture, be sure to ascertain the room measurements, too, or you might find that nifty chair isn’t so much fun to load back onto the truck for a five-hour return trip to Casa Mama.


Most American dorm beds are extra-long twins, so you’ll probably need to purchase new sheets (and mattress pads) rather than sending the soft, well-loved ones from home. Other spare home bedding, like comforters and pillow-cases, and towels, should be fine in practice, but your student might prefer everything new. Parents, don’t use this as an opportunity to put your designer/fashionista skills to the test unless your student requests it. Start the school year with at least two complete sheet sets; no college kid has time or inclination to strip the bed, do laundry and remake the bed the same day. (Don’t forget, you or your college-bound kid will want to un-package and wash all towels and bedding before packing up and heading out. You can still put the comforter back in that giant, plastic, zip-up container for the move.)

Have your student call any prospective roommates to eliminate unnecessary duplication of dorm necessities. It shouldn’t be a problem for two college kids to share a mini-fridge, but avoid the potential friction of shared electronics.


Most colleges are high tech, but some dorm rooms haven’t gotten the text message. While a lamp and clock radio might have been the extent to which students needed to power their lives not that long ago, students today will sometimes need to simultaneously charge their computers, tablets, and phone, and they’ll those outlets conveniently accessible. Check into the more flexible types of power strip surge protectors that can be twisted into shapes that fit small, odd spaces.


Storage space is at a premium in dormitories, so aim to contain everything in sub-categories. Purchase various sizes and colors of durable plastic/resin, resealable bins like those made by Rubbermaid. They are STACKABLE, store practically anything, and keep out insects, rodents and moisture. These bins even double as bedside tables. Nylon, zippered duffel bags are good for storing squishy items like bedding and soft clothing.


Store as much as possible under the bed, assuming your student isn’t a stickler for feng shui. Unless the dorm room has bunk beds or lofted sleeping, purchase a set of plastic bed risers such as are available at most discount stores or your favorite home décor retailer. A set of four should be available for about $10. Although they look surprisingly like children’s beach pails turned upside-down, the risers (or “lifts”) are safe and provide greatly increased storage space.


Your students may groan at what they deem overprotective excesses, but be sure you send them with basic safety items:

  • a fully-stocked First Aid kit, including a digital thermometer, aspirin or ibuprofen, current prescriptions, spare medical-ID jewelry, if applicable, and maybe a comforting photo or note.
  • a FLASHLIGHT with fresh batteries to use during nighttime fire drills. (Yes, every smart phone has a flashlight app these days, but
  • a surge protector (or better yet, an uninterruptible power supply) to save those precious term papers (and your student’s sanity) when the POWER goes out


…so don’t let them pack everything at once. Start with the necessities — bedding, toiletries, computer and school supplies, and enough transitional clothing to last until Fall Break or Thanksgiving. Unless your child is going to school in North Dakota, she probably won’t need her parka and winter boots before you see her again. Limit the luxuries to a few items of room decor, a stuffed animal and maybe some old-school family pictures. Don’t worry if something is left behind — almost every city in America has something akin to a Wal-Mart, and you can always send care packages!


Unless Mom and Dad want to be doing three months’ worth of laundry at Thanksgiving, send students off to dorm life with a laundry bag or pop-up mesh laundry basket, a roll of quarters, liquid laundry detergent in a small (under 40 ounce) container, and a comprehensive page of written (maybe even laminated) instructions on how to do laundry! Forget the iron and mini-ironing board unless your student is studying fashion or actually — and frequently — ironed his or her own clothes during high school.


Work together to label every bin or box and keep a list of the contents, either on paper or in the cloud (Dropbox, Evernote, etc.). If you’re sticking with paper, give one to your student and keep one at home in case there is any question of whether something was shipped off to school. It will also help for packing at the end of the spring semester and for starting sophomore year.

Give your kid a list of all phone numbers contact information for friends, family members, doctors and emergency contacts.

Finally, give them a list of all the REASONS why you love them and are proud of them before they even get out of those extra long beds in the morning.

Copyright © 2004-2014 Julie Bestry and Best Results Organizing. All rights reserved.


About the Author:   Julie Bestry is a professional organizer, speaker and author, who helps individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems. Her most recent book is 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business. For information on how Julie can turn your chaos into serenity, visit Best Results Organizing at

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