Food for Thought

College Series: What you don’t think to bring but probably should.

Here are a few tips for those entering the college acceptance period and who are beginning to think of what to pack for school.  I have been in college for a few years now.  My first tip is to pack lightly–very lightly.  As a freshman in 2014, my first mistake was bringing too much from the get-go.  Bringing things you “think you might eventually need maybe at some point in the distant future” is a bad idea.  You have a limited amount of space with practically no room for storage.  Your dorm room is likely to be smaller than your bedroom at home and you’ll be sharing it with another person.  Aside from the bare essentials: electronics, a week or two’s worth of clothing, outerwear (for cold climates), a couple pairs of shoes, hygiene products, bedding, and basic school supplies… there are a few “non-essentials” I have found really helpful in my last years of college.

#1: PATIENCE

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This isn’t an item so much as it is a reminder.  Your college experience will not look like Pinterest, the movies, or a lifestyle blogger’s (unless you are one)… it’s real life.  Long nights happen, studying on the bed happens, and the room will get messy.  Remember to step away from it all once and a while and go outside.

#2: A DRYING RACK

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At my school, one load of laundry in the washing machine costs $1.50.  After that, a spin in the dryer and you’re out another $1.50.  That’s three dollars every time you wash your clothes.  In addition, the machines at my school are very old and the dryers have the tendency to pull fabrics out of shape.

I bought this fairly standard drying rack for $10.00 two years ago.  It has just the right amount of space for one load of laundry.  I end up doing about a load of laundry a week (I don’t bring many clothes to school to save on clutter) so in the past two years this little guy have more than paid for itself.  That’s not to mention how much energy I’ve saved!  It also folds down to nothing for easy storage.  I slip it under the bed.

#3: AN ORGANIZATIONAL SYSTEM

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Having something visual to help you remember what needs to be done is a god-send.  I recently bought this dry erase board at a surplus store for about $5.00.  It is only one piece in my complex memory system… one of these days I’ll get around to doing a post on my calendar system.

To put it simply: I have one master planner where everything that needs to be done is written down: homework, doctors appointments, writing projects, family obligations, etc.  Each day in that planner has a bunch of lines to write on.  You don’t need to spend a lot, I found mine at Dollar Tree.  I also have a sticky note system.  I put two sticky notes on my desk every day: “to do” and “to turn in”.  “To do” is a list of everything that must be done today.  Similarly, “to turn in” reminds me what is due in which class and what I must remember to take with me when I leave.  The final piece of this memory puzzle is the whiteboard.  This is where I write due dates and appointment times.  Although it is all written in my planner, having everything laid out on a monthly basis gives me a sense of scale for time.  Due dates no longer sneak up on me.

#4 REAL DISHES

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Don’t go overboard, you don’t need a lot of them.  A bowl, two cups, a plate, and a couple utensils will do.  You will end up eating a lot of meals in your room and in order to cut down on wasteful plastic cups and paper plates it is better to use something reusable.  This extra large cup also works as a bowl for instant soups and other snacks.  Aside from waste there is also something really nice about eating on a real dish.  It makes that 3 am meal less depressing.

I also recommend a cheap bottle of dish soap and a sponge to keep your dishes clean.  It is also a good idea to invest in a Tupperware container or two to sneak dining hall food back to your dorm for 3 am consumption.

#5 ALARM CLOCK

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You can get by with the clock on your laptop and phone, but when you’re hitting the books these things can become a distraction.  It is nice to have something in a central location so you can look up and see exactly what time it is.

Additionally, it is helpful to set your alarm across the room from your bed so that you’re forced to physically get up in order to shut it off.  Just remember to be speedy about it so as not to disturb your neighbors.

#6 SOMETHING GREEN

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Having a plant to look after not only makes the atmosphere happier, but it makes you happier as well.  Taking care of something is proven to make you take care of yourself better as well.  I love the look of hanging plants in a sunny window!

Low maintenance or hardy plants are ideal for dorm rooms.  Dorm room lighting is usually not the best, so something that can handle the shade is ideal.  I also keep succulents on the windowsill.  They don’t require much watering and are practically immortal.  If you have a greenhouse on your campus, check it out.  They sometimes will have plant sales and you can go there for advice if you’re having trouble with your plants.

#7 A TAPESTRY

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Again, be careful not to overdo it.  Girls especially seem to bring a lot of wall decorations and too many things can lead to clutter.  I like to hang a large tapestry on the wall of my dorm.  It covers the cinder-block prison walls and the highly detailed patterns are nice to look at.  To hang, I twisted hair ties around the two top corners of the sheet, and then wrapped the hair ties around command hooks hung on the wall.  This is by far the best method I have found to hang tapestries.  Don’t waste your time with trying to tape up the fabric or use Velcro, it doesn’t work.  I’ve certainly tried.

Another thing that’s nice is to hang Christmas lights.  The overhead lighting in dorms is pretty harsh, and in the middle of the night having that light on can be annoying to your roommate.  Christmas lights provide a dimmer option that’s just enough to read by.  It also creates a warm atmosphere in your room. I hung mine using simple command strips placed about two feet apart.  My strand was long enough to wrap all the way around the room.

#8 FAN

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Dorm rooms are hot.  They are hot in the spring/summer (mine does not have air conditioning) and they are hot in the winter when heat is pumping in.  I keep the window cracked all year but a fan is essential when things get stagnant or too warm.  Fans are also useful for creating white noise to drown out the sound of your neighbors at 2 am or helping to disperse weird smells.  Both of those things are easy to find in dorms.

If your room is too hot in the wintertime, be sure to alert your RA or a maintenance worker.   They can contact the appropriate people to adjust the heat.  It also helps to reduce energy waste.

#10 AIR FRESHENER

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Note: There is a light bulb inside, not a flame.

As I said before, dorms smell weird.  Be careful with what you choose to bring though, most colleges do not allow candles or incense.  This is a wax warmer and before I brought it to school I made sure it was not on the list of prohibited items at my school.  Most of the time, these lists are readily available online.

I bought this wax warmer at Yankee Candle for $24 along with eight wax tablets.  Pictured here is lilac blooms.  I also bought lavender, lavender vanilla, and meadow showers.  Each was on sale for $1 each.  A tip: If the wax warmer has a removable plate, this plate can be put in your dorm freezer to harden the wax so it is easily popped out.  This helps you change scents without mixing unrelated scents.  If you’re lazy like me, just buy scents that go well together.

Other options are glade plug-ins or traditional cans of air freshener.  Having a nicely scented room is calming and helps create a good atmosphere for studying.

Have anything you found helpful in college?  Let me know in the comments below!

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