Simple Dorm Living (What I Wish I Knew)

This week marks seven years since I moved out of my parents home and into a lovely little dorm room in Bloomington, Indiana.

We packed a giant SUV to the brim with all my “necessities” and before I knew it, they were driving away without all the stuff and without me. Dorm life had officially begun.

I was so excited. But I was way, way overprepared.

To the point that I didn’t even know what to do with half the stuff I bought because Target told me it was a dorm essential! I ended up carrying a lot of that junk around with me, unused, for the next 5 years.

Since a lot of students are moving in this next week, I thought I’d share what I would do differently if I had the chance.

essentials

Pare down before and after

Packing up a childhood bedroom to move away for college is a perfect time to ditch some of the stuff you don’t need.

Here’s what mine looked like when packing up:

Room Before Dorm Move Out

Actually, this is what my bedroom looked like most of the time anyways.

Keep a trash and donate bag handy when you’re sorting through everything. Don’t just put things back into storage because it’s your parents house and you think you don’t have to deal with it. Trust me, you’ll have to deal with it eventually.

Then, when you’re unpacking at your new space, don’t be afraid to toss things into a donate or trash pile. Especially when you start to realize that you’ve just brought way too much.

Don’t shop beforehand

I know this sounds crazy. But when I got to my dorm room, I realized it had more than I anticipated – it came furnished with a chair already, so why did I need the butterfly chair?

Dorm Desk in Read

I ended up with “dorm essentials” that really didn’t even fit with my dorm room.

So do only the bare minimum of shopping beforehand – I’m talking notebooks and pens at most. If you can swing it, shop a few days or a week after you move in so that you can make more conscious decisions about what you really need.

Don’t have a car? Dorms should accept packages for you, so online shopping is a great option (and you get to avoid all of the tempting ads for “dorm essentials” at your local Target).

This is especially important for storage. Don’t shop early for the “just in case” items. Instead, get a good feeling for what you’ll need storage for and where it will fit.

Finally, this gives you a chance to find out more about the building you live in – do you need a full set of dishes and a mini fridge, or do you have access to good dining halls?

Basically, don’t just buy stuff because a store says you’ll need it.

Dorm decor

I was kind of a mess when it came to decorating my dorm room. I just brought a bunch of stuff and taped it to the wall like a maniac.

It stressed me out and it didn’t look very good. Did I ever tell you guys that I wanted to study Fashion Design? Yea, that was a weird time.

So, I encourage anyone moving into a dorm room to keep it simple.

Start small. Bring only decorations that you find beautiful or meaningful. Let yourself get a feel for your dorm room before you just throw stuff on the walls for the sake of having stuff on the walls.

Avoid the campus bookstore

As a former campus bookstore employee, I can tell you this: it’s all overpriced. Look online for used versions of your book and don’t be afraid to ask your professor if you can use a slightly older version. You will literally save hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

If you’re not sure about whether or not you’ll stay in the class, wait on buying the book until after the first week.

Do not buy school supplies at the bookstore unless you’re really in a bind. They’re marked up way past what’s even remotely reasonable.

And finally – I know I’m going to sound like such a Debbie Downer – avoid school-branded swag. Shirts, tumblers, bags…slap a school logo on it and it’s 3x more expensive.

I accumulated so much IU stuff through clubs and free giveaways anyway that I still looked like I had school spirit.

Hoo – hoo – hoo – HOOSIERS!

If you’re moving: how are you handling it? If you’ve done it before: what do you wish you would have done differently?

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6 thoughts on “Simple Dorm Living (What I Wish I Knew)

  1. Great article! I will pass it on to my niece. When I went to McMaster University, I went with WAY too much stuff too. I wish I had waited on shopping, especcially because the student union would arrange bus trips to the local IKEA. I could have just bought what I needed then. I was also a sucker for MAC swag lol

    • Thanks Charlene! Wow, that’s really cool. I think my biggest thing was all the Target ads about back to school – it made me think I needed all that stuff and I needed it well in advance. Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is a great post. I had much the same experience–too much (cheap) stuff (that was way too colorful), because I was excited to go to college, to be “on my own,” and it just ended up being a burden.
    For example, I wish someone would have told me that I should have gotten a $25 cast iron pan that I would still have instead of the $40 crappy 10-piece set of non-stick that I inevitably had to throw out.

    • Thanks Elizabeth! We would have been great roommates – if it was bright & obnoxious & affordable, it was mine. I actually just got my first cast iron skillet a few weeks ago and I’m SO excited about it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great advice! Another thing I try to tell “kids” is that there’s nothing wrong with community college, and there’s nothing wrong with living at home while you go to school. There’s also nothing wrong with not being ready to decide what you want to do with your whole life at 18!

    • That’s great advice too 🙂 I kind of wish that I got that advice – I basically just did what my friends were doing and didn’t really understand all of my options. And choosing your life path at 18…there’s so much pressure, but you’re still just a kid! Glad that I’m able to still work things out in my 20s 🙂

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