This is What You Actually Need to Pack for College

July 31, 2018

Packing for your first year of college can be a very daunting task. At first you think you just need clothes, bedding, and toiletries, and then you start to realize how many other products you use on the daily. I personally spent about a week debating whether or not I really needed to bring my nine succulents with me (I did). 

 

So what are the school essentials? This past year, I learned what I should have left at home and what I really should have saved room for in my suitcases. Without further ado, here’s a guide to help assist you in your dorm room decision-making.

 

Photo: Sonnie Hiles on Unsplash  

 

Clothing
The most important aspect of packing clothes is to pack for the climate you’ll be living in. If you’re going to school in Arizona, you don’t need to bring three different winter coats. Conversely, if you’re going to school in Canada, you probably don’t need that extra skirt or pair of shorts—instead, use that space for jeans or a sweater. 

 

Also, depending on your personal style, you should pack the appropriate amount of clothes for the amount of time you’ll spend in class versus the amount of time spent out with friends. I packed a lot of cute dresses for my freshman year, but more often found myself throwing on sweatpants and a T-shirt when 8 a.m. classes rolled around. I had way too many “going out” clothes and not enough practical choices. However, the clothes you pack should reflect your personal style—if you think you’ll be rocking heels or dress shirts to class every day, then that’s what you should pack! 

 

A final tip for packing clothes: roll, don’t fold! It saves so much space—click here for instructions on rolling your clothes for packing. 

 

Toiletries
This one seems obvious, right? You need your shower essentials, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and makeup if you wear any. For toiletries, it’s important to keep in mind that you should bring what you can from home. It’s much better to arrive at school with everything already available—don’t make the mistake of saying, “Oh, I’ll just buy toothpaste when I get there.” The last thing you want is to have to run to the store at midnight on your first night at college! 

 

And a note for those of you who have periods: there’s no such thing as too many sanitary products! They can be very expensive, so buy and pack in bulk according to your needs. 

Decorations: 


This is where packing can get out of control very easily. We all want the Pinterest-perfect dorm room that will be cozy and adorable, but you have to prioritize essentials over decorations. I recommend choosing decorations last. This way, you know exactly how much space you have left and how much you can afford to bring. It’s more important to have underwear than an extra string of fairy lights. 

 

Food/Drinks: 
Packing snacks for your dorm is a good idea -- in moderation. The dining hall isn’t always open, and sometimes you’ll want a break from typical college food. My recommendation for packing food is to bring non-perishables only.f you really need to bring that bag of apples, you better eat them quick. Bringing a box of granola bars, however, will last for months and provide a nice snack whenever you want one.

 

As a general word of advice, food should also be packed last, with decorations. Besides, you’re probably paying for a meal plan at school, so take advantage of it!

 

Laundry/Dishes: 
Laundry needs vary from school to school, depending on what the college provides and what you need to bring. Most schools let you swipe your ID card to pay for laundry, but some still require quarters. Do some research on what your school’s laundry is like before you pack. Detergent pods are fantastic, and well worth the investment for convenience and efficiency. 

 

As for dishwashing, depending on whether or not you’ll be cooking or using a kitchen frequently, your needs will, again, vary. If you have a full kitchen available, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of scrubbers and dishwashing liquid, as well as towels or a rack for drying. If you won’t be cooking, it’s still useful to bring a small bottle of detergent and a sponge or two for washing mugs and cups. 

 

Miscellaneous: 
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of everything you’ll need for school. You have to consider textbooks, school supplies, health needs, and more. Depending on you and on your school’s specific living spaces, you’ll have different packing lists. What helps is to either find or create a complete list of everything you could bring to school—like this one from HerCampus. Then, go through and see what you really need to bring. You can prioritize with a list—for example, put a check mark next to necessities, circle things that you would like but don’t need, and put an X next to anything that’s unnecessary. 

Best of luck and happy packing! 

 

Abigail is a rising sophomore at Emerson College studying for a BFA in creative writing. She spends most of her free time during the year working for her school newspaper, but also enjoys going to poetry readings, spending time with friends, and cheering for her hometown Philadelphia sports teams.

 

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