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Parent’s Guide: Packing for College Dorm Life

College Dorm Packing Guide for Freshman Year and Beyond!

If you think your kids heading off to college for the first time know what they need to pack for their college dorm – they don’t! 

Try asking an 18-year-old about what they want to pack for college and you’ll get something like this (at least from a boy): My Playstation, TV, maybe the old office chair, posters, headphones, football stuff, sheets.

Um, yeah this is exactly what my son said to me so I speak the truth LOL. You also likely won’t get very many real details from your child when you ask.

As a mom with four years of college packing and dorm room set-up, I’ve got some tried and true tips!

Here is your guide to helping your child prepare for college life. 

This is the reality my friends…not some pretty Instagram dorm room. 

Move in day Freshman year
My son and roommate prepping to loft the bed

There is very little space, so you need to create it. The furniture may be as old as you are, you may not have air conditioning, and your kid is going to take over the decor (so let them!).

By the time you part their dorm room, you just need to make sure the essentials are covered, they feel comfortable, and enjoy their space. 

Trust me…they will want to kick you out to go be with their friends and be FREE! Don’t get your feelings hurt. 

College Dorm Room Packing 101

After combing Pinterest, articles on the internet, talking to friends, referring to my son’s college website, plus years of experience – I’ve collected all of this college packing information to share with you.

Plus I can tell you that this list WORKS because we were perfectly prepared his Freshman to Senior years.

Guess what? We’ve gotten it down to such an art…my son didn’t even need my help his last semester setting up his room (now in a house). 

Car Packed Ready for College

Even if your college student is living off campus in an apartment or house this is still a good list. It’s all the basics they need. 

Are you trying to scramble at the last minute to pull your child’s college dorm items together, no problem!

I’m giving you a downloadable master checklist and everything is buyable on Amazon, with quick shipping.

Pin it for Later

Click here to download and print off the packing list PDF.

Post contains hand selected products, with some affiliate marketing links {full disclosure here} 

College Dorm Room Packing Categories

Let’s break this down into buckets shall we? 

That’s just how my mind works I “bucketize” complex thoughts into manageable pieces. I think I made up that word 🙂

Here are the key types of products you will need to plan to pack and send along with your college student. 

College Dorm Room Necessities

So you can do a more in depth search to find specific dorm room products in each category, I am adding direct links for you. 

  1. Bedding
  2. Bath
  3. Closet and organization
  4. Cooking/eating
  5. Desk/Office supplies
  6. Technology
  7. Laundry
  8. Walking to class
  9. Love/comfort 

Please check with your college to see what is allowed especially related to cooking.

Also, most colleges won’t allow things to be nailed or push pinned into the wall because it creates damage.

Everything hung with Command strips including the mirror

Click here for Command adhesive strips because they will be your best friend when in comes to hanging anything.

Areas of Dorm Life to Think About


Most colleges provide a mattress in the dorm.

Many times in the freshman dorms it is a twin XL or a full.

So pay special attention, before you order any bedding!

  1. Memory foam topper
  2. Mattress pad
  3. Sheets
  4. Pillows
  5. Quilt or Comforter
  6. Bed shelf

To save money bring what you can from home, but especially their favorite pillow!

Shop Bed Essentials

Something that my son really appreciated that I bought for him was a memory foam mattress topper. My son is a big football player and dorm mattresses usually are pretty institutional and hard.

Of course he didn’t think he needed one, but after his first night in the dorm thanked me profusely!



TIP: Before investing in extra furniture like a nightstand, get creative with the furniture layout. Here the desk doubles as a nightstand. 

Or if your child has a lofted bed, invest in a bed shelf to hold a cup, their headphones, and phone. 


Usually a communal affair, so you have to think about the fact they have to walk to the shower with their toiletries and stand in a public shower.

  1. Shower caddy
  2. Shower shoes
  3. Towels
  4. Wash clothes

Mesh hanging shower caddies are key, so they dry out in between uses.

Shop Shower Essentials

Prevent athletes foot with shower shoes!

See if you can spare towels from home to save money.


They are always small, so the more creative you can get with shoe trees, hanging drawers, hooks, etc the better.

In this closet, we REALLY got creative with the space and added a shoe tower as well. 


Maybe there isn’t room for storing shoes in the closet. There is a great shoe storage option for under the bed instead!

My son wanted the dresser like this to act as a way to define the space and create a little privacy. I went with it 🙂 

  1. Hangers
  2. Shoe storage
  3. Hooks (Command)
  4. Under bed storage
  5. Lightweight dresser 
  6. Mirror

Don’t forget to pack extra hangers and hooks. Plus you may want to add a full length mirror.

There are versions that easily hang over the door! Or attach one with Command adhesive. 

Shop Closet Essentials

Seriously, there is NEVER enough room in the closets so plan to get flat foldable under bed containers as well.

I like the fabric foldable under bed options because they are easier pack and to store when not in use, but plastic works too!

Because the university usually supplies a dresser you may wait to buy extra drawers, until after you move into the dorm. 

There are very affordable dresser storage units with foldable cubes, as a nice option. 

Since space is SO limited a place to hang wet towels was limited. 

Command hooks are a great option on the back of the door or on the wall for wet towels.


Most likely your kids will be on a meal plan and cooking will be limited to heating things from a mini-refrigerator in a microwave.

They will however they need some essentials on hand, when they are hanging out and studying in their dorm rooms.

  1. Small refrigerator
  2. Plastic plate and utensil set
  3. Coffee cups
  4. Coffee maker
  5. Paper towels
  6. Cleaning wipes
  7. Storage 
Shop Kitchen Essentials

Remember space is limited, so a compact coffee maker is ideal. 

It may be worthwhile to get a K-cup organizer with drawers for their coffee supplies.

Or use airtight glass containers to keep things fresh.

Desk and Studying (you pray)

This area needs some organization for office supplies, maybe some extra shelves, and a white board to keep important deadlines and to-dos front and center.

Plus a desk lamp, so they can study late into the evening 🙂 

  1. Desk lamp
  2. Desk organizer
  3. Pens, pencils, notebook
  4. Headphones
  5. Message board or white board
  6. Laptop pillow

Another splurge is noise cancelling headphones because who knows what their roommate will be like right?

Shop Study Essentials

We also found a message board for the outside of the dorm door or by the door was helpful to leave each other notes. 


A BIG category because our kids live on their phones, work off laptops, and have gaming systems. 

Of course a laptop and a laptop backpack are fundamental. Also, think power and charging things like an iPhone, laptop, running a fan, game stations, TVs, etc.

  1. Power tower
  2. Storage
  3. Backpack
  4. External back-up drive
  5. Back up power / portable charger

Plus a small table to act as a TV or game stand or for a microwave. Seriously, the BEST purchase we made was a power tower for the dorm room

Shop Tech Essentials

A storage ottoman was used for not only storing stuff, but to sit on and used as a step stool. It really came in handy!


We created a whole gaming center with storage for my son and his roommate. The storage ottoman was a great option in this space. 

Here is a really affordable TV stand if you want something even sturdier. In hindsight, I wish we would have invested in a proper TV stand. 

Yes, I know they need to be studying but playing video games is a big social event for boys especially.

My son will graduate with honors, so it all worked out my fellow parents who are concerned 🙂 


You hope they do it!

This can be a big leap for some kids, so make sure they have done laundry at home and are armed with supplies so there are NO excuses to not wash their things.

  1. Hamper
  2. Laundry detergent, softener, bleach, stain remover
  3. Steamer
  4. Iron

I made sure to supply the full range of laundry supplies plus a hamper to motivate him and eliminate excuses!

Shop Laundry Essentials

Maybe a steamer if they will use it.

My son actually does his OWN laundry now!

Walking or Biking to Class

Getting to class takes on a huge importance and comfort is key.

Plan for every type of weather. Of course a packable umbrella will be key and possibly ponchos for outdoor concerts or sporting events.

  1. Lightweight jacket
  2. Rain jacket
  3. Umbrella that fits in a back pack
  4. Winter jacket
  5. Gloves
  6. Snow boots
  7. Scarf

Make sure they have comfy shoes and if they are going to a colder climate heavier jackets, gloves, hats and snow boots.

We ran into this issue going from NC to OH and had to invest in winter gear!

Shop Gear

During Thanksgiving break have them bring home summer things and send them back with cold weather gear to save closet space.

Love & Comfort

This is really up to you, but I’m thinking about sending a few framed photos, rug, posters, a throw blanket for comfort.

Reminders of home and items to make the room “cozier”.

If you think your kids will enjoy it send scented room plugs or a small handheld vacuum. 

A NECESSITY IS A FAN! Those rooms get stuffy and stinky!

Yes, maybe the scented room plugs are a must.

We ended up with multiple fans. Think about a small fan to clip on the bed and one for the room.

It keeps the air moving and helps to drown out noise when sleeping too. 

Dorm Room Decorating 101

Feeling like you have the basic packing items down and are ready to decorate?

I’m here to help with that too! Click here for Affordable Dorm Room Style.

You may enjoy: How-to Start a Room Makeover

Not on the list, but definitely a necessity is tissue. 

I’ll be packing some tissue for happy and sad tears that I know will flow. Off to enjoy the empty nest again!

Good luck to you and your college student!

Until next time…

Porch Daydreamer


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