- College students and their parents often overpack when furnishing a dorm room.
- Many commonly purchased items should be left home when moving onto campus.
- A few guidelines can help keep a dorm room from feeling claustrophobic.
When moving into a campus dorm room for the first time, preparation is key. Yet new college students and their parents often mistake preparedness for a kitchen-sink approach to furnishing.
In a tight, shared space like a dorm room, there's a fine line between being comfortable and being overburdened by useless stuff. And the list of what's needed (or desired) is always changing: Advances in consumer technology often make electronics obsolete, and a university's must-have list can vary each semester.
One easy way to avoid a claustrophobic living experience is to coordinate before move-in day with your roommates. Few dorm rooms require more than one mini-fridge or microwave, for instance. Doubling up on smaller items, such as full-length mirrors and bulletin boards, can cause needless clutter and take up valuable wall space.
In size and aesthetic, many unfurnished freshman dorm rooms have more in common with a janitor's closet than a bedroom. But if you must buy a tapestry and a floor rug, it's wise to wait until arriving on campus before deciding. Rearranging beds and desks to maximize space is a game of inches, and there's nothing quite so disappointing as dragging across the country an extra-large rug that can't even fit on the floor.
Once room measurements are taken and furniture is placed, search the local area to find whatever else you need.
"We call it 'the Target run' here in Minnesota," said Sue Luse, an educational consultant and founder of College Expert. "Almost every college is somewhat close to something: a Wal-Mart, a Target that you can go to."
While some purchases can be delayed, many should be avoided altogether. CNBC spoke with college experts, current undergraduate students and volunteers with end-of-semester donation programs to find out what common dorm room purchases just aren't worth the space.
Young Americans just aren't watching as much TV as they used to. Americans ages 18 to 24 watched 14 hours and 31 minutes of television per week in the first quarter of 2017, down from 26 hours and 28 minutes in 2011, according to an analysis of Nielsen data from MarketingCharts.com.
There's little point in bringing a bulky TV to a small dorm room, especially one with limited shelf space. "The big clunky TVs are a thing of the past," said Luse, who recommended leaving behind any electronics whose functions can be done on a laptop or smartphone.
If traveling long distance, carrying large electronic items makes even less sense. Some college officials say they regularly find electronics and other expensive items chucked in donation bins or left on sidewalks when the students head home.
"I think a lot of students might be from out of state, and they can't take [their belongings] back on an airplane with them," said Libby Griswold, a junior at The University of Texas at Austin and student team leader for the school's Trash 2 Treasure end-of-semester donation program.
Don't worry, there will be plenty to read in college — whether you lug your personal library along or not.
Unless your school allows students to install wall-mounted shelves in their rooms, books take up a lot of valuable space.
"It's a good time to maybe switch to a Kindle or a tablet," College Expert's Luse said. E-readers can save money, as well, through services such as online textbooks rentals — though some avid book-readers will always be wary of electronic alternatives.
While it can vary depending on the size of the university, most students with on-campus housing have meal plans for at least one dining hall, Luse said. Except for late-night microwave meals, there's really no need to bring a set of plates, cups and utensils to college.
Same goes for small kitchen appliances, including coffee makers, which can take up a good chunk of desk space and are sometimes prohibited by the university residence hall guidelines anyway.
For example, the Prohibited Items Policy at Michigan's Kalamazoo College bans hotplates, camp stoves, toasters, toaster ovens, grills, George Foreman grills and breadmakers in residence halls.
In other words, it's best to rely on your university's services before trying to recreate a dining hall in your room.
There will always be places to print documents at academic institutions. Personal printers are not only one of the largest and most unnecessary items in a dorm room, they're one of the least ergonomic: They rarely fit anywhere except on a desk, where they can take up nearly half the available space.
"Some students choose to bring those, but they're not always necessary," said Stephen Sanney, a second-year director of residential life at Kalamazoo College. "Sometimes you can check those [services] out from your college library."
Futons are "a very common and memorable item" to find thrown away during DePauw University's end-of-semester Move Out donation program, according to Sustainability Director Anthony Baratta.
"They're always half-broken and a nightmare to move out of the residence hall. When I think of DePauw Move Out, I think of black, $99 Wal-Mart futons," Baratta said.
For those lucky enough to live in a dorm that can fit a futon, it's worth considering that a cheap one may not last four years (or even four semesters), and an expensive futon could be heavily weathered by the daily wear-and-tear of college life.
"While these items help make a dorm room a little more cozy, they are products built without the intentions of lasting all four years," said Matt Cummings, a co-organizer of DePauw Move Out.
According to Luse at College Expert, pretty much anything expensive can be left behind on the way to college.
Her bottom line? "You want to pack light," she said. "You really do."