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outside view of college dorm

Recently, at The Container Store in Raleigh, I couldn’t help overhearing an overwhelmed mom asking for local university dorm organizing advice. With a college dorm room list at hand, she was preparing to drop her son off at an out-of-state university and didn’t want to make unnecessary trips to various stores once she and her son arrived on campus. I knew exactly how she felt because only 24 hours earlier, I dropped my firstborn off at a huge university for his freshman year.

She wasn’t sure what to buy and she explained to me that she was feeling completely overwhelmed with the task at hand. We talked briefly about each of our freshman-parent orientations. Most colleges explain to parents what’s included in the dorm. In both of our sons’ cases, the lists were identical: a mini-fridge, a mini microwave, a lofted bed, a desk, a small dresser, a vertical wardrobe, window treatments (metal blinds) and a florescent overhead light.

I spent some time helping her create a quick university dorm room list and encouraging her to eliminate a few things that weren’t really necessary since space is limited. Below are a few items I suggested.

Toolkit for Parents

  • Dozens of Command 3M Hooks – all sizes, clear is my personal preference
  • 3M Interlocking Fasteners with Adhesive – Great for attaching things to walls
  • Museum Putty – used to keep things stuck in place (mirrors, power strips)
  • Sharpies – to write notes to self and shopping lists
  • 5 x7 Index cards – I prefer yellow so I can easily spot them among the stuff
  • Tie Wraps – to bundle cables and cords or keep things secure
  • Velcro One-Wraps – to bundle cords and cables, hang things
  • Box Cutter + Scissors
  • Tape Measure
  • Rubber Mallet for getting beds lofted

Cleaning Supplies


  • Router – many dorms have the modem you’ll just need the router – ask first
  • Extra-long ethernet cable (optional)
  • TV, X-Box, Controllers, Games
  • Laptop or Tablet, Kindle
  • Docking station with speakers for iPhone/iPod
  • Charger Cables for Phone + Computer (use washi tape to make yours unique)
  • Power Strips/Surge Protectors
  • Batteries

Furniture + Accessories

  • Bedding, pillows + an extra blanket
  • Lap Desk
  • Bunk Bed Shelf
  • Beanbag chairs and/or futon (measure available floor space first)
  • Rug – each student might want his/her own (4×6) or to share a common larger rug (measure the floor first)
  • Floor lamp and/or small lamp for desk
  • Clock for the wall (decorative; attach with Command hooks or interlocking adhesive fasteners)
  • Over the door, full-length mirror + (optional) magnifying mirror for close-ups (use Museum Putty to secure it to the door so it doesn’t swing and sway)
  • Plants – easy-care, low maintenance (to cozy up the room)
  • Low-profile hangers (they take up less space)
  • Hangers with clips for shorts/slacks
  • Small fan that clips on bed

Desk and school supplies

  • Pens, Pencils, Scissors, Tape, Stapler, Staple Remover, Binder clips, Paperclips, Rubber bands, 3-Hole Punch, Ruler, Calculator, Eraser, Markers, Note Paper, Lined Paper, Binder, Spiral Notebooks, Desk Blotter, Pencil Cup, Post-it Notes, Index Cards
  • Tape: Scotch tape, masking, duct, washi, decorative shipping tape (for fun!)
  • Flashlight


  • Lanyard to carry keys and student ID
  • Small stack of plastic drawers to store medical supplies cough drops, Band-Aids, triple antibiotic cream, diarrhea medication, Advil/Aleve/Tylenol, tweezers, Benadryl, etc.
  • Dental care: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, lip balm
  • Haircare: brush, comb, hairdryer
  • Nail care: file, small brush for cleaning nails, nail clippers
  • Razors + shaving cream, soap, shampoo, conditioner, acne products
  • Shower caddy + shower shoes
  • Turkish towel wrap or bathrobe for walks to + from the bathroom (see my Pinterest board for photo)
  • Small bag for going to + from gym/pool; weekend trips away from campus
  • Sunscreen, bug spray, body lotions, creams, moisturizers

*Tip: Clear nail polish is handy if a thread is becoming loose from a button. One drop of clear nail polish will keep the thread in place for several washings.

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