Dorm Life: The Residence Hall Essentials and No-Nos

I can’t believe I’ve never made a college packing list for folks who will be living in a residence hall! Shame on me – I make lists for everything. And I am, quite literally, an expert on what (and what not) to pack for dorm life. FYI – typing “dorm” makes me cringe. We refer to it as a “residence hall”.
One thing to note though is that EVERY SCHOOL IS DIFFERENT, so when in doubt if you can bring something (especially things that could start a fire), check your school’s housing website or call the office directly. We love that shit. No really – easy yes or no answers make our day.

In my experience, here are some things every student should either have with them or purchase shortly after arriving, besides the obvious basics of bedding, toiletries bucket and shower shoes:

Ear plugs and an eye mask, oh God yes. This may be the first time you have to share a bedroom with someone and they may respect your wishes to go to sleep at 9pm and take three naps a day, but it won’t mean they aren’t going to be awake and doing things in the room. Like watching TV or eating or talking on the phone. You may want a small fan as well for white noise.

Does anyone still owe you a graduation gift? A vacuum would be awesome. A vacuum that you never, ever lend out to anyone with long hair. If your hall has a vacuum that can be borrowed or rented, chances are it’s broken because people sucked up paper clips and never cleaned the hair filled brush and the belt broke. Get one of your own. It doesn’t have to be expensive it just has to work, and nothing makes your room feel instantly more put together than a floor sans debris.

You don’t need a giant First-Aid kit, but a few supplies are essential. At least some adhesive bandages and triple antibiotic ointment. Hide them or everyone will be coming to you when they hurt themselves. Not exactly First-aid (at least I hope not), but since I’m thinking of it, bring a pair of scissors and some needles/thread. Very handy.

You are NEVER going to want to put this on your wall or university-provided furnishings, but: Duct Tape. Surely you will need it for something stupid at some point.

Flashlight. You’ll want it. Maybe the power will go out, maybe you’ll be trying to find something in the back of a drawer without waking up your roommate, maybe you’ll be trespassing exploring around old buildings at night.

A colorful area rug. You may want to pick this up once you are in town to save space but if you bring it with you it’s easier to put down before everything is unpacked. Because IF your room is carpeted, it is probably grey office carpeting from the 80’s of questionable cleanliness. Not something to make your room feel like a home. And I know you want to be the one on the hall with the “cool” room.

You are not too cool for an umbrella. You think you are, until the first week of classes when it storms and you have to sit through class, all soggy and miserable. The amount of change I see in umbrella use between the first time it rains and the second is astounding. Girls, pick up the cute rain boots too.

The PROPER light bulbs for your cute new lamp(s)! Most people get a desk or floor lamp to supplement the often poor quality lighting in their rooms. But then you ignore the label inside that tells you the maximum wattage because brighter is so much better! And then you burn a hole in the side of your cute plastic lampshade, possibly bringing out the fire department but definitely adding a nice stink of burnt plastic to your world headquarters. Or the metal shade heats up enough to burn you or something else that accidentally touches it.

Here’s something that may or may not be Kosher with your school: a candle warmer. No school is going to let you light a candle, and most forbid hot plates for cooking, but many will allow a legit candle warmer. It’s a nice way to keep the place smelling awesome as long as you remember that these should not be left on unattended. And candles in metal tins are safer than glass, which may explode from sudden temperature changes.

Here’s something no one wants to think about: cleaning products. Even if you only have a simple 12×12 room and the custodians clean your bathroom, you at least need a can of Clorox wipes. Add other products if you have a kitchen or bathroom to take care of. Preferably with bleach.

Now for the list of things nobody wants to see you showing up with because it means your first encounter with your R.A. is going to be unpleasant. I am not providing pictures here because I of course have no examples of these things…

Giant speakers. Guys, I’m looking at you. Just because it CAN PLAY MUSIC LOUD ENOUGH TO MAKE YOUR EARS BLEED doesn’t mean you can do it ever without getting into trouble.

Your “therapy” pet. Move in day is not the time to tell housing that you have a therapy rabbit/cat/dog/iguana that must be accommodated. Schools have an actual procedure for evaluating such needs, and it takes time. It’s also highly unlikely to be approved.

Most cooking devices. This varies wildly by school, so rather than buy a bunch of appliances that your parents have to take right home, you need to talk to someone who can give you answers. Not your cousin who graduated from there two years ago – a real, knowledgeable person in housing. New appliances are invented every day so newer, weirder stuff might have a delay in an answer while the top staff have a debate about it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask though – we have to have an answer for all the people after you that need to know. Keeps us on our toes.

I don’t think these are sold anymore but in case you are tempted to pick one up at a yard sale, pass by the halogen torchiere lamp. They were banned outright everywhere after several serious fires were started on different campuses because of them. If you don’t know what kind of lamp I’m talking about, ask your mom. She probably had one in her dorm room in the ’90s.

Weapons of any kind. I’m not going to have the debate about if its better to be safe than sorry. This is a list of no-nos and that is a big one. Listen, Thug Life, leave it at home. If you are wondering if there is ANY form of personal protection allowed, contact your campus police or security folks in advance. Don’t wait to talk to them about your taser until someone shoots a person with it while trying to be funny.  FYI, many schools offer self-defense courses for free, class credit, or super cheap.  Look into it.

I’m having a mental block right now and have to get dinner finished, so I’m going to publish this. Think of a no-no? Wondering if something is a bad idea? Just leave a comment!


About deepfriedyankee

I am a parade of one. A seeker of bathtubmarys. A lover of Mardi Gras, bacon and marbles. I have the patience of a saint. A very, very flawed saint.
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2 Responses to Dorm Life: The Residence Hall Essentials and No-Nos

  1. Mandy says:

    Where do you stand on Keurigs?

    And as for the halogen lamps, someone I knew hung a coat on one once. While it was on. Guess how well that worked out.

    • No one asks us about Keurigs specifically, but we (and most schools) will allow a coffee maker in the room. Which doesn’t make sense to me because its a hot plate, but we do.

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