As I was packing up my tiny dorm room on the last day of finals in June, I couldn’t help but laugh as I found items I had promised my mom that I would use all the time but that had been collecting dust all year.
Among these forgotten and unused items: a laptop bag and lock, a travel mug and a somewhat expensive Keurig coffeemaker.
There are thousands of products college-bound students could buy to enhance or decorate dorm rooms, but their focus should be on essentials.
From a personal perspective, I wouldn’t have been able to survive my first year without my Command adhesive hooks, a fan and my comfortable body pillow, the last of which kept my laptop from falling off my bed when I fell asleep doing homework — plus, it was more comfortable than sleeping against a wall.
Each student will assess what his or her essentials will be.
According to retailers, expected back-to-dorm spending will be down to $836.83 from $907.22 last year, welcome news for parents who will already spend thousands on their children’s housing.
Hans Greenawalt, a marketing specialist for Ikea in West Sacramento, Calif., suggested that before students shop they should contact their schools to get room measurements, find out what comes with the room, find out what they can and can’t bring along, and coordinate with roommates.
Greenawalt’s dorm essential: lighting.
“In a lot of those rooms you don’t necessarily have the proper lighting for your study habits,” Greenawalt said. Ikea offers a variety of table lamps, clamp spotlights and hanging lamps. When you’re studying until 4 a.m., your roommate will thank you for remembering to buy a small lamp you can keep on your side of the room.
Another tip: Be mindful of limited space.
“You’re sharing the room with another person,” said Jane Heaton, associate director of housing and residential life at California State University, Sacramento. “You don’t want to bring everything under the sun.”
The living space you’ll be sharing will be small. The average dorm room at CSUS is about 11-by-13 feet. Heaton said the campus expects about 1,000 freshmen to move in this fall.
At the University of California, Davis, the nearly 4,800 freshmen moving in Sept. 21-22 will find the living space is a bit roomier — about 10-by-20 feet, said Ramona Hernandez, director of business and financial services in housing.
“Once they move in, there’s the ability to loft the bed and move the desk and dresser underneath,” Hernandez said. “That might give them a little more floor space.”
A new product from Bed, Bath, & Beyond — a set of four power bed risers — will raise a bed 7 inches while adding power and USB outlets.
A personal note: If I’d had so many power sources conveniently located near the bed during my freshman year, I wouldn’t have had to lean off my bed to text while charging my phone.
But not all schools allow extra bed risers.
“You want to check with your school’s dorm-room checklist,” said Jessica Joyce, Bed, Bath & Beyond’s public relations manager. The retailer offers more than 2,000 in-store checklists for individual schools.
Joyce also had advice for making use of space in a small dorm room: “One thing about storage is you really need to think about using it throughout your room.”
Students should think of using the door for extra storage, adding a rod for more hanging space or an over-the-door mirror to save on wall space, she said.
“If you do the research ahead of time to make sure you’re not purchasing things that you might not need, this will help you have a successful shopping trip,” Joyce said.
Target offers an app called Cartwheel and discounts on many back-to-school items, said Jesse Thompson, a leader on duty at a store in Sacramento, which recently offered a variety of college essentials, including colored storage crates and bins, dry-erase calendars and waterproof plastic or mesh shower caddies.
Another tip: Don’t forget a shower caddy.
Ahryun Han, a third-year English major at the University of California, Davis, will be a resident adviser for a second year this term. She said her dorm essentials include “comfortable blankets and pillows.”
“I don’t feel too homesick if I’m comfortable in my bed,” she said.
Han, who staffed in UC Davis’ Thoreau Hall last year, said she’s seen many students buy things they didn’t end up keeping long-term.
Cassidy Shen will attend UC Davis in the fall. Although she didn’t have an exact shopping plan in mind as she moved through the aisles at Target recently, she was looking forward to personalizing her dorm space.
“I’m just excited to have everything that’s mine and being able to pick everything out and just do whatever I want,” Shen said.
One last personal note: I’m glad I brought dozens of family pictures and other mementos from home to personalize my room. When I was homesick, seeing reminders of my family made my tiny dorm room feel more like home.