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Packing 101: The Ultimate College Packing Guide

A black dachshund popping out of a moving box.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Welcome to your very first college class, Packing 101! This course is designed to help future college students better understand and succeed at the college packing process while also providing guidance.

For many incoming first-year students, college will be their first time truly living on their own, so know that mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned.

By the end of this course, you should understand the process to create a packing list and be able to identify the key items you should include and leave at home as you prepare for your move. 

As a student who has just finished up their freshman year of college, I have discovered through personal experience the items that I ended up needing and those that I never touched.

Even though I watched tons of TikToks leading up to my freshman year to know what to purchase heading into college, there were still some things I could not predict.

So, I would like to share what I found out through my first year at college in hopes that you will be more prepared than I was.

What To Pack

There are some items that you will hear from college students over and over again. And I wholeheartedly agree. For most dorm systems, you will need to have a water filter, shower caddy, fan, and electric kettle.

While some of these items are debatable depending on personal preference, I think most people will agree on this. However, there are some things to consider even when packing these basic items.

For instance, I never actually packed a water kettle because one of my other roommates agreed to let me borrow hers. If you can coordinate with your roommates beforehand so you can both pack less and avoid duplicate items, the better it is!

I also got away with not having a shower caddy because unlike traditional dorms, I had my own personal shower in my living space that I shared with one other roommate.

Thus, you should understand that while these are common items that a lot of college students end up getting, it is important to take a look at each item on a case by case basis. Understand that your living situation is unique to you and what one person might need is not something you might necessarily have to have either.

Other than items I mentioned earlier, there are other things that you might not think to pack but that you should give some serious thought to. For instance, command strips.

This is another common one but speaking from personal experience, when it comes time to put them up, I would suggest attaching them to wooden surfaces as much as possible. While they are supposed to come off without removing any paint from the walls, you might not remove it correctly, or the paint may just be too thin and pliable from so many layers that it might chip or form a bubble.

You can avoid these issues if you simply attach them to the wooden surfaces of your wardrobe or desk so I strongly recommend doing so if you can. 

Beyond command strips/hooks, you should also consider packing a set of business clothes. You never know when you might need to look polished and professional, whether it’s at a job fair, in-class presentation, or an interview, and you should have the appropriate clothing if need be.

Going along with clothes, you should also pack a lint roller and/or a steamer. Even for your normal clothes, it can get annoying and unsightly if lint piles up.

Especially with more formal pieces, you would greatly benefit from having a lint roller or steamer. However, if you are in a pinch, you can substitute a steamer with a hair straightener. Just make sure the heat is on low so you don’t burn your clothes.

One other thing that may be helpful to consider is to have multiple storage options. A tiered cart is a cute and convenient way to have storage for small items that do not seem to quite fit anywhere else.

However, your floor space is precious real estate so it is imperative you use it carefully. If you are not converting your bed into a loft, then make sure to buy some storage bins so that you can store items below your bed.

Even better, keep the moving boxes (if you used them) from when you move in so you can reuse them at the end of the year. Believe me, you will be so glad that you did.

One last option that you have is to purchase a storage system that utilizes your door. Typically, this means that you have a wall of pockets hanging off of the top of the door itself. This is great because it gives you tons of storage options and it does not take up any floor space!

As you might be able to tell, having enough space for all your items is a big concern when moving into college dorms. Depending on your dorm situation, you might be especially limited, so pack smart and consider smart storage options.

Also, keep in mind that whatever you bring, you also have to move out at the end of the year. You will likely accumulate more items throughout your freshman year so word of warning to only bring what you truly need!

While there are many other items that you might need, these are helpful ones that you might initially forget to consider. Keep in mind that you are a unique person with unique needs so your packing system is likely different from someone else’s.

What To Pack And Not Pack For Your Dorm

What to Leave at Home

While there are some things you should consider packing that you might not think of, there are also some things you should leave at home. What you might consider to be a necessity now might be something you never end up using!

Remember, your dorm is likely small, so every bit of space is valuable. Make sure you are bringing only what you need so you can use the storage space you have wisely. 

I found that I brought more summer clothes than I needed and not enough jackets. While the weather at each university or college is different, if you are coming from somewhere that does not have similar weather conditions, keep your clothing choices in mind.

For instance, I was moving to Pennsylvania from California so I was a bit underprepared in the winter clothes category. In general, bring along the clothes that you typically wear. If you do not wear those clothes at home, you probably will not be wearing those clothes in college. 

Another thing you should leave at home is a printer. While it might seem like a great idea to have your own printer in your dorm room, the reality is that you probably will not need it.

Not only is it expensive to buy and maintain (printer ink costs a lot!) but it also takes up a lot of valuable space. Keep in mind that a lot of class materials are based online anyways so you probably will not need to print out anything in the first place.

On the off chance that you do have to print something, there are almost always plenty of printers placed throughout the school where you can print for little to no cost. 

Something else that you might not think about are candles. For most people, candles are a great relaxing tool and can help your room smell great.

However, a lot of dorms do not allow candles for the same reason you can not bring incense: because of the open flame. If you have an electric wax melt or some other kind of non-flame way to release the aromatics of candles into your room, then bring that instead. 

One last thing to consider leaving at home are throw pillows or stuffed animals. While they might seem cute and comfortable on your bed, again, they take up valuable space. The dorm beds are not that large and they will likely end up on the ground.

Personally, I had a large collection of stuffed animals. While I do not regret bringing them, I will say that more often than not, the majority of them ended up on the ground by the time it was morning. Instead, consider bringing one or two pillows or stuffed animals to lightly decorate your bed.

How to Formulate Your Packing Plan

So now you know a few general items to bring and to leave at home, but what about the rest? Each person has different needs so again, you might not need what your roommate needs. To figure out what you truly need to pack, you need to formulate a plan. 

Your first step is to research the dorms and the campus. Find out what they already provide or other substitutes you can find elsewhere on campus. For example, in our dorms, the RAs provided vacuum cleaners to borrow upon request so there would be no reason to bring your own.

What kind of furniture or storage options does your dorm come with? Once you know what is already provided to you, you can begin to figure out what you need to provide yourself.

The best way to figure out what you actually need to bring is to start a packing list. You might think that you should just sit down and write down everything that comes to mind, but the best way to do it is quite different.

First, start a list on your phone or something that you can write on nearby. Keep in mind that you should be starting this list at least a few weeks or so before you move in.

Other than the obvious things, like toothbrushes, pants, etc, you are going to use this list to note down things that you use and want to bring. Sometimes, you might want to bring something that you do not reach for that often but would be helpful to have at college.

That way, as you progress through your normal life at home, you can figure out what things you are reaching for. So, every time you use something, ask yourself if you would use it in college, and if the answer is “yes,” then write it down on your list. 

This list will help you figure out what you are not using. For instance, you might have thought that you wanted to bring that personal blender to college. But if you did not use it at all during your time at home, then would you really use it while you are in your dorm? 

This kind of packing system is great for catching the small things that you would have otherwise had to purchase after you moved in. You will likely still find some things you forgot to pack or other items that you did not anticipate you needed, but the more prepared you are, the better!

College is both an exciting and stressful time for incoming students. You should take the chance to make the move in process as stressless and as easy as possible. Instead of worrying about what to pack, if you follow the tips above, you can simply be excited about how to decorate your room!

As I have mentioned many times throughout this blog post, you are different from everyone else. Think carefully about what you truly do and do not need in order to have a smoother move in experience and overall dorm life.

I wish you the best of luck with your packing process and hope that Packing 101 was helpful to you!

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Author: Sophia

Sophia is a current college freshman at Pennsylvania State University with plans to major in marketing. When she's not studying or in the gym, you can find Sophia watching her favorite Youtube channels or streamers. In the future, she hopes to travel the world while developing her marketing skills and building her network.