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Ace the Campus Life: Shopping For The College Dorm Room

Now that all the high school graduation caps have been thrown high into the air and summer has begun, it's time to start planning for dorm move-in dates. Ensuring your student has all the essentials for dorm-living can make the transition smoother and more enjoyable for everyone involved. From experience, the key to acing the campus life and successful dorm living is to get creative with space and storage solutions.

When it comes to packing for college for the first time, it might initially feel a bit all-consuming. The summer months leading up to all the hugs and goodbyes can be a little overwhelming as students are squeezing in every ounce of time with their old friends and their loved ones all while packing up their childhood bedroom, shopping for a dorm, and prepping to leave home for the first time.

In addition, most will spend their summer communicating with their new roommates and trying to make sense of who gets what side of the room, sorting out who brings the toilet brush and who will bring the cleaners! Okay, maybe not so much about the cleaners, but I hope those are on the essentials list. 😂

Having moved three daughters in and out of college more times than I can count, I've developed a pretty solid idea of what a college dorm list might look like. And with the fourth daughter not far behind, she will get the revised and final version of the list—which is what I am sharing with you today!

So, congratulations to all the parents out there! Sending your child off to their first (second, third, etc.) year of college is an exciting milestone! It is also emotional on so many levels but, I would say, mostly more exciting than ever to see them start this new journey in their lives, right?

music poster movie poster neon sign wall decor dorm room decor
Do what you love dorm room decor

College Dorms Are Not Like They Used To Be!

It is pretty obvious that dorm life just isn't the same as it was when we (I) went to school. For example, when I was a freshman in college (before the internet), my roommate and I had a space the size of a tiny closet and a communal bathroom/shower down the hallway. My daughters will never know what it is like to have to slip on shower shoes and a robe and make their way down the long hallway to use the restroom or shower in the middle of the night while lugging all of their shower gear in their totes. If you know, you know.

dorm room floor plan double bunk Oregon state university dorm room
My old dorm room floor plan MANY years ago

I can almost see my kids rolling their eyes now as they read this part of this blog post. You can imagine how many times I have reminded them of this story as they were moving into their remodeled dorm “suites” with a shared living and kitchen space while only having to share a bathroom with their 'suite-mate' on their side of the dorm. Life in college is different these days.

But I digress. I also know that my own parents and grandparents had to walk miles to school in the rain and snow too. 

A good place to start is to check out the school’s list of what they provide in the dorm. Most schools provide a floor plan online so you can really be ready to maximize your space ahead of time. 

This is my dorm room shopping list that has been curated over the years. You will also find some helpful links to some of the best researched items (and some with personality) to help your new college student settle into their home away from home.

The Dorm Room Shopping List

girl dorm bedroom with pink decor including pink duvet, sheets, headboard, pillows, and wall decor
Dorm Room Components


  • Twin XL Sheet Sets with Side Phone Storage: 2 sets

  • Comforter/Blanket/ Duvet

  • Pillows and pillowcases

  • Mattress protector 

  • Gel mattress topper (Don’t skimp! Their sleep is so limited as it is)

  • Charging headboard (Phone charging is always a thing)

  • Set of bed risers or loft (maximizes space) 

  • Reserve a loft kit from your housing portal (optional)

  • Side tray for bunk bed storage (this makes sense to me)

  • Pillow backrest for reading in bed (I mean, they will read in bed, right?)

  • Bedside lighting 


  • Under-bed storage bins (these are a must)

  • Closet organizers/totes

  • Hanging closet organizers

  • Over the door organizers 

  • Printer or Fridge Rolling Storage

  • Bathroom caddy (even if you have the luxury of an in-suite bathroom, they can still be small. A caddy also helps keep things separated from the roommate) 

  • Hangers of all kinds

  • Drawer organizers

  • Charging storage units (amazing versality and usefulness)

  • Wagon or Hulken bag for transporting items from cars to dorms (groceries, larger items, etc. and can be used after college) 

  • Hamper (just provide it and pray laundry happens. If you build it, they will come... right?)

Kitchen Essentials

  • Mini-fridge

  • Microwave (if allowed) 

  • Coffee maker/kettle

  • Reusable water bottles (especially if in warmer climates, good to have a stock pile)

  • Bottle opener (you know, you know)

  • Can opener (not sure if that is necessary, but when you need it, you need it)

  • Chip clips (for all those open bags)

  • Travel coffee mugs

  • Portable blender for all those protein smoothies 

  • Mini vacuum 

  • Storage shelves for small spaces (add some totes for the shelves for organized storage)

  • Basic utensils and dishware 

Bathroom Items

  • Towels (2 sets of bath and hand towels)

  • Shower caddy tote 

  • Shower shoes (dorm slippers)

  • Toiletries (soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc.)

  • Under cabinet organizers 

  • Bath mat and curtain (don’t forget the pole and rings)

  • Shower organizer (if shower is in your dorm) 

  • Toilet brush/bathroom cleaners (just provide and pray it is used)

  • Toilet paper (always good to have a supply on hand) 

  • Hand soap 

Study Supplies

  • Laptop/Tablet (be sure it is up to date and you have a way to transport it all over campus safely)

  • Laptop sleeve

  • Desk lamp

  • Laptop Portable Desk

  • Notebooks and planners

  • Pens, pencils, and highlighters

  • USB drives

  • Charging Cart 

  • Sharpies for labeling 

  • White board and dry erase markers

  • Desk chair pillow 

General Supplies

  • Fan (for white noise and airflow)

  • Small air purifier 

  • Dorm approved wall adhesives (no nails allowed)

  • Packing tape 

  • Box cutter 

  • Lanyard (for your keys, ID, etc.) 

  • Batteries

  • Power strips 

  • First aid kit (they may not think it is necessary, but will use it, trust me)

  • Dorm emergency Kit

  • Small tool kit

  • Command strips and double sided tape

  • Zip ties  

  • Scent/oil diffuser (can’t have candles in dorms) 

  • Flashlight 

  • Trash can for bathroom, kitchen and desk 

  • Trash bags 

  • Envelopes and stamps (you just never know)

  • Portable Bluetooth speaker (no brainer)

  • Surge protector and extension cords 

  • Collapsible wagon cart on wheels—great for move-in day, for carting bags and shopping supplies throughout the year and camping (see my Hulken bag suggestion above)

Cleaning Supplies

The corner of a room with posters of David Bowie the Beatles Fleetwood Mac and other music groups on the wall.
Album Cover and Favorite Bands Wall Collage

So, the interior decor items may not be considered "the essentials" but it sure makes a difference in the way your space can feel. Don't be afraid to add some personality and your own vibe to the space. Just remember to bring a box of command strips since most dorms do not allow holes in the walls. Here are some fun ways to create your own vibe.

Personal Touches

dorm room interior decor music storage
Show Your Own Personality

Of course, there are always those items that you don't think about until you REALLY need them. That is how the miscellaneous list came about. It is also helpful to hand off a folder that houses all of their personal information and personal documents. If they get a part-time job, they might need to provide specific information. Having that folder means a parent won't have to overnight a passport or any documents... because that happens too.


  • Personal Prescriptions and supplements (be sure to think ahead, also set up their regular prescriptions at the school pharmacy or a local pharmacy)

  • OTC medications (cold, flu, headache meds) 

  • Thermometer (when they need it, they NEED it) 

  • Bug spray and sunscreens 

  • List of doctors and insurance information 

  • Noise canceling headphones 

  • Scooter and charger/ bike/ or skateboard for college life commutes (don’t forget the lock and I would throw in a helmet and pray they use that, too)

  • Update payment on Uber or Lyft app or prepay on the app

  • Trash bags and Ziploc storage bags 

  • Personal safe for valuables (it is always a good idea)

  • Gym bag (also used as an overnight bag) 

  • Catch-All personalized tray (for airpods, keys, etc)

  • Welcome door mat (personalized or general)

  • A good supply of bottled water and favorite snacks before you say your goodbyes & leave them behind

  • Reserve parking permit if planning to have a car at school

Daughter of a Designer: This List in Practice

I have to admit, this list started when my own twins were headed off for their freshman year of college. They were so organized and each had a plan. They knew what they wanted and had spent the summer slowly ordering items so they were totally prepared the day they moved in. Not all kids will go that route, but overall, having a list as a roadmap surely can't hurt in the end.

This was my own daughter's dorm from her freshman year. By the way, using your desk as a vanity is a great way to double the duty of a space. This vanity mirror is also one of the favorite finds—check out Impressions vanity mirrors if you are interested in those! They are the best whether you are in your college years or your mom years!

college desk with string lights, jewelry stand, vanity mirror, decor, and pink cushioned desk chair

Speaking of double duty, don't forget to use the suitcases to store seasonal items or items that you don't need access to every daythey can be hidden under the bed when not in use. There are so many creative ways to use a small space. If you can make a piece have a double purpose, it is always a help!

A Final Note For The Parents

For the parents out there... check out The Mama Bear Legal Forms and App: I just learned of this service and I am so happy I did! This allows you to help your 18+ young adult in case they have an emergency and are unable to consent.

The package includes: Health power of attorney documents, finance power of attorney, HIPAA release and a FERPA waiver, free documents for a second state, and a free app for scanning and storing documents and forms.


dorm room college cozy space with accent lights and sofa
Dorm Room Shared Space

Summer Awaits

So you made it this far! Summer will fly by and you will be loading boxes up before you know it.

Your baby has grown up, taking one of their first steps into the big, wild world. Much like it was when they took their first steps ever in lifeit's such an exciting time! As a parent who has experienced this journey multiple times, I understand the mix of pride, worry, and excitement a parent can feel during this time.

I hope this list helps ease your stress level over the summer and gives both you and your student direction as the next big adventure awaits. Remember, it's not just about packing the right items; it's about preparing them for a new chapter filled with growth and independence.

Once they leave home for the first time, they never come back the same—it will be the start of a new phase of your relationship with them. Enjoy the moments. Enjoy the days because, as we already know, they go fast!

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out. I, most likely, am crying tears of joy right along side you because no matter how many times you say good-bye... it is never easy.

Please note that I do not receive any compensation or have any affiliations with the links or referrals provided in this blog post. These recommendations are based solely on my personal opinions and experiences.

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1 Comment

Jun 22

So helpful and beautiful! 😍

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