Before I started college four years ago, I spent months planning out my perfect dorm room. I scoured Pinterest boards and blogs searching for the best accessories to make my new home actually feel homey. I even sneaked into my residence hall the night before move-in day to check out my room and decide which bed and closet to claim before my roommate arrived.
Unfortunately, this taught me a tough lesson: There is such a thing as being over-prepared. I had so much stuff that I didn’t have any place to put it all. Dorm rooms are tiny, and my flower decorations, picture frames and inspirational quote plaques couldn’t fit.
If you’re about to begin your dorm life — or you have a family member who is — my best advice is to think through which items you will actually use on a daily basis. A refillable water bottle? Yes. Your entire shoe collection? No.
In collaboration with Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews and recommends products, here are five cheap(ish) things to help make dorm life more comfortable. (And please don’t be the freshman with a U-Haul.)
Apparently having to do your own laundry is the hallmark of being a real adult. So congrats! (Here’s some help on that.) Unfortunately, doing laundry in college often means running back-and-forth from the laundry room to make sure some impatient students didn’t dump your clean clothes on the floor so they can start a new load.
Having a sturdy laundry basket with handles makes carrying everything easier. Wirecutter recommends the Sterilite Stacking Laundry Basket because of its ability to hold a week’s worth of clothes.
I wish I could tell you that your dorm comes with a soft mattress, but I’m afraid that’s not always the case. Sleep isn’t that frequent in college, so when you do get a chance to get some shut-eye, you’ll want to make the most of it.
Enter the mattress topper, truly a gift for anyone who has ever woken up with a stiff neck or achy back after lying on a lumpy mattress. Wirecutter’s budget pick is the Dreamfoam Gel Swirl Memory Foam Topper.
Late-night snacking: One of the best, and worst, parts of college. A trail of crumbs was always a giveaway I had just pulled an all-nighter, and when my parents visited for the first time, they hit me with: “When was the last time you vacuumed?”
In my obsession with decorating my dorm, I didn’t think much about cleaning supplies. A good vacuum can make a huge difference, and so can choosing the right one that you’ll actually use Wirecutter has a lot of great picks. I especially like the hand-held ones — like this Black+Decker Dustbuster, Wirecutter’s pick for a hand-held — that can be stored in small spaces.
Depending on where you’re going to school, the first couple of months in the fall semester can be brutally hot. Carrying a refillable water bottle around helps remind you to hydrate and also prevents having to purchase pricey (and environmentally harmful) plastic bottles. Residence halls usually have water fountains, and you can fill up your water bottle when you’re hanging out in your room.
The top choice from Wirecutter is the Klean Kanteen. It’s made of stainless steel, but it’s almost as light as a plastic bottle, which is important when you have to carry it around campus all day.
Many dorms have hall-style bathrooms, so you might be sharing facilities with a group of your classmates. This means lugging your toiletry items around each day, and having a sturdy toiletry bag makes this easier. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a room with your own bathroom, these can still help keep your items organized.
Wirecutter recommends the Sea to Summit Traveling Light Hanging Toiletry Bag, which has a hook to hang it up.
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