Why I Ignored My Son’s College Dorm Room Checklist

Not everything on a college dorm room list is a must-have.

Getting your kid ready for college for the first time is exciting — until you get that list of things the school says they need. That’s when the excitement starts to give way to stress. You might get struck by sudden flashbacks of when you were expecting and were given a “new baby checklist.”

You end up having the same internal conversation: “Wow, that sure is a lot of stuff. Do we really need all of that? No, we don’t. I mean, who would buy all of that stuff? Hmmm, maybe we should get it all — you know, just in case.”

Sound familiar?

Read More: My 5 Reminders for Parents Sending Their Kids Off to College

Ignore the List

When it was time to pack up my son up for his first semester on campus, we pretty much ignored that dorm room checklist. If you have a kid going off to school, I think you should do the same, and here’s why.

College kids don’t need much more than what they use now on a daily basis. Sure, their needs will differ a little in a new environment, but they won’t suddenly morph into a different person with a different set of preferences. (Well, they’re teenagers, so who knows.) If they don’t use a lumbar support backrest thingy with weird arms to do their homework now, they’re not going to need one at college, for instance.

I’m certainly not trying to zap the fun out of shopping for school, because, yes, that’s a part of the experience. But there’s no need to go overboard. Plus, there are other things your son or daughter could spend the money on, like tuition, books or pizza.

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Make Your Own List

The problem with the checklists is they include every possible thing your kid could ever need and then some. So, the best way to approach shopping for college is to make your own list.

Think about what qualifies as “essential” in your kid’s world, and start there. Also, take into consideration what their particular dorm setup will be (assuming that they know). If they have to use a community shower down the hall, their needs will differ than if the shower is outside of their bedroom. If they have a kitchenette in their suite, that’s a factor, as well.

The key is to focus on needs and — even then — be selective.

A List From Kids Who Have Been There, Done That and Overspent

I asked my son and some of his friends who all have a few semesters of dorm life under their belts what a new college student should bring to the dorm. Keep in mind that there is no singular list that will work for everyone since needs and preferences vary. But, here’s what they suggest in general.

The Essentials

Bedding / Linens

  • Pillow
  • 1 or 2 sets of sheets
  • Comforter and/or blanket
  • 2 towels
  • 2 washcloths

Room Stuff

  • Desk lamp
  • Trash can
  • Hangers
  • Power strip


  • 1 Plate, bowl, cup and mug
  • Electric kettle or coffee maker (if allowed)
  • Basic pots and pans and cooking utensils (if there is access to a kitchen)
  • Water bottle
  • Eating utensils

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  • Shower curtain and rings (if the bathroom is private)
  • Shower caddy and flip-flops (for a community bathroom)
  • Trash can
  • Toilet paper (Bring extra, apparently.)

Laundry and Cleaning

  • Hamper and/or laundry bag
  • Basic cleaning supplies (multipurpose spray, sponges, rags, paper towels, etc.)
  • Broom
  • Dishwashing liquid (if applicable)
  • Laundry detergent and dryer sheets


  • Toiletries (No need to go crazy. Remember to assess what actually gets used at home.)
  • Electronics (Whatever they typically use but, again, be selective.)
  • Clothing (Leave winter items at home if they’ll be visiting before the weather turns.)

School Supplies

  • Pens and pencils (Skip the folders and notebooks. Most work will be done electronically.)
  • Calculator
  • Backpack and/or bag

Check With Dorm and Coordinate With Roommate

  • Microwave
  • Mini fridge
  • Vacuum cleaner

Not Completely Necessary But Could Be Useful

  • Full-length mirror
  • Over-the-bed organizer
  • First-aid kit (or at least a box of Band-Aids)
  • Umbrella
  • Extra-long phone charger
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Water filter
  • Closet organizer

Wait Until You Get There

  • Fan
  • Storage cart
  • Bed risers
  • Storage bins

Don’t Bother

  • Printer
  • Alarm clock
  • Bedside table and any other furniture

More on How Your Kid Will Spend Money: 21 Budgeting Tips for College Students

Err on the Side of Bringing Less

Since dorm rooms aren’t known for their generous size, erring on the side of bringing less will do your son or daughter well. And guess what? If they get to school and realize they forgot something, or they do need that backrest with the weird arms, then they can get it. Chances are there are stores near the college. Or they can use Amazon. There are also care packages and visits back home. And, hey, if you live within driving distance, maybe it will give you an excuse to go visit them — not that you needed one.

Read More: The 5 Costs I Didn’t Expect When My Son Went Off to College

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