Preparation. Start by calling your school's housing office to ask which furnishings will be provided, whether or not you may paint the room, and what sort of amenities and services are offered. Does the room have a sink, or a bookcase and reading lamps? Is the room carpeted and are there window coverings? Do they provide sheets and towels and/or laundry service? Is it possible to rent a refrigerator? Is there Wi-Fi?
Once you know what the school is providing, make a list based on what you will do in the room — study, sleep, snack, dress yourself, hang out with friends, etc. — and what you'll need to do those things. If you live within driving distance of the school, you'll be able to schlep almost everything you need. If you have to fly, wait to buy some things once you get there.
Sleeping stuff. Take your own pillow with you! (School pillows are cement-like). Buy a comforter with a different pattern on either side so you can flip it over when you get tired of it or when it gets dirty. Two sets of sheets will allow you to go longer between laundry sessions. An extra blanket can be used to drape across your shoulders during late-night study session, and can also be used for picnics. Decorative pillows can prop you up if you like to study in bed. A clip-on lamp will allow you to read in bed, or can be used elsewhere in the room to supplement the usually dim lighting. A lighted clock will get you to class on time. If the floors are cement or hardwood, take along an area rug to place by your bed. Don't forget your bathrobe and slippers!
Study stuff. Make sure you take one or two extension cords and a surge protector for your computer, as many dorm room's outlets are few and far between. If you require java while studying, take along a one-cup coffee maker with a reusable filter. Take along a desk lamp, if your school does not provide one. Assemble your office supplies in a shoebox for easy transport. If your room does not have a bookcase, try a collapsible one from Cost Plus.
Dressing and hygiene stuff. My dorm room had a dinky closet with no hangers in it. Take along a handful of hangers, just in case. Storage will be at a premium, so use a suitcase to store out-of-season clothing and your bookcase to house T-shirts or sweaters. Buy plastic, stackable storage units, if necessary. Install wall hooks, if allowed, to hang often-worn coats and hats. Since the bathroom will probably be miles away, keep all your hygienic supplies in a plastic caddie with a handle for easy transport. Remember to include a plastic cup so you don't have to drink out of the faucet. A laundry basket on wheels can make washday easier. Start collecting quarters for the drier.
Entertainment stuff. If you plan on serious snacking, rent a fridge from your housing office and keep cloth napkins, plastic plates, cups and silverware at hand. An iPod dock with mini-speakers can help take the edge off a sterile dorm room. If you play the guitar, take it along.
Other essentials. Collect your friend's, family's and doctor's addresses and phone numbers in an address book on your computer. Record your eyeglass and medical prescriptions.
Extras. To keep homesickness at bay, bring along a few family photos or an album. Add several scented candles and potted plants here and there. If your room is cable-ready or has an antenna outlet, hook up a portable TV. Paint the ceiling a bright color. For a finished look, add curtains and a framed piece of art that harmonizes with your bed covering.
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