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The Freshman Experience: 5 Dorm Room Shopping Tips


Editor’s note: This is part four in our series, “The Freshman Experience”, where our very own incoming freshman Sarah has been documenting her experiences navigating her freshman year at Northeastern University in style. In case you missed them, see The Freshman Experience: 8 Week Countdown, The Freshman Experience: College Orientation, and The Freshman Experience: Tips & Tricks for Meeting the Roommate.

Standard issue college dorm room
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Hi, my name is Sarah and I am a procrastinator. Anybody else out there? Normally, the only downside of procrastination is the added stress you force upon yourself. However, when it comes to dorm room shopping, there is another consequence: things are beginning to sell out!

Before I get into the rest of my dorm room shopping tips, let me give you the ultimate advice: DO NOT wait until last minute to buy your sheets/duvet covers/decorations. DO NOT be a procrastinator! PLAN AHEAD!

Seriously. It gets stressful. Around this time of year, college girls around the country begin to realize that they have only a few weeks until move-in! Everyone races to the nearest Target or Bed, Bath, & Beyond to scour the aisles. Displays are knocked over, bedding gets inspected, items are haphazardly thrown about – it’s a shopping nightmare.

To help you combat these problems, I’m outlining my own freshman dorm room shopping tips. We’ve already covered the specifics of buying your bedding, furnishings, storage, and decorations, and creating a dorm room layout and color scheme, so, using my own experience, I’ll be discussing the shopping experience itself. Follow these tips, DO NOT procrastinate, and your dorm room shopping experience will be a breeze!

1. Make a list

Blank piece of paper
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This seems like common sense, right? Wrong! Surprisingly, many college-aged girls skip this step. It’s so important to write down what you will be needing before you leave the house! Once you start throwing items in your cart and getting excited over cute pillows, it is really easy to forget about the necessities. When you make your dorm room shopping list, make sure you:

  • Visit nearby stores. During the summer, many stores like Bed, Bath, & Beyond and Target come out with their various college-themed marketing materials. When you walk into a Target store, you immediately spot the “RE: Room Essentials” signs. On their website, you can find their College Checklist. At Bed, Bath, & Beyond, handy lists are available for you online and in-stores to use while shopping. As you compile your personalized list, take a look at these helpful handouts.
  • Talk to your friends. Growing up, most of my best friends were a year older than me. While I used to be annoyed about being the youngest, I realized that older friends definitely have their benefits: they’ve been to college and know what they are talking about! When I went on my first round of dorm room shopping, I brought along my best friend who had just finished her freshman year at UW-Madison. She and I consulted our lists and discussed what was actually necessary. She had great tips! I needed a laundry basket of some kind, so I asked her, pop-up or bag? I asked her how she stored items and how her friends organized their rooms. Talking to people that know you and that know college is incredibly helpful in the dorm room shopping process!
  • Consult your college. Before you shop, check out your college’s dorm specifications. Can you loft your beds? If not, that will affect the kind of storage you get. Can you bring in furniture? If not, check that futon off your list. Are those cute pineapple-shaped string lights allowed? By checking online or, better yet, calling someone that is familiar with your specific dorm, you will save yourself a lot of stress (and money!) as you narrow down your list.

2. Bring a friend

I already outlined the benefits of having a seasoned friend help you make your list, but I’ll reiterate a few here. Trust me on this: You’ll want a second opinion on that cheetah print duvet cover, advice on which shower caddy will be the most helpful, and, lastly, someone with whom to share this incredibly fun experience! As you push around your overloaded cart and chat about the year ahead, you’ll be so glad that you have your best sidekick there with you.

3. Go a few times

Target shopping carts
Photo Credit

It’s time to face an ugly truth here: shopping for college can be really expensive. As exciting as it is to cruise around the store and pick out your new room essentials, there is always that moment of dread when you get up to the cashier.

In order to help lessen the financial burden, try to space out your shopping into multiple trips. On one trip, tackle everything you’ll need for your desk and for studying. On the next, buy stuff for bed and sleep. Follow these with storage, bath, decorations, and closet. Although you won’t necessarily be spending less, you won’t burn a huge hole in your pocket by buying everything on the same trip. Also, by spreading out your shopping by specifics, you’ll make sure that you are getting everything you need.

4. Think about transportation

How are you getting to school with all your stuff? For me, this answer has changed more times this summer than Nicki Minaj’s hairstyles. Drive or fly? Fly? Drive? Ship things? It’s definitely a process to bring everything to your new school.

To make this a little easier, as you shop, think about how you’ll be moving all of your stuff into your dorm. If you’re driving, you don’t need to worry as much about making things fit than, say, the girl who’s flying from California to New York. If you’re flying to school, bring as much as you can, but don’t be afraid to buy things once you get there. I’m flying into Boston two days before I actually move in. During that time I’ll be visiting the nearest Target to buy that adorable storage ottoman that would be impossible to fit on a plane.

5. Talk to your roommate

College roommates
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If you have already met your roommate, make sure you talk to her about your future living space! Are you bringing a mini-fridge? What colors will her side of the room be? Does she have a TV? Plan it out before you get there.

For example, my roommate and I both love the color purple, so we decided that we would try to have at least a little purple on both sides of the room. She ordered a microfridge for us (through our school), and together we’re shopping for an area rug when we get to Boston. By talking to your roommate, you’ll have a better idea of what the entire room will look like – not just half.

Your turn!

I hope you guys haven’t fallen victim to the same procrastination bug: I’ve been shopping up a storm the last few days. Incoming freshman, how has your dorm room shopping process been going? Do you feel confident that you’ve gotten everything you need? Where have you been shopping and what has worked for you? Tell us below!

Veteran girls, what advice do you have for us? If you could go back, what would you have brought that you had forgotten? Tell us what essentials are on your checklist by leaving a comment.

Posted on on August 12, 2011 / Filed Under: College Life / Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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29 Responses to “The Freshman Experience: 5 Dorm Room Shopping Tips”

  1. 1
    August 12th, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Here’s a bit of advise from a long ago dorm girl. If you aren’t too picky about your area rug (and don’t be – dorm rooms can have a fair number of floor-related disasters), go to a carpet store and look at remnants. They have lots of dorm-sized chunks of carpet for cheap. My dorm floor was hard and cold and I just wanted something to cover it up. My dad had the great idea of looking at remnants. It made my room so much cozier!

  2. 2
    August 12th, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    I’m moving in in nineteen days and I haven’t bought a thing yet :P I’m going out shopping this weekend hopefully, but I thought that it might work for me to not buy as much till I move in, because my dorm is REALLY small and I don’t know what I will and won’t need. So I’m getting sheets, towels, a desk lamp, and a few decorations, but overall I’m gonna wait.

  3. 3
    August 12th, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    One good thing about procrastination is that if you wait to see other people’s rooms before you buy your decorations, it will mean you can get more unique stuff. Once you see everyone else’s rooms all look the same, it will make you go out of your way to be different!

  4. 4
    August 12th, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    My best advice (especially for girls moving far away or flying to school) is to just buy most of the stuff once you get there. I pretty much just bought a comforter about a week before move-in at home because I found a cute cheap one and arrived at college a few days early and went shopping for the rest of the stuff. Its so much easier to shop once you’ve seen the room and you don’t have to worry about the entire transportation issue! And I wouldn’t even bother with most school supplies until you’ve been to a class or two.

  5. 5
    August 12th, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I really recommend going to big thrift stores like Savers or Goodwill to get good dorm things if money is an issue. I purchased 2 comforters, 2 pillowcases, curtains and maybe 10 pieces of decor at Savers today for a total of $48.

    Most people think that thrift stores sell dirty items but I have never had any issues with the Savers and Goodwills in my area.

  6. 6
    August 12th, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    One thing I LOVED having while I lived in the dorms (and really regretted not having come in with) was an electric teakettle (hot water heater) — and also a French press (if you drink coffee). Then, I could buy a few breakfast things in advance and have breakfast in my room (and being able to have coffee any time is really nice when you have a lot of early classes!). Some dorms don’t allow automatic coffee makers, but most do, I think, allow the electric teakettle and definitely the French press. :)

  7. 7
    August 12th, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I would definitely recommend bring a few lamps, both desk and floor. Depending on where your room is located you might not have a lot of sunlight coming in, and dorm lighting tends to be florescent and not very nice. Having lamps made my room feel so much cozier and made it easier to read/see/etc. Plus they add some fun colors to your decor :)

  8. 8
    August 12th, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    I am a fan of this list. I’m now a senior, and I’m that girl flying from the west coast to the east coast. My advice if you’re flying–yes, you can wait until you get there to buy things, but it’s really been helpful to ship things you buy online (esp. when there’s free shipping; jump on that!). Of course, your school mailroom would have to be open before school in order for you to go pick them up.
    Also: SPACE BAGS. Buy tons for your clothes you’ll be carrying in your luggage, and ROLL THEM UP. I can fit four space bags in each 50lb bag I check.

  9. 9
    August 12th, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    I’m an incoming freshman; would you reccommend plastic laundry baskets, or pop up hampers? baskets seem better for carrying laundry etc.

  10. 10
    August 12th, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    I ordered bedding online and shipped it to my new address in college – more options and less hassle!

  11. 11
    August 12th, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    I would recommend a plastic laundry basket with good, sturdy handles. I lived in the residence halls for three years and often had to lug my laundry up or down stairs to get it done. With a basket, it’s easier to carry your laundry soap, quarters, etc. and your clothes. Some people might argue that the pop up hampers can fold up to be stored easier, but really when are you not going to have dirty clothes in it? Especially in college – are you kidding me? :) Plus they can rip and I think they are just harder to deal with. You can hide a plastic basket in the bottom of your closet or under your bed. And just remember: good handles!

  12. 12
    August 12th, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    If it fits in your closet, a plastic hamper is really good. It’s like a really big laundry basket. It holds about three loads. I fold up most stuff and lay it in the bottom, then drape things over the top that will be hung up.

  13. 13
    August 12th, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    I used a mesh pop-up hamper, and I didn’t have any problems with it. You can squish it into a smaller space than a hard plastic hamper and they are generally upright whereas the baskets take up more floor (or closet) space. Plus, you can stuff lots of clothes in the mesh, but the hard plastic hamper can only hold so much.

    Either choice will get pretty heavy (especially with multiple loads of clothes!) so you should pick whichever you feel more comfortable with! And neither should be very expensive, so if you change your mind, there’s no harm done :)

  14. 14
    August 13th, 2011 at 12:10 am

    this was so tricky for me when I had to do it last year. i had no idea where to start! i definitely recommend a curtain for your closet. They are usually an open space carved into the wall. a cute curtain acts as a barrier for your stuff, as well as a cute coverup for a messy closet! i also recommend a lap desk! It’s great for studying on the couch in the lounge or on your bed…or anywhere! Shower shoes and a portable, spacius shower caddy are key!! There are so many more things, but those are the things that I was most grateful for getting!

  15. 15
    August 13th, 2011 at 12:16 am

    I love your series on starting college! It is very cute and helpful! Thanks so much!

    P.S. I’m from Minnesota too! Yeaaahhh! :)

  16. 16
    August 13th, 2011 at 12:42 am

    I actually got pretty lucky for some stuff- my roommate already had a minifridge, and I won my bedding and a hamper in a drawing at my high school. Still, shopping has been frantic the past few days, as I move in on Thursday and there have been a few things I haven’t gotten yet. My advice to all incoming freshmen is to make sure you know what your school does and doesn’t allow. For example, I can only use a coffeepot with an automatic shut-off in my room, so that limits cooking a little (although you can make pretty good ramen in a coffeepot!)

  17. 17
    August 13th, 2011 at 2:13 am

    One of the BEST things I bought last year I happened to come across on accident. The shower stalls in my dorm’s bathrooms were really hard to shave my legs in. So one day I was at Target and saw a small red plastic stool (like the ones that little kids use to reach sinks, water fountains, etc). I got it for less than a dollar and I swear it was the most useful thing ever. Not only could I use it to shave my legs, I could use it as a makeshift table for eating or studying or painting my nails. I’ve recommended it to everyone that I know.

  18. 18
    August 13th, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Moving out to college, it’s going to be me, my mom, my dad, a Toyota Camry full of my stuff and 18 hours on the road. We bought all the essentials out here and are buying as much as we can there. If you have to, order through Walmart or Target and do a site-to-store pickup at your new location.

    Tip number two, roll your clothes! I got everything I won’t be wearing between now and the time I move in two 3’x4’x5″ plastic tubs with some room to spare.

    And don’t be afraid to leave stuff at home. Do you really need 7 pairs of heels? I think you can get away with two. Moving it may be a pain, but so will storing it in your itty bitty dorm room.

    And lastly, when it comes to decorating your dorm, you may want to consider carpet tiles. I have regular tile in my dorm and didn’t get a roommate until long after we both got color schemes going. She has pink and zebra, I have pastel blue, yellow, and green. So I’m getting half of the tiles in her colors and half in mine. We either going to split it down the middle or go for a checkerboard print. Not only are tiles easier to get in a car than a rug, but you can also replace them if a soda gets spilled on one.

  19. 19
    August 14th, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    My little sister is moving into her dorm this week, and I just graduated. Watching her I learned what I should have done for shopping–

    Bargain hunt! She started shopping EARLY (like June). She looked at coupons that we got in the mail for Walmart, checked out deal stores (Ross, TJ Maxx), anything so she could find the perfect items for the best deal. She is the ultimate deal shopper, and probably paid under $100 for everything for college (bedding, rugs, decorations, storage stuff, literally everything).

    I’d also say if you’re moving to a college that doesn’t have a lot of stores–you should bring stuff with you. You won’t want to travel all the way to your dorm, then go out and shop. It’s exhausting and no fun. In addition, the other people who didn’t shop will ALL be in the store with you! It will be crowded, and it’s likely things you need will be sold out. Try and get all your shopping done beforehand.

  20. 20
    August 15th, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Hey :)
    I am going into my second year of university and I have a few things to add to that list.
    -A fan (my dorm went from hot to cold all of the time, even in the winter)
    -A teakettle (I used mine all of the time) and some mugs and spoons
    -A buch of popcorn to snack on while studying or watching movies
    -A LOT of pillows and a mattress pad to make up for the rock hard beds
    Another tip I have is to check the “scratch and dent” section of stores like Ikea. I just picked up a gorgeous rug that had been used as a floor model but was in perfect condition for 50% off and last year I got a leather office chair for 50 bucks. Make sure it works and isn’t destroyed but its a great way to save.

  21. 21
    August 17th, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Don’t forget mattress pads and tons of pillows !! When I use to dorm before moving into my apartment I spent countless hours in my bed reading, studying, watching TV, etc. I never thought I’d be in it so much but I was. Make your bed as cozy and comfy as possible because university mattresses suck !

  22. 22
    July 23rd, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    I love this article even though i got a huge amount done of my shopping today (mostly school supples medical supples and some decorations) waiting till after my orientation to by big stuff (like laundry detergent bedding etc.)

    One thing i noticed on here that no one has mentioned. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO BUY SOME OF THE BASIC STUFF AT YOUR LOCAL DOLLAR STORE. saves a lot of money and most of the stuff at my local dollar tree are only brand name products which helps alot. :)

  23. 23
    June 20th, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    Take pictures of the model room they show you while visiting campus.
    Start EARLY! All this stuff goes on clearance.. Every year! Shop a year on advance.
    ASK! Check with your parents, siblings, cousins, etc that have stuff you need. I got my power strips from my parents and Tupperware, lamps from my sister, and Rubbermaid storage from a friend.
    Also, every spring the form students purge their stuff. At almost every campus! To the trash- no joke.
    Don’t be afraid to start with thrift and dollar stores. DOLLAR TREE has so much it’s ridiculous. Garage sales are also great places. Revamp stuff for your style- be creative and make the room your own

  24. 24
    September 30th, 2014 at 2:59 am

    I just moved in this year and found quite a few things that are very important to note. If you need additional lighting in your room (my room has a floor to ceiling window, but no lights), a cheap $10 floor lamp works just fine! Buy 1-2 power strips with low-profile plugs because all of my outlets are of course in the most inconvenient places, like behind furniture. Also, invest in a good mattress pad– there is definitely a difference between a $9 and $20 one. If you can hold out for it, Target slashes prices on dorm stuff by the end of September. I saw 5 piece comforter sets for under $20 today! And get more than one pillow.. chances are you’ll be comfier doing homework on your bed than at your desk.
    For laundry, I have a popup hamper in my room. When I have to run down to the laundry room, I just throw what I need into a cheap mesh laundry bag, which is easier to carry and way more space-efficient. Make sure you have enough hangers! The plastic ones are super cheap, but the velvet ones rock because they are slimmer and hold silky tops better.
    Chances are my bathroom situation is different than most: I share a private bath with my roommate. If you have any control over furnishing your bathroom… Memory foam mats. 150% worth the investment. Also, buy a towel more than you think you need. Nothing sucks more than realizing you’re out of clean towels.
    Finally, plastic storage drawers are the bomb. Enough said.
    Sorry this is so long, but I hope it helps! :)

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