College Dorm 101: What and How To Pack

Moving into a dorm for the first time is huge for students. There’s the big move itself, but then there’s all the preparation before the move as well. Questions like what to bring and what to leave behind pop up. And the foremost consideration here to keep in mind is that there will be very limited space in your dorm room. 

So plan your move with space availability in mind. Moving all your teen’s belongings out of their bedroom into one shared dorm room will need a bit of planning. The trick lies, not only in what you pack,  but also in how you pack. This way, everything needed fits and gets to college intact. 

The move from home to the dorm is a three-tier process that involves what to pack, how to pack and then how to unpack to set up an organized room. It can seem daunting, especially for first-time movers, but you can make it a lot easier by following these tips given here. 

The What And How:

The “What” involves sorting through belongings and deciding what you need to take versus those that can be left behind. Here’s a breakdown to make things easier:

What to Pack


Closet essentials are the hardest to sort through. But you do need to remember that your allotted space on campus (closet and otherwise) will be minimal. There are only so many clothes and shoes that can fit there. So pack clothing items only until the winter break, unless you don’t plan on coming home for Thanksgiving. When you come, you can then take your winter gear with you. 

Pack casual clothes that you are more likely to wear more rather than others which will only take up closet space. It’s a good idea to go with items like jeans, sweatpants, t-shirts and hoodies which get used on a daily basis. You can also throw in a formal outfit for a presentation or something similar but focus more on everyday wear items. 

Remember to pack plenty of undergarments because for many students laundry days can be few and far between. While you can go without washing your jeans too frequently, your undergarments deserve better. So if you’re going to overpack anything, let it be your undergarments and socks. 


You’ll get a mattress, but you can’t expect it to be a very comfy one. So pack along a mattress pad, mattress and pillow protector and an extra blanket to enjoy a good night’s sleep.


You will be sharing the bathroom with others so make sure you have everything you need. Along with the bare essentials, having more than one towel is handy. This way you always have a clean one on hand even if you get lazy with laundry.

Also, bring along a shower caddy so you can carry your shower essentials easily instead of loading them into your arms. You may also want to get a small tote to put your shampoos, conditioners and body washes. As a helpful tip, buy the largest size available that will last you well for the upcoming semesters. 

Ladies, it is a good idea to buy feminine products in bulk. That way you don’t run out and have to make an otherwise unneeded trip to your local convenience store.

Finally, always pack in your bathroom slippers because you don’t ever want to go to the bathroom barefoot. 


Tide-to-go pens, Lysol wipes and a bottle of Febreeze can take care of your most basic cleaning, wiping and freshening needs. 

Make sure to take along a first aid kit and lots of OTC medicines. 

Pair this up with a DIY toolkit with essentials like duct tape, masking tape, scissors, measuring tape, hammer and screwdriver. 

Depending on your subject choice, it may make sense to invest in a printer. Some subjects demand a lot more printouts than others and it can really pay to have your own printer than pay the school’s printing fee. 

If you have one, take your bike along. It will save you bus rides and hauls to the other side of campus in between classes. Plus, you can get your daily dose of exercise when you have a bike. 

How to Pack 

Now that you have everything ready to pack, you need to make sure that it will all fit in the car. You also need to strategize your loading and unloading so pack heavier and bulkier items first. The smaller and more malleable items can then go on top and be unloaded first. 

Use space-saving solutions like collapsible hampers, stackable crates, fabric cubes to pack your stuff. You can also go with large garbage bags to carry your clothing items, bed linen, pillows and towels. 

Crates are better than boxes since they are easier to carry. Boxes, on the other hand, take up space, aren’t flexible and don’t fit in and around other things like bags do. 

If your car has fold down seats, use this extra space to fit in more items.

When placing your stuff in the car, it is important to balance the weight out. This is very important especially if you have a long road trip to make. You don’t want to strain your vehicle before you get to college. 

Also, if you do pack some stuff in boxes, make sure that none of the boxes are too heavy. You may have to carry them a flight of stairs or two to get to your dorm room. 

How to Organize Stuff Once You Get There

Unload and unpack. Once you have your stuff in your dorm, how do you set it up? 

  • Because there is only so much floor space available, it is a good idea to utilize vertical space. This can involve ideas like over the door shoe racks which not only store shoes but a host of other items. You can also pair this idea up with over the door towel racks and hooks. 
  • A small hutch also makes for ideal storage space in a dorm room. It can maximize the available wall space and give you the best place to put all your books and supplies away. 
  • Bring along a tall, narrow hamper instead of a short, wide one. This will take up less floor space but will offer the same utility. 
  • Bring along some tension rods to create more hanging space in your closet.
  • A few command hooks can go a long way in helping hang items that have no other room. Think bags, sweatshirts, hoodies, umbrella and the like. 
  • One of the best places for storage will be under your bed. You can utilize this space by using bed risers to raise the bed and place Elfa drawers underneath to meet a lot of your storage needs. Another option is to loft the bed and place the work desk under it. This idea works really well for creating more floor space in the room. 

Follow these tips to make your move-in day a success. Being prepared beforehand will make the move easier and save you a lot of unwanted stress.