College-bound freshmen are bombarded with checklists — from their schools, big retailers, bloggers and websites — detailing the many many things they'll need when they move into the dorm.
But you don't actually believe you need all the stuff, do you? Well, you shouldn't.
To find out what you really need, I went shopping with three recent college graduates whose experience can save you loads of money that you can now spend on phony IDs and beer. Kidding. Hey, Mom and Dad, I am just kidding.
"For whatever reason, socks are key. You can never have enough socks," recent grad Jeff Schlueter told me. But besides more socks, "Generally, I wish I'd brought fewer things" on the day four years ago when he moved into a dorm at the University of Illinois.
Don't bother bringing a bathrobe, says Eugenia Viti, also a U of I grad. "Everybody just uses a towel." "My bathrobe hung in my room the whole year," says Natalie Swan, who graduated in June from the University of Oregon.
On the other hand, "Coat hangers are a huge necessity," says Natalie and it was something she didn't think about when she arrived at school four years ago with armloads of clothes she had to dump on the bed until she went to the store — to buy hangers.
All three of my experts say that one of those cheap ($5.99, Target.com) clamp-on lamps is essential for reading in bed — even though I didn't see it on any of the checklists. And remember, those hot halogen lights are banned as a fire hazard.
The "poster putty" you're supposed to use instead of nails on the dorm walls to hold up your artwork? "It didn't keep my posters up," says Natalie. "You can use that blue painter's tape and it doesn't wreck the walls," she says.
You'll see "lanyard" (to hang your school ID around your neck) on lots of the college checklists but Jeff says, "based on the cool factor," forget it. "That screams, 'I'm a freshman,' " he warns.
All of the recent graduates say you'll want one of those plastic stacking drawers (large, $14.99, Target.com).
They also agree you should skip the tabletop ironing board ($9.99, Bed Bath & Beyond, bedbathbeyond.com). "Why?" asked a California mom we ran into who had one in her cart as she shopped with her daughter, entering Dartmouth in the fall.
Instead of taking up space with the ironing board, "You can use a towel on the floor," Eugenia told her. For that matter, don't bring an iron, the trio agreed. "Nobody ever irons anything," says Eugenia.
As we strolled down the college furniture aisle, the young women told me dorm rooms are too small for futons, an ottoman or a bean bag. Besides, "People sit on the floor in college," says Natalie.
Jeff recommended a lock for anything valuable, especially your laptop, and not the kind that requires a key which you'll have trouble locating when you need it most.
And those things that are hard to move and take up space — a TV, a mini-fridge, a vacuum—aren't worth the trouble, they say. Even a computer printer is a bad idea. They're bulky and "you're dealing with (expensive ink) cartridges," Jeff says. Universities are loaded with cheap public printers.
The single most surprising tip I got from my team was this: "Another thing you don't need to buy is the books."
That comes from Eugenia and sounds a little, shall I say, counterintuitive for a college student. But she quickly added, "Buy them two weeks after class when you know whether or not you need them."
She explains that the class-required book lists often are wrong. And with a single text often priced over $100, it pays to wait to find out if you really need it
Another alternative? "Share a book," says Natalie, "Or buy them used online." "University bookstores are the biggest rip-offs," adds Jeff.
And, when you're done with the textbook, Natalie says to sell it online. She easily set up an individual "seller's account" on amazon.com to recoup some of her spending.
"Between freshman year and senior year there was a drastic difference" on how she bought her college books, Natalie says. "I was smarter about how to purchase them."
And now you are too.
What to bring to college
Natalie Swan says a shower caddy ($3.99) is a must but a storage ottoman ($24.99), both at Target, is a bust.
Jeff Schlueter says socks and a dry erase board ($8.99) are a must but leave the bathrobe ($19.99) and decorative pillow ($14.99) at home. All at Target, target.com
Eugenia Viti endorses a collapsible laundry hamper ($12.99) because the basket ($9.99) is too bulky for a tiny dorm room.. Both at Bed Bath & Beyond, bedbathandbeyond.com