What you really do (and really don't) need for your dorm room

Last August, I was ready to start my freshman year and I had bought and packed every last thing I thought I could possibly need for my dorm room, Tetris-style, into our mini-van. By the end of Welcome Week I discovered that there were quite a few things I didn’t know I would need, and a lot that I didn’t need at all. Here’s some suggestions based on my experience as to what you need for you dorm room and what you really do not!

Here is what my floor looked like on move-in day.

Needs

The basics.

You are obviously going to need the basic dorm necessities: bedding, a shower caddy, shower shoes, towels, a laundry basket and soap of some sort, personal items, toiletries, etc. 

A (functioning) laptop.

This may be pretty obvious, but I can’t stress it enough. I’m in love with my MacBook Air, but I watched tons of other people have issues with their computers during stressful points of the year. A lot of assignments and such are turned in on a timed schedule through Canvas, and it makes it really hard to make sure everything is getting done on time if you are having terrible computer problems or are having to find an open computer on campus at strange hours to finish homework.

Fans.

I lived in a dorm that didn’t have AC, so fans were a must-have. Check out your dorm here after getting your room assignment to see if you have air conditioning. Even if you do have air conditioning in your building, a clip-on fan is never a bad idea, especially for sleeping.

Extension cords and surge protectors.

You have a limited number of outlets in your room, so surge protectors and extension cords are important. They give you a lot of extra room to plug things in and extension cords are especially helpful if you have a lofted bed or outlets are far from your bed or desk.

Anti-wrinkle spray/a steamer.

Let’s face it, mom isn’t around to bother us about keeping our clothes hung in the closet, or in my case, to keep me from leaving clean laundry unfolded in a basket for days on end. Things get wrinkled. Very wrinkled. I bought a mini steamer from Bed Bath and Beyond before coming to school and it saved me on multiple occasions. Downy anti-wrinkle spray is also really helpful to straighten out t-shirts and other quick-fix articles of clothing.

Hangers.

If you live in a dorm with closets, having a ton of hangers is a necessity. Hanging your clothes keeps them out of the way and keeps them from getting wrinkled. You can even buy special ones that are created to give you the most closet space possible.

Extra storage.

Having extra space to store things is a lifesaver and keeps your room more clean and organized. I had a three-drawer plastic storage container that was great for keeping little personal items like makeup, lotions and medicine/first aid items organized. I also had a couple of cool-colored crates that kept my t-shirts, shoes, food and electronics organized.

Medicine/first aid supplies.

Within the first two weeks of classes I had the worst allergy flare up. I quickly realized that I didn’t have anything to help fight it off and had to make a trip to the mall to get something. I’d recommend keeping cold meds, cough drops, some kind of pain reliever (Tylenol, Aspirin), allergy meds if you need them and then a little first aid kit with Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, and anything else you could possibly need so you aren’t having to run out and get something you really need while sick or hurt.

Stain Remover.

I wish I had a total count of the number of Tide Stain Sticks I went through last year. I used them on my clothes, my bedding, and occasionally the carpet. You may not be as clumsy as I am, but it really came in handy to have some around.

Office supplies.

You are going to school, so you do need some school supplies. Definitely do not forget pens, pencils, scissors and tape. Also, command strips were really useful when my roommate and I needed to hang pictures, posters or anything else around our room. You don’t want to damage the walls or furniture; those come in handy, trust me! A planner is also relatively useful, you can use your phone calendar, but a physical one really helped me to keep assignments and activities straight.

Lighting.

Fluorescent lighting can be pretty harsh sometimes, and that’s what you’ll be getting in most dorm rooms. Desks generally have some sort of lamp (at least mine did), but they may not work or be up to your expectations. Buy a desk lamp if you plan on being up late working, a clip-on lamp if you plan to be up reading in bed, or as my roommate and I did, put Christmas lights up around the entirety of your room for a lower lighting that is still bright enough to sleep or work under.

My roommate and I had Christmas lights around the entirety of our room for softer lighting.

Personal items that feel like home.

Don’t keep your favorite blanket, stuffed animal or every picture of your past life at home because you feel like you’re “too old” for them. We’re all big kids, but it’s nice to have something that reminds you of home in your room.

I was sure to bring my favorite old stuffed animal
and a poster of Chicago to remind me of home.

Other Odds and ends.

I would recommend getting a full-length mirror for your room, as most have one, but you may be fighting over it with your roommate if you have similar wake-up times. Basic cleaning products are always useful, it’s nice to have disinfectant wipes around to clean up messes or to wipe away your sick roommate’s germs. Air freshener is great for the times that your room just smells a little off, or when the hallway smells like something you wouldn’t want seeping into your room. We had a wallflower plug-in and loved it. Don’t forget a duffle bag or suitcase to bring home for breaks! And rain gear is a must.

THINGS YOU THINK YOU NEED, BUT DON'T 

Dishes.

I brought a few plates, cups, mugs and silverware thinking I would use them all the time. Realistically, I used them until I had nothing clean left and then bought paper plates and plastic silverware and waited forever to wash everything. Just get disposable dishware; it’s a lot easier and a lot less work. I do suggest maybe bringing a mug or a reusable water bottle though (you can get an IU themed one from the IU Bookstore!), just in case you want to make hot chocolate and so you always have a way to keep water.

These are my favorite mugs, and the only dishes I ever really used at school!

Fridge.

This may sound insane, but my roommate and I really didn’t use our fridge much. As a matter of fact, ours broke before Thanksgiving Break and we didn’t get a new one until after Spring Break just because we didn’t really miss it that much. A fridge is convenient for storing drinks and the occasional frozen food or leftover pizza, but it’s not extremely necessary.

TV.

In this day and age, we can all watch almost anything on our laptops. I highly recommend investing in Netflix! TVs are expensive and take up a lot of space in your room. They are, however, great if you are bringing a video game system to school with you.

All of your clothes.

You may come into school thinking you’re going to look amazing every day and that you need every season of clothing with you in Bloomington just in case the weather changes and it might fit in with your outfit. At least that was my mentality, and boy was I wrong, Bring seasonal clothes and switch them out at breaks, it really saves you space and you won’t possibly be able to wear everything. Also, leave all your t-shirts at home! Bring a few favorites and leave the rest, you’ll end up with so many free t-shirts that you won’t know what to do with all of them.

A ton of food.

It’s definitely nice to have some food in your room to snack on, maybe some chips, granola/breakfast bars, the occasional microwave mac&cheese and a few of your favorite treats will do. Making a grocery store trip and stocking up on food isn’t necessary when you live in a dorm, there are plenty of dining options on campus that will be covered by your meal plan.

Coffeemaker.

As an avid hot chocolate and tea lover with a coffee obsessed roommate, I bought a Keurig coffee maker for our room. We used it on occasion, but realistically you can get coffee in the cafes and dining halls all over campus. There is even a Starbucks in the Union.

Your entire collection of books/CDs/movies.

I had a big problem with this one. I’m a big reader and I wanted to have all of my favorite books with me at school. I brought them all with me, but immediately regretted it, as they took up a ton of space. I’m as big a fan of real books as anyone else, but investing in a Kindle was a great idea, and can actually save you some money if you buy digital textbooks as well. You can find a lot of movies online, and the same goes for CDs.

Extra furniture.

A lot of people find out too late that they don’t need or have room for that futon. We had a few extra chairs hanging around our room that really were just taking up space. Realistically the only place you’ll be sitting is your bed or your desk chair.

Cash.

It’s a good idea to have a little bit of emergency cash on you, but a debit card is a much easier way to carry money. You can also load money onto your Campus Access card to use at local food places such as Pizza X and many of the restaurants on Kirkwood.

Here and here are some other great packing and dorm need posts from other WeAreIU writers! 

About The Author
Rachel DobiasToursim, Hospitality and Event Management Major, aspiring Disney princess

Hi there, I'm Rachel and I am a Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management major with minors in Business and Marketing here at IU. I'm from Crown Point, Indiana and my hobbies include playing the guitar, watching the Blackhawks, and looking out for cute dogs. I love walking around campus, drinking hot chocolate, and daydreaming about Disney World. I plan to graduate in May of 2018 and I am extremely excited to share my experiences here with you over the next few years!