Dorm Essentials List

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From bedding to storage solutions, this Dorm Essentials List will get you started with everything you need for a successful college move-in. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

I know, I did it too. I bought every last item for my son’s dorm. He NEEDED to have everything to be okay living so far from home. Well, maybe I just needed to feel okay about the big move.

But practically speaking, after cleaning up and packing his room after completing his freshman year, there were MANY things that could have been scraped off the list. However, I realize that until you experience this, it is hard to know what to send and not send to make sure they have everything they need.

After seeing the lobby of his dorm FILLED with donations during move out, I was shocked at how much we think is necessary…but is simply not.

Dorm Packing List
Stacking all the Dorm Essentials in spare room before heading off to college.

I created a dorm essentials list of the things you will need and I have listed some of the exact things I bought to make your life easier. If you’d like a free PDF of the dorm essentials list I created, grab it here! I purchased almost everything from Target or Amazon. If you think I missed anything that is very essential, please let me know.

Note: I know guys typically need less than girls, especially when it comes to room decor and bathroom supplies, so this dorm essentials list is geared more toward guys. I’ve also included some personal commentary on things that were necessary, but never used. I kind of expected that.

college campus dorm view
This was my son’s dorm room view. With a view like that, he didn’t need much!

Dorm Essential List

Bedding Essentials

Note: It’s no secret, beds in college dorms are not exactly the most comfortable, so you’re going to want to make sure to get an extra cushion top. (I did not buy this and my son complained all year how uncomfortable the beds were.) Based on the numbers of hours they actually sleep (or don’t sleep), you will want to make sure you can make it as comfortable as possible.

Dorm Essentials List: Shoes under dorm bed

Unless otherwise noted, most dorm beds are Twin XL, so keep that in mind when making your purchases.

Closet / Storage Area Essentials

Note: Your student is going to be tempted to pack all his or her clothes and all the shoes. We stocked up on closet and shoe organizers to create more space. Yes, these came in very handy, but packing the extra 15 pairs of shoes and 100 t-shirts turned out to be very unnecessary. Most likely they will end up wearing one pair of shoes, trade clothes with roommates, and gain an additional 100 free t-shirts throughout the year. Pack lightly and perhaps adjust at semester break…or sooner.

Dorm Essentials List: Shoes in College
  • Laundry Bag
  • Shoe Rack
  • Hangers – these extra skinny hangers were very helpful in creating space.
  • Closet Organizer
  • Storage Drawers
  • Tool Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Medicine Kit – Make your own with small plastic organizer, then pack and label with all the essential medicines (i.e. cough syrup, Tylenol, Advil, Mucinex, etc.). They last thing you want is a sick kid, with nothing to help them.
Dorm Closet

Living Area Dorm Essentials

Note: With very limited space, you’ll want to maximize every last square inch. Most dorms will offer a micro-fridge lease and I highly recommend it. I did not do this and regretted having to buy each separately upon move in.

  • Microwave – The max is 800 watts. (I think his was used only for popcorn given the aroma when opened at year end.)
  • Mini-Fridge – Key word is mini. Stay safe and stick to 20 volts or 5 cu. ft. max. I’m not sure how much this was actually used other than to store water. (During move-out in May, we discovered the mini-fridge was still covered in the packing plastic wrap. I guess they made it work.)
  • Door Mirror – So they can see how great they look in that t-shirt.
  • TV – They most likely won’t watch much TV, so we didn’t pack this, but my son decided after a few weeks, he wanted one and purchased it himself. (This could be moved to the optional section, but I know many would suggest this be on the dorm essentials list.)
  • Air Purifier – I’m not sure how helpful this was, but it gave me a little peace of mind.
  • Air Freshener – This seems obvious.
  • Desk Fan
  • Reusable Plates / Bowls / Silverware – Only buy a few to save space. More dishes. More dirty dishes to clean.

Bathroom Dorm Essentials

Note: Whether your student is moving into a suite with a private bathroom or a shared community bathroom, they will still need the following things. I thought I was smart when I coordinated with the other suite mate moms. Our plan was to each buy them a shower curtain and rug set. The guys agreed to swap out every quarter, but this plan failed miserably. I found my son’s rugs and shower curtains tucked away in a drawer still with the tags on at the end of school year. Not Shocking. Carry on.

  • Shower Shoes – No getting around it, the showers are gross.
  • Towels – Say another prayer these get washed.
  • Shower Caddy – Make life easier so they don’t have to lug around everything every time they shower.

    Suites Only / Non-Communal Bathrooms
  • Shower Curtain
  • Shower Hooks
  • Rugs – Hope it goes to plan. (Insert wink)
  • Toilet Paper

School Related Essentials

Note: Some of these seem obvious. Some seem unnecessary. My son’s phone died the night of a critical final and with no alarm, he arrived 30 minutes late. Aside from the near heart attack I had upon hearing this news, I feel it is absolutely necessary to have an old school alarm clock as a back up to the phone alarm.

  • Back Pack
  • Laptop
  • Alarm Clock – for mom’s peace of mind
  • Desk Lamp – Those late night study sessions are inevitable.

Cleaning Supplies

Note: Let’s be practical here. Unless your student comes home every weekend, or hires a roommate to do the laundry, they will have to have some cleaning supplies. We can hope, right?

  • Laundry Detergent
  • Wipes
  • Bathroom Cleaning Supplies (Toilet Cleaner, Shower Cleaner)
    *Most dorms have vacuums, brooms, etc. These may or may not be utilized.
College Move in


  • Closet Curtain and Rod – I thought this was such a great idea and a great way to cover up an open closet and prevent any damage to walls with these clever mount holders, but my son didn’t think it was necessary. See picture above. Again, he’s simple. I tend to overcomplicate.
  • Iron – This is a personal preference but always good to be prepared for that job interview or special occasion.
  • Dry Erase Calendar – They have a lot to keep track of while in college.
  • Desk Chair – The dorm most likely will provide a chair. They will need to decide if they want something different.
  • 3M Command Strips – Check with your dorm first before hanging anything on walls or doors.
  • Wall Decor
  • Floor Rugs
  • Power Surge Protector
  • Stamps – Fine, it is probably hopeful thinking that mom might get a card throughout the year, so don’t hold your breath.

This dorm essentials list is pretty exhaustive of everything they will need to have a successful year. I wished I could have packed my heart so a piece of me could be there, but knowing you have provided your “children” with a solid set up is a little bit of a consolation for the emptiness you may feel once they head off to college.

Mom moving Son to college
Do I have to leave?

Have you recently become an empty nester or are you planning to move your child into their first college dorm? How are you adjusting? Comment below and let’s connect. Be sure to subscribe to this blog to never miss an update.

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  1. Some things we learned were necessities after having a couple kids off at college:
    Mini keurig for coffee drinkers
    Brita water filter pitcher
    Small dish pan bucket for taking dirty dishes to the sink to be washed and a foldable drying rack for dishes to dry.
    Power strips are also necessary because there never seems to be enough outlets!

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