I’ve become a bit of a pro at picking out dorm room essentials — and separating the must-haves from the nice-to-haves from the not-going-to-haves if I’m paying for it. Having sent two of my three kids off to college already, it’s become clear how much I actually have this stuff down now, as I get ready to send my “baby” off for his freshman year in a little over a month.
While your kids may be thinking of wall posters, a new laptop, noise-cancelling headphones, and a single-cup coffee maker as topping their own list of essentials, these are the essentials they might not have considered, that, through trial and error, my kids and I have found to be at the top of the dorm room shopping checklist — beyond the bedding of course.
(And be sure you get those Twin XL sheets!)
Hopefully these suggestions help you feel like you have sent your kid off with the stuff they need to make that transition into adulthood a little less bumpy.
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13 College Dorm Room Essentials
How did we all get old enough to be sending our babies off to college? (That’s rhetorical.) But here we are, staring down our annual ultimate back to school shopping guide and adding in those college dorm room essentials for the first time.
Hope these suggestions help!
1. Backpack Laundry Bag
Skip the space-eating laundry baskets (though this one is solid if you do want to go there). Instead, check out his backpack laundry bag as your first must-have dorm essential. It’s available at Target and is hands down the best laundry bag we’ve found.
It’s perfect for kids who may have to carry their laundry down — or up — several flights of stairs to get to the laundry room, and has a convenient outside mesh pocket for stashing detergent. And of course, if your kids are taking laundry home on weekends, it makes things a lot easier than a suitcase.
(Bonus tip: We are also big fans of these lightweight, eco-friendly laundry detergent sheets and one box will do almost 100 loads — enough to get you through the school year.)
Note: Target is offering a special one-time use college student 20% off discount coupon that is good through 9/3. Exclusions do apply and are listed on the coupon. Just head to Target Circle and verify your college student status and get those savings!
2. A Power Strip (or two)
There are never enough outlets in a dorm room, so be sure you get at least one good power strip with surge protector so they can plug in all of the things. This TESSAN power strip is my kid’s favorite because it has a flat plug and takes up very little space. You can get the 6.5ft, or 15ft cord — both have room for USB ports as well.
3. A Good Reading Lamp
Your student will need a good reading lamp that won’t keep their roommate up at night when they have different study (or sleep) schedules. This sleekly designed Multifunctional LED Desk Lamp with Wireless Charger is the perfect dorm room essential and my daughter loves the wireless charging pad at the base. It has 7 brightness levels and even comes with a 30- and 60-minute shut-off timer.
4. Memory Foam Mattress Topper
Let’s face it, the mattresses in dorm rooms are sub-par and your college student needs to get as much good sleep as possible. Invest in a good mattress topper like this 3″ Reversible Wave Memory Foam Mattress Topper from Sleep Studio at Target in Twin XL of course.
Yes, it is a bit more expensive than some others, but a thicker mattress topper is worth the money in the long run.
You may also want to grab a zippered mattress protector, which helps reduce any allergens that may be hiding in the dorm room.
5. An Electric Throw Blanket
Winter will come and most dorms do not have great HVAC heating/cooling system. Unless your kid is in a deep-south school that never gets cold, a cozy electric blanked, like this Electric Duke Faux Fur Throw by Beautyrest at Target will keep your college student warm wherever they need it (on their bed, at their desk, or they can even take it to the common area). It has a 3 hour automatic shut off and is even machine washable.
If faux fur isn’t in your student’s style wheelhouse, consider this top-rated electric blanket from Westinghouse in a cozy flannel that’s still got that sherpa coziness, but is a little less plush.
6. A Reading Pillow
There’s not a lot of sitting space in a dorm room, so this reading pillow (also called a husband) is definitely a dorm essential your college student will be grateful to have to turn the bed into a comfy study area. The standard size is pretty small, so I suggest getting the XL for most college kids. and because it is big and bulky, consider shipping it to the dorm after arrival instead of jamming it into a suitcase or an already packed car.
7. A Towel Wrap
Even if your college student has a private bath, a towel wrap is a dorm room essential for everyone. Nothing is worse than trying to carry all of your bath products down the hall (be sure you have a bath caddy for that) while also keeping your towel on. I’m grabbing a couple of these simple white towel wraps for my son this year.
In fact, my daughters both still use their towel wraps even though they are no longer in their school’s dorms.
8. A Mini Fan
Not all roommates agree on temperature, so it’s a very smart idea for your student be able to cool themselves off without annoying the kid on the other side of the room. Vornado makes this Mini Modern Personal Vintage Circulator available at Target and at Amazon. Liz even recommended as one of her favorite cool picks of all of 2021
It’s not only stylish, but super efficient at moving air around a single person, it’s sturdy, and the price is really great.
Bonus: In addition to the fan, consider a small air purifier, because we all have a bit of Covid PTSD — and it’s not over yet. This HEPA air purifier gets high marks for its small size, quiet fan, and it’s currently 30% off at Amazon if you hurry.
9. A Filtered Water Pitcher
Dorm rooms do not always have the easiest access to water and if your kid is used to just filling up their water bottle out of the fridge at home…well, they’re in for a harsh awakening! I would definitely call the 5-Cup Brita Water Pitcher the perfect dorm room essential. It’s small enough to fit in a mini fridge (generally supplied by or rented from your school), or can just be stashed on a desk.
It makes me a little more confident knowing that if they’re filling it up with bathroom tap water, it will filter out any yucky stuff.
10. An Amazon Echo Dot
The Amazon Echo Dot is a great essential for any dorm room, especially for connected kids. My own kids loved it because we hooked it up to my own Amazon account so they could just order things they needed without bugging me. (Don’t worry, there were limits!)
In addition to all of the amazing things you can do with your Echo, did you know you can ask your Alexa to play music on the Dot even if it is in another state? I mean how else can I wake my kids up with Earth, Wind and Fire on September 21st? Ha.
(Note: If you don’t want your kids to have access to your account, get an Amazon Prime Student account. It’s just $7.49/month for 6 months right now, and I think totally worth it.)
11. A Tool Set
Things are going to break and your student will not always have someone close by to fix it for them. A small, affordable six piece tool kit that slides under the bed, or stashes in the closet has been a real help for my kids. Think of it like a first aid kit for small projects that will stay with them for years as they move out of the dorms.
(Oh by the way, an actual first aid kit for humans is a dorm room essential in my book, unless you want to put together your own, which you can totally do. )
12. Space Saving Hangers
Do not waste money on that huge pack of plastic hangers! They take up too much room and break so easily. Of course you can use the wire ones from the dry cleaner at home, but I suggest investing in a set of these velvet no-slip felt hangers. Not only do they take up much less room in the closet, they hold the clothes in place so they don’t all end up at the bottom of the closet.
This is one more dorm room essential purchases that will travel with your kids for years.
13. A Handheld Vacuum
Most dorms have one clunky vacuum that residents can borrow — if it’s working and not hiding in some other kid’s room somewhere in the first place! Honestly, it’s a bit of a hassle. This Black + Decker handheld cordless vacuum is the perfect dorm size (store it under a bed or desk), and powerful enough to pick up dirt and spills. It can also help minimize the dust buildup for kids with allergies.