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Top 12 Dorm Finds!

2 years. I can't believe my baby bird is finishing up his second year of dorm-life.

But since I use research and planning to mask the bittersweet emotions of these life changes, it's been closer to 1000 days that I've spent in the world of dorm-planning.

So you'll be surprised to hear that our list of dorm must-haves is very streamlined. I believe that less-is-more and my son believes that less-is-less-he-has-to-carry. :) I only wanted him to take items that were high quality, budget friendly and likely to be used regularly. These are some of his most-used and appreciated dorm items :

Before I give you our top dorm finds, I have to highly recommend that if you have future dorm-ers, go ahead and join a facebook page called DORM IDEAS TIPS & SOLUTIONS. It features suggestions from families from all over the US discussing finds, needs, and differing circumstances. Parents are graciously honest about items that worked for their kids and what didn't. You might not yet know where your kiddo will be headed, but most dorms have similar layouts and elements.

If your offspring already has a list of potential schools they are applying to, there are likely facebook pages and youtube videos about the different dorms and what they may encounter. But in general, expect to be provided a bed, a desk/table, a chair and likely some sort of small closet or drawers area.

BUDGET! - As you're researching what your child will likely need, you'll start to get a ballpark idea of what you already own and what the general cost will be for additional items. Brainstorm about ways you can use or convert things you already have in your home for this new space. Not only will it save your wallet, it will be just another little reminder of home. Figure out the cost of the big ticket items and then set up a budget that your family can work towards so you won't be paying for school tuition and outfitting the dorm at the same time. Some people like to set aside a little money each month and then purchase right before school starts or - if you're like me - I tried to buy one or two items each month throughout the year and had a little pile going in the closet :)

1-3) BEDDING (links to what we personally chose below)

If it weren't for the dorm parent facebook pages, I would have been completely unprepared regarding dorm-mattresses! I would have packed a sheet and checked the box. But across the country, dorm mattresses tend to be very thin, hard and plastic. This is for sanitation to prevent bed-bugs.

At first, you may think this is a luxury item. But please read on. For MONTHS I read parent comments about needing mattress toppers and I thought "nope, my kid will be fine, he doesn't need a fancy bed topper" because he's a low-key dude who doesn't complain. But then he went to orientation where they got to spend one night in a dorm and he reported back that it was like sleeping on the floor. They need good sleep. Most students have found they needed an additional thick mattress pad or foam. They come in 2, 3 or 4 inch varieties - some are memory foam, some are cooling gel and they are a wide variety of prices.

Although we went with the Lucid 3 inch which I am VERY happy with, I recommend you read reviews for a wide variety of mattress toppers to see what sounds like it would work with your type of sleep patterns. Our son is hot natured so this thickness gives him comfort without making him feel like he's in a marshmallow furnace.

Some buildings require you to bring your own mattress-pad that is zippered, water-proof and bed-bug-proof. I went with this brand which was around $35 so it fit my budget. I did wait until I knew which school my son was attending and since 99% of their freshman dorm beds are Twin XL I knew that size to get. Amazon has an amazing return policy so I knew if he ended up in a different size bed I could exchange it. Because his mattress was one of the common resin/plastic ones, we put the mattress and the topper together inside the zippered mattress pad to hold them together and prevent slipping.

Because most dorm beds are size Twin XL, I went ahead and ordered sheets a year ahead. I figured if my oldest didn't use them, then another child in our family likely would. We got this set in a neutral grey and they wash well and are easy to get onto a lofted bed while still staying tucked in afterwards. If your child tends to sleep hot, bamboo sheets are cooling and wick moisture. 100% cotton is also a great choice. 2 sets mean he has one to put on when the other is in the wash. Please, lord, let him wash them regularly!

My kids don't use top flat sheets so we used them as drapes over the windows instead to filter some of the light.

4) AIR PURIFIER (links to what we personally chose)

This is another item that I'd never even contemplated before I talked with parents and stud

New germs, people, allergens, sweat and smells. These are not a few of my favorite things. These are things that can make anyone sick and run down. Air filtration in dorms and apartments is notoriously bad and any extra help to remove the mold/pollen and clean the air is worth it. Just about every college parent board is filled with poor sick students missing class or tests as their bodies adjust. Give your kiddo a fighting chance right off the bat. It also goes a long way to making that space feel clean and fresh. We went with the Levoit air purifier because it had a lot of great parent reviews, has a timer to run it a few hours a day and the replacement filters aren't crazy expensive. You can physically "feel" how much cleaner the air is in my son's dorm vs others. Highly highly highly recommend.

5) BEDSIDE SHELF (links to what we personally chose)

This is another item that I'd never even contemplated before I talked with parents and students about their dorms. And honestly it's something I put off buying until the last minute. At $24 it doesn't exactly break the bank, but when there are numerous items at that price point it adds up and I wondered if it would be used.

Another parent asked that very question and students replied with a resounding YES!!! If your child's bed is going to be lofted (like the top of a bunk bed where there is either a desk, couch, or another bed below), tables and caddies like this are essential. They can hold glasses, phone (which often serves as the alarm clock), books, chapstick - anything you would have previously put on a bedside table. There are also velcro strapped storage bags that people enjoy as well, so think through what it is that would need to be pillow-adjacent and purchase accordingly.

6) LIGHTS WITH EXTRA FEATURES (links to what we personally chose)

Desks often serve double duty as a vanity or side table when hanging out. Task lighting is critical for good reading, makeup application or even just low-light ambiance on movie night. Making every inch count is important when you're in a small space so we recommend lighting that has either additional features like this vanity light with built in drawers or a vanity with extra USB charging port access.

7) WOOZOO FAN (links to what we personally chose)

These fans sell out fast in the summer but can be located in stores, online and I believe Costco has them as well the rest of the year. I thought it was a hype bandwagon, but ya'll.... this little fan.... amazing! The entire globe can tilt and rotate so you can have it pointed at your desk, your bed, anywhere without relocating it, the air-flow is fantastic and it is QUIET. SOOOO QUIET! It's weird to admit that you're excited about a fan, but air movement in those little spaces is critical.

We have 5 of these heavy duty charging blocks, one for each member of the family. They don't take up much space, recharge themselves quickly when you are near an outlet and hold enough power to completely re-charge two of our android phones. They are great for road-trips but also to keep in a backpack for long days where students have to use electronics regularly. They are approximately $13 each and we've had ours going on 3 years and all are working beautifully. Highly recommend.

Dorms are a community - an open door invites socialization. But door-stoppers are also a great additional security measure when used from the inside to block the door from swinging in. Either way, this set of 2 is made from a heavy rubber. We've tested it on hardwood, linoleum and carpet and each time it does the trick!

Even if your kid doesn't want a doorstop for everyday use, be sure to bring something heavy and small for move-in day so you don't lock yourself out!

Whether you have a communal shower with 50 other people or are in a suite you share with just one roommate, a shower caddy is a necessity. This one was recommended because of a few features - 1) two straps - this makes it easy to hang up in the dorm after use 2) mesh and water repellant fabrics - I was surprised that not all shower caddys were created to be in the stream of water! this helps them dry fast 3) multiple side pockets but mainly one large center container. And finally 4) this particular one us right at $10, very durable, and even washes well in the washing machine for a refresh.

We also got a thin small bathroom rug (fabric on the top, rubber underneath to protect floors) to put under where this caddy hangs to catch drippings. It's also a great spot for wet rain boots and umbrellas.

Backpacks are personal, I get that. But when it's going to be your portable home for 4 years I highly recommend that you think through what you'll need. Taking your laptop to class, group projects or even just to study while at lunch means you'll want a bag with a protective sleeve for electronics. Especially the bottom padded portion to protect when the bags are dropped onto the ground. In addition, they now make bags that are water-resistant which is great for rainy weather. We got this one (on the right) 3 years ago for my son in highschool and even though he is hard on it, it has worn really well and looks almost exactly the same as when he got it!

My niece gave us her laundry backpack to use which he's been practicing with for a few months. This version has an additional pouch which is great for storing detergent (lord knows I'd get all the way there with a bag of clothes and have had forgotten the soap!). It also has a top strap in addition to the backpack straps which makes it easy to hang on a hook in the room and not take up valuable storage space!


Take more extension cords / plugs than you think you'll need, put together a medicine/bandage kid just in case, and the rest will sort itself out. If you keep a check-list of ideas handy the most important items will become clear. I will say a lockable safe and air purifier were high on my personal list of items but everyone's needs are different!

If you've had a recent dorm-er, what did they like having on hand?!





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