The Ultimate Move-In Packing Guide for College Students

If you're feeling overwhelmed trying to pack up your life and head off to school, use these tips to help your move-in day go smoothly.
September 13, 2017
7 mins read

I would rather sit outside and watch grass grow than prepare myself to move back to college. I am the ultimate procrastinator, and you’d think by my fourth move-in I would be better at this, but honestly, all I’ve done is figure out how to pack and prepare efficiently with the least amount of effort. There is so much that goes into getting ready for school, and since it changes a little bit every year, what to do and what to bring will differ slightly year to year as well. So, if you think you’re actually ready for school, you probably aren’t.

First off, make sure you prepare early; you’re bound to forget something, and there’s nothing worse (or more expensive) than last minute shopping. Always check your nearest dollar store first, odds are they have many of the college essentials for crazy low prices, and sometimes they even have coupons available for an even better discount. Also, if you’re planning on living with roommates, make a group chat and divide up the household items that you can share, such as cleaning products, furniture and food. There is no reason for all of you to buy your own household essentials because it not only takes up unnecessary space in your tiny dorm room, but let’s be honest, you probably won’t be cleaning often enough to use three bottles of Windex.

However, before you even think about going shopping, there are two things that you need to do. One is to make a checklist; go through your daily routine, think about all of the things that you use in a day. Go through all the rooms in your house and think about what you use the most in each room. Write every single one of these items down, then figure out what you’re going to need more of. I mean, obviously you use toothpaste, but your half-used tube probably isn’t enough for an entire year at school, so definitely grab some more of your favorite kind. Also, make sure you have backups of important items as well, like chargers or glasses, in case your originals break.

The second thing you need to do is check your university’s policy about what is permitted and prohibited to bring into your dorm room. Typically, what determines what you can and cannot bring is safety; for example, many schools will not allow you to bring candles or an electric diffuser, because they may accidentally start a fire. Schools take their students safety seriously, and you don’t want to waste your money on something that you aren’t allowed to bring or that would potentially put other students in danger.

Next, if you’re like me and don’t trust yourself to make your own perfect packing list, a quick Google search for “master college packing list” will probably save your life. Some of them are a bit excessive in my opinion, but hey, to each their own, and you can easily remove whatever you feel unnecessary from the list. And please, for your own sanity, print out the list and cross things off as you pack them so that you don’t forget anything in the chaos of packing.

Once you begin packing your clothes, a few wardrobe staples that you can’t go wrong with are work/professional clothes, event clothes, going out clothes, sleep wear, gym clothes, weather-specific outerwear and class outfits. There tends to be a lot of social events on campus, and you never know what kind of outfit you may need, so it’s better to be prepared than scrambling last minute and spending a lot of money on something you probably won’t wear very often. Also, let me make this very clear: You can never, never have enough socks. The campus laundry room is always a busy, disorganized disaster, and it is not unusual to leave that room with significantly less pairs of socks than when you entered.

Leave the unnecessary behind and only bring what you absolutely need (Image via Living the Gray Life)

Also, make sure to consider the setup of your housing situation. Are you still in a dorm? Or perhaps you upgraded from a dorm room to an apartment, or even a house? Do you have everything that you need for each room? This is easier done in a dorm room, but if you’re finally moving up in the world and moving up to an apartment or home-style living, then you’re going to need to vamp up your old master packing list from the previous year. Do you have a kitchen, and if so, do you need kitchen items like dish soap, utensils, dishware and cookware? How about your own bathroom? Do you need a shower curtain, a shower liner, a bath mat and toilet paper? You need to ask yourself questions like these, because it’s so easy to miss something small, like a bar of soap, which isn’t pleasant for anyone.

Okay, let’s say you’re finally finished packing. (Yay!) Now it’s time to see if you’ve over-packed or under-packed. Do you really need fourteen sweatshirts, four bottles of contact solution, five sets of sheets and fifty pencils? No, you really don’t. I know I said to bring extras of certain items, but that definitely is not what I meant. There is nothing wrong with being a little bit overprepared, but bringing way too many unnecessary things is simply just a waste of effort, space and money. However, being under-packed is just as bad is packing too much. I know some colleges offer a back to school sale of used items from previous students where you can get a Keurig for around five dollars, and if you’re choosing to under-pack and rely on this sale, I understand, but just know that they might not have what you need and you should determine if that is a risk you’re willing to take. If your school doesn’t offer a sale like this, or you just assumed that you would purchase the rest of your stuff once you got to college, you will end up with slim pickings from stores because everyone else has gone shopping already.

Finally, always check your account, your bills, your registration status, your emails, any holds on your accounts or anything else that may prevent you from moving in, because that definitely isn’t the best way to start off the semester. Once the actual move in day comes, you’re going to want it to go as smoothly as possibly, so by preparing lists, packing smart and checking for any issues beforehand, you’re bound to have a lovely, stress-free day. Well, that is until you realize that you need to move boxes and bags up and down flights of stairs and unpack all of the hours of hard work you just loaded into your car.

Alison McCarthy, University of New Haven

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Alison McCarthy

University of New Haven

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