As parents, we are excited when our children reach the college entrance milestone. Our excitement also comes with anxiety about college tuition and college dorm expenses. College freshmen need several practical furniture and other items to create a “homey environment” comfortable to study and launch in a secure manner. Deciding on the most practical items and how to keep them within a budget can be stressful because there are some critical articles that you don’t want to forget.   For your convenience, download my printable dorm checklist to facilitate your dorm setup process.

First, disregard most of the pictures you see in magazines or online. Most dorms are small and because your young adult will share the room, the real space is about the size of a walk-in closet with just enough room for an extra-long twin bed, a desk, and a small dresser. Further, given the restrictions about wall attachments, display shelves and other heavy-weight wall space savers are out of the question.

Keeping all of that in mind, here are some tips regarding what they should actually have in their dorm room and links to affordable options to help your shopping.

The bed should be a focal point for comfort and to feel “at home” so your young adult should select the color and design for it. Word of advice: buy a light comforter and a couple of throw blankets of different thicknesses. Also buy two types of bed sheets: cotton or bamboo (because they breathe) and flannel. Students do not have control of the HVAC system, therefore having a variety of bed items allows them to control their personal temperature.

Other important bed-related items are a small area rug because nobody likes to set foot on a cold floor, bed raisers to add storage space under the bed, as well as 2-3 low clear plastic containers on wheels to facilitate the room set-up and organization. You may not believe this, but a full-body-size pillow could be a safety feature for your child.

Depending on the configuration of the room, and how much “stuff” your young adult has, you can buy 2-3 sets of cube furniture because they can be setup in different configurations and you can add fabric or plastic inserts to store books, intimate apparel, food, and other items, while also concealing any possible mess. The cubicles are a practical way to add color and design to the dorm. Ideally, 1-2 of the cubes will be strong enough that they will double-up as seating for guests or a mini table for snacks. 

Although the room comes with basic light fixtures, the light brightness may not be adequate for your child. Further, the lights position will not be ideal when your young adult requires late-night study hours, but the roommate is trying to catch some “Z” I suggest you bring along an adjustable desk lamp that allows the light to be shifted in different directions.

Curtains are a tough subject that you may want to discuss with the assigned roommate to determine which type of window treatment is the most appropriate based on the college students’ sleeping patterns. While light blocker curtains are good for some, they may be detrimental to others who can’t wake up in a dark room.

Most college students enjoy having some basic appliances such as a mini fridge and microwave available in their dorm room. However, it’s important to check for college dorm restrictions. For example, coffee makerstoastersGeorge Forman grills, and hot plates aren’t allowed in most cases.

Don’t forget basic kitchen supplies such as few dishes (non-breakable and microwave safe), basic utensils to provide in-room dining options, a can openerchip clip, and storage containers.

Having the proper electronics is supercritical. If your college student has a laptop and a smartphone, then you have the main needs covered. However, don’t forget about noise canceling headphones to be able to focus in a noisy environment, and also enjoy a movie without having to bother their roommate. If there isn’t a community printer available, buy a small one for printing assignments in the room. If the dorm room comes with basic cable, then a small television will be greatly appreciated by your college student.


Space savers and other tools that keep the room organized and looking spacious will provide a psychologically nurturing environment …. door hangers and sticky hooks for walls can provide your student with additional storage or display options in their dorm room, all without having to damage wall surfaces. Desktop picture frames can also help brighten up their space and give them a place to keep photos of friends and family members, and a digital picture frame can let them display multiple photos all from a single spot.

Your student is also going to need a supply of bathroom items and a method for carrying them to and from the restrooms. A nice shower caddy filled with their favorite shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and other items can help them have a relaxing experience in any easy-to-transport package.

Also, make sure they have a strong laundry hamper with them so they can bring their dirty clothes from the dorm room and to the community laundry space. Otherwise, their only option may be to use a pillowcase. And make sure they have hangers if they have a traditional closet, giving them the opportunity to hang their clothes.


One last thing is, while you will certainly want some items new, many of these can be passed on from other students and families. This includes dorm room decor, leftover supplies, shower caddies, pots and pans, plates and so much more. Here are some places you may be able to find gently used items to save:

  • Facebook group sales pages
  • Marketplace on Facebook
  • Craigslist
  • Hand-me-downs from recent college graduates you know

In general, you need to be realistic about what can fit in the room and, when in doubt, err on the side of less is more. Don’t worry, you can always send any additional items in a “care package” which your college student will appreciate very much.