If you’re reading this, you’re probably heading off to college for the first time—or you’re a parent whose child is about to leave the nest. What an exciting time!
If you’re a student, moving for college is probably your first experience living away from home. Aside from bringing your backpack, computer and toothbrush, I’ve got a list of things you’ll need to pack for college . . . plus a few items you won’t need on your college packing list if you’re tight on space or sticking to a budget.
With crazy inflation rates driving up the cost of everything these days, it’s completely okay to work with a budget and skimp on some things to save money in college. You can still add style and comfort to your room while you’re on a budget! And remember, everyone’s living situation and school move-in guidelines will be different. That means your college packing list will be too.
Let’s take a look at the essential items you’ll want to include on your college packing list.
Furniture and Storage
Your dorm will provide most of the big furniture, like desks, chairs and bedframes. Don’t forget these other important touches.
- Mattress (if your college already supplies one, I’d recommend a comfortable mattress topper)
- Trash can
- Alarm clock
- Bedside lamp
- Storage bins for the closet and under the bed
Bedding and Bath
This might be the most important part of your college dorm check list: bedding and bath linens! I recommend buying these items new, but you can save money by comparing prices on Amazon or visiting discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Ross.
- Twin XL sheet set and pillowcases (this size will fit most dorm mattresses)
- Comforter or duvet
- Throw blanket
- Bath towels
- Hand towel
Health and Personal Care
Stay fresh, clean and healthy with these essential bathroom products for your dorm.
- Pain relievers
- Hand soap
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Body wash
- Face wash and moisturizer
- Toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss
- Hairbrush or comb
- Blow-dryer, hair straightener and curling iron
- Nail file and clippers
- Razors and shaving cream
- Q-tips and cotton balls
- Shower caddy for your bathroom and shower products
- Shower shoes (if you have a communal bathroom)
- Cosmetics kit
- Shower loofah
Laundry, Clothing and Accessories
Here’s a tip that helped me when I moved to college: Only pack the clothes you need for the semester you’re in. That means you don’t need your winter sweaters and boots when you’re heading into spring and summer. You can trade out your wardrobe when you go home for a visit on school breaks. Curious about what other clothes and laundry items to pack for college? Check out this list:
- Hamper and mesh laundry bag
- Laundry detergent and fabric softener
- Quarters for the laundromat
- Lint roller
- Stain remover pen or spray
- Clothes hangers
- Travel steamer or clothes iron
- Closet and shoe organizers
- Underwear and socks
- Sweats or loungewear
- Workout outfits
- Athletic shoes
- Dress shoes
- Walking shoes
- Snow, rain and/or hiking boots
- Jewelry and a watch (stick with the basics and leave the expensive stuff at home)
- Winter jacket, warm hat and scarf (if it’s appropriate for the season)
- Belts (black and brown are safe bets!)
- Sunglasses or hat
- Purse or wallet
- Computer bag or backpack
When you’re thinking about what to pack for college, you don’t need to go crazy finding the perfect curtains or knickknacks if they’re going to blow your budget. Adding small touches like family photos and your favorite blanket can make your dorm feel homey until you save money for more decor. But here are a few ideas if you want to add a splash of style without breaking the bank.
- Area rug
- Posters or framed photos
- Curtains and tension rod
- Wall-safe picture hangers
Electronics and School Supplies
Personal laptops and tablets are popular for students to carry around campus in addition to normal notebooks. When it comes to packing college school supplies, here are some essential electronics and supplies you’ll want to bring to make your life easier:
- Laptop or desktop computer, plus power and charging cords
- Computer mouse
- Flash drive
- Cell phone and charger
- Docking station or Bluetooth speaker
- Earbuds or headphones
- Pens, pencils and highlighters
- Notebooks, binders and folders with pockets
- TV and DVD player or streaming device
Food and Kitchen Gear
Don’t forget to add cooking gear to your college packing list. If you’re not on a student meal plan that provides all your meals, be sure to bring these kitchen and cooking items with you to school.
- Silverware set
- Easy-to-make meals and snacks (think granola bars, soup, macaroni and cheese, popcorn and sandwich ingredients)
- Water bottle
- Reusable coffee mug
- Plates and bowls
- Microwave (if your dorm or apartment doesn’t provide one)
- Dish towels or paper towels
- Ziploc baggies
- Can/bottle opener
- Dish soap and scrubber
Personal Documents and Money
You might not think of personal records as important items to pack for college, but you’ll want to make sure you have these forms of ID (and keep them in a safe place so they don’t get lost or stolen).
- Driver’s license
- Student ID
- Social Security card
- Copy of birth certificate
- Health insurance card
- Car registration and insurance
- Debit card and cash
Don’t forget these random household items when you’re deciding what to pack for college. It’ll make a big difference to have these things on hand when you move into your dorm.
- Trash bags
- All-purpose cleaners
- Vacuum or mop
- Mini tool kit
- Lawn chair or picnic blanket for outdoor events
- Fan or extra blankets (if you and your roommate disagree about room temperature)
What You Don’t Need to Bring With You
I know it’s tempting to bring all your favorite things from home. But remember, living in a dorm is temporary, and you want to make the most of the space you have. Here are a few items you probably won’t need to bring to college.
- A million throw pillows (one is plenty)
- Wardrobe for every season
- Any duplicate electronics or appliances that your roommate will bring
- Bulky or single-use kitchen appliances (like a convection oven or rice cooker)
- Ironing board (if you use a clothes steamer instead)
- Printer and printer paper (if there’s a community printer available)
- Multiple suitcases (you probably only need one)
- Your entire DVD or book collection
Go to School Without Taking on Debt
Whew, that’s a long checklist of things to pack (or not pack) for college! Don’t get overwhelmed, though. Just move through each section and see what you’ve already got and what you might need to buy. But here’s the thing: I don’t want you to take on any debt to decorate your dorm! Just like avoiding student loans to get your degree, you can live on campus without going into debt. It’ll take some discipline, but I know you can do it!
Start budgeting with EveryDollar today!
If you want to know more about how to prepare for college and get your degree the right way, check out my friend Anthony ONeal’s book Debt-Free Degree. It’s your step-by-step guide to get through college without student loans—and that includes not borrowing money to pay for your decked out dorm room.