As kids begin packing off to their first year of college, the excitement of a new school, a new city and new friends is inevitably accompanied by just a small bit of trepidation. That's because for most of them, this will be their first time living away from home.
For freshmen especially, this means dorm life: sharing very close quarters with someone they hardly know. But with a little planning, even those on a tight budget can outfit a well-organized dorm room while bringing with them a few of the comforts of home.
The National Retail Federation estimates that students and their families will spend an average of $957 on college necessities, up from last year's average of $881. Those living on campus are expected to spend $1,530 for college necessities, far outspending those living at home ($775) and those living off-campus ($1,162). In part, it's because dorm rooms require a few extras to make the most of downsized living.
Most of what you bring will be personal items. But for things that you can share - such as small appliances - it's best to communicate with your roommate before move-in day, so you don't have to figure out afterward where that extra mini-fridge will go.
Make your drom a home
Bedding: Believe it or not, college students really do sleep. And once you've doused the midnight oil, nothing will soothe you to slumber like climbing between a pair of luxury sheets. That's right - even the budget-minded "bed in a bag" is available these days with high-thread count sheets, not unlike those you used to only find in luxury hotels. And make sure you bring a comfy pillow,too.
Beanbag chair: Sure, they were a '60s fad, but beanbag chairs never really went away. They're more versatile than a couch, because you can easily pick them up and move them - say, if you want to study or watch TV in another room. These days they come in a wide range of fabric or vinyl coverings (even ultrasuede), which are easily removed and washed. Put a couple of them together, and you've got another sleeping option.
Storage bins and carts: One thing your dorm will never have enough of is storage space. Bins can be tucked under beds (consider buying bed raisers, which will increase storage room underneath) and into closets. And don't forget to think vertically: Rolling storage carts - like small dresser drawers on wheels - will help maximize your available storage space.
Alarm clock with iPod docking station: There's no excuse for sleeping through chemistry lab when you can awaken to the sound of your own hand-picked iPod playlist. There are several models of MP3 speaker systems that integrate an alarm clock, and the docking station will charge your player while you sleep.
Dry erase board: These are great for leaving messages for your roommate, posting schedules, or keeping shopping lists. And you can place one outside your door to serve as a message center.
Area rug: Dorm rooms are built to withstand years of hard use, which means dorm-room floors are usually hard - and cold. An area rug will not only keep your feet warm and dampen noise, it will add a little touch of home.
Handheld vacuum: These are great for cleaning the rug, sucking up dust bunnies from under your bed and cobwebs out of the corners, and tidying up the floor. And best of all, it takes up less space than a broom and dustpan.
Microwave: Microwaves are almost indispensable, whether for warming up water for cocoa, instant coffee or tea (or that college staple, Ramen noodles), popping popcorn or heating up food when it's too cold or too late to venture out. And almost every microwave-oven maker includes a model that is downsized for smaller spaces.
Mini-fridge: Sure, you can live without a compact refrigerator in your room, but there's no reason you should. The ease of having cold drinks, milk for cereal, yogurt, fruit and snacks on hand for those long study sessions makes this a near-necessity. Sure, you can live without a compact refrigerator in your room, but there's no reason you should. The ease of having cold drinks, milk for cereal, yogurt, fruit and snacks on hand for those long study sessions makes this a near-necessity.
Flat-screen TV: Even a straight-A student needs a little down time to relax and recharge - and catch up on "Scrubs" reruns. You can buy flat-screen TVs as small as 19 inches, which means it won't take up your entire desk.