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Method For: The College Drop Off

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It’s here – time to trundle your precious offspring away to college! I’m on my third and final college drop off and will be moving my daughter in this month. The College Drop Off is a time of big feelings, physical exertions and organized chaos. It pays to be as organized as possible heading into the Big Event. This post covers my 3 biggest pieces of advice as you head off to launch your child (who was headed off to Kindergarten 5 minutes ago!) into the best 4 years of their life. Hopefully it will make the ride on the emotional roller-coaster a little less bumpy.

Before I get to the 3 ways to a smooth drop off experience a quick disclaimer: your experience will be very different moving a boy in vs a girl. I have both and it was like night and day. In most cases a boy will need/want 50% less of everything I’m going to talk about here and will not have big opinions about décor. When I moved my son in we stopped at 3 stores for the shopping, the move-in took about an hour and the post-game analysis was that he didn’t use any of the additional items I thought would be nice to have (e.g. folding gaming chair.) When I moved my daughter in it took two days, multiple store trips and hours of furniture assembly. Not kidding. True story.

Regardless of the gender of your darling, here are 3 guaranteed ways to make your college drop off easier!

Research the room

My daughter Charlotte’s room at University of Arizona. This is way bigger than most dorm rooms, was originally designed as a triple

The first thing you’ll want to do before you shop is try to get a visual of the dorm room. This is way easier to do than you’d think. First resource is the college’s website – many offer 3D tours of the rooms in each dorm. Some even have a feature that allows you to take measurements of the dresser, closet, bed height, etc. This is VERY helpful to have when you are planning your shopping trip! If your kid’s school does not have visuals on their site I recommend looking on YouTube for room tours that various students put up – you are almost sure to find not only your school but your kid’s actual dorm and can see how actual students have set up their space. Most of the time they even walk you through why they set up the way they did. For my middle’s move-in last year we bought the exact products from Target and Ikea that were in the dorm tour we found. It eliminated all of the time we would have spent trying to optimize (which was good because we spent that time assembling drawer units instead!). Getting the room visual up front will also save you money and unnecessary trips back to the store for things you missed or to return what wouldn’t fit. If you are really want a slam dunk you could purchase a DIY plan from a Professional Organizer, most offer one and if you have a good visual and measurements you can cut your move-in time in half!

shopping strategy

If you don’t have a shopping list yet you can download my College Essentials Checklist. Once you’ve done your room research and have a list of essentials you are ready to shop. Where and how you shop depends on whether you are driving your student to move in or flying. If you are driving I recommend doing your shopping before you leave and packing up your car Tetris-style. It will streamline your arrival and enable you to pull up to the dorm like a boss at your assigned time. If your incoming freshman is going to school in a state that requires a plane flight I recommend the following strategy: identify the stores closest to campus (Target, Ikea, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Container Store all have a lot of what you need) and shop online before you arrive. Most stores will hold your purchases for several days before you pick them up but it is a good idea to check first to see how long they will keep your items before you before they refund you and return them to stock. The number of days varies by store (and sometimes by location) so it’s smart to get that info so your stuff is actually there when you show up. I’m linking a few of my favorite storage items below – they work in almost all room sizes and configurations. In most cases the place you will be able to squeeze in the most extra storage is under the bed that is raised up to accommodate drawer units.

Rolling Caddy Cart from The Container Store

Modular Stacking Drawers from The Container Store

3 Drawer Wide Tower from Target


Most of the activities is a dorm room happen on the bed, and if they need extra seating there’s always the floor! Don’t buy extra furniture!

Where dorm shopping trips tend to explode into carts full of stuff your student will never use and has no place for is the category I call ‘Amenities.’ These are things that in theory should make the room more comfortable for your precious darling, more like home. Except they aren’t at home, and this isn’t a studio apartment it’s a dorm room. It’s not supposed to be like home. The three amenities most likely to be used and appreciated in a freshman dorm are a mini fridge (drinks), a microwave (leftover take out) and a coffee maker (if your kid likes coffee.) Any other appliances are extraneous and unnecessary. Extra furniture should also be avoided. Your kid will study, eat, sleep and hang out on their bed – it’s really all they need. So go nuts buying things to make the bed comfortable but stay away from extra chairs, futons, etc. A good way to approach the amenities category is to start lean, Amazon will deliver direct should the need arise for something that you didn’t deem ‘essential’ during the shopping trips. One clarification – I don’t consider wall décor to be part of the Amenities category and think it’s great and fun when students decorate their walls to express their personalities and interests. I still remember with pride the huge poster of Will Clark that hung in my freshman dorm room, I had to explain who he was to everyone who came into the room. There weren’t many San Francisco Giants fans in Pennsylvania in 1988! So let them go nots decorating the walls if they want, it’s an important part of announcing who they are to their new community.

So there you have it. If you get a dorm room visual ahead of time, plan your shopping accordingly based on whether you are flying or driving to school and keep the amenities to a minimum you are setting yourself up for a smooth transition from parent-of-a-teenager to parent-of-a-college-student. I wish you well on your journey!

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