Tips to Organize a College Dorm Move-In

The big day is coming! One of the biggest days of your life. You’ll be dropping off your son or daughter for their freshman year at college. It’s a day filled with emotions and chaos. I thought I’d share my experience with you and offer some tips to make it go smoothly.

The key is in the preparation. Here’s some tips on a time line (of sorts).

  1. If your child has not contacted their roommate(s) by now, do so immediately. Maybe ‘friend’ each other on social media. Get them to discuss who is going to bring the shared items, like a TV, microwave, printer, rug, fan etc. This will help them get to know each other and allow them to practice some negotiating skills.
  2. Now is the time to have to talk with your child about expectations of living with someone else, especially if they have always had their own room.
  3. Make a list of all the items your child will need to purchase before leaving home. Stores like Target and Bed Bath and Beyond do a great job by providing lists, but your school may do the same. A lot of colleges have programs offering items/services which are convenient but costly, so compare prices. Some offerings when I was launching kids were: rugs, linens and care packages.
  4. Shoot to have the shopping and packing done a week prior to the big move in day, so you have some time just in case.
  5. Arrive early to campus. That means, if necessary, travel the day before or even earlier, if you are really going far. Remember there will be hundreds (if not thousands) of freshman moving in all at the same time, so pack your patience. Rushing will only add to the stress and chaos.
  6. Have a plan of attack. Read any directions and maps that you receive (or find on the school’s web site). Let your child tell you how they want to proceed.
  7. Remember, not all dorms are air-conditioned. That means bring water (and snacks). Carrying things from the car, up several flights of steps, through hallways and into rooms can take a lot out of you. Wear comfortable clothing.
  8. Bring cleaning products and use them  if necessary, before putting anything away. Usually dorm rooms and bathrooms are clean when you arrive, but you never know. Anyway, this might be the only time the room (and bathroom) ever get cleaned.

Here are some things that you may need to make your freshman’s room more like home:

  1. A photo of Mom and Dad (or family) to remind them who’s paying for this adventure.
  2. A first aid kit with stuff like pain relieve, band-aids, a thermometer.
  3. Headphones, since everyone doesn’t always like the same music/TV or the same volume.
  4. Earplugs in case the roommate snores or has a different sleep schedule than your child.
  5. Sleepmask, since most schools have never heard of room-darkening shades.
  6. 3M Command strips to take advantage of wall space.
  7. Change for the washer and dryer, if their dorm still has coin-op machines.
  8. Snacks! It’s a great way for your freshman to break the ice (and make new friends) by offering to share.

Here are some things not to do:

  1. Don’t pack for your child. You know you won’t do it right, so avoid the issue.
  2. Don’t let them pack their entire closet. Have you seen how small a dorm closet is?
  3. Don’t unpack anything without asking.
  4. Don’t decorate the dorm room for them.
  5. Don’t shut the door while your moving in. This is the only opportunity you will have to meet the parents of roommates and hall-mates.
  6. Don’t negotiate anything for your freshman. He doesn’t want the top bunk – let him speak up. He needs to check in with his RA – don’t go with him.
  7. Don’t miss any orientation that is offered. You may miss valuable information and it will give you a chance to walk around campus.
  8. Don’t smother. It’s emotional for everyone, but take clues from your child. Leave when they want to you leave and keep good byes short.

One last tip – bring tissues for the trip home.

Good luck! Don’t worry, they know your phone number.


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Janet Schiesl

Janet has been organizing since 2005. She is a Certified Professional Organizer and the owner of Basic Organization. She loves using her background as a space planner to challenge her clients to look at their space differently. She leads the team in large projects and works one-on-one with clients to help the process move quickly and comfortably. Call her crazy, but she loves to work with paper, to purge what is not needed and to create filing systems that work for each individual client. Janet is a Past President of the Washington DC Chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) and was voted 2016 Organizer of the Year by the Washington DC Chapter of NAPO.

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