The Best Dorm Shopping List You'll Ever Need


I'm a Mom who has sent two boys off to college (and who actually graduated!) so I know a little bit about creating the best dorm shopping list you'll ever need!  Back then, like you, I searched a zillion websites and compiled a list using my trusty Excel spreadsheet, then checked things off as I purchased them.

Packing for freshman year was a quest, if not a scavenger hunt.  We didn't have a lot of online shopping options those 10 years ago, so much of what we bought was done in person.  I suggest you do as much online shopping as possible. You don't need to buy everything on the list beforehand (especially if the student is flying to college). 

I know what my kids actually used, what they didn't, and what lasted so long that some of what we bought is actually sitting in my basement because they outlasted 4 years for each kid.

Dorm Must-Haves

Dorms are small, basic, unadorned rooms, usually to accomodate 2 people.  You will typically find 2 twin beds and mattresses (usually extra long), 2 desks, 2 desk chairs, 2 dressers, 2 closets, an overhead light and a window.  If you are lucky you will get at least 1 mirror. (To me, this is a decorator's dream--a blank canvas--but we're just focusing on living here for the next 9 months...)

Bathrooms are usually community style, with about 8 people sharing it.  

Bedding and Linens

  • 2 sets of sheets, Twin XL
  • Comforter, Twin XL
  • 2 sleeping pillows
  • Bedbug protecting mattress cover
  • Mattress pad
  • Blanket
  • 3 sets of towels, including bath towels, face towels and washcloths
  • Rolls of quarters for laundry
  • Laundry bin or collapsible hamper

The Room

  • Trash can (check if there is one already)
  • Trash bags.  Tip:  Take your clothing to school in trash bags instead of luggage, unless you are flying.
  • Small fan
  • Paper towels
  • Oven mitt and pot holder
  • Command Hooks
  • Dry erase board (magnetic is great)
  • Dry erase markers
  • Photos of your family, pets, and friends
  • Favorite posters, artwork, other wall decor
  • Push pins
  • Scotch tape
  • Cup to hold your pens, pencils, etc.
  • Duct tape
  • Poster putty
  • Can opener
  • Bottle opener
  • Postage stamps for all the letters you'll write home. Or your mom's birthday card.
  • Hangers for the closet

Electronics and Technology

  • A mini fridge (check with roommate)
  • Microwave Oven (check with roommate)
  • Headphones
  • Laptop
  • Laptop power cord
  • Mouse
  • Cell Phone
  • Cell Phone Charger
  • Surge Protector
  • Extension cord

School Stuff

  • Backpack
  • Paper clips
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Hole Punch
  • 3-hole punch
  • Magnifying glass
  • Pens & pencils
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Note pad
  • Glue
  • File folder for important stuff
  • Driver's license
  • Passport
  • Day planner
  • White-out
  • Highlighters
  • Rubber bands


  • Deodorant/antiperspirant
  • Makeup 
  • Magnifying Mirror
  • Razor
  • Shaving cream
  • Tweezers
  • First Aid Kit
  • Prescription medication
  • Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve
  • Feminine products--tampons, pads, etc.
  • Condoms
  • Jewelry
  • Comb
  • Hairbrush
  • Hair dryer
  • Curling iron/flat iron
  • Nail files or manicure kit
  • Nail clippers
  • Eyeglasses
  • Contact lenses
  • Lens solution
  • Caddy for carrying toiletries 
  • Hair ties
  • Safety Pins
  • Shower cap
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Mouthwash
  • Antacid
  • Nausea medication
  • Anti-diarrheal

Clothing (only enough for when you go home again--think summer/fall/early winter gear)

  • Underwear
  • Bras
  • Socks
  • Collapsible Duffle Bag for trips home
  • Sandals
  • Flip flops for the shower
  • Running shoes/sneakers
  • Shoes/boots for everyday
  • Tee shirts
  • Tank tops
  • Shorts
  • Hat/baseball cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Slacks (one pair dressy)
  • A tie and dress shirt
  • One dressy blouse or dress
  • Dress shoes
  • Belts
  • Umbrella
  • Rain coat or slicker
  • Sweatshirts
  • Light jacket
  • Heavy jacket or coat
  • Wool Hat (see Gloves note)
  • Gloves (in the East, it gets pretty cold in October)
  • Scarf
  • Earmuffs
  • Boots (if you think you will get snow before going home)

Food (you can purchase after you get to college at a Target or CVS)

  • Ramen noodles
  • Granola bars
  • Protein bars 
  • Energy drinks/protein drinks
  • Soup
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Microwavable Mac and Cheese
  • Cereal
  • Popcorn
  • Bottled water
  • Coffee
  • Creamer or Half & Half
  • Tea
  • Sweetener/sugar
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Plastic spoons, knives and forks
  • 1 or 2 ceramic mugs for coffee or soup.  That's all I am allowing you!

Dorm Nice-to-Haves

  • "Husband" (aka a bolster pillow)
  • Curtains and expandable curtain rod
  • Bedskirt
  • Small washable rug
  • Bluetooth speaker
  • Desk lamp
  • Over-the-door rack for towels
  • Shoe organizer (under bed or over the door type)
  • Bed risers (these don't work with loft beds)
  • Multi-plug USB wall charger
  • Mini-Keurig or electric tea kettle
  • Bike & helmet
  • Earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones
  • Sleeping Mask
  • Sports gear--Frisbee, Can-Jam, ice skates, swim suit and gear

Don't Bother Packing These for Your Dorm

  • Pillow shams
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Large area rug--it will never get vacuumed
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Mop
  • Luggage
  • Furniture
  • Printer
  • Plants (they will surely die!)
  • Cold medications.  Buy it if you get sick.
  • Alarm clock--hello cell phone app!
  • Composition notebooks, dividers, etc. until you decide what you like to use
  • Dishes and utensils that have to be washed. Get real.

When you arrive on campus--and after you have made the bed and unpacked the basic stuff--head over to the nearest CVS or Target and pick up your favorite shampoo, body wash, laundry detergent, and anything you may have forgotten (like a toothbrush?) or simply didn't want to pack for the trip.

I know you are going to find other lists, but these are the items my boys found to be most necessary and useful.  I'm sure you'll agree this was the best dorm shopping list you'll ever need.