Monday, April 14, 2008

Organizing your Dorm Part 1: Taking What You Need

The absolute number one key to fitting all your stuff comfortably in your dorm room is to only bring the things that you need.

While this may seem painfully self-evident, it takes a lot more thought and effort than you might think to make sure you only have the stuff that you need. If you're driving, you can fit a lot of crap into a big car; a lot more than you probably need. And if you fly home, it's very easy to accumulate more and more unnecessary stuff as you go back and forth from home. You start off bringing only two suitcases of stuff, maybe shipping a few boxes, and everything fits in fine. Then you go home, and all you take back is a few favorite shirts, shoes, or books. But when you come back to college, your suitcase if filled to the brim with Christmas present, more clothes, every DVD you own, as if there is some compulsion to fit everything you possibly can into your allowed baggage. I definitely fell into this pattern.

So before you go off to college, whether moving in your freshman year or coming back from break, think about these tips as you consider what you really need at school:

1. Leave the mementos at home.
Graduating from high school is, for most people, an emotional experience that can leave you with a lot of precious objects as you say goodbye to your friends and scatter away to different colleges. Additionally, most of us still have things hanging around from our early childhood, like stuffed animals and pictures. Especially your freshman year, it is important to bring something to school that will remind you from home. That first term before you form strong bonds with your new friends can be a hard and lonely time.

But don't go overboard. There is no need to bring framed pictures of your family, your best friend, and your dog when you can just put some digital photos on your computer to look at when you get lonely. For people with extensive stuffed animal collections, bring only one or two favorites, rather than the whole bunch. Bring mementos that can act as something useful; the baby blanket your grandmother made for you or the scarf your best friend knit is better than a porcelain figurine because you need a blanket and a scarf anyways, whereas a figurine will just sit on you desk and more than likely get broken.

2. Cut down on packaging.
Many people have extensive DVD, CD, and video game collections. One DVD or videogame, in original packaging, is about 7.5 inches long, 5.5 inches wide, and .625 inches thick. So if you have a collection of 100 DVDs, it would take up almost 2600 cubic inches, or 63 inches of shelf space. No dorm room is going to give you 63 inches of easy to access shelf space, and even if they did, you should use it for better things. Rip all your CDs to your computer, then stick any videogames or DVDs into a binder. You can admire all the pretty cover art online or when you get home.
And while DVDs are the most obvious and commonly overlooked example, plenty of other things can be stripped of unneccesary, space-filling packaging to save you space while the item is in transit.

3. Be reasonable about your hobby equipment.
I cycle through lots of phases with my hobbies. I enjoy reading, sewing, knitting, beadwork, drawing, painting, and a variety of other arts and crafts, and I have the whole gamut of equipment for all of them. I brought a lot of it here, and in my two years I have yet to touch quite a bit of it.
Pick the hobby that you like the most right now, and bring stuff for that. Leave the rest at home for when you're on break. Realistically, you'll be spending most of your time on schoolwork or with you friends, anyways, so don't worry about getting bored.
A note for all you bibliophiles: this includes you! If you love books, it can be hard for you to leave so many of your most beloved at home, but you won't have the space for all of them (nor the time to read them all again.) Bring a few for car or plane trips, and the rest of the time either swap with friends or use your college or community library to check out books.

4. Limit your clothing.
This seems to be a much bigger problem for girls than guys, but people tend to bring WAY TOO MUCH CLOTHING to college. I will readily admit that I have far more clothing than I need, and I am in the process of transferring it all back home. At most, you're going to go two weeks without doing laundry (maybe three if you're in the middle of a crunch time) so don't bring more than 14 of anything. That may seem easy, but go through your closet and count how many t-shirts you have. Unless you actively limit your wardrobe, you have way more than 14 t-shirts, guaranteed. You probably have more than 14 t-shirts that you really like. As tempting as it is, don't bring them all. This will also save you the hassle of taking clothes back and forth from home to school, since there's no need to take home as many clothes if you have plenty waiting for you there.
Also, plan out what sorts of clothes you will need at given times in the year, and leave everything else at home. If you're going to college in New England, where winters are freezing, you'll want to have plenty of warm clothes. But there's no need to bring them in August, when it will probably be in the 80s. Similarly, you won't need shorts, sundresses, or tanktops in December and January. Look up the typical temperatures for the time you'll be away from home, and take the appropriate clothes. When you come home for winter or spring break, bring the clothes that you won't need anymore, and take back the ones you will.

5. Cut back on electronic gadgets.
We have a billion of them. Some are essential. Some are just useful. But some are pointless, especially to a college student. If you can get coffee in the cafeteria when you go to breakfast, do you really need your own coffee grinder and coffee pot? If the only printing you'll need to do is three papers over the course of a term, why not put the file on a flash drive and print it at the computer lab instead of bringing a printer? Also, make sure you coordinate with your future roommate about bringing microwaves, mini-fridges, and fans, since there is no need (and no space) to have two in a room.

6. Limit decorations.
A few posters makes the room more like home, but don't go all Martha Stewart. Just like with the mementos, it's better to have your decorations also be functional. The most eye-catching part of any dorm room is the sheets on your bed, so make sure you get a set that you like. They also make a variety of lamps, mirrors, even laundry hampers and trash cans with decorative aspects, so you don't need to go for plain and boring.

These are just a few tips to get you started on thinking about what you really need to bring to school. Next post will be organizing it all when you get to your room.

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