Back to school: The ultimate list of dorm essentials + the one item not to forget on move-in day!

Back to school shopping used to be one of my favorite parts of a new school year, as I’m sure it was for many people. A particularly fun year was before my freshman year of college. The items on your back-to-school shopping list were more than just clothes, notebooks and new pens, but also bedding, kitchen items, and even some furniture. While this list seems exciting, it can also be overwhelming with the amount of choices in stores like Target, Walmart, and Bed Bath and Beyond.

As a college student who lived in 4 separate forms of housing, as well as a 2 year NYC apartment veteran, I have learned through trial and error what the best products are and where to buy them.

My advice here is to not be to concerned about matching everything your roommate has, as that seems unnecessary to me. You should pick what you want it to look like and maybe it can compliment your roommate’s vision.

My other tip is that not everything needs to be totally instagram-worthy. Definitely get cute items if you like them, but I don’t think spending outrageous amounts of money on dorm items is the best choice, as they can tend to get ruined or just worn out after a few years! I personally splurged on my bedding and kept everything else simple.

Without further ado, here are my dorm essential picks!

Bedding Essentials

Cute and functional duvet and shams

Lilly Pulitzer for PB Teen Duvet and Shams in Orchid Border and Elephant Bazaar

My bedding that I used all 4 years of college was from the Lilly Pulitzer for Garnet Hill Collection, which I loved! Unfortunately, that’s no longer available, but Pottery Barn came out with a new collection last year which has a whole bunch of awesome bedding and furniture. My sister actually has the Elephant Bazaar in her dorm currently, and we have the Orchid Border with the Bolster Pom Pom Pillows in the twin bedroom in my house on Martha’s Vineyard!

A duvet insert

Naturally, a duvet means you need a duvet insert. I had a microfiber one as opposed to down, because its less expensive, but also just in case of spills or who knows what. Down is not the easiest to dry or clean.

A comfy mattress topper

This is the same mattress topper that I had, which seems expensive but I knew I would have a twin XL bed for at least 3 years. It was also SO comfortable, I had the best bed and my friends would even come over to sit on my bed!

The ultimate mattress protector

The same exact mattress protector I had, which protects from everything you could possibly think of. I truly don’t think another one is worth the money!

Neutral sheets and pillowcases

I kept it very simple with a jersey cotton sheet set! The set won’t break the bank, are easy to throw in the wash, and are super comfortable. I still have these type of sheets at my apartment!

A body pillow

My roommate and I both had our beds against the walls, which obviously meant each of us had a cement block wall next to our beds. We both had body pillows to help us from not touching the often cold, cinder block wall. I had a fun, furry one which made my bed extra cozy and Morgan had a monogrammed body pillow!

A cozy blanket

My boyfriend and I are all about the cozy blankets! He got me this one from Walmart before I moved into my new apartment, and it was the perfect gift to match my bedding! In college, I had a similar white one that I folded at the end of my bed.

Headboard pillow

I didn’t have a headboard at first in my dorm, until I found a piece that goes on like a headboard that someone left in the hall after de-bunking their bed. I got lucky there, but I wished I had a cushier head board instead of the ugly brown wooden one. This pillow headboard would have covered the ugly brown one, I wish I knew about these sooner! Here is another pillow headboard from BB&B!

Bath and Laundry

Towels and washcloths

Having a few extra clean towels is always a good idea, so I’ve linked these towels from Target, which are plain but useful. I picked up these ones as hand towels for my current apartment when we moved in because there is a Target right near us! Here are some options from Walmart and Bed Bath and Beyond as well.

A simple shower caddy

Nothing screams college dorm more than a shower caddy, right? I had this exact same one from Bed Bath and Beyond my freshman year, and you really don’t need anything fancier than this. They now even have phone pockets?! This has me cracking up, but I guess it is smart just in case someone accidentally locks you out of the room when you are in the shower! Here are some other shower caddy options from Amazon, Target and Walmart. I have recommended all mesh versions, because you don’t want to have something else to clean, and these don’t retain water, so theres no mold involved!

A sturdy hamper

I got a hamper on a HomeGoods run with my mom before college, and I still have it to this day! While it held up pretty well, it has really started to breakdown recently. I love it so much I just keep it to put my dirty jeans in. I replaced that with a hamper that has separate sections for whites, darks, and colors, which I’m a big fan of since I am a laundry sorting stickler. However, in a dorm you probably want something a little smaller, so here are some options from Bed Bath and Beyond, Amazon, Target and Walmart.

Storage and other items

Bedside table

This cart from Target is cute for using as surface space, as well as storage. It’s always great to have spaces to put things so they are not in the way in such a small space! Sterilite drawers also are great for extra storage and some surface space near your bed.

Extra drawers

If you are anything like me, you’ll probably need more than the 3 drawers that the school gives you in your dorm furniture. I got some easily movable Sterilite plastic drawers  that I actually packed some of my clothes in for the move. It made it easy to move limited items but it was pretty heavy! Here are Target and BB&B options as well.

Lamp

Absolutely necessary in my opinion! The lighting in dorms is typically very institutional. In other words, it’s not very good. I loved doing work in bed, so a lamp was great to either turn on with the lights off or just for some extra lighting! I still have this classic, plain Target lamp. Similar options from Bed Bath and Beyond, as well as Walmart.

Over-the-door hooks

These will come in handy on both the door too the room, as well as on the closet doors! I found the more hooks, the better. Here are options from Target (with a basket on top!), Walmart and BB&B (also has a towel bar — perfect!).

Under bed bins

Bins under your bed are a great way to store extra clothes, as well as baskets for snacks, cleaning supplies, or bags!

Trunk

I just think that a trunk is a quintessential going off to college item! I had a green trunk that my mom bought for me years ago from Bed Bath and Beyond, and I brought it to college with me. My sister ended up getting one too, just because its so cute! It also doubles as storage, so although it took up a lot of room in my little dorm room, I made space! While they are on the expensive side, I have linked a few different options from Target, Walmart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Pottery Barn, and Amazon.

Decorations

Fairy lights

Soft fairy lights add another nice form of lighting, as well as decoration to a dorm room or apartment. These photo clip lights are also perfect for polaroids! *buys for apartment*

Cork boards & letter boards

As you can see from my freshman year dorm photos, cork boards were the move (I had these tile ones). Letter boards came into the game later, and they are so cute!

Frames

Cute frames can also make your dorm feel more home-y, whether they are for family/friend photos or even fun prints (like my favorites from Evelyn Henson!). Frames from Target, Walmart and Amazon linked here! My wall frames pictured here are the ones linked from Amazon, which were inexpensive and look great on a white wall.

Acrylic organizers

Perfect to keep on that institutional desk that you can’t get rid of! I loved having these to just hold my little things and get them out of the way, all in one place. They look put together and they can be for more than just makeup/beauty items. I just picked up a new one from Target, and had this one in college, plus here is another one of my favorites!

Essential Oil Diffuser

This is the perfect item to help you destress when you are in your dorm room. You can get relaxing essential oils and mix them together to create great scents! Also great because you can’t have candles in dorm rooms. (I did and I always forgot to hide them and would have to get my room inspected lol) Linked from BB&B, Walmart, Target and Amazon!

Hanging aids

Command hooks, strips and Scotch mounting putty and mounting tape are king in a temporary space. The best way to hang up photos, lights and hooks are command brand! That way when you leave the room you wont get charged for damages. These command clips are also great for hanging lights on the wall!

The one item not to forget for move-in day

A great pair of scissors

Honestly, my friend’s mom got me this exact pair of Scotch scissors right before I moved in and thank god she did! These were being used throughout the entire move in and I kept them in my desk drawers, so they were easily accessible. They got a ton of use, and I feel like they are a very forgotten tool, especially on move-in day when you need them the most! DON’T FORGET THESE!

 

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