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When you get to college, your dorm room is everything: a kitchen, a bedroom, a dressing area, a gym, a study space, and more. That’s a lot of gear to pack into a small space (have you read up on our favorite organizing tips recently?). And while you can’t do anything about the quality of the food in the cafeteria or the late-night habits of your randomly assigned roommate, you can make sure that you utilize every square inch of your dorm room to the best of your ability. But what items on the college packing list are really necessary, and what can you live without? Because the worst thing would be giving over tons of your precious closet space to a bulky appliance you’ll use a couple times in the first month and never look at again. (Ahem, iron and ironing board. That’s why Downy made the wrinkle release spray.) Before you head off to school, find out what dorm room essentials you’ll truly need with this checklist. Many of the items — including the bedding, bath, and electronics/appliances — were top picks from the Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI), which also took the budget-friendly value of the items into account. Stock up, and you’ll be ready for school.
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Those old college-issued twin XL mattresses have been around. If you’re sensitive sleeper, you might want to add a mattress topper to make your bed firmer, less lumpy, and more comfy. Linenspa’s tested well with the GHI and comes in that awkward dorm-room size.
RELATED: How to Build Your Best Bed Ever
Plates, Bowls, and Mugs
Even if you plan on spending most of your time eating in the dining hall, there are going to be days where you’re going to grab something back in your room. Be prepared with your own dinnerware: This set comes with plates, bowls, and mugs that are safe to use in both the microwave and the dishwasher, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
RELATED: The Best Dinnerware Sets of 2020
And don’t forget the spoons, knives, and forks to go with it! This set comes with a neat rack to hang it all on, which is a boon for those who don’t get kitchen drawers.
Eventually the walls are going to be plastered with posters, photos, and handbills, but when you first ship out to school, a plain cinderblock wall can be depressing. These prints look like real art, but come at college-student prices.
Laundry is the easiest thing to keep tidy in a dorm room, since you just have to stuff it all in a hamper. This one has sturdy handles that’ll let you carry a ton of it to the washing machines, and also collapses when it’s empty. (Like it’s ever going to be empty.)
These super-affordable towels received strong scores from the GHI for absorbency, drying speed, softness, and fabric strength. This way, you can buy a ton of them and procrastinate on doing laundry.
This mesh caddy is big enough to take everything you need to and from the shower, and it can also be folded down flat when it’s empty to save space.
They’re light, portable, keep clutter tucked away, and you can fit them somewhere in your dorm room — even if it’s under your bed. With the IRIS system, you can choose three, four, five, six, seven, or ten drawers.
Bulletin Board/Dry Erase Board
Keep yourself organized, remind yourself about tests and projects, leave messages for your roommates, and tack up some photos from home — all you need is a little bit of wall space.
Keep your life straight for the next year and a half with a planner that’ll let you see all your upcoming appointments at a glance. You can add more details to your digital calendar, but there’s something nice about having a hard copy of your schedule that you can just flip through.
It’s always a good idea to have extra seating for friends, or a cozy place to curl up and read. This eye-catching chair comes with a memory-foam cushion for extra comfort.
Because you’re probably not going to have air-conditioning in your dorm room. It also doubles as a quiet white-noise machine.
There’s going to be a time when you’re going to need to drown out loud music, roommates talking, or some other distracting noise and hit the books. The GHI liked this pair because it was more affordable than true noise-cancelling headphones, and they stayed in place very well.
RELATED: The Best Noise Canceling Headphones
Texting and FaceTime works, but snail mail feels really special. Stock up on some greeting cards and postcards to send to friends at other schools, and make checking those little P.O. boxes less of a fruitless endeavor.
Depending on your school, you might need to bring a wastebasket with you. Try to find one that doesn’t take up too much of your precious storage space, like this skinny one from Umbra.
This mirror is ready to hang over your closet or dorm-room door. You could also opt for over-the-door storage if you have a mirror somewhere else.
Card Holder for Your Phone
At some schools, students barely ever use cash — the student ID is everything. Slide the ID into one of these adhesive card holders, which uses 3M technology to stick to the back of the phone. After that, good to go to the cafeteria without a wallet or purse.
Sure, you’ll probably be able to take class notes on your laptop. But, when inspiration strikes, there’s nothing like having pen + paper handy.
Because you need a place to hang up your towels. Command hooks stick to many different surfaces, hold strong, and don’t damage walls when you take them down at the end of the year.
Something no one ever warns college students about: You will never have enough plugs. Since you’re bound to have many devices to charge, it’s best to bring some backup.
You’re going to need some coffee. Amend that: You’re always going to need coffee. This travel mug lets you take your brew of choice on the go, and has a screw-on lid to keep it shut tight.
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