Let's face it: A bland dorm room doesn't exactly shout “warm and cozy." And once they move in, college kids aren't always the best at keeping things neat and tidy. But you can help your child create a pleasant living space and maintain order with a few smart tips and tools – and you don't have to spend a fortune on making everything matchymatchy.
A room with a warm, welcoming vibe has another advantage: They will feel less homesick in comfy surroundings. So here are a few things to help make a dorm roommore homey.
Laundry essentials. Clean clothes and bedding go a long way toward creating a homey atmosphere. If your kid is a laundry novice, give her a crash course in whites and delicates before orientation, and make sure you pack plenty of quarters, detergent, and fabric softener. (Bonus: Scented dryer sheets placed strategically around the room can double as air freshener. Have her tuck a few into closets, under sheets, and among towels for a quick whiff of home.
Cleaning basics. Some college-age kids are neater than others, but it's a lot easier for them to keep their living space tidy if they have the right tools. Pack up a box full of cleaning supplies along with all the new bedding and posters. Include a small broom and dustpan, a hand-held vacuum cleaner for dry spills, and a big spray bottle full of white vinegar – an inexpensive, all-purpose cleaner good for tackling everything from bathroom mirrors to desk surfaces. Include several canisters of Clorox sanitizing wipes – because they're easy to use, your student is more likely to freshen up her dorm room this way (and eliminate nasty germs.) The lemon or citrus scent adds a fresh, clean aroma to the bathroom, bedroom, or any other living space.
Decorations. No one wants to live in a barren, white room. So let your college kid pick out her own colorful accessories – posters, throws, and pillows, in addition to her brand new college bedding. (Make sure you check what size sheets to buy; many colleges only provide extra-long single beds – which require XL twin size sheets – for students.) Dorm decor doesn't have to be fancy, and repurposed items from home will give him a sense of home away from home. (For instance, use a favorite old mug as a pencil holder, or a treasured childhood blanket as an extra throw.)
Scent. Colleges generally don't allow candles of any sort (they're a major fire hazard) but that doesn't mean your kid's dorm has to smell like a locker room. Try reed diffusers, potpourri, or a scent plug-in. To perk up bedding between washes, send her off with a bottle of fabric spray. Note: If kids are sharing a bathroom, an air freshener in a citrus scent is another must.
Soft lights. Battery-operated flameless candles and strings of tiny white lights are inexpensive ways to perk up a bland dorm room, and plus, dim light has a soothing, almost magical effect after a long study session. (Make sure you check with your college's residence life office to see what's allowed and what isn't before you buy.)
An overflowing care package. Why wait for a few months to surprise him with a care package? You can either mail the goodies from home so he has something waiting for him, or sneak it into the car before you leave for campus. Be sure to include lots of shelf-stable comfort foods (mac and cheese, instant soup, peanut butter, a favorite breakfast cereal, ramen noodles.) Don't forget beverages – an assortment of tea (black and herbal) and coffee (decaf and full-strength) can feel like a cozy hug from home. And pack that king of all comfort drinks: hot chocolate. Toss in a bag of marshmallows and a fun new mug for cozy winter afternoons of studying.
Plenty of paper towels. College students find tons of uses for paper towels – from cleaning up spills to holding a piece of pepperoni pizza. Likewise, disposable cups, plates, and napkins bring a thoughtful touch to dorm life.
Scented garbage bags. It's possible that your kid may not take the trash out every day – or her roommate forgets that banana peel she tossed in the wastebasket a week ago. Scented bags are a godsend since they do double duty as room deodorizers.
A few hardy plants. Green is good; plants make any room feel homey, and the carbon dioxide they give off is good for the air your student breathes. Even a small cactus or aloe plant will brighten up a sterile dorm room and require almost no care. If your kid has access to a kitchen, she might even want to keep a small herb garden at school. Fresh herbs make everything taste better, and require very little space to grow (a windowsill can work.)
Self-stick hangers. She's probably not allowed to pound nails into the wall to hold pictures, but stick-on hangers work great for most college needs. They're perfect for hanging keys, jewelry, and small pictures – or even holding draped fabric over windows or around the bed for a cozy, canopy-like feel. (Again, check with your kid's RA or residence life department to see what's allowed and what's not.)
Photos and memorabilia from home. You don't have to pack your kid's entire life, but a few carefully selected items (the cover from her high school musical program; a photo from the district track meet her junior year; the first dollar earned babysitting) will remind your child of good times past – and help make her feel happy and comfortable at school for months to come. And you'll feel good, knowing you helped her make the transition.