Dorm Sweet Dorm

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Moving into a college dorm can be daunting, but with a little planning and the right attitude, you'll feel at home in no time!

A great strategy is to touch base with your new roommate before move-in day and agree on who will bring what. You might also plan to share the cost of items like TVs or refrigerators if neither of you already owns one.

It’s always a good idea to call or visit the school and get the skinny on your space ahead of time.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • How big is the room? Try to get specific dimensions, including length, width, and even ceiling height.
  • How much closet space is there?
  • How many electrical outlets does the room have?
  • Is the room equipped with WiFi or high-speed Internet access?
  • How are the desks configured; do they have adequate storage and work space? Does the desk include a keyboard tray, and if so, is it adjustable?
  • Is a dresser or other storage area provided?
  • What size is the bed? (Many colleges provide extra-long twin mattresses, so you’ll need to be sure your bedding will fit.)
  • Can the bed be lofted, or can the two beds be turned into bunk beds?

Make a list

Next, list everything you’re planning to bring along. Keep in mind, that little room has to accommodate your stuff times two--maybe three, if you’re assigned to a triple!

Visit your college’s website for dorm do’s and don’ts, which can help you decide what to bring and what to leave at home. For example, many schools don’t allow items like candles, hot plates, and space heaters. Ask about renting a MicroFridge, a combination microwave/refrigerator that many colleges encourage students to use. Your school’s website should also list amenities, such as dining halls, laundry, and common rooms, that are provided in your dorm.

Not sure what to pack? Start with the essentials: alarm clock, laundry basket, flip-flops for the shower, bathrobe, tote for your toothbrush and soap, aspirin and first-aid basics, electric power strips, a study lamp (ideally, a small one that won’t keep your roommate up during late-night study sessions), and cleaning supplies for those less-than-spotless dorm room surfaces.

Don’t forget the personal items you can’t live without, like DVDs, electronic games, favorite books and photos, maybe even your old teddy bear. "You have to have a few things that remind you of home,” advises Pablo, a student at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. Besides his laptop, his most important items are the photos filling up his wall. “My family and friends from high school mean a lot to me.”

Keep in mind that certain items can be purchased after you get to campus. If you have easy access to stores near or on campus, waiting to buy some nonessential dorm supplies could make your move easier. Stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Staples carry almost everything you’ll need for your space--but go early, because other students will probably be competing for the same things!

Get it together

When it comes to organization, think inside the box. That means storage containers, plastic crates, and space savers like over-the-door shoe racks, which are also great for holding things like toothpaste, hair dryers, brushes, and other small items! Other useful organization tools include expanding pocket file folders for papers, notes, and research materials; desktop space savers; sticky notes; dry-erase boards; and desk calendars. While you’re at it, pick up some adhesive hooks; they’re perfect for hanging things without damaging walls.

Still feeling cramped? Here are some more ways to make the most of your space:

  • Condense your closet. Leave your out-of-season clothes at home, and use hangers that hold more than one article of clothing. If you keep a laundry basket in your closet, try a vertical one to save floor space.
  • Take a stand against nightstands. Instead, attach a shelf or shelves to the post or rail of your bed. (Just be sure to watch your head!)
  • Find furniture that fits. If you need to add furniture, many retailers make pieces, such as inflatable chairs, specifically for dorm rooms.
  • Get lofty. Consider using blocks to raise your bed a foot or more from the floor so other stuff can fit underneath. Think mini-fridge, sports gear, and storage boxes.
  • Go off the wall. Use wall space wisely. Hang corkboards and wall pockets to store everything from books, papers, and magazines to snacks, clothing, and shoes.

Roommate rules

Just about anyone who’s ever lived in a dorm has their own tale to tell about the Roommate From Hell (usually exaggerated for dramatic effect). There’s the party hound who plays loud music all night, the boyfriend or girlfriend who just. Won’t. Leave. The obsessive neat freak, the hyper-opinionated “free spirit,” the slob who hasn’t showered since prom night . . . you get the idea.

Think positive

Relax. For every horror story, there are many more roommates who get along just fine. Sometimes all it takes is a little positive thinking. Magdalena, a student at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, says, “I’ve been sharing a dorm room with [different roommates] for two years. We’ve always studied different subjects, believed in different religions, and gone to bed at different times--and it’s been wonderful.” Magdalena attributes her roommate success to the fact that she’s learned to appreciate, rather than resent, the differences between her and her roommates.

Regardless of who you end up sharing space with, there are ways to make the roommate relationship more comfortable. Dr. Carol Schmitz, Director of Residential Communities at the University of Southern California, suggests these strategies:

Don’t expect your roommate to be your best friend. Great friends do not always make great roommates. Likewise, the most compatible roommates often aren’t close friends.

Be open and honest. Communication is key to any successful relationship. Start the year by discussing each other’s needs and concerns: Do you need a quiet room to study while she likes to crank the tunes? Is he a night owl while you’re a morning person? Establish rules on cleanliness, study and sleep habits, and visitors.

When there’s a problem, discuss it with your roommate first. Granted, it’s usually easier to avoid conflict. But it’s always better in the long run to air your differences--in a tactful, constructive way, of course--than to simmer in silence, or worse, complain to others. If something’s bothering you, don’t go griping to friends and family. Take it up with your roommate directly. If that doesn’t help, ask the dorm’s residential advisor (RA) for advice. RAs can serve as unbiased mediators if necessary.

Be flexible. Compromise, along with communication, is essential whenever two or more people are learning to live together. Sometimes that might mean putting up with his annoying friends when you’re tired or trying to study--but it also sometimes means your roommate dresses in the dark for her early morning class so you can sleep in.

With these tips, a positive attitude, and an open mind, you’ll come away from your freshman year with at least a few good memories of your roommate, and if you’re lucky, a friend for life.

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