As July comes to a close, it's time to start thinking about back-to-school shopping. Shopping for your first year of college is a much bigger endeavor than regular back-to-school shopping. When I left for college last summer, I took a whole lot more with me than a backpack full of fresh school supplies. Here are some tips to help you pack for your freshman year.
You will need to bring your own bedding, towels, toiletries and other personal items. Most dorms have extra-long twin beds, but if you aren't sure, check with your school. You also should bring a mattress pad so you don't have to use the schools.
If you will be living farther from home, it's probably a good idea to pack your off-season clothes — you won't want to be stuck wearing shorts if the weather turns cold faster than you expected.
Carrie Yeatts of Mercersburg, Pa., said it is easy to forget very basic items.
"(Bring) Tylenol, Band-Aids, and things like that," said Yeatts, a senior at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. "You don't usually think about (those things) because you use (your mom's). Some of my friends forgot shampoo and stuff because they just didn't think about it."
"You need to be self-sufficient," said Brittney Stroud of Hagerstown, who's a sophomore at Liberty University in Virginia.
Depending on the layout of your dorm, you might need a way to transport your shower items from your room to the bathroom. While the canvas shower caddies are cute and colorful, they will inevitably get wet, and material will retain the moisture. Instead, choose a plastic caddy with holes for drainage or a small wire basket.
In a small crowded dorm room, space is at a premium. A little planning goes a long way to minimizing clutter and maximizing your space.
"Anything you can save space on is really important, because the rooms are small and you're sharing it with another person," Yeatts said.
Even if you are generally not an organized person, a few small investments can make your life (and your roommate's life) much easier.
Over-the-door organizers are a great way to store everything from shoes to food to a hairdryer. As an added bonus, these organizers can be hung out of sight on the inside of a closet door.
"One really good thing I did last year was I (bought) milk crates," Stroud said.
She said the plastic crates can be stacked to create shelving and can also be used to transport your belongings to and from school.
Plastic organizational drawers come in a variety of sizes and can store all sorts of belongings including clothes, DVDs, school supplies and jewelry.
Shoeboxes are a fun, economical way to maximize your storage space. Last year I used shoe boxes to store everything from athletic tape and soccer socks to graded papers, sunglasses and hair accessories.
If you remove the lid, a shoe box is the perfect drawer divider. For extra storage space, I wrapped a few shoe boxes in colorful wrapping paper and stored them on top of my dresser. The wrapping paper added a splash of color to my room and the lids kept my stuff clean and dust-free. Shoe boxes can also be neatly stacked on the floor of your closet. If you decide to use shoe boxes, look for the ones with a removable lid.
If you have walk-in closets, a shower bar can be a great way to double your hanging space. Set up the shower bar at about waist height so you have easy access to your clothes hanging in the back. This is especially useful if you and your roommate have to share a closet. Another way to maximize closet space is to invest in hangers that can hold multiple items of clothing.
Keep it clean
"Cleaning supplies are always important," Stroud said.
Stroud said it is important to find out ahead of time if bigger cleaning supplies will be provided. She said her freshman year, she and her suitemates didn't realize that they would need a vacuum, so they had to borrow one.
My one "must have" item for cleaning is a can of Clorox Wipes. It's also a good idea to bring dish soap and a sponge to clean up from late-night snacks.
You will also need to bring laundry detergent and plenty of quarters. In my experience, a hamper or laundry basket is much more convenient than a laundry bag. If you have a lot of delicate clothing, a drying rack may also be a good idea.
Stroud and Yeatts both suggest that you coordinate with your roommate(s) ahead of time to avoid bringing the same major items.
A microwave and a mini-fridge are definitely worth the expense, and are great for the times when you are sick of cafeteria food or need a warm drink. Microwaves can also double as an artificial campfire — a friend taught me that they can be used to make s'mores.
A desk lamp, good headphones and a flash drive are also great helps for studying and paper-writing.
Just for fun
There are myriad ways to personalize your dorm room. Posters, photos and additional lighting can be a lot of fun, but make sure you are aware of your school's guidelines. Some schools do not allow certain adhesives on the walls, so check before you buy. Surge protectors are useful for giving you additional electrical outlets, but some schools stipulate that only certain brands be used.
Decorating your room can be a great way to get to know your roommate, so be creative and have fun.
Snacks to keep off the "Freshman 15"
Studying is hard work. Here are some tried-and-true options for brain fuel that will help you keep off the infamous "Freshman 15."
Fresh fruit — Take some friends to a local farmer's market. You'll get a better feel for the area and nothing beats local fruit.
Baby carrots and hummus — The carrots provide the crunch and the hummus is much healthier (and just as delicious) as traditional veggie dip.
Popcorn — Find snack-sized microwave popcorn with no artificial colors or sweeteners and no hydrogenated oil
Chocolate — OK, so this might contribute to the "Freshman 15," but it's still essential. My roommate and I discovered that Ghirardelli Chocolate 60 percent cocoa chocolate chips are much more economical than individually wrapped chocolates or chocolate bars.