Making the shopping list for the first college living experience is exciting, but pros say to be prudent about how much stuff you buy. Rooms often seem smaller than the floor plans indicate. That spacious-looking common room? More like a foyer. And as one veteran of the dorm wars notes, you'll never again have the closet space you did at home. So think about smart storage that maximizes space yet looks good.
Suitcase alternative: Unless you're able to repurpose them as tables, suitcases may not be the best option; they might not fit under the bed or in the closet. Collapsible storable bags work great. Samsonite's sturdy nylon Tote-a-Ton bag has 6,452 cubic inches of space. Dormco.com has the Clothes & Go system, which lets you take hanging clothes right out of the closet into foldable bags with a shoulder strap — at the dorm, just rehang.
Organize your space: Bed, Bath & Beyond's got a ventilated, clear vinyl 6-shelf sweater rack, left, that hangs on a rod — easy to see what's in it.
Some online shoppers have raved about the retailer's Dorm Space Saver, below, which assembles with no tools and, being the same width as the bed, serves as an extra headboard or footboard with shelves. For added hanging space, try a wheeled dress rack that fits in the closet.
For the desk and more: Ikea's Dokument series of functional mesh metal desk accessories might appeal to girls or guys. Their Kassett boxes, left, are cheap and sturdy storage options for papers; choose from an array of colors including white, black and orange. The Olesby lamp, center, is a good-looking task light. And Ikea's giant plastic shopping bags make great dirty clothes totes, for the Laundromat or for the bus ride home to free cleaning. Dormco's Bunk Pocket, right, is a convenient neoprene catchall for electronics that slips over a bedpost.
Going abroad? Kenyon College junior Trevor Ezell, who recently returned from a semester studying in England and traveling around Europe, says a duffel bag was brilliant for studying abroad. "They can be expanded to hold lots of stuff, yet collapsed to store away easily," he says. What not to pack for long-distance study? "Anything other than clothes," advises Ezell. "Students studying abroad run the risk of bringing things that might prevent them from absorbing local culture."
Online services: Both Bed, Bath & Beyond and Walmart offer services that let you shop online and pick up the items in or near the college town. If your student is flying or your car is small, it's a great option.
Go neutral: Dorm gear is often grouped by classic gender colors and patterns — pinks, purples, baroque and animal prints for girls, and surfer, sports, blues and browns for guys. It's better to choose neutral bedding that you won't tire of, and put the pattern and color punch in posters and memorabilia collected during the school year.
www.dormco.com: Bunk Pocket, $6.94; Clothes & Go bag (not shown), $19.99.
www.ikea.com: Olesby work lamp, $9.99; Dokument files, waste bin and letter tray (not shown), two for $1.99-$7.99; Kassett boxes, $5.99.
www.bedbath&beyond.com: Dorm Space Saver, $59.99; Samsonite Tote-a-Ton bag, $29.99; clear vinyl sweater rack, $19.99.