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Home sweet dorm

The stores, the ads and the Web sites are shouting it this time of year: Time to head to campus. Time to buy all the stuff you need to outfit your dorm room.

Bed risers. Storage boxes. Bathroom caddies. Garment racks. Hooks. Hangers. Plastic milk crates. Shoe boxes. Bulletin boards. Coordinated sets of sheets and bedspreads. Stacking baskets. Folding mesh cubes. Drawer organizers.

Do college students really need all this stuff? Which "must-have" items must you really have?

That's the question we posed last spring to some students at the University of South Florida's campus in St. Petersburg.

The year was winding to a close. Our interview — or one final exam — was all that stood between nine students and summer freedom. They sat down to tell us the facts:

What you need to bring to campus, what to forget about, what to wait and buy once you and your roommates are there, and all the unglamorous but necessary things no one ever tells you about. (Like paper towels and garbage bags.)

They also shared some hard-learned truths about living with other people, which may be the most important knowledge they gained that year.

So if you are heading to campus, listen to the experts:

• Bedding: The ads are right about this, students said. You do need the basic bed set: a mattress pad or foam topper, pillows, sheets and pillowcases, a comforter or blanket. Some students think living in Florida means never being cold, so they come without blankets and are surprised when it turns chilly.

• Bed risers: Most of the students did elevate their beds to create space underneath for a mini-refrigerator or a filing cabinet. "But don't do this if you're short," said one young woman who was. She found it hard to climb into bed.

• Shoe racks: Yes.

• Laundry basket: Yes, preferably the collapsible kind with wheels.

• Additional bookcase and shelves.

These students lived in suites with four single bedrooms, two baths, a sitting room and a kitchenette. They didn't think their single rooms, at 8 by 10 feet, were too small.

One student who brought a freestanding closet positioned it outside her room in the hall leading to the sitting room.

That brings up the subject of clothing.

"Don't bring lots of clothing," said Holly Corbella, 22, of Ocean Township, N.J., who will be a junior this fall. "You wear the same things over and over." That said, bring hangers. Lots of them.

• An alarm clock or wall clock. Most students use their cell phones for wake-up calls, but it's nice to be able to glance across the room and see what time it is.

• Desk lamp.

• Tech supplies: Ink cartridges. Paper. An Ethernet cord. A printer. (Yes, they can print in the computer lab, but it's more convenient to have your own printer.) The students urged laptops over PCs because they save a lot of space.

Should you bring your own TV? It depends on your habits. Some said one TV in the sitting area was all they needed; they watch DVDs on their laptops in their rooms. Another likes to watch the morning shows and wanted a TV of her own.

• Bathroom gear: If you're living in a suite, sharing a bathroom with one other student, there will probably be room for each of you to keep your toiletries in the bathroom, the students said. You won't need a caddy for your makeup and grooming supplies unless you're using a bathroom down the hall.

You will want one of those caddies that hangs over the neck of the shower to hold bottles of shampoo and conditioner; a toothbrush holder of some kind; a shower rug; and maybe shower shoes, again, depending on how many people you're sharing with.

All these young women recoiled at the notion of co-ed bathrooms. "Some guys do things that are really gross," one student said.

• Mini-refrigerators: The students were divided here. If you find that your roommates drink your drinks without asking or eat the last of something and don't replace it, you may want a mini-fridge in your bedroom to keep your own stuff separate. If this isn't a problem, you can probably live with the common refrigerator in the kitchenette.

• Kitchen supplies: You'll need pots and pans, kitchen utensils, flatware, glasses and plates. But sort this out early with your roommates:

"We all brought our own pots and pans," said Nicole Puhi, 19, a soon-to-be junior from Greenwich, Conn. "You don't need four sets of everything."

"Don't spend a lot of money" on your kitchenware, said Christina Mendoza, 19, of Sarasota, who will return this fall as a sophomore.

On the one hand, don't buy the cheapest pots and pans you can find; they'll warp and scorch and won't stand up to the daily wear and tear. But no need to buy a complete set from Cuisinart, either.

Ditto for plates and cups. Don't bring things you treasure, because they'll break or disappear before the year is out.

Do you need a coffeemaker? Some said yes, but others said Starbucks was so close — right across the street — that they never needed to brew their own.

One surprise for those who cook their own meals: "You need lots of little ingredients you don't think of, like spices. You need to build up a spice cabinet."

They also recommended this shopping list for the kitchen, and they suggested roommates take turns buying the staples:

• A big kitchen wastebasket or garbage can.

• A year's supply of garbage bags to fit in it.

• Paper towels.

• A dish rack.

• Lots of sponges.

• Dishwashing liquid, scrubbing pads.

Add some other cleaning equipment: A mop and bucket, a vacuum, maybe one of those handhelds like a Shark or a DustBuster for the bathroom and other small areas. "Keep the place clean or you'll never get ahead of it," they cautioned.

Some colleges provide housekeeping service a couple of times a week. "Cleaning people make you lazy," said Claudia Anderson, 19, of Orlando, who soon will be a sophomore. "It's a level of our maturity that we're responsible for ourselves."

These students were a thrifty bunch. "Find somebody with a car who knows where the Wal-Mart is!" they implored. Go at odd hours and use the self check-out.

Get to know the fast food places that are open after 10 p.m. "And find out who has the friendly counter help at 2 a.m.!"

Judy Stark can be reached at jstark@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8446.

. Fast facts

And don't forget

Bring "all the little things you take for granted at home," suggested Renee Milevoj, 19, a sophomore from Bethpage, N.Y. That includes:

• Safety pins

• Rubber bands

• Glue

• Tape

• String

• Correction fluid

• Tacks/pushpins

• Stapler

• Ruler

Add a fan, first-aid kit, flashlight and some basic tools (screwdriver, hammer, pliers, maybe one of those all-in-one tools).

And maybe the best thing to pack: $100 worth of quarters to feed washers and dryers, vending machines and parking meters.

Learned outside the classroom

One of the biggest lessons the students learned was how to get along with roommates.

"I wish I'd called my roommates earlier," said Claudia Anderson, a sophomore from Orlando. "I waited until a week before school started. You're going to have to live with different people and you want to get a feel for the person."

Learn to adapt, she advised. "It's a pain to move three times" in search of more compatible roommates. "You don't realize how much stuff you have."

One of the big adjustments, the students said, is learning to live with people whose idea of clean and tidy may be different from yours.

Coordinate schedules with your roommate, the students suggested. If you're both trying to get into the shower simultaneously in the morning, you're going to have a problem.

"Have an open mind," said Renee Milevoj. "You have to realize that your roommates may not be your best friends. You discover that some people are friendly and kind and helpful, and some people are just plain mean."

And bear in mind

One of the biggest surprises of campus life: "The freedom," one student said. "Anybody can walk into your suite at any time."

For Michaella Francois, 19, a junior from Fort Lauderdale, the biggest culture shock was "how friendly people were. They'd come up to you and say, 'Hi, how are you?' and I'm thinking: 'What's with these strange people? Why are they so friendly?' "

Here's a tip for high school students who are still choosing a college. "It's very important to be within walking distance: the grocery, the bank, the post office," said Nicole Puhi. She was happy that USF is "close to a lot of things to do: Miami, Disney, Busch Gardens." She contrasted the urban USF St. Petersburg campus with others that "are out in the middle of nowhere."

And Don't forget
to pack:

Details about the items
featured on 1H.

1. Shoe rack: The Urbana Shoe Rack holds 10 pairs of shoes and has adjustable shelves that can accommodate larger boxes. Additional racks can be stacked vertically. $9.99 from Linens N Things.

2. Basic twin bed set: The Horizon Mini Comforter set includes a comforter, a standard pillow sham, a fitted sheet, a flat sheet, a standard pillow cover and a body pillow cover. The set is available in Twin or Twin Extra Long. $99.99 from Bed Bath & Beyond.

3. Bed risers: These plastic bed lifts will raise a bed an extra 7 inches for additional floor storage. The set of
4 blocks will fit up to 3-inch posts. $14.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond.

4. Alarm clock: L.L. Bean's classic Moonbeam Clock emits a gentle light instead of the unpleasant persistent beep of most alarm clocks. But beware: Fall back asleep and a bell sounds the second time around. Available in pink, blue, yellow, green and vanilla. $39.50 at llbean.com.

5. Desk lamp: Add a funky touch to your room with a lamp that's cool enough to deserve a spot later in a first apartment. The Tube Top lamp has a transparent acrylic base and white mesh fabric shade. Available in yellow, turquoise and hot pink. $100 from uncommongoods.com.

6. Lots of hangers: Protect your tops by picking up a pack of 30 wood hangers from Target for $19.99.

7. Additional shelving: This assembled folding hutch provides two extra rows of desktop storage. (Size measures 28 inches wide, 37 inches high.) $75 at containerstore.com.

Judy Stark, Times Homes and Garden editor

Home sweet dorm 07/18/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 20, 2008 4:23pm]

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