In the coming weeks, thousands of tiny white rooms on campuses throughout the country will be welcoming their newest residents and their carloads of stuff.
Freshman orientation for the Class of 2016 has actually been in full throttle for months at big-box stores (both brick and mortar and online), at specialty sites such as Etsy, on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and on Pinterest boards. Incoming students have been stockpiling decorating ideas along with ramen noodle soup.
Although the shaky economy has students and their families rattled about college loan debt and living expenses, they will spend an average of $907.22 this year on everything from comforters to hand-held vacuums, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. That is up from $808.71 in 2011.
“Students want to make their rooms less utilitarian and more like home,” said Sarah Daniels, Catholic University of America’s director of residence life.
While college-issue furniture for an average 225-square-foot dorm room is usually a bed, desk, chair and dresser, trending design topics on dorm blogs include wall decals, felt pillows, monogrammed dry-erase boards and tiki bars. Some students, maybe weaned on a diet of the HGTV cable network, have faux-fur throws and paisley bean bag chairs on the brain.
“For the past 10 years, students have wanted their rooms to look like they came right out of the pages of a design catalogue,” said Maggie Burkhart Evans, James Madison University’s director of residence life. “They have shown up with lounge chairs and futons and crammed them into their rooms.”
But, Evans said, word is getting out that colleges can’t provide storage space for unwanted furniture: What’s in the room stays in the room.
Students are best served sticking to accessories that personalize or organize, such as pillows, bins, lamps or storage ottomans. They can use social media to plan shopping. At Target’s Ustyler, students can design their own virtual dorm room online and then share it with roommates through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and Pinterest. Twitter feeds such as @GW_Housing are great sources of insider information: Will I need a wool blanket before Thanksgiving? Should I bring a rug? What condition do I have to leave my dorm room in at the end of the year?
“I recommend that students get online and follow their housing office’s Facebook page or Twitter feed. They are often putting out ideas and tips and information and students are posting them as well,” Evans said. On the JMU Pinterest dorm board, pinterest.com/jamesmadisonu/dorm-ideas, there are real-life DIY solutions you won’t find in a catalogue, such as wall-mounted jewelry storage, flip-flop hangers and tie organizers.
Interestingly enough, overbuying at warehouse and big-box stores continues to be a problem for freshmen, who arrive with cases of laundry detergent and stacks of bottled water.
“At home you don’t buy enough shampoo for a year,” said Seth Weinshel, George Washington University’s director of housing, so “don’t do it for college.” He said some students try to get everything in advance when parents still werefooting the bill.
“Resist the urge to stock up for the whole semester,” Evans said. “Just bring what you need for the first month and reassess.”
We surveyed retailers to come up with dorm necessities and accessories you might want to consider as you’re shopping. Take notes on what’s right for your room.
A comforter is usually one of the first dorm purchases. “Your bedding will define your style,” said Jessica Joyce, spokeswoman for Bed Bath & Beyond. “It’s where you study, eat, sleep and hang out, and it reflects your personality.” The Orla Kiely Stem Mini Bed Set in the picture at right is in one of the Irish designer’s signature prints and includes a comforter and sham. $149.99. www.bedbathandbeyond.com.
Add more space for stuff with lightweight portable chests. They have fabric drawers and are equipped with swivel casters for easy transport. Two wheels are lockable. Studio 3B Z Drawer Carts come in pink or black. $39.99 for 3-drawer; $49.99 for 4-drawer. www.bedbathandbeyond.com.
Upgraded Desk Chair
Replacing the institutional desk chair makes good sense. “Most dorm rooms come with a standard desk chair, but it’s usually very plain and not the most comfortable,” said Olescia Hanson, spokeswoman for the Container Store. She suggests adding color and comfort with the Bungee Office Chair. The straps are supportive and a pneumatic lift makes it easily adjustable. In green, blue, black, chocolate or pink berry. $139. www.containerstore.com.
Lamps with Personality
Bring some style to the table. “Don’t just get a lamp that’s beige and boring,” said Sabrina Soto, Target’s style expert for home. “Injecting some color with your lamp is important because your desk will be full of books and papers.”
It’s a Guy Thing
Finding dorm lamps for guys can be a challenge. The bold Walking Man Lamp series, available in blue, yellow or red, features a base in the shape of a dude walking. $15.99. www.target.com.
With so many devices to keep track of and charged, it is wise to designate a multi-tasking home for them. In the iHome App-Enhanced Triple Charge Dual Alarm Stereo Clock, you can charge your iPhone and iPad at once and wake and sleep to either your own playlist or the radio. $129.99. www.bedbathandbeyond.com.
An inexpensive accessory that adds personality: Melamine Threadless Wastebaskets are available in five colorful designs. The Threadless global design community, originally known for its innovative T-shirts, now produces unique designs for many products. $9.99. www.bedbathandbeyond.com.
A waterproof carrier for all those hair and body products is a must for trips to the shower down the hall. The Flexible Shower Tote, available in blue/aqua, orange/pink, pink/orange or aqua/blue, has drain holes and a divider inside. $9.99.
Hooks for a Nail-Free Zone
Create a home for your purses or towels without nailing or screwing anything into the wall with sleek Command Adhesive Nickel Modern Hooks from The Container Store. The hooks adhere to almost any surface and won’t damage paint or wood. $8.99 to $13.99. www.containerstore.com.
The Electives – Items students won’t need but could come in handy.
Stylish decals bring personality to a boring white dorm room. And they don’t take up any space. This removable accessory is best when it makes a bold statement, such as the Chain Chandelier Decal, measuring 28 by 23 inches. It resembles a black crystal chandelier dripping with facets. “It’s a fashion statement and you don’t damage anything in the room,” says Karen Zuckerman, president and founder of Dormify, a source for dorm gear. Available in black and five other colors. $40. www.dormify.com.
No room for workout clothes or sweaters? Invest in a White Elfa Mesh Start-A-Stack. Four drawers and a 21-inch depth make it possible to fit in many tight dorm closets for extra storage. While mesh allows you to see what’s inside, small items won’t fall through. $119. www.containerstore.com.
Reminder to Phone Home
Your parents will miss you. The Call Your Mother Pillow in the accompanying photo was created by New York designer Alexandra Ferguson so moms would get a little more love from their off-to-college offspring. Available in charcoal/fuschia and five other color combinations. $89. www.dormify.com.