Packing for College: Tips and Tricks

If you’re an incoming freshman this year let me warn you: packing for college is hard. When you are up and moving to a whole new environment it is tricky to know what you’ll need, and what’s going to be pushed in the back of your closet until you move out again in the summer. If I am being completely honest with you – I overpacked. Moving out I realized how much I brought that I simply did not need.

Now that I can consider myself an old pro, I thought I would share some of my best advice with you. If you find this helpful and you want more, you can also check out the 44 best tricks I learned my freshman year of college. And if you have any more questions, do not hesitate to email me, when you all reach out to me it makes my entire day!

When it comes to packing for college there are some obvious things that I may not touch on (pencils, chargers, bedding, etc.) I trust that you all know that you’ll probably want to bring a few writing utensils to school, but what I am here to do today is try and remind you of some helpful tips that a lot of people don’t think of when packing for college.

A smart girls guide to packing for college. The BEST tips you'll find and a very thorough guide explaining what you need and don't need. Written by a college student!


*Note, I go to school in Illinois, you may need to adapt some of these tips for your climate!

1.) Do not bring all of your clothes in the fall. Unless you won’t be going home for Thanksgiving, it is simply not necessary. Bring mainly warmer weather clothes, with a few cozy layering pieces that you can throw on when the nights start to get chilly. Of course you are going to want to bring a few pairs of jeans and a couple of sweaters for the abnormally cold days but you won’t need your entire winter wardrobe!

2.) Pack plenty of undergarments. You can get away with wearing jeans several times without washing, but undies? Please no! It’s quite likely that you may find yourself putting off laundry a little longer than you should. If you are going to overpack on anything – let it be underwear, socks, and bras.

3.) I am ashamed to admit that when I was packing for college last summer I forgot shower shoes. In terms of sandals I only had my dressy sandals and a pair of cushy nike flipflops. I decided I would just shower in my nikes only to discover that it takes around a week for the padding to dry. Luckily my lovely friend Megan came to my rescue.

4.) Bring at least one dressy outfit suitable for a job interview. When I went in for an interview to be an office assistant I realized that I only had a pencil skirt with me and I was left to beg clothes off of all of my friends.

5.) If you normally wear lounge clothes (workout shorts, yoga pants, etc.) then pack mainly lounge clothes, same goes for whatever type of clothing you normally wear. Unless you plan on completely reinventing yourself in college, chances are your style won’t change all that much.

Quick Tips:

-Only bring your very favorite T-shirts from high school! If your school is anything like mine, you’ll get a ton of free shirts during orientation.
-Unless you’re a swimmer one or two bathing suits should suffice.
-Bring a tall narrow hamper rather than a short wide one – it does the same job all while taking up less floor space!
-If you can’t decide if you’ll wear something or not – chances are you won’t miss it if you don’t pack it. Leave it behind and if you decide you absolutely need it, pick it up over Thanksgiving or ask your parents to send it to you.


6.) On top of being short and narrow, school mattresses aren’t very comfy, either. If you feel like spoiling yourself splurge on a nice layering pieces! Or you can take my route and sleep on top of extra blankets and it’s just as comfortable and you won’t have to go out and spend extra money!

7.) Bring curtains (dark shower curtains would work great and they’re cheap!) and a tension rod and try to get the bottom bunk. Hang the curtains up and enjoy relative darkness when you want to go to bed but your roommate is still awake.

8.) Bring an extra pillow or two so you can comfily prop yourself up and read, mess on your laptop, etc. They are also great to have laying around in case you have friends over for a movie night, game night, etc.

Quick Tips:

-I brought several stuffed animals to school because they are sentimental to me. If you think something will make you happy – don’t worry about what others will think. (Although don’t let them overtake your bed, space is always an issue to keep in mind.)
Earplugs are complete game changers when it comes to sleeping in college. I can’t recommend them enough!


9.) Just to reiterate how important they are – shower shoes. Never go into the bathroom barefoot. Ever.

10.) Bring a plastic shower caddy so you aren’t carrying an armful of items to the shower each night. In your caddy I would recommend bringing: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razors, shaving cream, face wash, wash cloth, an exfoliator, toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste.

11.) On top of your shower caddy items you may want to bring a basket for lotions, perfumes, skincare products, and hair serums. Also, don’t bring every body/haircare product you own. When you run out of one, go and get another. Storage is so limited in dorms the less items laying around that you won’t be using = the better.

12.) Buy feminine products in bulk. You don’t want to run out and be begging tampons off of your friends until you can make it to Walgreens. Trust me – been there, done that.

Quick Tips:
-Buy huge shampoos/conditioners/body washes that will last you all year
-Bring several towels so you always have a clean one even if you’ve gotten lazy with laundry


13.) Bring plastic plates, bowls, and cups for when you and your friends order pizza or you just want to eat in your room. But always wash them right away. Dorms = bugs if you aren’t careful!

14.) Make sure to get in touch with your future roommate and decide who is bringing the fridge and who is bringing the microwave. Or you can check to see if you can rent one from your dorm!

15.) Bring a water pitcher and refillable water bottles. Your dorm should have a water fountain, and if you have a big pitcher you’ll only have to refill once every few days. Plus you’ll save a ton of money not having to buy plastic water bottles!

16.) If you drink coffee or tea, make sure you pack a microwave safe mug.

Quick Tips:
-I know I am telling you not to overpack, but I decided to bring a popcorn machine to school with me, and it was a wonderful decision. It’s healthier than bagged popcorn, great for movie nights, and my friends loved it! So fun things like that are OK to bring so long as you know you’ll use it and it doesn’t take up to much space.
-Try to bring healthy snacks, you’ll feel better and won’t be as likely to pack on the freshman fifteen if you’re munching on nuts and fruits rather than processed foods.
-Bring ziplock baggies so you can bring up food from the dining halls. This is actually frowned upon in most schools though, so be sneaky! As expensive as meal plans are, and as little as many people actually eat – we have every right to bring up a chicken breast for a midnight snack.


16.) When packing for college I suggest bringing a big white board in lieu of other items such as calendars and notepad to-do lists if you’re trying to pack light. Whiteboards are so flat they hardly take up any room, they are convenient, and reusable.

17.) Bringing sturdy bins to organize the miscellaneous items in your room will be a huge help. You can find them on Amazon for super cheap and if you just pick up two or three you’ll have a place to put the stuff that really has no other place.

18.) If you know your dorm has small closets (as most do!) Buy an extra tension rod. My dorm closet was itsy bitsy, and because I am living in the same building this year I have the same tiny closet to look forward to. Luckily I’ve learned and I plan on bringing an extra tension rod so that I have twice the hanging space.

Quick Tips
-When packing for college it’s going to be tempting to blow a bunch of money on trendy organization supplies – unless you have always been a really organized person there is a good chance these items will be under utilized. If you want cute organization check pinterest for some cheap DIY’s!
-Discuss organization with your roommate from the get-go. No matter how organized your side of the room is, it’ll still look like a pig sti if she isn’t keeping up with her half.
-Heavy duty command hooks help hang items that you have no other room for (sweatshirts, bags, etc.)
-A lot of my friends swore by their fancy agendas this year, if you think they will help you get organized, go for it!


19.) Instead of bringing a bunch of picture frames you’ll have no room for, consider bringing a bunch of unframed pictures and making a photo collage on your wall. Be sure to use sticky tack instead of tape though, as many residence halls have rules against tape!

20.) Either your or your roommate should bring a full length mirror for the door, it’s always nice to have reassurance that you look put together when you are leaving, and plenty of people forget to bring mirrors to school!

21.) When I was packing for college last summer, I completely forgot about a rug! Not only are dorm floors potentially filthy, but a rug can really brighten things up, and if you lay it flat in the car while packing it’ll take virtually no space. Rolling it makes it big and bulky, if your parents drive a big car, definitely lay it flat!

Quick Tips:
-Many schools do poster sales really early in the school year, at University of Illinois we have a huge variety! Check if your school has one and if so, that’s one less thing to pack!
-Coordinate with your roommate! Packing for college is so much easier when you know who is bringing what! You don’t need duplicates of things like curtains and lamps so make sure you guys are in communication!
-Twinkle lights are great for decorating, they are light-weight, cheap, and make quite the statement! Not to mention they are bright enough for one roommate to be able to navigate the room even if the other is sleeping.


22.) Tide to go pens are magical. I didn’t have one but I borrowed my roommate’s and friend’s probably on a weekly basis. If you spill anything on your clothes, carpet, bedspread, etc. it will disappear before your eyes just so long as you have access to one of those miraculous little life changers.

23.) Bring lysol wipes. When I arrived to school I claimed the bottom bunk, and as soon as I laid down I saw the person who slept there the previous year had ever so kindly coated the top with boogers. Ew. Lysol wipes and plastering paper over the offending areas saved me. Not to mention if your roommate is sick you will want to be disinfecting your room at all hours.

24.) Bring a bottle of febreeze. If something gets left in the fridge too long, your roommate hasn’t done laundry in a month, or some other smelly incident happens you will be so glad that you have the febreeze.

Quick Tips
-Make sure you bring trash bags, I feel like that’s the one thing everyone forgot to bring to school!
-Candles aren’t allowed in most dorm rooms, the same goes for any smelly good that heats up such as scentsy’s!


25.) You might want to consider bringing a power strip in case outlets are limited in your dorm room.

26.) If you have a cellphone, you really don’t have much need for an alarm clock. Most cellphones have clocks built right in, and they are easier to turn off, meaning that you are less likely to wake your roommate up.

27.) You might want to bring a printer. Depending on your intended major you may be printing a lot of assignments out. In the long run a printer and ink may turn out to be the better investment rather than paying the school’s printing fees.

Quick Tips
-Consider bringing a TV and DVD player if you plan on staying in with your friends often.
-Some classes require that you have a flash drive, they are really cheap so I’d bring one just in case. Plus it’s always a good idea to back your computer up, regardless!
-I wish I would have brought a big floor lamp last year. The lighting in my dorm was a little depressing. This year I am definitely bringing a lamp like this.


28.) Bring a first aid kit, tool kit, and sewing kit. I used all three of mine countless times. Though you can correspond with your roommate to see if she is already planning on bringing these items. You don’t need two tool kits!

29.) Consider bringing a journal. I brought several pretty little notebooks for my thoughts and my ideas. When I started blogging (as you should, too!) I wrote in them a lot less, but I am still glad I had them.

30.) If you plan on rushing you’ll need a lot more going out clothes on top of themed clothes. I didn’t rush so I don’t have much advice, but Pinterest is overflowing with information!

31.) Bring different medicines! I was basically a doctor this past year. I had medication for cramps, nausea, headaches, heartburn, and more. If my friends didn’t feel well they knew who to come to. When packing for college remember that you’re on your own, when you get sick your parents won’t be there so you need to have the tools to take care of yourself!

32.) Don’t forget an umbrella! My best friend gave me an umbrella as part of my graduation gift, and it was invaluable considering what a rainy spring we had!

Quick Tips
-Bringing my bike to school was one of the best decisions I made. Biking is great exercise, faster than the bus, and really fun!
-Taping dryer sheets to your fan is a great air freshener, but make sure you keep your door open when you’re doing it because otherwise it’s too strong for such a small space!

What you don’t need when packing for college

1.) Leave your yearbooks at home,  I was shocked how many of my friends brought their high school year books, looked at them once, and let them take up space on their book shelf the rest of the year. If you miss your friends and want a blast from the past – facebook is only a click away.

2.) Don’t bring your book collection. Limit yourself to just a few books. Chances are you’ll have access to a library at school. If you want to read you can go there and get your favorites.

3.) A desk chair – did you know a lot of dorms won’t let you store the furniture that you’re not using? Check with your dorm before you decide to bring a comfier upgrade of any of the items provided – you may just end up wasting space.

5.) Stereotypical college food. Leave the easy mac, ramen, and potato chips at home. Those foods may fill you up, but they are likely to leave you feeling slow and tired. Swap them out for healthier alternatives that will give you energy!

6.) Your games. I love playing board games as much as the next person, but if you’re living in the dorms chances are that you can just rent any game imaginable from the front desk, so don’t waste the space!

7.) Your collection of… it doesn’t matter what you collect, if it takes up more than one square foot of space leave it at home or face the wrath of your roommate who is going to be less than impressed by your 76 rubber duckies.

8.) Notebooks. Gasp! I know, right? How can I tell you to not bring notebooks? Well I’m not, not exactly anyhow. You don’t need to bring a 3 subject notebook for every single class. If you can trust yourself I completely recommend using your computer to take notes as it’s quicker and won’t leave your hand cramping. Even if you can’t trust yourself you don’t need a ton of notebooks. A single five subject is your best best bet, in my humble opinion.

9.) All your DVD cases. I brought around 50 DVD’s with me to school, but it took up hardly any space at all because I transported them all to a CD holder, my roommate on the other hand filled her entire under the bed drawer full with DVD’s taking up a ton of space! So if you want to bring your movies, get a compact holder.

10.) Throw pillows, if their only purpose is to look cute – leave them at home. It’s great to have extra pillows, but not stiff, too small ones that will only wind up on your floor.

11.) Most decorations that take up space. Your cute mini Christmas tree? Leave it at home. Your wall decal grinch? Well he doesn’t take up floor space, so if you must…

12.) Your high school self. I mentioned this in my 44 things I learned my freshman year post, but no one cares who you were in high school. Leave your trophies, ribbons, and ego at home and realize you now have a clean slate. You don’t need to tell everyone you meet about how impressive you were in high school because that chapter of your life is closed. Let that all go and become impressive now. 

 Final Notes

If you find a list on seventeen, teen vogue, etc. called something along the lines of “12 essential items every college girl needs” there is a huge chance that you actually don’t need any of that stuff. If you can’t decide whether or not you should bring it, don’t. If you regret your decision either wait until Thanksgiving, have mom and dad send it to you, or buy a new one. It’s better to underpack than it is to overpack in some ways so long as you bring the essentials.

Everytime you go home, bring things with you that you haven’t used yet. It will make moving out at the end of the year 100x easier! Also, after you move in, send any bulky bags and suitcases home with your parents. Leave flattened boxes in the back of your closet for move out.

Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments below!