Five Colossal Mistakes to Avoid When Dorm Shopping

If you are on this site, it is somewhat likely that you are, like me, a planner. You love checklists, crossing off items on to do lists, ensuring others are crossing items off of their own lists and so on. One big to do list that is coming your way is dorm shopping.

You may be dreading the experience (or at least the associated expenses). Or maybe you are absolutely dying to get at that college packing list and start knocking off what is needed.

tiny dorms
Marycrest Room 395!

Dorms are definitely different than “back in the day.” Here is what my freshman dorm looked like back in 1988. Glorious Marycrest Hall at the University of Dayton. Has sort of a prison-y vibe, right? Of course my roomie and I did some minor decorating, but we had nothing on today’s dorms with the twinkly lights, quality rugs, artwork and other comfort items.

While dorms have changed, the same pitfalls of dorm shopping remain with us today. Before you dive into filling up that actual or virtual shopping cart, take a look at these tips.

#1: Try not to dominate the process-- dorm life and dorm shopping are part of the college experience

Living in a dorm is a key component of college. You’re on your own, you don’t have to keep it clean unless you want to (or your roomies insist), you’re living with someone who isn’t related to you--it’s all very new.

Similarly, getting ready to furnish and supply that dorm room is a key component of the summer before college.

My daughter inherited my type-A gene and had a detailed list prepared in her beloved bullet journal months prior to high school graduation. I was able to leave the process mostly to her. If your kid is not super organized (or motivated), your mileage may vary.

Whatever shape your freshman’s planning takes, try to let them handle it as much as possible. If some gentle guiding (or maybe an enforced deadline to avoid showing up at orientation with just a cell phone and a toothbrush) is needed, by all means, jump in. But at the end of the day, let them run the show. They’re preparing not only for college but for real life.

One big help for your student will be Amazon. The shopping behemoth just launched the Amazon Off to College store and it’s awesome. Everything in one place and lots of deals to be had.

And if your child hasn’t signed up yet for his or her own Amazon Prime Student account, make sure they do. First six months is free! Free makes me happy!


#2: Giving your child a luxury dorm will not sending your child off to college any easier

Ah, if only…. While shopping therapy can feel like a nice balm for any angst you might be feeling about your child moving away, it’s a temporary fix.

Even after you get home from Bed Bath & Beyond with your arms loaded or finish up placing a mega Amazon order, your child is still going to be heading to college.

#3: Freshman dorm rooms

One thing seems to be standard and that is that these college dorm rooms are small. Really small. While I know there are some exceptions out there, be prepared to move your freshman into a relatively tiny space.

And don’t forget that the tiny space will also house one, two, and maybe three other humans along with your kid.

No matter how well you think you’re doing keeping the packing and shopping list minimalist, you’re still going to overdo it. It’s virtually impossible not to.

When working through that college packing list, keep it skinny. Otherwise, you’ll be dragging all of the extras that didn’t fit back with you on the drive home from move-in day.

#4: Your child’s first home away from home sets the expectation level going forward

I was amazed at the opportunities and amenities offered at Ohio State. The dining halls are super nice and have upscale offerings that make my long-ago Marycrest cafeteria-style meals pale in comparison. The kids have 24-hour access to top of the line gym facilities. They can do any number of cool extracurricular activities from skydiving to chocolate tasting to watching free movies on the storied Oval, everything is truly outstanding.

But, when I first got a peek at the dorm where my daughter was assigned, I couldn’t help but smile. Yep, I thought, she’s going to learn a lot by living here.

She was in a quad that was really supposed to be double and there was not an inch of space between any two items in that room. It was TIGHT. Even during my time in the military, I had more room than she did in that dorm.

tiny dorm rooms
Hey future daughter-my room in the barracks is bigger than your dorm room!

I was smiling because I didn’t want the first home that wasn’t the one she had lived in her entire life to be awesome. That’s right. I wanted her first away from home home to be a little cramped and not at all luxurious.


Because I wanted her to be ready for real life. When she graduates and gets that first apartment on her own, I don’t want it to be a huge let-down from her dorm world. I believe a natural progression is helpful to the development of a young adult. You should have to work for things, including cool places to live.

#5: Your child will be living in this dorm, not you

This one is sooo easy to fall into--you want your child’s dorm room to be a-ma-zing. Of course you do, who doesn’t want the best for their kid?

It is really key that you leave the details to your freshman. Why?

  • This will be his or her first time living somewhere other than under your roof. Let them spread their wings.
  • The shared experience when new roomies make shared decisions about their digs is important not only to help them bond, but to teach them about negotiation and joint decision-making.
  • Your child is more likely to be comfortable and adjust more easily in surroundings that he or she chose--they know what they like and as much as we would love to think we do too, the truth is, sometimes we don’t. [Real-life example: the tattoo my daughter got the first weekend she was at college. More on that in a future post…]

Remember, we got the fun years ago of decorating the nursery. Now it’s their turn.

sad about child going to college
Those were the days....(except the no sleep part)