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Beyond Bed, Bath & Beyond: 18 Dorm Room Essentials for the Back-to-School Set

Schoolhouse Electric Compartment Cafeteria Tray

College costs a fortune. And it doesn’t stop at tuition, room and board fees, and course materials; once you’ve got that taken care of, there’s the yearly dorm room shopping list. “Each school’s list is slightly different but they’re all ridiculous, full of unnecessary items,” says one of our editors, Margot (she should know; she sent two kids to college in the past four years). “You don’t need three sheet sets plus pillow protectors.”

We surveyed the dorm room checklists of four major retailers and cross checked them with our editors (several of us have kids in college, and all of us have been kids in college). What did we learn? There’s a thin line between “essential” and landfill. Here’s our take.

  • First, do away with the nonessentials: lap desks, body pillows, string lights, hair towels, Fitbits, DVD players, bean bags, decorative pillows, accent tables, and multiples of most things.
  • Next, take stock of what you already have and consider sourcing from student message boards or local yard sales; reuse first, consume second.
  • Finally, shop with care. Invest in a few classics that will endure longer than their flimsy alternatives.

N.B.: Our list is the core of dorm room products, leaving out furniture and kitchenware for our purposes.

1. Twin XL Sheet Set

The Company Store Classic Percale Collection
Above: Our pick for long-lasting sheets is the Company Store’s Classic Percale Collection. They stay crisp, are available in a rainbow of colors, and come in the Twin XL size most colleges require for dorm beds; $32 for the Percale Fitted Sheet, $22 for the Percale Flat Sheet, and $32 for a Pair of Percale Solid Pillowcases. The total rings in at $86 for a full set.

2. Pair of Standard Pillows

The Company Store Down-Free Pillow 2-Pack
Above: The Company Store’s Down-Free Pillow 2-Pack is $39. Many of the dorm room checklists we came across warn against buying only one pillow. In this case, we have to agree that multiples make sense. Plus a second standard pillow can serve just as well as a lap desk or as extra prop for bedside reading.

3. Twin XL Duvet and Cover

The Company Store LaCrosse Down Comforter
Above: The LaCrosse Twin XL Light Down Comforter is $139 at the Company Store. The lightweight choice, when paired with an extra blanket, should work year-round, but the LaCrosse Twin XL Medium Warmth Down Comforter is an option for $179. A Twin XL Classic Percale Duvet Cover to pair with the comforter is $79, also from the Company Store.

4. Utility Blanket

Schoolhouse Electric Utility Service Blanket
Above: A good utility blanket is a favorite for its durability and versatility. The twin Utility Service Blanket is $139 at Schoolhouse Electric and has all the qualities to withstand the test of time: 100 percent wool, machine washable, moth-proof, and in a neutral color. This one can double as a throw in a first apartment, too.

5. Classic Desk Lamp

Anglepoise Type 75 Mini Desk Lamp Slate Grey
Above: A case for quality lighting: I’ve had the same desk lamp since college because it’s a classic and works in each apartment I’ve moved into since. Our pick is the British classic Anglepoise Type 75 Mini Desk Lamp (it comes in basic colors like Slate, shown above, but also in cheerful colors like red and powder blue); $140 at Horne.

6. Towels

Ikea Afjarden White Towels
Above: One place to spare your wallet is with towels. There’s no guarantee your student will keep track of a set of expensive towels, so here’s a place to scrimp. We like Ikea’s Åfjärden Bath Sheets; $13.99 each.

7. Bathroom Caddy

OFS Grey Enamel Utility Caddy
Above: Take a pass on the plastic bath caddy, which most kids will dispose of anyway after graduating from the dorm. This OFS Utility Caddy ($46 at Cornerstone Demo) does double duty: filled with shampoo bottles in college it’s a bath caddy; filled with cleaning products in your first apartment it’s an under-sink solution. A less expensive option: the Matte White Housekeeping Bucket is $9.99 from Cost Plus World Market. Something else we like: Marine Canvas Water Buckets as Bathroom Storage.

8. Slim Metal Hangers

The Container Store Chrome Metal Hangers
Above: If you want to save on space, the Container Store’s Chrome Hangers are $8.99 for a pack of four. They’re less bulky than wood hangers, though we like those too, and more durable (and environmentally conscious) than plastic.

9. Closet Organizer Drawers

The Container Store White Elfa Mesh Closet Drawers
Above: The White Elfa Mesh Closet Drawers store socks and sleepwear nicely and made of epoxy-coated steel, will last four years and beyond; $107.96 for the narrow size and $113.96 for the medium at the Container Store.

10. Laundry Hamper

Steele Narrow Elevated Laundry Basket
Above: The Steele Narrow Elevated Laundry Basket has a sturdy steel frame and a removable canvas bag; $100 for the frame and bag, $40 for single bags at Food52.

11. Wire Baskets

Schoolhouse Electric Municipal Gym Basket
Above: Wire baskets are good for corralling bedside essentials, extra toiletries, desk goods and more. We like the Schoolhouse Electric Municipal Gym Baskets which are $45 to $50 and nearly indestructible.

12. Under-Bed Storage Boxes

Muji Soft Under-Bed Storage Case Cotton Linen
Above: A Remodelista go-to is the Muji Soft Under-Bed Storage Case in cotton-linen with a polyurethane lining. Great for storing extra clothes or even shoes under the bed. They’re $28 each at Muji.

13. Multipurpose Tool Box

Muji Steel Toolbox White
Above: Steel toolboxes can be made into college-ready kits with First Aid items, toiletries, or extras like light bulbs, batteries, small flashlights, and actual tools. The Muji Steel Toolbox in white is $30.

14. Over-the-Door Mirror

Ikea Garnes Over-the-Door Mirror
Above: Besides under-bed storage, over-the-door storage is another strategy to employ in a dorm room, starting with a full length mirror. The Ikea Garnes Over-the-Door Mirror hangs at the top and has two hooks for keeping accessories like jewelry, umbrellas, and hats at the ready; $39.99.

15. Classic Alarm Clock

Braun BNC004 Alarm Clock White
Above: This one is for fun, since many students use the alarm application on cell phones, but the Braun BNC004 Alarm Clock White is a classic and lasts for years. It’s $50 at Need Supply.

16. Trays

Schoolhouse Electric Compartment Cafeteria Tray
Above: A set of durable trays will help corral loose items on top of a dresser, desk, bedside table, or inside drawers. Schoolhouse Electric makes a good selection from lightweight fiberglass. They’re inspired by vintage lunch trays; shown above is the 1-Compartment Cafeteria Tray ($24); there’s also a 2-Compartment Tray ($32) and a larger 8-Compartment Tray ($38); the trays can be nested together for convenience.

17. Pedal Trash Bin

Rubbermaid Defenders Trash Can Small
Above: In a dorm where most things sit out in the open, there’s no hiding an ugly trash can. Opt for something decent-looking and durable and with a lid. This one, the Rubbermaid Small Defenders Trash Can in powder-coated steel, fits under a desk and resembles a boxy stool; $115.23. It also comes in red.

18. Canvas Curtains

PB Teen Classic Sailcloth Blackout Drapes
Above: Depending on the curtain rod situation, you don’t want to show up to the dorm with curtains designed for a specific sized rod. These Classic Sailcloth Blackout Drapes have a pole pocket but can also be clipped on. They come in a few colors and sizes from PB Teen; starting at $49 per panel.

For more ideas on dorm room living, see:

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