Required Reading
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Lola Lafia / Columbia Daily Spectator

Packing for college can be one of the most daunting things to do the summer before you leave home. How will you know what you’ll need for this stage of your life? What can you afford to leave behind? Where should you even begin?

You’ve got questions, and we’ve got answers. There are plenty of articles detailing exactly what you should bring and how many of each item you should be bringing (check out our 2017 ultimate packing list article here). But this article breaks down the basics of packing: things you MUST bring, things you can do without, and those in between.


The movies are not an accurate representation of what people wear in college. People don’t show up to their 8:40 a.m. lectures in leather jackets or blazers. Don’t bring your prom dress or tuxedo. Laundry is a chore, so forget clothes that require complicated washing routines. Silk shirts that need to be hand washed, dresses that need to be ironed, and pants that can only be dry cleaned will stay at the back of your closet, trust us. Do bring plenty of sweats, hoodies, comfortable T-shirts, and clothes you won’t mind getting ruined/lost in the laundry rooms. Do bring jackets and layers for the New York winter that lasts for months, but you can also purchase them when you arrive!


Debating whether you can fit your fifth pair of heels in your suitcase? Or wondering if you will need your water skiing shoes? Forget it. The amount of times I’ve worn heels in my entire college career can be counted on my fingers. Conserve your space and opt instead for packing 2-3 pairs of good closed toed shoes or sneakers that you don’t mind getting ruined at sticky, sweaty frat parties. Sandal season lasts for a good few weeks before you’ll need to take out those boots, so you can leave most of your sandals behind. Don’t forget rain boots/snow boots to prepare for New England weather and one pair of formal shoes for when you have an interview or when your parents’ friends invite you for dinner downtown.


If you’re a sentimental person who has an attachment to their bookshelf that’s been organized alphabetically according to author’s last name (oops, that got too specific), then this one will be a hard one to read. Leave your bookshelf behind. College is tough, and there is barely time to do the readings for homework, let alone read Animal Farm for the third time. Instead, go through your syllabi for class and see if you have a copy of the Odyssey (or anything really by Foucault) so you can save some time and cash when you’ll need these books for your Lit Hum class.


Don’t even think of bringing your flat-screen TV, PS4, or fancy color printer to college. Unless you’re living in a suite and are coordinating setting up the living room with your suitemates, forget such electronics at home. There is no way you’ll have space for them in your 11’ x 13’ room. Leave behind expensive electronics and bring practical appliances such as extension cords, USB reading lamps, and portable fans (many dorms don’t have ACs and the first couple months of the semester can be unbearably hot).


Toasters, blenders, ironing boards, ovens, microwaves, and large fridges serve no purpose in dorms other than taking up unnecessary space. Trust me, I kept a mini ironing board and iron in my drawer for a year and didn’t touch them once. Travel light and bring smaller appliances that will come in handy without taking up space such as command hooks, screwdrivers, flashlights, and can/bottle openers.


If you’re one of those people that has 20 different skin care products, a one-hour bath routine, and adores long bubble baths and essential oils, we’ve got bad news. The bathrooms are gross, time is short, and space is limited. Instead, invest in a shower caddy, shower flops, robes, and towels. Yes, shower shoes are an essential in college. Optimize by investing in large-sized shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, and shower gel that will last you a semester.


Before you go wild buying under the bed crates storage units at Target, check out your room dimensions, closet space, and bed first. Each bed is different, some with drawers underneath and others without. Be sure to bring shoe organizers, over-the-door hangers for coats/towels, and shelf organizers if you don’t have enough shelves in your closet. Vanity organizers and cosmetic boxes can be useful to store those things you’d store in a side table beside your bed. Think eye masks, lip balm, etc. Dorms can get dirtier than you’d think, so consider buying a vacuum cleaner, Clorox wipes, and sponges. Coordinate this with your roommate so you don’t buy the same things!

Room Decor

Say (a temporary) goodbye to the photo frames, posters, and stuffed toys that were an integral part of your room back home and say hello to the minimalistic student life. Dorm rooms are breeding grounds for dirt and germs so avoid bringing fluffy pillows and rugs, stuffed animals, and anything that would collect dust. If you want to make your room more homey, bring a couple of mementos (key word being “couple”) and some fairy lights for when you’ll host those pregames in your dorm.


The mattress in your room will most likely be hard and uncomfortable, so invest in a good quality mattress topper, allergy sheets, and bedding. Don’t bring 10 sets of sheets and 20 types of pillows. You’ll only need two sets of sheets for yourself plus an extra set if you have a guest visiting. Do bring a sleeping bag/air mattress if you expect to host or are traveling.


If you used multicolored gel pens, highlighters, and colorful Post-it notes during high school, college will change that. Most homework requires laptops, and if you do have readings, a trusty highlighter and a couple of gel pens will do. You may not have the time to make your notes as pretty as they were in high school, so it’s a good idea to keep it simple. Bring a couple of college ruled notebooks and binder paper for any written assignments you may have.


Although there are many places to grab snacks while you’re on-the-go (both at the dining halls and in cafes around campus), there’s nothing as convenient as having something quick to eat when you need it most. Bring some packaged snacks with you that will stay fresh throughout the semester to munch on when it’s too cold to leave the dorm. Almonds, dried fruit, granola bars, and microwaveable popcorn are all good options to store in your room. Although you can leave behind any fancy cutlery, do bring some cups, plates, and utensils that you can use throughout the year.

Staff writer Naina Lavakare can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

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