The Minimal Back-to-School Packing List - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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August 23, 2019

The Minimal Back-to-School Packing List

If you have started shopping and packing for your back-to-school supplies (whether it is your first or last time doing so), you have probably encountered a variety of lists that are meant to give you an idea of what to pack in an annoyingly consumerist society - (I see you, persistent Instagram ads). However, based on the space in you or your parents' car, or the amount of bags you can check in at the airport, you probably don’t want to buy or haul that much stuff. Even if you manage to get it all there, you know the worst task of all is still in front of you: unpacking.

So, what do you really need to pack for school? Is that extra-long fuzzy pillow or that medusa-like lamp really necessary? What about the extra desk, bed and hanging accoutrement?

Time to demystify the art of packing light for months away from home. 

Step 1: Determine your space.

By late July, most people know where they are staying and who they are staying with. The first step in knowing what to pack is knowing how much space you have, what you are provided, and what your roommates might be bringing that you will share. Once you have determined your type of dormitory (traditional, suite, or apartment) you can then understand what you definitely should not bring. For example, don’t bring a mini fridge to an apartment if there is already a full sized one there, and don’t bring a blender to your traditional room if you only have so much space for food prep.

Step 2: Contact your roomies and plan your partnership.

Reach out to your roommates, if you have them, and figure out who is responsible for bringing what. If you are unable to contact them, hold off on big purchases like lamps, furniture, or that cumbersome mini-fridge until you get a chance to talk to them. Or, if you know you are going to want that used microwave, bring it anyway. You can store it and bring it back home over break if you don’t need it. It’s not always easy to coordinate, but if you are wise about it you can plan for a comfortable year away from home.

Step 3: Make the list.

Finally we arrive at the list-making. There are two types of people in the world: people who make lists and people who don’t. Everyone knows someone who is reliant upon the former. This is a situation where you absolutely should make a list. It will destress the process and take the pressure off of that big Walmart trip.

Even if it is the most basic of lists, writing out things that you need to consider packing is the best way to 1) not forget something important 2) not to over-or under-pack.

For a traditional-style dorm (two-person shared bedroom, communal bathrooms, community kitchen), your minimal list should look something like this:

  • Clothing (bring basics for every season, not your whole wardrobe)
  • Shoes (athletic, everyday, fancy, bad weather)
  • Laundry hamper (a small/ collapsable one will be best)
  • Laundry pods or detergent* (one pack or bottle will last you)
  • Shower caddy
  • Shower shoes (a.k.a. flip flops)
  • Shampoo and soap*
  • A microwave or mini-fridge
  • An electric kettle or Keurig
  • A lamp
  • No more than two of each: bowls, plates, cups, mugs, and silverware* and microwavable food or things that are ready with boiling water*

*Items with an asterisk can be purchased when you arrive at school.

This is the most basic list of things you need. The most important thing to remember is that your room isn’t going to look like it does in the magazine, but you won’t care as much when you are organized and comfortable during the stress of finals or trying to pack up at the end of the spring semester.

That’s not to say, don’t buy that tapestry or rug, but rather to say don’t buy the expensive down comforter when you have a quilt at home, and don’t make it harder on yourself by hanging everything for organization. Do get under-the-bed storage and command strips. Don’t get the bedside table or the fancy desk organizer.

Step 4: Review the list and brutally cut it down.

For your first brainstorming list, you will want to write down everything that comes to mind, this should take no more than 15 minutes and cover everything you think you need. Get another sheet of paper and prepare to make the real list.

The real list is the one that cuts out the things you write down that you don’t need, you just want. These should be crossed off the list. If you can’t bear to part with a future purchase, put it on a list on the second paper for later, or for when you get there and can really decide if it's something you need. Limited space means that the less stuff you bring, the more space you have to relax in.

Especially if you are flying, you should leave buying the storage bins for when you get there. A last minute trip will be perfect in order to buy only the storage that you need and not a single box or bin more. Saving this for last minute means that you are able to take stock of what you have and only buy the organization that you need in your room when you are unpacking and living in the space.

Best of luck! Just remember: don’t bulk up, don’t buy, just supply what you need and you’ll be just as happy without the body pillow in your new room, I promise.

- Chelsea Curry '19