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Designer dorms: Do kids need all the stuff we buy them for college?


I'm getting a lot of mail from companies trying to sell me dorm accessories. So far, all I've bought my college-bound twins are extra-long twin sheets. (I would have passed on the ones my older kids used except my son in Brooklyn has them. I think he’s using them as curtains.)

One helpful big-box retailer provides a college checklist; I counted 115 items for a well-appointed dorm room, including water filtration filters, a safe and tool kit. (I'm not sure if we're dropping our kids off at an undergraduate college or an underground bunker.)

You also get a sense teens turn into Hugh Hefner when they go to college and live in their pajamas with all the bed accoutrements on the must-have list, including body pillow, bolster and backrest.

How much of this stuff is vital? In picking up my older children from college at the end of the year, they would point out the give-away boxes outside the dorms filled with stuff students didn't want enough to pack up or pay to store. Along with piles of clothing, much of it brand name, were desk lamps, bikes, throw rugs, toasters and electric fans. (Many schools now donate all these leftovers to local charities.)

So far, I've been dipping into my own stash. I rifled through the linen closet and found the most intact towels – four each presuming they figure out how to use the dorm washers within a week or so – and unearthed twin comforters from the days when they shared a bedroom. (I will spring for new duvet covers as they're not keen anymore on trucks and butterflies.)

My daughter has three roommates in a dorm designed for two – she's among the freshmen required to double up to resolve the University of Georgia’s housing shortage. (Still unsure why a dorm room originally designed for two was going to cost $3,600 per semester and now, as a dorm for four, costs $3,466. Somehow in that math, UGA comes out way ahead.) She doesn’t seem concerned about coordinating colors or buying matching anything, which is probably a result of growing up in a household where we drink out of Bama jelly jars.

Her twin brother seemed uninterested when I asked about his room layout at Georgia Tech, saying he thinks he has a bunk bed but isn’t sure and what does it matter anyway? His needs are simple, he tells me. A blanket, a pillow and a new MacBook Pro.

Based on the barrage of mail I am getting about designer dorm rooms, it’s apparently common to decorate a dorm in consultation with your roommates. I never did and doubt my first college roommate and I could have collaborated on decorating. She tied gingham ribbons everywhere and mounted a tree branch over her bed from which she hung candles and Christmas lights. She dated the assistant football coach who would kneel by her bedside at night and coo her to sleep while the lights twinkled and the candles glowed. I worried about perishing in a fiery end from a candle catastrophe while listening to an off-tune serenade of “Diamond Girl.” She was an upperclassman with a history of short-lived roommates. After I moved rooms within three months, she wisely chose a single.

At Georgia Tech orientation today, officials warned parents against showing up with U-Hauls full of stuff for their freshmen. The rooms at Tech were likely smaller in size than the U-Hauls themselves, said Brett Hulst, associate director of residence life.

Leave the stuff at home, he said. Or bring an empty U-Haul, he joked, and live in that, instead of the room.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.