Before your teen heads off to college, get prepared for the big move-in day with these essential packing and dorm-living tips.

By Stephanie Emma Pfeffer

Before your teen stuffs everything into a suitcase, consider these tips from Carl LoConte, hall director at the University of Michigan.

  • Skip the white towels (they get dingy); thin towels are better than plush because they dry more quickly on the back of a door. And look for a larger "bath sheet" size to provide full coverage in communal areas.
  • Buy laundry detergent pods instead of big liquid containers. They take up less space and are easy to carry.
  • Don't try to re-create a high school bedroom. Bring one inspiring trophy, for example—not the entire collection.
  • An economy-size shampoo bottle may seem like a money-saver, but it's a heavy hassle to carry every day.
  • Get a laundry bag with straps or a hamper on wheels to move dirty clothes.
  • One TV per dorm room is enough (thanks to streaming video options), so have your teen talk to her roommate beforehand to decide who will bring it.
  • In addition to utilizing the space under the bed for storage, remember to make the most of vertical space, like the gap between the ceiling and the top of an armoire, if there is one.

Crib Notes

Sidestep common packing blunders with these recommendations from Carl LoConte.

  • Talk to roommates in advance about who will bring what, or you might end up with doubles or triples of the same item.
  • Find out what is in the room, from futons to full-length mirrors. Ask the housing office before hauling over something that may already be there.
  • Don't take every single item needed for nine months. The dorm's community center probably loans appliances like vacuums, and students can always borrow from their peers. And skip the full wardrobe; kids can swap seasonal clothes when they go home for breaks.
  • Avoid bringing prohibited items, like candles—they'll have to be thrown away or sent back with parents.

Creating Space

Make a dorm feel homey and personal with easy, inexpensive suggestions from Wendy Manwarren Generes, owner of e-design firm Wendy James Designs.

  • Rearrange furniture to make the space look bigger. Move a dresser into the closet and place desks back-to-back, perpendicular to the wall.
  • Push a bed against the wall lengthwise so that it functions like a daybed. A few decorative pillows can turn it into a sofa when friends come over.
  • Get an upholstered ottoman—it doesn't take up much space but is convenient for propping up feet or providing extra seating.
  • Discuss decor with roommates beforehand to avoid clashing colors or prints (which can make a space feel chaotic). When in doubt, get a white comforter and dress it up with pillows or a throw.
  • Put up self-adhesive temporary wallpaper. You can cover an entire wall—or just use it as an accent strip.

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