I always like to get advice from people who are a little further along the parenting path than I am. Today’s guest post on shopping for college is from Elizabeth Brads: the mother of two sons, one who graduated from college this past May and one who will be a sophomore in the Fall. She has been a university instructor in Political Science for the last 18 years.
Side note: I apologize in advance if there are gender assumptions involved in this article, but I’ve yet to run into a teenage girl who has no opinion (I could also be projecting here too).
I don’t care.
It can be one of the most frustrating phrases your child can utter. Especially when you are trying to help them pick out the life essentials that will allow them to survive the first year of college. At a time that is already layered with emotions, questions, fears
As a parent, what is actually going through your mind are all the “What if?” questions. What if he ruins all his clothes? What if he doesn’t wash his pillowcase his entire freshman year because he doesn’t know there is one zippered on his pillow? (True story.) What if he gets sick and no one even notices? What if….. I haven’t done enough to get him ready?
And there it is: we care deeply about doing our job as parents and he probably really doesn’t care.
The truth is that he probably does not care. If you are asking him about something that you have been providing for him for 18 years that he has never expressed an opinion about (shampoo, pillowcases, towels), do not expect him to suddenly develop deep convictions.
I have two college-aged sons who are both responsible honors students and athletes. They both know how to do laundry, cook basic meals and clean a toilet. And they both can, despite my perpetual best efforts, sleep on a naked mattress without pillowcases. The only décor on their bedroom walls, I put up. Neither of them was ever going to agonize over coordinating comforters and sheets. If your son has regularly expressed an opinion about clothes, hair products or food then you can probably believe him when he says, “I don’t care.”
I don’t care could mean something else.
A freshman’s agonized “I don’t care” might actually be an “I don’t know.” Your son has never done this before. He may actually have no idea what he prefers or needs, and the only way he will know is by actually living in his dorm. A parent may want everything set and ready to go on move-in day, but sometimes your son needs to figure it out himself. Try to reserve a small amount of your dorm shopping budget for him to use after he moves in. Living in a dorm can begin the process of developing the likes and dislikes we might wish that he had before he moved in.
If he doesn’t care, what does he really need?
I consulted my two sons who have given me a lot of “I don’t care” answers to help create some guidelines.
Consider just the essentials for clothing and toiletries
Consider the locale of the university. How far from home will he be? Will he have a car? How economical will it be to send things he needs if he can’t come back and get them?
- Make sure he has three weeks of essentials and let him figure out what else he needs. This is
espciallythe case if he is not going far or will not need all of his cold-weather gear for a couple of months.
- Make him pack at least one set of dress clothes (shirt, pants, shoes
andtie) because a freshman speech class might require a professional speech or an athletic team might have a banquet.
- Choose basic toiletry essentials that he already uses every day at home. This may be an area in which you already know what your son wants.
- If you can easily shop at Walmart or another store near the university on move-in day, then you will not have to transport toiletries, laundry supplies, snacks, etc. AND your son will know exactly where to go when he has to shop for himself (and he will!).
Keep the bedding and accessories simple
- Get a basic mesh shower bag if he has to carry shower supplies to a hall bathroom or a basic bag/basket if can leave his supplies in the bathroom.
- Only get the basics for towels. We purchased one large IKEA towel with a loop to hang it up and a couple of smaller hand towels. I refuse to discuss my sons’ continued aversion to washcloths.
- Buy basic bedding similar to what he already uses in a basic color. If he doesn’t use a heavy blanket at home, don’t make him take one to college. Neither of my sons had a problem with being cold in their dorm rooms so a heavy blanket just took up space.
- Get a trash can.
- A laundry bag is often better than a laundry basket since it can hang on a hook in a closet and does not take up floor space. We got ones at Target that can also be carried like a backpack to the laundry room.
- Shoe storage is essential, but keep it simple. A big crate works. We have also purchased a few of the rolling storage bins from IKEA. The shoe bags that hang over doors are often not big enough for giant man shoes.
- Laundry pods and dryer sheets make laundry simpler.
Thoughts on critical essentials
- Create a basic first aid kit that includes a thermometer and cough/cold medicines you regularly use. You only need enough for the first time he gets sick because he will get it for himself when he needs it after that.
- Find out where the nearest urgent care is located since the student health center hours vary by university.
- Help him think about a plan for his first haircut. Locate the nearest barbers/salons. Once he has been at school for a while, he may be able to find someone in his dorm or a teammate who cuts hair.
Helpful items to make the space comfortable and functional
- Armrest pillows and clip-on reading lights turn your bed into an additional seating area. Even if your son does not plan to do homework in bed, these help for watching shows on your laptop or hanging out in your room.
- A small shelf that screws on the edge of the bed is especially helpful if your bed is going to be lofted or bunked. We purchased them at Target.
- Command strips and Command hooks help especially when floor space is at a premium – hang up towels, hang up laundry bags, hang up jackets, hang up amplifier cords for your bass guitar, etc.
- Phone chargers with long cords are especially useful if your bed is lofted or bunked. Absolutely pack more than one phone charger. And dongles. Don’t get me started about dongles.
- Dorm rooms usually do not have enough outlets so power strips with long cords and additional USB ports are particularly useful.
- If you can, get a dorm refrigerator. And a lot of snacks. The transition to the kitchen not always being open can be a little rough at first, especially for athletes. Buying snacks in bulk is often considerably cheaper than the convenience stores closes to campus. For kitchen type items: a roll of paper towels, both sandwich size and gallon size Ziploc bags, and one cheap set of microwave-safe cup/plate/bowl/utensils.
- Noise-canceling headphones because sometimes he will want to shut out his roommates and everyone else
And finally… school supplies
Do not buy all of the school supplies especially if you are a parent who loves school supplies.
Do not expect your son to use whatever you loved to use in college. Just buy the basics including a stapler and calculator. One of my sons only used a couple of notebooks and pens every semester and the other loves to use multiple highlighters. It may even be better for your son to decide what he needs after he starts classes. But both of my sons say buy lots of pens because they disappear like your roommate is stealing them (and that might be true!)
One of the hardest things to do with your college freshman is to give up what you think he needs and let him learn what he actually needs. He may leave behind many things that you would take if you were going to college this fall. Just remember it will be alright: Amazon ships to his school.