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7 lies back to school articles tell you about packing for your freshman year of college

Freshman year. Bright future, exciting possibilities, and the horrifying reality of trying to pack for a whole year.

As many people do, you decide to browse the internet (probably Pinterest) for advice on what to bring, how to act, and any other college advice you can find. It’s overwhelming, but by the end you feel like an expert…even though the wall decals took more of your budget than you expected, and you feel sad deep down when you look at your well-worn copy of Percy Jackson sitting on your bookshelf. But this is what the experts suggest, right?


Not everyone has the same needs in their living space.

1–Wall decorations

Of course, dorm rooms are notoriously drab and poorly lit. However, you don’t know what your available wall space will look like until you’ve moved your stuff in. My advice is to have a few items to start with—I recommend a desk lamp, string lights, and a couple of pictures. If you have a storage plan, like having posters rolled up in the back of your closet, bring more. Just err on the side of frugal until you have a better feel for your limited space.

2–Textbooks all online before arriving

Don’t get me wrong—websites like Chegg and amazon can be absolute life savers in terms of saving money on textbooks. However, there are a few things that might negate the benefits:

The bookstore is selling the same thing for only 1-5 dollars more. When you factor in shipping, space in your suitcase, and convenience it is probably worth grabbing them from the school bookstore upon arrival.

You aren’t sure which edition is available online. You don’t want to get a month into Spanish class and realize that your 11th edition lectura y gramática book has a Mexican fairytale at the start of chapter three while your classmates’ 13th edition has a short biopic about Pablo Neruda. Speaking from experience, this is a frustrating reason to fail a pop quiz. Also, if your class needs an online access code that’s packaged with the book, you absolutely have to buy the book brand new. Sorry.

3–Leave for fun books at home

Whether it’s a copy of your favorite novel or a religious text, non-academic books that you enjoy reading are worth packing. Don’t bring more than a few, but also avoid feeling like it’s wasteful. You know yourself; if you’re unlikely to ever read for fun during that first year, you probably won’t. I didn’t spend much time doing it as a freshman, but I reread a few favorites when I was feeling bored or homesick. I was very grateful to have them on my shelf rather than have to trek through -30*F winds to the Moorhead public library. (I.e. I would’ve watched Netflix instead).

4–Ignore snacks

Its not that bloggers tell you not to bring snacks, but they don’t mention them. Though not essential, if your luggage space allows for some granola bars and microwave popcorn packets, it will be nice to have those first few weeks. Places on campus to get food will be overpriced and open at weird hours, and most meal plans only cover meals in the dining rooms. If they have extra cash for the on campus convenience store, it’s a very small amount that will be gone quicker than you think. And if you don’t know where the local grocery store is or are prone to late night snacking, having something readily available will make your life a little bit easier.

5–“Insert beloved item” will just embarrass you.

Maybe your roommate will think it’s childish to bring your childhood teddy bear, or that one direction poster from middle school you still can’t part with. More than likely, they won’t care all that much. I know lots of people who brought those and more things to college. They all found friends and had a healthy social life. Don’t worry.

Now, if you’re trying to win some sort of popularity contest and be the coolest person on campus, sure, leave your treasured comforts at home. But those social hierarchies are not nearly as prevalent as they were during high school, so it will be a frustrating journey when you could be enjoying the experience. After all, you are spending thousands of dollars every semester to be there and passing countless hours stressed out over homework and grades; let yourself have fun when you get the opportunity.

6–Only pack clothes you already wear.

Its true that you probably won’t need your prom dress or a bunch of old Halloween costumes. You are, however, encouraged to pack more than just your typical day-to-Day wear and to experiment with new fashion choices. Some people will wear sweats to class so they’re comfortable, and others will find that dressing nice helps them stay productive. Do what works for you, and feel free to take this life shift to change your style and redefine yourself a little.

Also, ignore articles that say you can grab clothes when you’re home for a weekend or holiday. First of all, not everyone goes to school close enough to their hometown to commute even infrequently. Even if you do, you might work, have extracurricular commitments, or need to catch up on studying over the weekends. There is no guarantee that you’ll be able to easily pop back home, so don’t pack with the assumption that you will. Have a professional interview outfit or two in the back of your (very small) closet and a pair of workout shorts in case you make it to the free gym on campus—hey, plenty of people do! Just be careful in your planning, and don’t overly rely on opportunities to go home or shop for new items.

7–You need all these cool dorm items that will supposedly make your life easier

Will shower shoes with little drainage holes really work better than $1 flip flops from Walmart? Not in any meaningful way. And honestly, if you don’t already use Cute organizers on your desk or hanging on your closet at home, you’re unlikely to build habits using them at college. Spend your money how you please, but don’t be a slave to the aesthetic.

With so many pieces of advice out there, use articles like this one as guidelines rather than rule books. Figure out what works for you, and you can correct mistakes you made when you pack for your sophomore year.

Does my advice ring true for you? What did you regret bringing or leaving behind as you started your college journey?

I am a writer, actor, translator, and social activist.

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