21 must-have items for every freshman’s dorm room checklist
Packing up for college can be overwhelming. The excitement and nerves of newly gained independence is thrilling. As you prepare to move into your college dorm for the first time ever, you may be unsure of what to pack.
To make back-to-school shopping easier, we’ve put together the ultimate dorm room checklist with 21 must-have products that will set you up for success this school year. These include personal favorites and Reviewed’s Editors’ Choice picks we've tested in our labs—everything from bedding to clothing hangers to mini fridges.
Above all, your dorm room will be a place for you to rest and sleep, so make sure that your bed helps you get the job done. Dorm beds are traditionally Twin XL sizing (aka a super long and slightly wider twin bed) and this size bedding is widely available. There are many options for materials from percale and sateen cotton to linen and microfiber.
Reviewed's tested Best Value sheets are part of the Mellanni Sheet Set, a microfiber (aka polyester) blend that is very soft, cozy, and easy to care for. They come in a variety of sizes, including different depth options, which is especially handy if you have a tall mattress topper.
If you’re a hot sleeper, go for a cotton percale sheet, a natural material that is breathable to help keep you cool all night long.
No matter what sheets you choose, make sure to buy two pairs. This way you can change your sheets without worrying about doing laundry right away.
- Get the Mellanni sheet set at Amazon for $35.97
- Get Percale sheet set at Tuft & Needle for $63.75
- Get the Linenspa All-Season Down Alternative Comforter at Amazon for $34.99
Along with your bedding, don’t forget a place to rest your head every night. Depending on which side you sleep on, there’s a pillow for everyone. We rounded up the best pillows for back sleepers to side sleepers to stomach sleepers.
There are great value options, but regardless of which you choose, you’ll also want to add on a pillow protector to keep away dirt, dust mites, and general grime of day-to-day use. You can throw these in the wash alongside your bedding to refresh your pillows easily.
- Get Beckham Hotel Collection Bed Pillows at Amazon for $44.99
- Get a 2-pack of Amazon Basics Down-alternative Pillows for Stomach Sleepers at Amazon for $31.82
- Get the Leesa pillow at Leesa for $79
- Get the Room Essentials Pillow Protector 2-pack at Target for $5
3. Mattress topper
Dorm mattresses are basically just a set of springs wrapped in plastic. They’re impossible to sleep on comfortably unless you bring a mattress topper—trust me, I speak from experience. Beyond any appliances you purchase, a mattress topper will be the biggest purchase you make.
Avoid the cheap foam models that will flatten after a few months. Invest in one that has high-quality memory foam that bounces back day after day.
- Get the Twin XL Mattress Topper at Tuft & Needle for $212.50
- Get the Lucid Twin XL 4-inch Memory Foam Topper at The Home Depot for $74.99
4. Bath towels
Whether you have a bathroom en suite or down the hall, make sure you have a plush towel that is absorbent and comfortable. Like your sheets, you’ll want to have at least two towels to rotate between. And, if you have to walk down the hall post-shower, size up to a bath sheet so you have a towel that is full coverage. Our best value option is great because it’s soft and absorbent while also coming in 2- or 4-packs in a variety of colors to match your personal style.
Or you can try the Kohl’s Big One Towels. These are Reviewed tested and come at an unbeatable price. They start at $9.99 each but are often on sale for less. Right now you can get these towels for just $4.99.
- Get the Pinzon Organic Cotton Bath Sheet 2-pack from Amazon for $35.99
- Get the Kohl’s Big One Bath Towel at Kohl’s for $4.99
5. Shower caddy
Regardless of where your shower is located in your dorm, storing your toiletries in a shower caddy allows for easy transport and organization. We like one that’s constructed of a quick-drying fabric material that’s less bulky than a hard plastic option. Plus, it’s flexible enough to tuck away into a small space or hang from a hook to let it dry.
6. Over-the-door hooks
You’ll have limited closet and hanger space in your dorm room so an over-the-door hook rack is a must. These require no installation, and they provide extra storage for your wet towels and winter jackets. They can hang from your dorm room door or a closet door.
If you’re not sure of the width of the door your hooks will hang from, there are adjustable options that can expand or contract to fit any door you end up with.
- Get the iDesign 10-hook over-the-door rack at Bed Bath & Beyond for $22.99
- Get the Adjusta over-the-door hooks at The Container Store for $4.99
The overhead lighting in dorm rooms can be harsh, more like being in a doctor’s office than the place you’re supposed to be studying or relaxing. With this in mind, you’ll want to bring your own lighting to give your eyes a break and create a chill ambiance.
If you want something for your desk that provides some extra organization, this desk lamp can hold pens and other supplies, while its adjustable gooseneck can change positions along with you when you’re spending late nights at the desk.
Or, go for a lamp that can also be either a desk or bedside table. This lamp is stylish and has an additional power outlet perfect for charging your phone overnight.
If you want to add storage and lighting at the same time, spring for a floor lamp with built-in shelving. Keep it by your bed and let it double as a bedside table.
There are great smart home options that add lighting, too. The Amazon Echo Glow will add lovely, ambient lighting and also help you keep track of your day with Alexa technology.
- Get the iLamp Desk Organizer at The Home Depot for $15.97
- Get the Hampton Bay Table Lamp with Power Outlet at The Home Depot for $19.97
- Get the Simple Designs Floor Lamp Storage Shelves at The Home Depot for $44.99
- Get the Amazon Echo Glow at QVC for $40.49
8. Power strip
When you walk into your dorm room, the first thing you should do is look for electrical outlets. This will help you and your roommate set up your layout so that you can conveniently charge all your devices without climbing under or behind furniture.
But, no matter how much you prepare, you’ll find yourself wishing you have more outlets than you do. The fix? Bring your own with a power strip.
One thing's for sure: You've got options. We recommend a power strip with USB ports. You can plug in USB charging cords without needing a power converter.
Before buying, consider the length of the cord and how many outlets you’ll want. Start by bringing one or two to your dorm room because they’ll quickly go to use.
Pro tip: Sometimes residence halls ask you to unplug all of your appliances before going on a holiday break. Plug all your devices into a power strip so that you only have to unplug the strip. It’ll save you time before and after break so you’re not stuck having to plug all your individual devices and appliances back in.
9. Clothing hangers
Your dorm closet will be tiny, guaranteed, so you’ll want a slim hanger that will let you pack in clothes. We recommend Timmy wire hangers, which are sleek and won’t cramp your clothing. They’re sturdy and durable and will handle everything from T-shirts to a winter jacket. They’re affordable, too, with a 40-pack coming in at just under $25.
10. Shoe organizer
Most dorm rooms come with a wardrobe and a set of drawers. To maximize storage without taking up more square footage, add an over-the-door shoe organizer, a great tool for keeping your shoes from being scattered across the floor.
These organizers are also helpful for storing accessories, scissors, or anything else you want to keep close by, but still tucked away.
11. Laundry hamper
So your floor doesn’t become a pile of dirty clothes (let’s be honest, it still may anyway), grab a laundry hamper to stow away dirty clothes and towels. Washers and dryers are often down the hall or in the basement of dorm buildings, so you’ll need consider transporting it easily, too.
That’s why we like a backpack-style laundry hamper. Throw in your clothes throughout the week and then when laundry day rolls around, close the drawstring top and carry it down on your back. This is far more convenient than clumsily carrying an open-top laundry basket, especially considering that clothes can easily fall out on your way to the laundry room.
12. Trash bin
You won’t realize you need one until you need to toss away a sticky note or tissue. A trash can will come in handy at just the right moment.
Get one that is small enough to not take up much space, but still looks cute. This one from mDesign has a lid to keep trash out of site, in addition to a step design to make it hands-free. It comes in every color under the sun to match—or not—your room’s color scheme perfectly.
13. Disinfectant wipes
With the amount of living that happens in a dorm room, it’s guaranteed that you’ll have germs moving in, too. Don’t worry about bringing in a full closet’s worth of cleaning supplies. Instead, choose one great product that’s EPA-certified to kill all types of bacteria and viruses such as the COVID-19 virus. Disinfectant wipes are a great option because they’re pre-moistened and easy to use on a variety of surfaces.
14. First aid kit
Going off to college will remind you not to take for granted the bandages and ibuprofen your parents have always had handy when you needed it. You’ll want to bring your own first aid supplies because dorm living can lead to cuts, colds, and unexpected accidents.
The DormDoc first aid kit is a compact package and a great option if you’re overwhelmed with what supplies you could potentially need all in a convenient package. Consider yourself the de facto parent of the dorm floor when all your friends have a cut or cold they need tending to.
15. A big mug
If you’re overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing an entire set of silverware, plates, or cooking equipment to the dorm room, don’t stress. Start small! The one item that will get you through day-to-day is a big mug. Go for something that is at least 12 ounces in capacity. This will serve you for coffee, tea, water, ramen, and mac and cheese.
There are also great insulated mugs that you can throw a lid on and take to class with you.
Even better, grab a mug that shows some school pride, too.
- Get the Room Essentials 15-ounce Polka Dots Mug at Target for $3
- Get the 18-ounce Tutti Mug at Anthropologie for $14
- Get the 14-ounce Rambler Mug at Yeti for $29.99
- Get the 12 oz. NCAA stainless steel tumbler at QVC for $36.03
16. A microwave
Access to shared kitchens in a residence hall varies, so we advise having your own microwave. It will let you heat up hot water, a cup of noodles, or leftovers. It’s the best one-stop shop for cooking appliances.
We like the Magic Chef countertop microwave for its reliable heating skills and sturdy design (read: it’ll stand up to moving in and out of the dorm as well as whatever antics you get up to in the dorm).
17. A mini fridge
If a dorm kitchen is accessible to you, it’s likely outfitted with a simple stovetop, oven, and sink, but a communal fridge is hard to come by. Investing in a mini fridge will let you have access to perishable items like yogurt, fruits, vegetables, and those leftovers you take home when your parents visit and take you out to dinner.
Our favorite mini fridge is the Magic Chef Retro 2-door mini fridge. Not only does it have a separate freezer compartment where you can store pizza rolls and ice cream, but its sleek design will provide some much-needed style among the drab dorm furniture.
18. Locked file storage
If you’re planning to work on- or off-campus, you’ll need to bring some personal documents for your employer, such as your passport, social security card, or birth certificate. It’s best to have these handy so you don’t find yourself calling home and scrambling to find the documents before your first day of work. You also want to make sure that you securely store these documents so that someone else can’t get access to them (and also so you don’t lose them).
A locking binder folder is a suitable option. It takes up less storage than a safe or lock box would. Plus, you can keep it stored safely in a binder with any other important documents so your information can stay in one place.
19. Keychain with ID holder
Two of the most important items you’ll have to keep track of each day are your college ID and the keys to your dorm room. Getting an ID holder that you can also hook your keys onto will help you keep them in one place at all times. We like one that has a window to show your ID for easy access.
20. A backpack
Whether you’re on a small or a large campus, you need a backpack that can transport a full day’s worth of needs. The Fjallraven Kanken Backpack is both stylish and functional. You’ll be able to fit up to a 15-inch laptop in it alongside your textbooks, planner, and chargers.
21. Command strips
You want to make your dorm room your own by putting up posters and photos. There are many ways to display wall art, but Command strips are the most reliable options. They’ll stay put and remove easily. Be careful of products like tape or putty that can peel paint—you can get fined for any damage when you move out.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.