A Toilet Plunger? Yep. Dorm Must-Haves You May Not Have Thought About

An experienced mom and her college student give advice on what to make sure to take to move-in day

By Christen Reiner, publisher of Macaroni Kid Lakewood-Littleton and Macaroni Kid Denver; and Jackson Reiner, college sophomore August 12, 2022

Kids heading off to College? Advice from a seasoned mom who's been there before to help you help your freshman "be prepared" and not miss a beat.

College move-in day is right around the corner! I asked my son — a sophomore in college — for a list of dorm must-haves, especially those things we didn't think about until after he'd moved in. Things that we didn't know or think about him needing until that precise moment he needed them.

So here is our list of college dorm must-haves that we're sharing with you to give you a chance to learn from our mistakes:

The Essentials


Okay, you've probably thought of the basics... comforter, sheets, pillow... But when your kid's bed is directly under a large window, right up against the AC/heating vent, they need something a bit more substantial to keep them warm and give more coverage. We opted for a queen sized comforter instead of a smaller twin-sized one, and my son says that having the queen size was one of the best purchases we made. 

MOM TIP: Double-check the size of the bed... regular twin sheets won't fit an XL twin bed.

Extension cords and surge protectors

You never know before you get there how many outlets there will be in the dorm, or if they will be located where you need them to be. And surge protectors are a must to protect laptops and phones! Older dorms most likely have less outlets.

Wireless mouse

Even if your student is used to a laptop with a touchpad, they may find that they prefer the ease and quickness of a mouse for some classes. I ended up ordering one online to send to my kid because he was losing his mind with the touchpad. Consider a full sized keyboard as well, it might be easier for lots of typing.

Headphones or earbuds

My son needed headphones that worked with his laptop, and surprisingly, not all of them do. The earbuds he had for his phone didn't work with his laptop. We had no idea!  

Trash bags

Listen, I'm not talking about recycled store bags here -although a stash of those is helpful, too. I'm talking about the big black trash bags that you buy to clean out your garage. You would not believe how much trash teens generate. Most dorms require that the residents deposit their trash into dumpsters, and that task will be much easier with the big bags. 

MOM TIP: Get the drawstring bags. Have you ever seen a teen try to figure out how to tie the flaps on a trash bag? It's comical.

Extra chargers

My son took his charger to a friend's dorm and forgot it. And then that friend went home for the weekend. Think about phone, laptop and other electronics. Need I say more?

Wall hooks and hangers

Find out what the walls are made of in the dorm, and what is permitted to be used to hang items on those walls. Hanging up flags - the preferred décor of many college kids these days - makes the dorm feel more like a home. Your college kid may not admit that this is important, but it is.

Laundry supplies

Unless your freshman is taking advantage of the laundry service at school - yes, that's a thing, they will need laundry soap - think about what you use at home, and something to collect and transport their clothes - basket, bag, etc. Plus, get this... my son's school doesn't allow detergent pods - check ahead to see what is allowed. Thankfully, our awesome orientation leader gave us a heads up.

A second set of toiletries

My son said that the toiletries I started him off with ran out intermittently, which meant several trips to the store, or living without toothpaste for a few days - um, gross. He thought it would have been good to have a second stash to pull out so he could make fewer trips to the store to restock.

Toilet plunger

So, yeah, most universities DO NOT PROVIDE THIS. Talk about not knowing you need something until you need it. Side note: The front desk might have a plunger that your student can check out. But that's gross, and time is typically of the essence when a plunger is needed. Just sayin.'


Create a first aid kit for your freshman that includes general things like antibacterial ointment, hydrocortisone cream, and bandages. Also include over the counter med you think they should have handy or they are used to, because inevitably, they WILL get a cold, and they will be super thankful that they have those meds to help them feel better without having to hunt them down. Even if they make fun of you when you give them said first aid kit. Or so I hear.

Junk food

Unless you want your kid to buy their cravings from the vending machine at $$ a pop, give them a selection of their favorites to get them started. Most dining halls don't carry things like candy, gum, and savory snacks, and your kiddo will want them every once in a while. Or on the daily. Remind them to ration. 

Other stuff he had to have

When I asked my son to help me come up with a list of the must-haves for dorm living, he also insisted that I include a few "nice to haves" as well. Here's his list of non-essential must-haves:


Wireless is best, but wired speakers will do if necessary. Speakers can be used to block out unwanted noise from roommates or neighbors, to provide entertainment, and will get you pumped up on those rare - but necessary - cleaning days.

LED strip lights

Sometimes the bright ceiling lights that are in most dorms just won't do. LED strip lights offer some additional - and fun - options. You can find them in a variety of price ranges, but my son suggests getting the ones that stick to the wall. 

Coffee maker

Your child WILL struggle with getting to class on time, particularly if they take an early class like mine did -even though I STRONGLY suggested staying away from the 8 a.m. time slot. Having the option to fill a travel mug with coffee will save them time, money, and their sanity.

More mom tips

With a year under my belt of moving a kid into a college dorm, here are some tips on how to make the process go smoothly:

  • Pack stuff to take up to the dorms in big plastic totes. They stack up nicely and can be used for storing things like extra toilet paper, winter coats, extra clothes and cleaning supplies.
  • Bring some cash to stash in your college student's stuff. Believe me, they're going to need it, and it will be a fun surprise to let them know that you are thinking about them.

Christen Reiner is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Lakewood-Littleton and Macaroni Kid Denver. Her son, Jackson, is packing for his sophomore year of college.

This previously posted article has been updated and edited by Brenna Gutell, publisher of Macaroni KID Conejo Valley - Malibu - Calabasas