With high school graduation behind us, we are turning our focus to the day we will drop our youngest kids off at their freshmen dorms. Though we prefer to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the inevitable, it is time to get them ready for the tiny living spaces that will be their homes away from home. Five years ago, we were rookie moms and made our share of rookie mistakes. Frankly, we bought a lot of crap. This time, with experience on our side, we hope to give you some thoughts on how to approach what might be your last back-to-school shopping trip....in life.
1. NOT a School Supply ListMy daughter's college mailed a "What to Bring" list with seven categories and 82 separate items. Do not treat this like the school supply lists from your child's elementary school where, scavenger hunt-style, we dutifully checked off each item while wheeling a cart through Staples. Instead, concentrate on basic needs. Anything and everything else can be ordered later online.
2. Dorms are MinisculeKeep this mantra in mind... Less is More, Less is More. Dorm rooms are tiny, and spaces, shared. There is minimal room for the necessities and no room for extras. Forget oversize.
3. Kids are PigsEver seen a photo of a lived-in college room? Appalled? We are, too. The dorm room you help your kid set up will begin to deteriorate the moment you wave your tearful goodbye. In the next nine months, your son or daughter will welcome friends into that room where every surface will be treated as a chair. Some of the "dorm room essentials" you eagerly purchased in July will be stuffed in corners, unopened, and collecting dust until they are rediscovered in May.
4. The Container Store SavingsEverything about college is expensive, and that includes dorm shopping, so look for some great shopping deals. If you live near one of 50 Container Stores staging a College Savings Event, July 13-27, your son or daughter can attend with a 20 percent off coupon in hand. Look on the Container Store Facebook events page for more info about each location and a downloadable coupon. Some stores will be having special evenings exclusively for collegiate shoppers with tote bags for early arrivers, prizes, music and water and snacks from Whole Foods. There will be a set up for "selfies" and in-store specialists waiting to help.
5. Underbed Space? You Have No ClueThis is the single biggest question mark that your kid may not know the answer to until move in day. So those bed risers you were convinced would be perfect? They don't work with bunk beds and are unnecessary with many elevated beds. Resist the urge to plan for this space until you know the dimensions.
6. Be Careful with MedsThis is one area where over buying is dangerous. Whenever our teenagers were sick, we knew which analgesic, decongestant, or antihistamine to dole out. We have decades of experience in understanding how over-the-counter medicines should be taken. Our kids do not, and, if we send them off to college with all the meds and none of the wisdom, it is very easy for them to over medicate as they battle their first cold while trying to finish a paper and study for a test. So prescription meds, Band-aids, a thermometer, and Neosporin - yes. But leave out multiple meds that have the same active ingredients. This is on the advice of none other than Dr. Travis Stork of the The Doctors so take it from him if not from us! (BTW, Target will give send you a free first aid kit bag if you purchase three items like Band-aids or headache remedies.)
7. Don't Buy CrapEven the most careful kid will be hard pressed to keep their college possessions in good shape as they move in and out of dorm rooms and college apartments for the next four years. Fragile and dainty will become ripped up and broken. Whatever goes in your shopping cart must be judged for durability. Put it back on the shelf if it doesn't pass muster.
8. Flying or Driving?There is a fork in the road here and you already know which path you will take with your freshman kid. If you are flying, it will be impossible to bring much more than your child's clothes, electronics, x-long sheets/comforter, and prescription meds. Seek out the "click and pick up" services from The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target. If you are driving your kid, you may still want to use this service and have a far more comfortable ride.
9. No Room for LuggageAs adults, we are accustomed to traveling with luggage, but we also have closets wherever we land. College kids have minimal storage space, so consider the collapsible duffel bag that is hanging around in your basement as the perfect piece of luggage. When our son began to drive himself back and forth to school, he used garbage bags for luggage which meant he had a starter pack for the trash can when he arrived.
10. One Pillow is Not EnoughYour kid's dorm bed will function as bedroom/living room/study, and the pillow he sleeps on will not be enough to lean back onto as he studies. Bring a second bed pillow, a large square pillow in a sham, or a backrest pillow to cushion the hard wood or wall.
11. Power StruggleYour kid will travel to college with a phone, maybe an iPod, a computer, possibly a printer or a lamp, and, if the dorm is not air-conditioned, a fan. Girls will also throw into their bags a blow dryer and hair straightener. All of this translates into a serious need for extra plugs. Do not forget a power strip with surge protection on a long cord. Some of these come with built-in USB port chargers, which can be very handy.
12. Eating not CookingA mini-fridge is a real necessity and the single piece of equipment that roommates need to discuss before move-in day. There is space for only one, so rent or buy, decide to share the cost or someone can own outright. Plan on helping your son or daughter get this in-house before you turn off on the highway back home. The summer before my eldest went to college, I had a powerful nesting urge, much like I did 18 years before when I prepared for his nursery. I pored over every dorm room essential, checklist, and must haves at every store with a dorm display. This time my approach is completely different.
I will buy two sets of x-long sheets and my daughter will pick out a comforter in a color that she loves. We have an egg crate mattress topper to add to the slim pad that is supplied by the school. She will pack her clothes, shoes, and electronics. Fortunately, she knows the dimensions of the under bed space in her dorm room so we will buy heavy plastic storage drawers to fit. They will double as luggage for our drive. She will bring a poster for the wall with photos of friends, family, and her dog. We know where the closest CVS is for stocking up on the generic supplies. The stores all have college lists, but view them with a discriminating eye. Step stools? Paper towel holders? Lots of extra plastic boxes? Think twice.
Here is what will NOT make the cut:
- Alarm clock - there is an app for that.
- Furniture - there is no space for a futon or side table or anything decorative.
- Kitchen - no toasters or blenders, no dishes, cups, or silverware that must be washed after use.
- Media storage - no need for CDs or DVDs, all media comes through her laptop.
- Pictures in frames - ditto, just flip open the laptop.
- Plants - guaranteed to die.
- Cleaning supplies - in our dreams, sadly, college kids don't clean, so no vacuum, no mop.
- Desk Lamp - worth checking first if it is needed. Many rooms have adequate overhead light and computers are backlit.
- Composition books, binders, dividers - some of these have gone the way of the dinosaur. Let your kid start class and figure out his own study methods. Many kids prefer to take notes online and have far fewer paper needs than they did in high school. Don't rush to waste money on a bunch of dead trees.
- Desk chair - be very careful here, most colleges provide a chair and you will just end up driving it back home.
- Printer - might also be an enormous waste of money. Many schools have networked printers available to students and assignment are often turned in online. Desks do not have much room and the floor is a filthy place for an expensive piece of electronic equipment.
Well worth considering:
- Shoe racks for the closet floor or hanging over the closet door. Shoe space is very limited and this creates a bit more.
- Closet storage maximizers that hang from the closet bar provide a great place to put sweaters, sweatshirts, or any bulky items.
- Fan if the weather/air conditioning suggest the need for it. Compact fans can do a big job in steamy dorm rooms. No need to buy a big one.
- Hooks that tape to the wall are handy for jackets, towels, or jewelry to keep things (wishful) off the floor.
- Small rugs are worth considering but be wary this may not get vacuumed all year. Small throw rugs that can go into the washing machine might work best.
- Shower caddy - first check what the bathroom situation is. If your child is using a large communal bathroom at the end of the hall, this might be a necessity. If the bathroom is close at hand and shared by few, a waste of money.
- Mattress pad and bed bug protector - money well spent!
- Trash can? Some rooms come equipped, others do not, worth checking first.
- Is your child a coffee/tea drinker? A small electric kettle or the mini Keurig might be a big moneysaver if they are used to a couple of daily cups of caffeine.
- Towels - consider monogramming or a distinctive color. Basic whites are too easy to mistake for another's towels.
Finally, slip her a letter telling her how proud you are of her and how this day is one you know she worked hard to achieve. Tell her you love her. Hug her tight and know that it is time for her to take it from here.
Gone is the detritus of your children's lives scattered here and there, carelessly flung about and forgotten. Your bathroom towels will stay hung neatly on their bars, the dishes are placed in the dishwasher instead of left to sit next to the sink. Beds remain made, floors remain clean, clothes are neatly put away. Mystery spills vanish, and you never wake up to a mess. Who knew it could be like this?
Some couples decide that it's time to separate and move on, others remember why it was they fell in love in the first place -- or find new reasons and ways to connect to each other. Without your kids, you become each other's only companion when you're at home. It can't be overstated how much of a distraction our kids are while they are growing up. This is probably the most jolting part of the empty nest -- when you look at each other and think, "Oh wow, it's just us now." For better or worse, it will happen.
No longer are you waiting for the sound of a key in the door, or the porch light to be turned off upon your children's safe return from another night out. No longer are you part of the day-to-day ups and downs of your children's lives ... no matter how often they may text/call/email/facebook message/tweet you. Their mental and physical well-being, though still hugely important to you, are their responsibilities now, and you no longer have the minutiae of their daily lives to think about like you did when they lived at home.
If your kids are in college, or even if they're not, you may still be paying for them to eat. But it's nice to go to the grocery store and come home with the things you want, and not have to buy all the things they want, things that you really don't want in your house.
Initially, this may be disturbing or difficult for you to deal with. You may want to do things you've missed -- museums, movies, theater, travel or you may not want to do much of anything at all. Whatever your thing is, there's now time to do it ... a lot of time.
No longer do you have to socialize with other parents because of your children's connections. No more booster club barbecues or committee meetings, making small talk with people you most likely never would have crossed paths with if it weren't for the fact that your children were on the same team/in the same class/part of the same group of friends.
Your children leave home and, for better or worse, they have to grow up, no matter how much help you may be giving them financially OR emotionally. There are just too many daily things to manage, too many random people to deal with, too many bumps and blips that they have to encounter on their own that leads to them, inevitably and sometimes painfully, growing up. It can be liberating when kids take over, driving or planning or explaining -- giving up some authority is in many ways a big relief.
There's nothing quite as wonderful as seeing your kids after weeks or months apart, especially when they first go away to college. Their faces are familiar and beautiful, their smiles just for you, their laundry ready to be washed...it's such a thrill to have them home for holidays, or summers, or a weekend visit. Within minutes of their return, it's as though they never left. You love having them home for a while, but then...
Remember before kids, when you would dream and plan for the rest of your life? Remember when it was wide open, and you had no idea what would happen next? Well, you can do that again, now that you're an empty-nester. No longer do you have to worry about childcare, or kids missing school, or whether they'll like the place you pick to go on vacation -- your time, your future, and your life is yours to create. Always wanted to travel? Now you can. Go back to school? Now's the time. Write a book? Get cracking. You have your life to live, just as they have theirs. Go do it!
Follow Grown And Flown on Twitter: www.twitter.com/grownandflown