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Val Brown

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9 Irreverent Tips for Surviving the Dorm

Posted: 08/30/11 11:33 AM ET

I recently attended a ten day conference that required staying in a dorm for the first time in decades. No TV? I can handle it. Communal bathroom? Well, um, alright. Having to make conversation with a stranger for 10 days? Nights with them breathing and snoring four feet away or yapping on their cell phone at 1am? Not so much.

So I struck a Faustian bargain and sold my soul at registration to get a single room. It was worth it. College freshman, maybe it's good to have a roommate for the first year, but go for a single the second. And since I found that not much has changed in dorm amenities over the decades, I can offer these handy tips to make that first year away from a home a little easier to maneuver.

1) Bring quarters. You will never have too many. It took 16 to wash and dry one load of laundry. I imagine some enterprising students even have a quarter distribution business, since quarter dispensing machines usually shoot back your dollar, over and over, no matter how much you iron out that tiny crease in one corner. Or consider this as a side business for yourself. You could probably get a buck for 3 quarters, a very good margin, with little overhead. You'll be very popular and meet young people who like clean clothes. You may be lucky and be in one of the dorms where the laundry and vending machines accept plastic. Bring a credit card, of course one that bills directly to your mother (she'll want to make sure your clothes are clean, your father won't care as much).

2) More on laundry. Don't bring any red, purple or black clothes. This way, you can wash the whites and colors together in cold water. I just did it, and hey, it worked. It cuts down on time and quarters. I know this is laundry sacrilege. Please don't tell my mother, who actually looks forward to doing her laundry every week. She'd do yours, too, if you lived nearby. That's how much she likes it.

3) Bring things to decorate the walls. Apparently, dormitory walls are still made of cinder blocks, giving my less than 100sq foot room a distinct cell-like quality. While I assume that universities simply want to save on the dry wall, I think it's also to prevent you from using thumb tacks to hang stuff. Bring the absolutely stickiest tape you can find, only the kind that will peel off the paint at the end of the semester will do.

4) Think strategically about what to hang on the walls. This is your personal brand, your introduction to your classmates. Mine was a centerfold from High Times magazine (DON'T DO THIS, AND NEVER EVER TAKE DRUGS) and various rock 'n roll posters, plus a precious poster of a black and white baby playing together. I'll bet Anne Geddes saw this poster and decided on her life's work. Anyway, it was in the south in the mid 70s so I guess I wanted to make a a statement. My boyfriend for two weeks, Randy from Virginia, was unmoved. But at least he knew where I stood on the issue.

5) Moms: Send food and money. There's never enough of either.

6) Rent a refrigerator. Of course, this is not to chill beverages that you are you not allowed to buy at 18, but it's good to have anyway.

7) Don't leave hair in the communal sinks. Ladies, who does this?! Apparently many, because it's always there. All colors, all textures. I'm not sure why it's so gross to see this. It is, after all, only hair. But please don't do this anywhere, in any sink that's not your own private sink, for the rest of your life. Of course, this goes for peeing on the seat as well.

8) Bring clothes one size too big. You will gain 5-10 pounds by Christmas break.

9) Refrain from smoking anything illegal. See #8.

Have fun, study hard and if I can speak for all the Moms in the world, be careful. These are not mutually exclusive. And call home every now and then on the cell phone your parents are footing the bill for. Good luck!

 

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