Surviving Your First Year in a Dorm: Mother’s Guide

Reference & EducationCollege & University

  • Author Jessica Fender
  • Published October 5, 2021
  • Word count 1,277

Adjusting to college was a challenge for me, but a fun one. I loved the idea of being “Mr. Independent” – completely in charge of my own life for the first time. Then reality hit. Clean clothes didn’t magically appear in my closet and drawers; a new tube of toothpaste didn’t suddenly appear in the bathroom just as the old one was dying, and no one was making a dental appointment for me if I had a toothache.

Even more challenging was the fact that my living space had been reduced to half of a room, and my privacy was gone. Now I had another human in my space – a human with preferences and needs that might conflict with mine. And beyond that small space was an entire building of other humans trying to adjust to community living, just like me. Dorm life was a whole new world.

Did I survive? Of course. And here are some tips that I can pass on, now that my first year is over.

  1. All Washing Machines Are Not Made Equal

This is not your family’s washer and dryer. So, even if you are used to doing your own laundry, check out these new machines carefully – wash everything in cold at first, and set the dryer on the lower setting. Gradually move up the heat in both until you see what that does. You don’t want to be replacing those $60 jeans right now. I just hope that some “bean pole” of a guy was able to use the jeans I donated to Goodwill after my first laundry experience. Advice? Listen to your mother’s advice on laundry.

And before you buy any new clothing, check out the washing instructions. You really do want wrinkle-free material. If it says “iron” or “press” and you are any kind of a “neat freak” don’t buy it.

  1. Sharing Bathrooms

You are now sharing a shower, sink and toilet with others. If that bathroom is down the hall, it will probably be maintained by a cleaning crew. If it’s part of your suite, it’s all on you. Better set up a cleaning schedule with your suitemates first thing.

And, there are things that happen to your feet when you share a shower – nasty things, like athlete’s foot and warts. I think I contributed to Walgreens employee’s retirement plans that first month, given the amount I spent clearing up my athlete’s feet. Wear those shower shoes – plastic ones, not those spongy ones that soak up water.

  1. Sleep, Glorious Sleep

If there is one thing dorm residents struggle with, it’s sleep. Everyone is on a different schedule. There are “night owls” and “early to bedders.” People are sleeping in the afternoon. Some, including me, were pulling “all-nighters” to get papers finished or cram for exams. Dorms are noisy places, and there are always those who have no consideration at all. Invest in some really good ear plugs, especially for late-at-night use or when you really need to get some sleep.

And that overhead lighting? Ditch it. Even if you have to go to the cost, you and your roommate should have your own lower lighting for your halves of the room. My roommate and I actually invested in sleep masks, and it probably saved our relationship.

The other thing about sleep is the comfort. I bought two foam mattress covers to put on top of that dorm bed mattress – heaven.

Here’s the other important thing, and research has shown this. The cleaner your room is, the better you sleep, for all sorts of reasons. If for no other reason than decent sleep, then, clean your half of the room, even if your roommate is a pig.

  1. Find Some Place for Privacy

Part of the fun of dorm life is there is always something going on – there are always people awake when you are and plenty of opportunities for hanging out to watch TV, play video games, or pig out on ordered pizzas. Sometimes, though, you just want privacy – alone time away from the “chaos.” I found a couple of places to go. One was a coffee shop, one was a park, and one was a low-populated student lounge area in a classroom building. These can be life-savers when you have just had it with the noise and chaos of the dorm. The campus library is also a good alternative if you have some serious studying to do.

  1. Nom-Noms

Food. It’s really important. If you are on a food plan, you should pick up a few non-perishables as you go through the line (fruit is good). Stuff them in your backpack. And, here’s another trick. Get some baggies. Take extra and put leftovers in those baggies, if you are going right back to your dorm room – you can throw them in your mini-fridge. When you’re hungry at midnight, you have something. Food service frowns on this sort of thing, so you may have to be a little secretive about it.

You and your roommate should agree on snacks and other food items you like. Go in together and buy them in bulk. A large box of granola bars is much cheaper than buying them singly from a snack machine.

If you have a microwave, get a microwave cookbook, or go online and get easy recipes. There’s a lot more you can do in a microwave than ramen, soup, and fat-filled frozen meals. And if you have room for a rice cooker, all the better. You can make whole meals in them, as well as snacks and desserts.

Get biodegradable paper plates. You don’t need a ton of dishes – washing them in the bathroom sink is no fun.

  1. Make the Most of Your Space

Yes, you will be cramped. But you don’t want to go without your comforts either. Closet organizers will be really important, and there are lots of things you can do with stacking milk crates. And get those hangers that let you hang a bunch of things vertically.

People laughed at me when I took my vertical hangers to the laundry. But I hung every T-shirt I owned on them, right out of the dryer, and I didn’t have to fold anything. Must admit, however, that I never folded underwear – it just got thrown into a drawer. Wrinkled jockey underwear is not high on my list of priorities.

And, I used a milk crate for a trash can – just put a plastic bag inside. Those stupid little waste cans hold nothing, so get something bigger.

Raise your bed up off the floor. I used concrete blocks. And then I put off-season clothes in suitcases and shoved them under the bed.

  1. Getting Along with Roommates

The best advice for this? Get away from each other. No two people can live together in such a small space without getting irritated and sometimes angry. I had a great roommate but we both agreed that such close quarters 24-hours a day was not good. So, when either of us was upset, we left.

The other thing we did that I recommend to everyone, is we set a time for cleaning – every Sunday from 1-3 pm, we cleaned the room. When we both pitched in, it was done quickly and there was far less irritation with each other during the week.

These are the best of my tips. There are others posted online all over the place. Read up on these before your leave for school. Taking advantage of “those who have gone before you” can save you lots of time, money, and sanity.

Jessica Fender is a professional writer and educational blogger at GetGoodGrade. Jessica enjoys sharing her ideas to make writing and learning fun.

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