Tips for Packing for College (and Beyond)

These tips for packing for college will help simplify the big move, and make the most of fitting the things you love into a smaller space.

Pre-move days are often frenzy-filled and emotional, with students and parents at odds over sorting, shopping, and packing… all culminating in “how will I get all of this stuff into that vehicle?” (let alone the dorm room!).

A smoother move starts with smart planning—and when it comes to college move-in, there’s one major concept driving everything:

THINK SMALL when preparing for your college move-in

If you’re moving to a college dorm or student apartment, don’t throw in the kitchen sink! These spaces are typically smaller than you think, so if you try to take everything you own, you’ll almost certainly feel cramped or just run out of space.

  1. Start with what you’ll need: Just as with any organizing project, prioritize what you use most often, and what you will definitely need. The shoes you only wore once last year? Leave ‘em! And be sure to consider seasonal shifts relevant to your school’s location.
  2. Reality check your final selection: Once you know where you’ll be living, do your best to find out the size and setup of the rooms in that building. Then, before you pack all your possessions, try stacking them into similarly-sized spaces: e.g., clothes in a space roughly equivalent to your new closet/dresser; shoes in shoe bag or under-bed bin.

If you plan to purchase shelving or organization systems, that will help conserve floor space, but dorm closets are often tight, especially if you need to accommodate multiple seasons’ clothes. Remember: you can always bring more the next time you go home for a visit!

Tips for Packing for College: Maximizing Space, Easing Arrival

  1. Pack by function: Keep “like with like” in your packing boxes or tubs. For instance, don’t mix bathroom items and eating/kitchen items in the same box.
  2. Label everything: Note the function/area—e.g., toiletries, desk, bed (or, if you’ll be in an apartment or home, the room it should go in), then add a brief description of what’s in the box. That extra 60 seconds it takes to fully label will save you exponentially later, so you can easily find what you’re looking for, and which boxes to unpack first.
  3. Save space while trimming supply costs: Use your towels, blankets, pillows, etc. as packing material for your fragile things. You can even stuff socks into the extra spaces in a box for some added protection.
  4. Stay vertical: Frames, dishes, and other breakables are less likely to snap when they don’t have the weight of several other things on top of them. So, pack fragile things vertically whenever possible.
  5. Start early: Start packing as soon as you can (and gathering boxes even earlier). Pack away all the things you don’t currently “need” ASAP (think: decorations, out of season clothes). Work your way up to packing the essentials—things you use several times a week—right before the move.
  6. Pack a last/first day bag: Pack a couple of outfits, your toiletries, any medications or other necessities in a rolling suitcase. That way if the unexpected happens—or if you’re just too tired to do any unpacking when you arrive—you have what you need to get by.
  7. Bring tools: Something will need to be put together or installed! A basic toolkit should include: tape measure, regular and Philips head screwdriver, hammer, adjustable wrench, scissors or box cutter.
  8. Create a Start-Up/Emergency Kit: It’s always a good idea to have an emergency kit that goes with you in the car, containing any important things you may need. I like to include
    • cleaning supplies (rooms are not always as clean as you’d like!),
    • tools (including box cutters, scissors, screwdrivers…),
    • emergency items (band aids, ibuprofen, etc.),
    • chargers for phones,
    • protein bars and/or bottled water (in case of delays).

Basically, anything you may need right away that you don’t want to have to scrounge through other boxes to find.

Loading the Truck (or other moving vehicle) 

Once your belongings are organized, packing a truck or car is a much simpler proposition. If you’re using a truck or trailer:

  1. Last on = first off. Set aside the items you will need FIRST once you arrive, (e.g., cleaning supplies, tools, toiletries, etc.). You’ll put those in the truck last. And if your moving truck has the “mom’s attic” space above the cab, that’s the perfect place for your most fragile items, such as dishes and electronics.
  2. Load your heaviest items first. Put things like refrigerators, trunks, book boxes, etc. closest to the cab/center for weight distribution. Most trucks and even some SUVs have hooks that you can use to loop straps or rope across the items to secure them in place.
  3. Load the sides next. Once the heaviest items are in, load any furniture, boxes, and/or suitcases along the sides of the truck, and then on the bottom of the center area. Aim to make the weight even on both sides. Finish with lighter boxes and/or fragile items (being sure there are no heavier things that can fall on top!).

If you use these tips for packing for college, you’ll be a giant step towards making that first big adult move your first “A”—and learning skills that will serve you for a lifetime of moves!

SOS by Lisa | Professional Organizer, Home Organizer
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