Packing List: Taking Swarthmore by Dorm

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

There will be some point in the next few days during which you realize that you are standing on a cliff and looking into the infinite abyss of possibility that is the rest of your life, and conclude that there are two ways to prepare for this, as any trip. Pack nothing, on the assumption that you can get everything you need once you know what you’ll need, or pack everything you own for every possible circumstance in which you may find yourself in the next four years.

Now, if you know anything about anything you know that upon examination, the latter strategy will fall apart because you simply cannot bring all potential items that could plausibly be needed in any and every situation that one could plausibly encounter at Swarthmore, and indeed the items that you ultimately bring will determine the set of plausible encounters. In other words, you can’t have it all, so you might as well be choosy. Here’s what to include and not to include in your dorm room, with some advice on strategies for setting up your room as a college student.

First off, welcome to Nomadland. In Nomadland you will only live anywhere for eight months, ever. Each year you will need to re-nest for the next year, and the other four months out of the year you may want some creature comforts from your other room. In two years you’ll likely be moving out of the country for four months to a year. Nomads don’t carry much, because otherwise they’ll have to pay lots of money for storing their belongings or worse, hauling them on SEPTA, onto a MegaBus, or through an airport.

Those who have parents who will pick them up and drop them off to school are lucky to avoid this fate. But be warned: if your parents are like mine, summer before sophomore year they’ll relegate the freshman year drop-off to the realm of sentimental goodbyes and decide that “it would be easier for everyone if you just fly.” Trust me, if you pack a lot, it won’t be easier for you.

Second, a word to the wise: soon you will walk into a Target, Walmart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Ikea, you name it, and find that it was designed just for you. “Look!” you say, “A checklist telling me everything I need in order to be prepared for dorm life!” How convenient and helpful of the big corporation to help you, helpless little Swattie, in sorting through the many isles of sheets, laundry baskets, and lighting possibilities!

Corporations try to sell you more than you need, and that’s painfully obvious here. You don’t need a floor and desk lamp. You don’t need a mesh sponge (if you can figure out what that is). And you definitely don’t need, as is suggested by Bed Bath and Beyond’s list, cologne and body spray. In lighting, bedding, furniture, décor, et cetera, here’s what you’ll really need (and how much to spend):


Twin XL Sheets
They are the only ones that will fit on your bed. BUT, you say, they have the really cute ones I wanted in Twin. Won’t they still kind of fit? Unlikely. Not worth the hassle. Find other ways (see below) to make your room look fabulous, or swank or chill or hella fly or whatever you want it to look like.

A Desk Chair
There are two kinds of people who go to college: people who like the hard wooden chairs provided by the college with your desk, and people who think they were originally designed as a medieval torture device. You will quickly find out if you are the latter. But even if you are, you get too caught up in making friends and doing school, etc. to take the time to get a new one. For the sake of your grades (if you are a person who will study in their room but doesn’t like the wooden chair and so “studies” in their room and falls asleep), get one beforehand. It will last you all four years—the one piece of “furniture” worth keeping.

Paper Lanterns (many!)
Don’t get a floor lamp. Mine consistently fell over on my roommate, much to our mutual amusement (but eventual frustration). These are the items that consistently get left over at Trash 2 Treasure sales, because you can’t take them home. They are also annoying to put into a box and more expensive to store separately. The alternative: paper lanterns! These are cheap, so you won’t feel bad about giving them to Trash 2 Treasure at the end of the year. You can get them anywhere, but they sell a wide variety for under $5 here. You’ll also need strong light to read under, especially when you are tired and need to stay awake. Get a task lamp.

A Toolkit
This is one of those things on the checklist that you think you won’t need, but you will. The number of hooks illegally fashioned, wine bottles opened, desk chairs put together, and hooks installed to hang paper lanterns would blow your mind. Get one of those little ones made for college students.

Laundry BAG + Quarters
Laundry bags are much smaller and easier to store and transport than baskets. You will find any excuse—conscionable or unconscionable—not to do your laundry when you have friends to meet, ideas to discuss, and work to do. If you don’t have quarters, the probability that you will be clean smelling will drop to nil. They’re the one thing you should bring, despite awkward heaviness.

It’s easier to have a small one of your own than to have to borrow EVS’ hall one, which you likely won’t be able to use on the weekend.


And if you’re into dorm-room eye candy, check out this small Gatsby-ish space

and Apartment Therapy’s “small, cool dorm rooms” here and here. If you want to “sartorialize” your space (if there can be a Sartorialist, then one can “sartorialize,” right?), check out these tips, and check out the Goodwill in Swarthmore (20 minute walk down Chester Road), and great thrift stores in Philly, like Retrospect.

Sahiba Gill


  1. I second the queen size comforter and stress how important the foam mattress pads are. I didn’t buy one freshman year for god knows what reason and somehow have still never gotten around to it. As a result, I have spent three years sleeping on hard beds.

  2. I third that. Plus it keeps your butt warm when you turn over. I hate having to shift back into an uncomfortable position to accommodate for my narrow comforter. I would like to add something for semi-unfortunate Mary L dormers (Shout Out!!), some small snacks to get you through until dinner or to substitute for breakfast.

  3. A foam mattress topper is one of the best things you can buy.

    And actually, if it doesn’t seem excessive to you, I’d even recommend having two toppers–either two foam ones or one foam one and then one of the sort of quilted ones that stretch over like a sheet (this will help keep everything in place).

    My roommate sophomore year had two toppers, and her bed was like heaven, whereas mine (with one topper) was merely comfortable.

  4. Great advice! I got my super cute Twin XL bedding from…I liked that they were different from everyone elses and didn’t make me feel like a little girl.

    I also had a hard time picking between a duvet cover and a comforter–I ended up going with a duvet cover because they aren’t as expensive as comforters and you can change them as often as you want, giving the bed a completely different feel.

    I would agree with all of the comments about a foam mattress topper–I had a foam mattress topper AND a feather bed topper. It was amazing to switch the two around when one got worn down and I wanted a different feel in my bed.

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