After the stress and excitement of getting into college, there’s nothing like packing up your belongings to make it all feel real.

For most incoming freshmen, this will be your first big move—and your first time preparing to live on your own. It can be tempting to jam your entire childhood bedroom into your parents’ car, but being organized and thoughtful when you pack will minimize moving stress. Read on for expert tips on how to make your packing and move-in day as seamless as possible.

1. Take Stock

Before packing, see exactly what you have. “A great way to pack efficiently is to start with an audit,” says Regan McMillan, director of Kiwi Movers

A great way to pack efficiently is to start with an audit.

Regan McMillan

McMillan suggests organizing your belongings into three categories—essentials, nice-to-haves, and leave-behinds. For the college move, he suggests taking the essentials and only a few nice-to-have items. “Be selective and remember, if you really miss something you left behind, you can collect it over the holidays and bring it back to the dorm.”

2. Coordinate

Touch base with your roommate(s) before packing. A dorm room is small and doesn’t have room for two of everything, especially large items. Coordinate who will bring sharable items like the mini fridge or microwave. Start by figuring out what each of you already has and then decide to buy or rent other items together.

3. Pack for the Season

If you’re able to travel home throughout the school year, there’s no reason to bring every item of clothing you own, says Jenn Graham, assistant vice president of residence life and housing at Pennsylvania Western University. She recommends packing for the first season you’ll experience at school and then “plan on swapping out clothes seasonally based on when you can grab some more items from home during breaks.”

4. Make a Priority Box

McMillan advises packing one clearly labeled box with the essentials you’ll need for the first night or two, like a toothbrush, toothpaste, medication, a phone charger, sheets, and pajamas. Then, pack the box last so it’s the first to be unloaded. “This way you won’t be searching through dozens of boxes looking for those essentials after an exhausting trip,” he says.

5. Pack Light

Remember, it’s going to be you or a family member—not professional movers—carrying the boxes you pack. Even though the parking lot looks like it’s close to the dorm on the campus map, a short block can feel like a marathon when you’re carrying a heavy box. You don’t need to fill every box to the brim. Instead, make sure each box you pack weighs in at a manageable weight for you and your family to comfortably carry. And consider bringing a dolly or hand truck if you know you will have a longer walk between your dorm and the car.

6. Save Space

Since your dorm will likely be small, think about saving space, even in how you pack. Pack in containers you’ll actually need—like laundry baskets and unused trash cans—to cut down on the amount of boxes or suitcases you need. You can ditch the bubble wrap and use your towels or blankets to wrap your fragile items. You can also pack unbreakable items, like pillows and quilts, in garbage bags, which can be used to line your trash can when you’re unpacked. A little creative thinking when you pack can make a big difference when you, your roommate and both of your families are unpacking in a tiny dorm room. 

7. Invest in Quality

It can be tempting to cheap out when it comes to outfitting your dorm room, but Jeanie Engelbach, founder of apartmentjeanie, says, “Don’t be afraid to invest in certain things that you’re going to have for four years of college.” When it comes to items like laundry baskets, bathroom caddies, storage solutions, and other pieces that can be used throughout college and beyond, go for products that are higher quality. You want things that can sustain packing up each summer, sitting in storage, and the travel to and from campus. She adds that spending a little extra at the start of college to avoid repurchasing flimsy items every year could actually save you money in the long run. 

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you made it to college, not what you brought with you. If you forget something, your family can mail it, you can pick it up on the next trip home, or you can rebuy it at a store. 

Applying to college? We can help.
Start Here