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September 22nd, 2016

Back to School Tools

The dog days of summer are over, and so is the break from books, term papers, and lectures. There’s only a few weeks to go before school busses make their rounds and parents ship their kids off to school, but college is a little different. College is a lifestyle and it’s more than just being prepared for class. Once you’ve put in your hours at a lecture hall and scribbled your notes, if you’re living in a dorm or apartment, then you still have work to do to keep your home-away-from-home stocked with food and clean laundry before you even get to your homework! It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be rough, either. Getting properly organized and outfitted at the start of the new school year will prevent a lot of issues later on, so let’s dissect a bit of campus life and get some ideas to prep for the road ahead.

Dorm Norms
Whether you’re heading off to a campus dormitory, apartment quad, or off-campus community house, you’re in for a few surprises. It’s not exactly the same as living in your parents’ house with a cozy bedroom, a fridge that automagically fills itself with food, and a pile of dirty laundry that occasionally disappears and re-appears clean and folded – you’re on your own now, so you’d better get prepared.

First things first – furniture and appliances. Familiarize yourself with the housing policies of your campus so you know what items you’re allowed to bring, what is provided for you, and what is prohibited in your room. Generally, most housing arrangements will include bare basics: a twin bed, a desk, a chair, a chest of drawers, a closet space or armoire, an overhead lamp, and four walls to separate you from your neighbors and a community bathroom down the hall. It’s not exactly a life of luxury, but you’re there to learn, not to lounge about. Still, you want your room to be comfy, so make sure you have (or are allowed to have) these things when you move in:

  • Television (Bigger is not better. Trust me)
  • A size-appropriate mini refrigerator
  • Twin-size bed mattress or mattress topper (Used mattresses are yucky)
  • Laptop or desktop computer
  • A standing lamp
  • A hot plate
  • A toaster oven
  • Basic pots, pans, and cookware
  • Plates, cups, and eating utensils
  • Small vacuum cleaner (Maid is optional)
  • Guest bed or foldout for sleepovers (Or your maid)

Once you’re set for furnishings, the next step is to decide what personal items you will need every day. No one has to be told to bring their TV, game consoles, wall art, hair products, music collection… these are things you may like, but what you need is a proper set of bed sheets, towels, a laundry basket, closet hangers, hygiene products, pillows, and other things that a hotel might provide, but your dorm won’t. Other basic things you will need include:

  • Quarters or laundry card for the laundromat
  • Soap and shampoo
  • Deodorant
  • Flip flops (shower floors can be gross)
  • Shower tote
  • Laundry detergent
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Over-the-counter pain, allergy, and fever medications
  • Water pitcher
  • Can/bottle opener
  • Basic tools: hammer, screwdriver(s), and pliers
  • Alarm clock (do not use the hammer on this)
  • Extension cord and/or electric power strip
  • AA/AAA batteries
  • Headphones (your roommate will thank you)
  • Phone charging plug and cord(s)

Once you have these things, you can go wild and free with decorating your room and cluttering it with technology. You might also want to keep a stash of bottled water and non-perishable foods for days you can’t get to the cafeteria. (Who hasn’t had ramen noodles in college?) A dry erase board or corkboard is also handy for notes between roommates or neighbors, but when you’ve fixed up your living space, you eventually have to leave your room and actually go to some classes.

Do it with Class
Now that your room is all nice and comfy, it’s time to get to class, but before you run out the door, you’d better bring your books with you. It’s 2016 and technology is making huge strides, but somehow, most professors still cling to paper-and-ink textbooks, which are heavy. You can lug these around on your back with a traditional backpack, but if you really want to embrace being a young adult, you might want to invest in a well-partitioned book bag or messenger bag you can wear over your shoulder. They’re more professional-looking and better for your posture. The partitions are also important to keep everything organized, so regardless of what bag or style you choose, make sure there are at least two large partitions, two solid pockets, and a mesh pocket or pocket with pen loops or keyrings. Why? Proper partitions in a carry bag will keep the books from sliding around and crushing things, but they’ll also keep things neat, so you can find what you want without digging around for your:

  • Books
  • Your laptop and/or paper notebooks
  • A calculator and other class-specific items
  • Your phone and other personal items
  • Pens and/or pencils

Many students prefer to use a laptop to take notes. That’s fine. If it works, it works, but if you’re a traditionalist, you might want to carry a paper notebook for each subject, even as just a backup. Professors don’t like to read crumpled-up papers, so you should also have at least one hard-sided folder to carry homework and loose papers, or several soft folders in a hard binder to separate papers by subject. Obviously, you’ll need to write with something, but pens tend to get lost easy, so make sure to carry more than one, and keep them in the pen loops or in one of the pockets separate from your paperwork (if you don’t believe me, wait and see how a simple broken pen can ruin your day). If you have extra room or you want to be extra prepared, make room for these as well to save your day or someone else’s:

  • Miniature stapler
  • Roll of scotch tape
  • USB flash drive
  • Spare phone battery or power bank
  • Yellow highlighter
  • Whiteout tape or whiteout pen (Don’t carry whiteout bottles. Please, just don’t.)

Remember that your classes might not be close to your dorm (or your home if living off-campus), so you need to carry ALL the items you’ll need to get through the day to avoid making an extra trip that you really don’t want to make. You’re an adult now. Excuses are for children. Is it going to rain? You’d better stuff an umbrella in your bag. Is your laptop up and running? You’d better have a flash drive for your important files. Don’t have time to stop for lunch? Bag it. Your bag is your mobile office, so make sure it has what you need, but nothing you don’t. If your bag looks and feels like a baby rhino, you’re probably too prepared, so don’t bring your math book if you’re going to English class. Use careful planning to keep your bag’s form factor low without sacrificing preparedness.

Office Space
You made it. Class is over, your day is done, and you’re back in the safety of your room where lectures and theorems can’t hurt you. Wrong! You’ve still got homework to do! Time to slide up to your desk and get to it, but if your bag is your mobile office, what’s on your desk?

Your desk is your permanent workspace, so anything you don’t need to carry with you should be deposited there. If you’re like 90% of college students, that means literally dumping your bag out on the desk, tossing the rest in the corner of your room, and flopping down on your bed until the next morning. If you want to be in the organized 10%, you should probably at least have your books stacked or propped up with bookends on a desk shelf. You’ve also accumulated some paperwork if you’ve been to at least one class (synopses alone are usually a few pages), so you should also have a file drawer or file stand to keep loose papers separated by subject. Other things that your desk should have that probably don’t fit in your bag:

  • Desk lamp
  • Inkjet printer (Don’t try to print out a term paper at the library at 3AM)
  • USB hub or laptop dock (Unless you have a desktop computer)
  • Scissors
  • Straightedge ruler
  • Three-hole punch
  • Graphing calculator
  • Paper schedule/planner for due dates and reminders (Don’t trust your phone. It secretly hates you)
  • A cup full of pens, pencils, and markers
  • 8×11 loose-leaf pad
  • Index cards (Flash cards are still a thing!)
  • Pocket notepad and/or sticky notes
  • Drawing pad
  • Colored pens or pencils

Always try to keep an empty space on your desk so you can actually use it to write something from time to time. If there’s no space left, it’s time to consider getting an extra shelf, drawer, or storage box. A cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, so if you’re having trouble concentrating, have a good look at your desk. Also, if you want to make packing your book bag easier, keep it on a hook or shelf near your desk so you can slide things easily in and out of it. It’ll make for quick getaways when you’re late for class.

Higher education is an important step toward building a successful future. It’s also stressful and arduous work, but starting the year off with a positive mindset, an organized desktop, and a comfortable living space will give you the momentum to keep pace with a mounting workload. Whether you’re a freshman, a senior, or a graduate student, being prepared is a habit that can serve you well for the rest of your life, so building this habit now will make it easier and more natural the more you practice. There might be things listed here that you would never use, and perhaps others you use every day that aren’t listed, but hopefully the ideas here will help guide you on your new journey into the unknown. Besides… if you think this is bad, wait until you have to build work resumes and fill out tax returns. Relax and enjoy the ride for now – learning how to adult is way harder than college!

Resident word nerd and nap enthusiast. Committed to exploring the science in sleep and boldly snoozing where no one has snoozed before. ...that is when he's not exploring the bottom of his coffee cup or examining his eyelids at his desk. -_-zzz

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