10 Overlooked Dorm Essentials

Image of a book bag, open book and sunglasses on a bed with a white comforter. Photo by Cynthia del Río on Unsplash

It’s finally time for back-to-school shopping! Whether you absolutely live for choosing a new backpack each summer, or you secretly dread the hunt for new highlighters, back-to-school shopping is a necessary process for all students. However, those who live in on-campus housing often have a longer list than other students, and with good reason: you’re not only looking for basic school supplies, but also the essentials of day-to-day life! The dorm lifestyle can be an adjustment, and no matter how extensive your shopping list is, you’ve probably forgotten or overlooked at least a few essentials that will make life so much easier. Whether you’re a first-time freshman or a veteran of dorm life, check out these 10 items that you’re probably overlooking!

1. Mini vacuum


A mini handheld vacuum.


Many dorm checklists recommend a broom and dustpan set, but what you really want is a mini handheld vacuum to take care of the dirt and debris that will magically appear on your dorm floor. It’s much quicker and easier than the broom setup, and can be used to clean the insides of drawers, closets, and totes. Also, it eliminates the temptation to sweep your mess into the hall and pretend it never happened.


2. Potted plant


A small potted succulent plant.


It seems like only a minor decorating detail, but the presence of a live plant or two can truly change the atmosphere of your dorm room. Avoid delicate flowers, and opt instead for hardier plants such as succulents, African violets, small stalks of bamboo, or even a cactus. To keep your greenery alive longer, crack your window or add a humidifier to combat the dry dorm air. And if you truly don’t trust your green thumb, check out Target or Hobby Lobby for a huge variety of fake potted plants.


3. Tupperware


Multicolored plastic food storage containers


A plastic food storage system is a true lifesaver. Even though you’re living on campus, you’re still going to want to pack food at some point for class, study sessions, or off-campus activities. Repackaging your groceries saves valuable space in both your fridge and your food storage box, keeps your food fresh longer, and will allow you to prep your meals for the week ahead.


4. Dish cart or crate


A wheeled metal kitchen cart.


Unless you’ve got the time and energy to wash your dishes every night (and trust me, you probably won’t), you need a place to stash your dirty dishes till you have the time. A plastic crate with handles will slide easily under your bed, keeping the mess out of sight. A more expensive option is a wheeled cart, which takes up more space but will allow you to roll your dishes back and forth to the kitchen with ease. The cart is the better option if you plan to do a lot of cooking, while the tote is probably all you need if you have a campus meal plan.


5. Outdoor welcome mat


A doormat reading "Hi, I'm Mat".


When the rainy season hits and campus is covered in mud, avoid tracking the muck into your room by setting an outdoor welcome mat outside your dorm’s door. This also gives you a spot to allow your wet umbrella and rain boots to drip-dry. Just make sure to clean it periodically so it doesn’t smear mud and water around your hall, and consider attaching non-skid stickers to the bottom to keep it in place.


6. Can opener


A blue handheld can opener


If there’s an award for the most-overlooked necessity of college life, it goes to the can opener. Even if you swear to never cook a meal in the dorm, you are going to buy some type of grocery at some point that will require a can opener. Plus, chances are that most of your dorm mates will have forgotten to buy one as well, so loaning out your can opener can make you a lot of fast friends. Just trust me. Buy it.


7. First aid supplies


A thermometer, tissues, and cough syrup

(Photo: Express Medical Supplies)

Band-Aids, cough drops, cold and flu meds, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, a thermometer, ice packs…these are all things that you probably won’t think of buying until you really, really need them, at which point you might be too sick to drag yourself to the store anyway. Make a list of all the basics that you need when you’re sick, and add a lidded plastic tote to stash them in. Also, buy more than you think you’ll need, because chances are it won’t just be you using these items. Come flu season, everybody will be hitting you up to borrow some cough drops or tissues, so always keep extra on hand.


If you feel like you’re coming down with something and need to seek care from a doctor, make your first call to the lovely folks at MTSU Health Services in the Campus Recreation building or call in your medications to the MTSU Pharmacy.  They’ve got everything you need without having to leave campus!

8. Board games


A stack of popular board games.


Want a cool way to chill with the people on your floor? Host a game night in your room (with your roomie’s permission, of course). Breaking out a board or card game is a great way to draw people in and get icebreakers flowing. Even if you don’t want to host them in your room, it’s good to have a few games on hand; inevitably, somebody will ask you to bring a game to a party, dinner, or study session at some point in your college career. Pro tip: Cards Against Humanity will make you the life of the party.


9. Breeze blocker


A dog-shaped breeze blocker

(Photo: Christmas Tree Shops)

While there isn’t likely to be much of a draft in your dorm room, there’s probably going to be plenty of light coming in from under your door at night. With the fluorescent hall lights on 24/7, and most doors set 1-2 inches off the floor, you may find it difficult to sleep at night if you’re particularly light-sensitive. Grab a thick breeze blocker and wedge it under your door to stop the light, especially if your bed (or your roommate’s) is facing the door.


10. Old comfy blankets


A pile of comfy blankets


As you shop for all-new bed linens for your dorm room, it’s tempting to toss out the old, worn blankets you have lying around your room at home. Reconsider, though: there are going to be plenty of situations in college where you need a comfortable, well-worn blanket to tote around. When you want to catch some sun in the Grove, study under the trees in front of the library, or have a indoor picnic on the floor of your room, you’re going to need an old blanket or two that you don’t mind getting a little dirty. Go ahead and indulge in a couple of plush new throws, but keep some old blankets on hand just in case.