My local big box store was swarmed with parents and young adults this afternoon browsing the college aisles. I love browsing those aisles annually to predict which things my students will move in with in the fall and which will likely make an appearance in the dumpster at the end of the academic year. I’m amazed at how many of the things that fill those shelves are poor choices. A quick Google search when I got home showed that there are other blog posts about what not to buy students in the realm of technology, but very little about their residence hall. After almost a decade of professional experience in residence life, I’m happy to share my Five Products to Avoid in a Residence Hall.
Disclaimer: Before you go shopping, review the residence hall policies and student handbook. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Big box stores don’t care about those nearly-universal policies; they want to sell you a room full of the comforts of home. But many items featured in those aisles are prohibited at schools — candles, coffee pots, string lights, electric grills, etc. You can save yourself time, grief, and maybe an incident report by reviewing the rules before you shop.
1. Bed Bug Mattress Encasements (or anything related to preventing bed bug infestations): Bed bugs are brought into spaces by people and can live in linens, clothes, stuffed animals, etc. While an encasement protects a mattress from infestation, it doesn’t do anything to protect a student’s assets. The best line of defense is to educate your student about signs of bed bug infestation and know what the process is on campus for reporting suspected infestation.
2. Additional Furniture: Almost every residence hall room will come outfitted with appropriate amounts of furniture. While novelty furniture may seem like a good idea, it inevitably ends up cluttering an already tight space. This may be a better purchase after a student moves in and gets settled. Better? Wait until a fall semester or fall quarter visit and see if there’s a need for it.
3. Dinnerware/Flatware Sets: A first year student will eat almost every meal in the dining hall or cafeteria. It’s the hub of social activity on most campuses. Besides, you’re paying for the meal plan. Use it. Skip the set that’s large enough for hosting a dinner party and grab two plates, two sets of flatware, and some cups and mugs. A student doesn’t have space to store much more than that. Don’t forget to pack the dish soap.
4. Water Coolers: This has been a recent fad and one I don’t understand. There is no shortage of potable water on college campuses. Buying a cooler — or even participating in a water delivery service — is an unnecessary expense and takes up precious floor space in a room.
5. Privacy Pop-Up Tents: I don’t know when these became a thing, but they seem like a mostly unnecessary thing. Roommates should be having conversations about privacy and use of the room, which could avoid someone needed to zip themselves into a nylon bubble. Resident Assistants live in the residence halls and well-trained to help students have those conversations before the tent seems like the best option.
Many colleges and universities also have preferred vendors for items like sheets, rugs, refrigerators, futons, and lofts. Make sure you read and understand the literature; in some cases, the preferred vendor is the only method of having a certain item (microfridges and lofts most often fall into this category). In addition to being good partners with the school, many of these vendors offer in-room delivery of items and, bonus, the school receives a percentage of the sale to support residence hall programs and activities.