Best Packing Tips for College Students

Marissa Daniel
May 25, 2021

It’s amazing how much stuff you can fit into a tiny dorm room or the shared apartment you call home during the school year. And most students need to lug that stuff home every spring and back again for the fall semester. Minimalism is looking really good right now! But how do you actually pack your things up quickly knowing you'll have to do it again in a few short months? There are strategies you can use so that packing and unpacking isn’t as enormous an ordeal as it often can be. Some organizing beforehand and a little long term planning will go a long way to streamlining the process. Here are some of our favorite packing tips for college that can make the process a little more enjoyable, because let's be honest, who really likes packing?

Organize and pack early

Make a checklist

First and foremost, the first rule of packing is to make a list. If you're a freshman, use your school’s packing checklist and student message boards to start organizing. Don’t forget to ask friends or siblings who’ve gone away to college for tips. For example, you know that you’ll have to bring your bed sheets - but do you know what size they should be? Twin or XL Twin? And are the mattresses comfortable or should you get a mattress pad?

Put your items in boxes neatly

Once you’ve personalized the standard checklist, you’re ready to start putting the items in boxes. Leave the stuff you use daily, including your laptop, to the end. The rest of it can be packed into plastic storage containers or cardboard boxes. Label each box as you pack it, and check it off the list to keep things rolling. Make sure to not just throw things in boxes. Packing things neatly and in some sort of grouping can really help when you're unpacking.

Sort out items you could leave home and retrieve later

If you’ll be going home a lot during the term, forgetting items shouldn’t be a big deal. For instance, you can plan to bring your winter boots and jacket at Thanksgiving. Generally speaking, you can swap your clothes at the change of the seasons if you have the option, that way you can free up some already limited storage space. When you do go home on breaks, bring any clothes or items you’re not using. Similarly, bring an empty suitcase with you if you’ve discovered you want to bring something from home - like your printer - back to your dorm room. By keeping only what you need and use at school, your move home at the end of the year will be a bit easier. More >> Need better ways of organizing? Check out some of these ideas to keep your stuff neat and in order on a budget. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Consider renting a storage unit

A storage unit can be especially useful for college students who are sharing apartments and have started accumulating furniture and other household and kitchen items. Over the years - even in furnished housing - you might have picked up a coffee table or a bedside table, maybe a TV or extra futon, a coffee maker and area rug. Renting a storage unit near your school for the summer months means you don’t haul so much of that stuff back and forth twice a year. And renting a self-storage unit can be more economical than you may have realized. They come in several sizes that range from a small closet size to the size of a one car garage. The needs of most college students are pretty modest, so you probably won’t require a large unit. Look for student discounts and consider sharing the unit a friend or two. Of course, there are certain items that shouldn't be put in self-storage. Linens, blankets, and pillows can get musty if left in units that aren’t climate controlled. Electronics need to be kept in boxes if stored and climate control is always a better option. A fridge will survive storage without any problems if it’s been defrosted and is completely clean.

How to pack effectively

Use different size boxes

Use large boxes for lightweight items; small for the heavy stuff. Take pity on mom and dad who’ll be helping you lug those beasts from the car to your room. For the larger boxes, try to find ones with handles - they make moving them so much easier. And if you’ve got a couple of suitcases in the mix, try to use ones with wheels. Pro tip >> Looking for cheap boxes to pack? Check out your local grocery store or wholesalers like Costco, BJ's, or Sam's Club. These places usually have a stockpile of boxes they just end up recycling anyways and they'll give them away for free.

Bubblewrap quick fix

If you don’t have bubble wrap, use your own sweaters and blankets to wrap breakables. This will help you avoid nasty surprises during your move. Pack all your clothes that you don’t need right away in boxes, and keep the rest in your suitcase or backpack.

Packing tape

If you’re using cardboard boxes, have plenty of tape on hand. Packing tape is available in large rolls at warehouse stores and office supply centers. Pick up a couple of good black markers that you can use for labeling all your boxes.

Don't throw boxes away, send them home

You’ll need to unpack upon arrival at school if you’re sending your boxes and most of your suitcases home with mom and dad. You won't have the space to store this stuff, but you also don't want to throw perfectly good boxes away.  Don't forget to keep at least an overnight bag with you however, you'll need this when you go home or travel anywhere!

Leave your clothes on the hangers

This is by far my favorite packing hack! Don't take your clothes off the hanger, rather, keep them on and either fold your clothes into a tall box, alternating what side the hanger is on to maximize space. You can also cut a hole in a large trash bag and lace the top of the hanger though, slip the bag over your clothes and then tie the bottom!

The best packing tip of all: Pack a moving essentials bag

There's nothing worse than when you're in the thick of moving, and you realize you packed something away you really need deep in a box that's in a sea of boxes that look the exact same. Been there, done that. Even worse, is feeling pressured to unpack everything in a day just because you need to find what box you packed your toothbrush in. That's why packing a moving essentials bag is vital to your sanity and time and is the best packing tip for college students. Here are some items you should consider including in your moving essentials bag:
  • Important documents such as your dorm papers, any identification, welcome packet, etc.
  • Medications
  • Chargers (laptop, phone, tablet, toothbrush, etc)
  • Basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, face wipes, travel-sized soaps,etc)
  • A change of clothes
  • A knife/scissors to open boxes
  • Drinks and snacks
college student packing her belongings for school Photo by @ijeab via Twenty20

How to unpack

Unpacking is arguably harder than packing because now you have to organize everything you packed up just the way you like it. Here's a few unpacking tips on how to make this process move quickly without overwhelming yourself.

Have a plan on how you want to organize

Going into unpacking blind can lead to a lot of headaches. Having a plan on how you want to organize your items and which boxes you want to unpack first can make the process that much more efficient and painless. More >> Check out these ways to organize your space on a budget.

Start with your clothes

This might sound a little bit odd, but starting here is smart because it eliminates a lot of boxes and bags out of your space right from the get-go. Not to mention, you know that you already have to put your clothes in your closet and drawers, so you might as well start with something that doesn't need to be thought about beforehand From here, then you can decide what makes the most sense. It's always nice to unpack the biggest items taking up the most space. Any kitchen appliances like a coffee maker or pots and pans that will have a clear home

Unpack a little at a time

This rule is important especially if you're a freshman. Move-in day is a really exciting day in your life, you don't want to be stuck in your dorm room for hours while everyone is meeting each other! Plan to unpack a little at a time as you also make time for knocking on your hall mates' doors and meeting new people. Not rushing can also help you think through exactly how you want to unpack your belongings so it's a win/win.

Set a deadline

To hold yourself accountable, set a deadline for when you want to be done packing by. This can be the end of your first week or the following day. Whatever it is, make sure to set a reasonable deadline that works for you! Overall, having a specific time you want to complete something will push you to want to complete it! It also could be a good idea to get on the same schedule as your roommate so that no one is unhappy with boxes everywhere, or someone staying up all night just to get everything organized!