When you should start packing for college? Expert tips for freshman year

Make sure you're best prepared for college by starting packing at just the right time – there are checklists, shopping, and organizing to be done

Dorm room with suitcases and boxes moved in
(Image credit: Getty / Credit: onurdongel Creative #: 1414156193)

There are two types of people when it comes to packing: the organized, over-prepared type, who has everything neatly folded and color-coded, or the last-minute packer who turns up with nothing but a backpack.

When it comes to college, it's smart to be somewhere in between. You should enjoy your last summer break before you're thrown into student life, but also be prepared with everything you need – which is why it's worth finding out exactly when you should start packing for college. 

There are college checklists to make, shopping to be done, and of course the packing itself. And if you're planning on decorating your room, or upgrading on comfort with one of the best mattress toppers for dorm beds, you might need to do some research too. 

To save you spending too much time on getting yourself freshman year-ready, we've spoken to an organization expert and ex-student for their advice on the best time to begin the all-important college prep. 

When should you start packing for college?

Brown moving boxes beside a ladder in a white room

(Image credit: Alamy)

It can feel like there is a lot to learn for freshman students, i and packing for college is a pretty huge deal. Feelings of excitement but also nerves are normal as you prepare for a new chapter, living elsewhere. As professional organizer Caroline Roberts explains, 'you'll want the comforts of home, but usually, you'll have a fraction of the space.'  Because of this, it's important to start packing a few months (or even maybe a year) ahead of moving to ensure you get it right. 

Of course, this doesn't mean getting all of your essentials together in a suitcase a whole 12 months before you're set to start. Rather Caroline recommends 'keeping a moving box or large tote available so you can toss things into them as you buy them or think of them'. She also suggests 'keeping a notepad in the tote, so you can jot down things you know you'll want to pack but are still using or are yet to purchase'. 

Around 2-4 weeks before you're due to move, you can then re-evaluate, buy the things you have yet ticked off the list, and add anything to your packing. 'You may change your mind, or realize you have enough of something, so at this point, you can go through things with a critical eye' says Caroline. 

decluttering and organizing expert caroline roberts
Caroline Roberts

Caroline Roberts is a KonMari consultant and founder of the home organization company The Simplified Island. She and her team help clients declutter their belongings. Then they find the best places for your items so that their family members can find things and put them away. She is also a contributing expert at Homes & Gardens.

1. Prepare your checklist

The first step to packing for college is putting together a checklist. Look through what you already own and what you need. By collating a list, you're able to see which items may need a little more budget. You can also which products need to be bought first as well as items you can leave until the last minute or pick up when you get a chance. 

We've put together a checklist for you to help differentiate between the necessities and luxuries. Dorm room essentials include bedding, like affordable bed sheets, storage containers to help stay organized – even after you arrive – and cleaning supplies. There are some other great dorm room items you can take to make your experience more comfortable, such as small appliances, like a coffee maker or personal blender. While not essential, these personal add-ons are sure to make your space feel more homely. 

The checklist will be personal to you. Despite some staples, it's worth considering what you simply cannot live without too. Getting your checklist sorted early is key as it gives you enough time to not only tick it off but also add to it if you remember or think of something else you'd like to bring. 

2. Start shopping

It's a good idea to start building up your dorm room packing as early as possible. As soon as your first draft checklist is done you can begin to scroll and shop for any things you don't already own. Starting at least a few months before allows you to pick up little items in your, as well as research and find the best value buys. Doing it this way helps to avoid you doing a huge online shop and spending most of your paycheck in one go. Spread the load and buy your dorm essentials when it suits you. 

You should also look out for summer sales like Prime Day that often happen a few months before college start dates. If you've had your eye specifically on something like the Keurig K-Mini at Amazon, small and perfect to take to university, but not an essential worth spending too much on, it's worth waiting for when it's on sale at Amazon. 

3. Packing effectively

moving boxes

(Image credit: Getty images)

After you've bought everything you need and have built up a pretty large pile of items to take with you to college, it's time to pack. You should set some time aside, around a day or two, to carefully fold, organize and pack things effectively. Start by packing your lesser-used items first, keeping out any things you need to hand until the actual day. 

If you're flying to college, taking public transport, or driving yourself in a small car you'll want to think about how to best pack to save space without having to compromise. Make sure any fragile things like cookware and ornaments are wrapped in newspaper, grocery bags, or bubble wrap, and any small, delicate items are packed in boxes or tubs to keep them safe. 

At this stage, you should also remember that you don't have to take everything with you from home. Household essentials like food and toiletries, can be bought once you've arrived. Amazon Prime is also going to be your best friend here. Ordering items to your new home will mean you can carry less and have them arrive at your dorm when you need them. 


How do you pack clothes for college?

Packing clothes for college can often be tricky, as it's hard to differentiate between what you need, and want you want. We'd always recommend having enough items for a week, so you can save time between washes but not have too many items to carry. You should also pack your clothes based on the season in which you are starting college. Most universities start around September time, which means mid-season items are best: a couple of jumpers, jackets, and pieces that are great for layering. You can always return to your parent's home to collect or swap out items you need. 

When it comes to packing clothes or any textiles, rolling them tends to be the best way to save space when packing. Use a suitcase and layers your clothes tightly to allow for as much room as possible. You can also use some vacuum-sealed clothes bags like these Amazon Basics Vacuum Compression Storage Bags that come with a hand pump to compress any clothes as small as possible. 

How many towels do I need for college?

When you're packing for college, knowing how many of each item you need can also be complicated. At home, you may have multiple bedding sets for example, that you switch between for seasons, and for college, we'd suggest having two sets you can alternate between. The same goes for towels. Dorms are unlikely to have washing machines or facilities nearby and being able to wash your laundry often might not be possible, let alone cheap. Having two hand towels and two bath towels is recommended. 

How soon is too soon to pack for college?

You'll know if it is too soon if you find yourself packing, and then unpacking again. There are some items that you can't pack six weeks before your move, as you will need them. It'll be a waste of time if you pack everything neatly only to have to take it back out again. 

You should also consider that if you pack too early on, items may get dusty – clothes especially can start to smell musty if left tightly packed and can get crinkled. 

You should start to collate new items you need to buy and things you currently own, but will not need to use in a moving box or large tote bag before sorting and neatly packing a few weeks before you're due to move. 

Preparation is key. Whether you're moving to college for the first time, or going back to school, it's always good to get a head start on plans. But the truth is, as long as you've got the essentials, there's no need to stress or over-worry about having everything you need straight away. There will be a local store you can pick up the glassware you didn't get to buy in time, and there's always delivery services like Amazon Prime

Louise Oliphant
Ecommerce Editor

Louise is your eCommerce Editor and sleep specialist to help you wind down well. A connoisseur of the mattress world, Louise previously covered sleep and wellness (as well as the occasional organizational buy) at Real Homes, and has tried, tested, and reviewed some of the buys for your bedroom. With an MA in International Journalism and PR experience, Louise brings bags of bedding expertise and enjoys nothing more than helping readers find solutions and products that best suit their sleep needs.