Don't be a Dormzilla

San Jose Mercury NewsAugust 22, 2009 

— It's easy to spot Dormzilla on "Move-In Day."

She's the college freshman who shows up with enough oversize chairs, lamps and bookcases to fill a model home, plus a year's supply of bottled water and snacks.

But this year could be different because of the recession. Frills may be optional for students and parents smacked with fee surprises.

Depending on the campus, you've probably got a week or two to shop and plan for moving in. Several small steps will make the transition from home to dorm a smooth and economical one.

The list of what to bring hasn't changed much over the years, says Marty Takimoto, a director with the Residential and Student Service Programs at UC-Berkeley, who has been through 30 move-in days at the college.

Students will need the basics: linens for an extra-long twin bed, a lamp for reading, towels, toiletries.

What has changed, however, is how roommates connect with one another. Instead of meeting on "Move-In Day" with each toting a TV and mini-fridge, many students are now introduced to one another before their arrival. They can check each other's preferences via Facebook, phone or send e-mail and decide in advance who brings what.

That's important when space is at a premium.

A greener room

It can be tough for students to strike a balance between frugality and sustainability, but colleges are encouraging green practices.

Take bottled water, for example. Although it's tempting to stockpile crates of water, campus officials encourage the use of refillable water bottles.

Takimoto goes so far as to suggest students skip the Costco run entirely. There's just no room to store big boxes of toothpaste, tissues and other toiletries.

But it's hard to forgo the mini-fridge. Campus officials suggest renting an energy-efficient fridge/microwave combination to save on space and energy.

Storage is key

First-year students and their parents can expect to fork over about $600 for the transition, experts say. Not all of that is for pillows and posters. Smart shoppers with an eye on the bottom line will be able to walk away with the right stuff and still be able to pay the bill.

At Target, for example, you can grab a 13-piece "dorm in a bag" ($69.99) that includes comforter, sheets, pillowcases, towels and laundry bag.

If you know you won't be in a bunk bed, you can try the bed lifters at IKEA ($9.99 a set.) The lifters, which come in black or white, look like overturned flowerpots but can give the bed some height, providing welcome room for underbed storage.

Consider a three-drawer unit on casters that can be zipped around the room or slipped into closets. And hanging storage is decorative and useful.

With so little space to work with, one of the best places to personalize a dorm room is on the walls.

At first, the walls will be decorated with photos and posters of high school events. But save room for new memories, too. Soon there will be football posters, new photos and new memories.

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