Dorm Move-In Day Tips

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Originally published August 4, 2016 and updated July 15, 2019 and June 13, 2022.

Who needs dorm move-in day tips? I’ve moved 3 children to college for a total of 8 different times (7 of them on my own). My children all chose colleges more than 10 hours away from home, so the dorm move necessitated planning.

Fortunately, I have experience with more than 25 moves, thanks to the military, and as a professional organizer, I know about planning a coordinated move and the moving process.

College student in orange shirt moving items from car into moving bin.

My husband’s work schedule doesn’t allow him to take time off in August, so that means that I’m always the one tacking my children and moving into college alone. Since I’m a planner and a problem solver, I’ve figured out these dorm move-in day tips to make the move-in process easier for us. An easier move-in process means I can spend those precious last hours focused on my child not wrestling their stuff. 

Just look at how much stuff I had to pack into a car, drive 10 hours across state lines and then hike up way too many flights of stairs. And because we live so far away, this is significantly less than I’ve seen families show up with on move-in day

pile of boxes and suitcases in corner of room.

Dorm Move-In Day Tips

A critical part of making dorm move-in day a success is knowing how to pack for college move-in. 

Start creating a packing list as early as possible. The summer after high school will fly by and you don’t want the last few weeks before college starts to be chaotic. A list of items will help you bring everything you need as a college freshman.

Unless your child is moving into a one-story college dorm, accept the fact that you’ll be carrying things up way too many flights of stairs. There is only one elevator in the vast majority of dorms and there will be a long line waiting to use the elevator. At some point I always get tired of waiting and end up carrying things up the stairs. Pack items with this in mind so that they’re easy to carry.

Most colleges have laundry carts on wheels for you to use to move your things from the car to your the dorm room. Sign up for a laundry cart first thing when you arrive since there’s often a waiting list to get a cart. The laundry carts really are a great way to move a lot of things in one trip.

Check out my 25+ Top College Tips for Success  – all my best tips, hacks and information.

ivy covered college building with gothic architecture and title text overlay reading Tip college Tips.

Loose, smaller items are more difficult to move. Pack everything you can into a boxes and bags. Putting loose items into boxes or bags helps keep items from getting lost during transport.

Use Boxes with Built-in Handles

I recommend packing items in tubs and cardboard boxes with handles. I choose boxes that are smaller to make them easier to carry. I prefer to use cardboard document boxes. The boxes can be stacked two or three high when you carry them and the handles make them easy to carry. Boxes are also easier to pack into the car and in the laundry cart because they stack neatly.

one clear plastic bin with clothes and 2 stacked white boxes with handles.

Use Smaller Lighter Boxes or Tubs

Lighter boxes mean that everyone and anyone in your group can help carry them.

Lighter boxes are easier to pull out of the depths of the laundry cart.

If the line for luggage carts or the elevators is too long, lighter boxes allow you to carry them up the stairs. No, this is not something you plan on doing. No, it’s not something you want to do. But trust me, it may end up being the best of a bunch of frustrating choices. 

You can always pile two lighter boxes on top of each other if you can handle the weight, but you can’t cut a heavier box in half. 

Moving everything into a tiny room while a roommate is moving in at the same time makes it challenging to figure out where to put everything. Lighter boxes allow you to stack them on shelves, on chairs, on top of each other or even stand there and hold them, if you have to.

Use Bags with Handles

Some items fit better into a bag and I pack those items in cloth, repurposed plastic shopping and paper bags so they’re easier to carry.  The handles of this large tote allow you to carry multiple bags in one trip. Bonus – this tote works great as a college laundry bag and for dorm room storage.

black and white bag with black handles and towels.

Put Smaller Items Inside Other Items

Pack smaller items inside other items, like the trash can to reduce how many separate items you have to carry. This helps reduce the number of trips moving in and out of the college dorm room (and up and down the stairs). 

overhead view of bucket with items inside.

Use a Collapsible Hand Truck

If you only listen to one of these tips for moving into a dorm, this is the one helpful tip to pay attention to. Really.

Trust me, this is a back and life saver! I moved my oldest daughter two times before it occurred to me to get a hand truck (the kind professionals use with a moving truck).

A collapsible hand truck and bungee cords from Amazon are surprisingly inexpensive.

metal collapsible hand truck.

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collage of colorful organizing printable pages.

Label All the Items

Many colleges have college students volunteer to help unload cars and help with dorm move-in. The volunteers will often run your student’s items quickly up to the dorm room while you go park the car. The help is appreciated, but you want to make certain that every single item end up in your room.

I choose brightly colored washi tape and label every box and item that we pack. Placing the student’s name and room number on each item makes it easier for the helpers to deliver belongings to the correct dorm room. Choose removable tape in distinctive colors to make it stand out and easy to find.

green roll of masking tape, black marker and name with number written on tape.

Dress Wisely

While I always wanted to look fashionable to meet the new parents and make a good impression, this is a time to dress practically more than fashionably. It will be hot as heck and you’ll be bending over, lifting, carrying and doing lots of walking and stairs.

Choosing comfortable shoes and clothes will make the stressful process of moving your student into the college dorm easier.

Plan How You Load the Laundry Cart

Packing most of the items in boxes makes loading the laundry cart much easier. Stack heavier items on the bottom and lighter ones on top. The laundry carts are deep, so don’t put a heavy low-profile item on the bottom of the cart or you’ll look like a cartoon figure (with your legs kicking wildly out of the top of the cart while the rest of your body is down in the cart) trying to lift the item out. Ask me how I know.

Pack smaller items in the openings around the big items.

You will be tempted to cram as many items as possible in the cart, but a better idea is to pack it full, but not overfull. You want the cart to be easy to maneuver.

I make sure not to load the cart so it’s too heavy since I have to push the cart about two blocks and up and down several sets of curbs by myself. 

yellow laundry cart with white boxes and black duffel bag.

Prepare a Move In Kit

Move-in day is all about your student (and it should be) but parents should plan to take care of Themselves on move-in day, too. Move-in day is tough emotionally and physically, too. Planning ahead allows parents to have everything they need to focus on your student not how thirsty you are or on your aching back.

Tool Kit

Pack a took kit so that you have everything you’ll need to set up your dorm room. This is especially freshman year or when moving into a new dorm when you don’t know what to expect. Items I’ve found helpful are:

  • Hammer
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Furniture sliders
  • Duct tape – for any minor repairs
  • Rubber mallet – helpful for adjusting the dorm bed
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Monkeywrench
  • Work gloves

Set Up Kit

You’ll want to make sure you start with a clean room and a comfortable new home. These are additional items that are helpful in setting up a residential hall room:

  • Door stopper– hold that heavy dorm door open to make moving in easier
  • Garbage bags
  • Command Strips – This variety pack is your best bet
  • Toilet paper – just in case there isn’t one in the new room

Snack bag

Pack a snack bag with water bottles, granola bars fruit and trail mix. Pack enough for each family members. Even when you plan on taking your student out to eat, the enormity of moving in and setting up all of your stuff often means you’ll end up eating and drinking whatever you bring. 

Knowing how physically tough it can be to move all my baby’s things out of the car, into a laundry cart, up way too many flights of stairs and into her room, I plan for my aching body (and emotions) by making a parent care kit. 

overhead view of tools and medication with red bag.

I put my dorm move-in day parent care kit in a small brightly-colored bag, like this repurposed sweater bag, to make it easier to find in the chaos of moving.  

Dorm Move-in Day Parent Care Kit 

  • Tissues – Just in case you get something in your eye.
  • First Aid Kit – I found I needed bandages for my feet, my knee and my hand on past move-in day experiences. 
  • Gum or Mints – A little pick-me-up is welcome on such a busy, overwhelming day. 
  • Analgesic Heat Ointment – Move-in day can be tough on the body. You can use the ointment on move-in day for the inevitable minor aches and pains.
  • Pain Reliver – for headaches and muscle pulls
  • Hair Bands
  • Moving back support belt
  • Knee pads

Frequently Asked Questions about Moving into a Dorm

How Long Does It Take to Move into a Dorm Room?

It usually takes about 2 – 4 hours to move into a dorm room, but it can take as little as 30 minutes and as much as 6 hours. It depends on these 14 factors:

  • The move-in procedures of college and will you be assigned a move-in time slot.
  • The things you bring to college:
    • How much you bring
    • How many heavy items you have
    • How many larger items or awkward ones you have
  • How many people will be unloading and transporting your belongings?
  • What is the availability and distance of the parking?
  • The access to the dorm room:
    • Are there elevators? Are there long lines to use the elevators?
    • How many flights of stairs do you have to carry your belongings up?
    • How congested are the sidewalks and the dorm hallways?
  • How large is the dorm room and how many people are moving and setting up items at the same time (in what will be limited space)?
  • Will you have help unpacking and setting up items?
  • Do you have to build or rearrange furniture in the small space?
many parents and families moving items into a dorm.

What Not to Bring to College

Always check with your specific dorm restrictions, but here are 30+ common items to avoid bringing to your dorm:

  • Candles
  • Incense
  • Wax melt burner
  • Excessive clothing
  • Excessive shoes
  • Extra sheets, blankets or towels (you probably only need two sets of each)
  • Duplicates of items your new roommate is bringing. Coordinate and share as much as you can:
    • Mirrors
    • Mini Fridge
    • Microwaves
    • Printers
    • Chairs
  • Furniture – Your dorm will supply the necessary items and the space is extremely limited, so be very careful about bringing furniture items.
  • Chairs – Check the size of your dorm room and coordinate with your roommate
  • Reading lamps – Some dorms will supply a reading lamp as part of the desk and some don’t, Check or be prepared to send the lamp you bring back home.
  • Appliances that could be a fire hazard or overload the electrical systems of old buildings, particularly kitchen appliances
    • Microwave – Check any restrictions on size or power for your dorm
    • Toaster
    • Indoor grill
    • Hot plates
    • Electric Skillet
    • Electric Blanket
  • Lava lamp – Prohibited in many dorms
  • Stuffed animals – bring 1 (or a reasonable number) because there’s usually not anywhere to store them when you need space to sleep or sit on your bed
  • More than 1 formal outfit or pair of shoes
  • Ironing board
  • Television – Most students will watch streamed shows on their laptop or bring a monitor to plug into their laptop
  • Excessive posters or pictures for the wall
  • Knickknacks – you just won’t have the space
  • Firearms – Restricted by most colleges
  • Pepper spray – Usually restricted by the college

I partnered with a friend to create College Cookbooks designed for busy college students. Each one has 14 quick and easy meals that will feed 2 people. That means if you’re cooking for one, you’ll have leftovers for lunch or busy nights when you don’t have time to cook. Grab them now while they’re on sale!

2 college cookbook covers with titles Vegetarian and Health Bowls.

More Dorm and Moving Tips

With these dorm move-in day tips, you and I will be ready to take our babies off to college.  Be sure to pin now so you can find these tips when you need them most – on college move-in day.

This was originally published as a sponsored post and I received information and materials from JOHNSON & JOHNSON CONSUMER, Inc., McNeil Consumer Healthcare Division, LLC. The opinions stated are my own. This is a sponsored post. #PositivelyPrepared  #BacktoSchool  #CollectiveBias

See all my tips, ideas, printables and care packages in the table below. You can scroll though the table and look for ideas or search for specific ideas with the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner (on desktop). Click on the topic and then click through the specific article.

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  1. I imagine that it must be bitter sweet to know that your baby is going off to college. I better savor my kids when they are young because soon enough this will be them heading off! #client

    1. Enjoy every second, Amy, because it really does fly by in the blink of an eye. As much as I’m sad for me, I’m so excited for and proud of my baby. 🙂

  2. Such great tips! When I moved my daughter in to her college dorm for her Freshman year, we were a mess! I was glad to know there were students who were there to help us! Luckily we didn’t live as far away as you do and we could take things to her as needed. I love all of your ideas.

    1. Thanks, Cynthia. Move-in day is such an emotional and physically draining day. But we all survive it, don’t we.

  3. Aww, I bet that is hard! My kiddos are still little, so it is hard to imagine them going off to college, but I know it’ll happen all too soon. I think it was smart of you to bring a dorm move-in parent kit! I hope the experience wasn’t too hard on you and that your baby does great in college!

  4. Moving day tomorrow for our first little bird….mixed emotions for certain.
    We have put wheeled luggage as our #1 idea. One has kitchen and bath items…
    Another has books, school supplies and fold up ottoman…pretty heavy but the wheels are great. Two with clothes and shoes. Pillows…sheets…comforter and such are in laundry bags.
    Not sure how it will work but she is taking a two drawer locking file cabinet…hope it is allowed.
    One more sleep and we will see how this plan works…don’t know if you don’t try!

    1. Sending you a big, hug for tomorrow. Wheeled suitcases sounds like a great idea. The good thing about being exhausted at the end of move-in day is that it helps you sleep that first, tough night.

    1. Hope they help, Sheri. It’s such an exciting time and my goal is to help you have more time and less time to focus on your “baby.”

  5. As a single parent of college freshman twins, heading to different colleges (6 -1/2 hours apart) I don’t know what to expect. Although I’m very organized, there will be things that go off course, but I feel better now with your sound advice. Out of all the blogs and info I’ve read – you were the ONLY one to mention two important things; 1) sign up for laundry cart, 2) label items/boxes with name & room. Thank you!

    1. Wow, Tamara, that will be a challenge! You’re already way ahead of the average parent since you’re researching and planning ahead. It really helped me to continue to just focus on my daughter when my patience was tested during the process. Also, both of my daughters were ready to separate from mom when they were ready (which is what I wanted for them, but it was a bit more abrupt than I wanted for me). I’m hope my tips help you. Wishing you a peaceful and organized two move-in days. Take care.

  6. Great ideas! We use wheeled plastic tubs so we can unload and wheel them to her room. They nest and store in the space of one after move in and when packed can stack in a corner of the garage while waiting to go

  7. Tucking all these great tips away – my kids are still years away, but I’m quickly realizing that time is accelerating on us!

    1. It comes so quickly, Heather. I know you hear people say it all the time, but you don’t realize how true it is until it’s you experiencing it. Treasure the time you have now (even when it’s exhausting and challenging).

  8. I’m dropping mine off for the first time next month. I have a few suggestions – make sure you check the website for your college. My daughter is going to the University of Pittsburgh. They are gracious enough to let us ship up to 5 boxes to be delivered to their dorm!! So best thing ever SPACE BAGS! I was able to fit her entire bedding in a medium box using space bags. Also, I packed all she’s wearing for winter in a jumbo ziplock bag…again using space bags. Putting items inside others is another great way. I’m an organized freak! :). Almost forgot, I labeled all the boxes with her name, building and room # and took pictures of the inside of each box for insurance and to remembers what’s in what box…LOL

    1. Thanks for the great tips, Ev! Love the tip on photos for insurance purposes. Your daughter is lucky to have you organizing and packing her for school. 🙂

  9. Any move is stressful. Whether it’s a short distance move a few streets over, or into a whole new suburb, the thought of packing up your entire life and loading it onto a truck can be overwhelming.

  10. Info is still relevant this Fall as I prep for my oldest to head off on his adventure. Thanks so much for all your work on putting this list together. 😉

    1. I’m glad you’re finding these tips helpful. Wishing you and your child all the best in this upcoming year.

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