Dorm Move-In Day Tips

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Originally published August 4, 2016 and updated July 15, 2019

I have 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

Who needs dorm move-in day tips? I do! Even though my focus for the past month has been to get my second “baby” ready to head of to her first year of college, I am not ready for her to go. Not ready, at all. As a mom, I will never really be ready (despite the fact that this is exactly what we’ve been working towards for 18 years).

Fortunately, I did learn many tricks when I took my first baby off to college that will help me when I take my second baby to college in a couple of weeks by myself. My experience with more than 20 military moves certainly helps, too. These dorm move-in day tips make the move-in experience go so much more smoothly and help save my body from the physical strain of moving all her many, many things.

College student in orange shirt moving items from car into moving bin with title text overlay reading Tips for Parents Dorm Move-In Day

My husband’s work schedule doesn’t allow him to take time off in August, so that means that I’m always the one moving my baby into her dorm room alone. Just little ol’ me and my baby… all 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 baby not wrestling her stuff. 

Just look at this pile of schtuff that I have 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, my baby’s pile of schtuff is on the smaller side of what I’ve seen other families show up with on move-in day

pile of boxes and suitcases

Unless your baby is moving into a one-story 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. I pack items with this in mind. 

Most colleges have laundry carts on wheels for you to use to move your things from the car to your the dorm room. I always sign up for a laundry cart first thing when we arrive since there’s often a waiting list to get a cart. 

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

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. 

Pack Items into Boxes and Bags

Loose items are more difficult to move, so I pack everything I 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 pack my baby’s things in tubs and 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 my car and in the laundry cart because they stack neatly.

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

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 I can carry them more easily.  The handles of this large tote allow me 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

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

overhead view of bucket with items inside

Use a Collapsible Hand Truck

Trust me, this is a back and life saver and a collapsible hand truck and bungee cords from Amazon are surprisingly inexpensive. If you only listen to one of these college move-in day tips. this is the one to pay attention to. Really.

Label All the Items

Many colleges have 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. I appreciate that help (and treasure every box I don’t have to carry myself), but I want to make certain that every single one of my baby’s precious items end up in her room.

I choose brightly colored washi tape and label every box and item that we pack. Placing my baby’s name and room number on each item makes it easier for the helpers to deliver her things to my baby’s room. Choose removable tape in distinctive colors (not just whatever generic masking or painter’s tape you have laying around:

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

Dress Wisely

While I want 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 I’ll be bending over, lifting, carrying and doing lots of walking and stairs.

I make sure than I can comfortably accomplish all those tasks on college move-in day in my outfit while maintaining my mom-modesty and hopefully look somewhat fashionable, too. 

Plan How You Load the Laundry Cart

Packing most of the items in boxes makes loading the laundry cart much easier. Stack heavier boxes 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.

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. 

yellow laundry cart with white boxes and black duffel bag

Take A Parent Care Kit 

Move-in day is all about my baby (and it should be) but I plan to take care of myself on move-in day, too. Move-in day is tough emotionally and physically, too. Planning ahead allows me to have everything I need so that I can focus on my baby not how thirsty I am or on my aching back.

I pack a snack bag with water bottles and granola bars. I always plan on taking my baby out to eat (and spend a few precious last minutes together), but the enormity of moving in and setting up all my baby’s stuff often means we’ll end up eating and drinking whatever I bring. 

I pack a took kit so that I have everything I’ll need to set up my baby’s dorm room. I’d rather bring a tool kit and not need it than not bring it and wish that I had. 

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 I, uh, get something in my eye.
  • Bandages  – I’ve found I needed them 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. 
  • Ultra Strength BENGAY® Cream – Use on move-in day and the day after to temporarily soothe minor aches and pains of muscles and joints. I’m not getting any younger and my muscles can use some soothing during move-in day. Use for adults and children 12 years and older and only as directed. 
  • TYLENOL® 8 HR Muscle Aches & Pain – It’s perfect for move-in day since it provides strong and fast pain relief. acts fast and lasts all day* (*up to 8 hours) to relieve muscle aches and body pain. Always use only as directed. 
  • MOTRIN® PM – It helps the night after move-in day by combining powerful medicine to relieve minor aches and pains with an effective sleep aid. Be aware that it is for adults and children 12 years and older and always use only as directed. 
red bag with ribbon with tissues, bandages and medicine on white table

We’ve been making several trips a week to Target to pick up items that my baby needs for her dorm room, so it was easy to pick up exactly what I needed for my parent care kit. I found the Ultra Strength BENGAY® Cream, TYLENOL® 8 HR Muscle Aches & Pain, and MOTRIN® PM  in the health and beauty section. 

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

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.

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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22 Comments

  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.

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