- LOCK IT UP: Store anything in these three-compartment lockers from the Container Store.
Much has changed at my college since I graduated. They've built new buildings. Tuition has doubled. Admission standards have risen to the point that if I applied today, they wouldn't even let me on the wait list to get on the wait list.
But as far as I know, they haven't torn down the dorm I lived in freshman year, which means that for all their extra brains and money, the kids that will move in there this fall will be just as squinched and squeezed and shoehorned in as my roommate and I were. (Ha ha, Smarty McRichkid.)
This means, of course, buying new stuff to minimize the space your old stuff takes up. Just about my favorite shopping mission in the world.
First, a reality check. The Container Store has a great website that showcases their off-to-college merchandise in photos of six prototypical dorm rooms — beautifully arranged, stylishly decorated, etc. Except that they're roughly four times the size of an actual bedroom in an actual college residence hall. You will not have space for a four-foot-wide modular bookcase, or for two extra chairs arranged comfortably between your bed and your 40-inch flat-panel TV.
Some things you probably will want, and where to get them:
• Stack-n-Rack, the smaller, locally owned version of the Container Store, has a fun line of desk accessories in colorful stripe and dot patterns that I really like — dorm rooms tend to be drab, so anything bright and bold is good. There's a desk caddy, pencil cups, blotters, magazine holders, fabric bulletin board and journal.
Also very handy: A canvas bedside organizer ($10 for the small size, $17 for the large), which will hold magazines, tissues, remotes, water bottles and anything else you might want nearby at night. It attaches underneath the mattress, so it's perfect for bunk or loft beds, or if you simply want to save precious floor or dresser-top space. And a floor-to-ceiling revolving shoe tree ($70), which holds 36 pairs of shoes and takes up one square foot of floor space. The center pole works like a tension shower rod to hold it in place. Smaller versions hold 18 and 24 pairs of shoes.
• If you've got an apartment to furnish, check out Target.com — lots of inexpensive furniture, such as stylish futons under $200, only available online. (Although I have to point out Target's appalling inclusion of a $900 TV in its “dorm essentials” category. Seriously? Are we that far gone?) Another online-only favorite is the Corner Spacesaver Bookcase ($45), a wall-mounted 12-inch-square contraption that reminds me of those Rubik's snake toys we used to play with back in the day.
• Bed, Bath and Beyond has helpfully positioned all its college-related merchandise on those middle-of-the-aisle displays. (Also, on a totally unrelated note, BBB's West Little Rock location now has a beautiful bridal registry department with a selection fine china and crystal that rivals a certain Little Rock-based department store.) They've got a decent selection of extra-long twin bedsheet sets, priced from $15 to $35 or so. I also like their fabric shower totes ($10), in a variety of designs, some suitable for guys; Timex's Extra Loud alarm clock ($10); and the Bentwood lap desk ($40), a sort of mid-century-modern-looking thing made out of, well, bent wood.
• And despite the wishful thinking of its advertising, the Container Store does have an enormous selection of practical and good-looking storage systems. Fun bulletin/magnet/dry-erase boards for your dorm door. A cool over-the-door towel rack ($25) that uses bungee cords for the vertical supports instead of plastic or metal, so it's easier to pack up at the end of the year. A customizable wall grid system that you can hang with adhesive hooks instead of nails or screws. A three-compartment melamine locker ($59) that would be perfect for tucking away towels or snacks. And there's an entire aisle devoted to shoe racks — over-the-door, hanging, free-standing. Shoehorn not included.