Town & Gown: Packing For College The Hard Way



Mattie Kahn is an undergraduate at Harvard College, class of 2015. She is passionate about social justice, sustainability, and her hair. She solemnly swears never to say that she goes to school “in Boston.”

"Eight weeks ago, I came home from a globetrotting gap year that saw me through a silent-meditation retreat, language-immersion classes, and culinary school. (Author’s note: 'Eat' and 'Pray' do not equal a 'Love' guarantee.) Upon my arrival in New York, I deftly shook out crumpled silk tops for hanging and leftover laundry for washing. 'The rest can be taken care of later!' I thought optimistically.

"I was raised right. I try to see the good in people. But at a certain point, you have to take off your chic rose-colored frames to realize this: It’s been over two months—and my unpacked suitcase is still on my bedroom floor. Can this profusion of clothes be considered installation art? At what point does this organizational abomination become a type-A’s head-start on packing up for college? While I appreciate that focused intention can be a powerful tool—thanks, meditation guru—so far, my staring meaningfully at my much-spillethed-over suitcase has failed to render it any more unpacked. Similarly, the visualization of twin-XL sheets arriving at my doorstep has yielded disappointing results.

"Last week, in an attempt to be proactive, I casually sauntered into Bed Bath & Beyond to examine its offerings. (I had been hoping to catch it off-guard with my laid-back approach.) One might suspect that after a year of flying by the seat of my romper and submerging myself in the oddities of foreign culture, a glorified errand—the unsung American pastime—would be easy. Inside Bed Bath & Beyond was a list itemizing the necessities of the average college student. It was double-sided. Somewhere between a floor-to-ceiling wall of extension cords and a mental breakdown, I flung myself onto an appealing pile of beanbags and called Friend A.

"A., a rising sophomore, is my organizational goddess. She is of the superior genus of human who owns a stocked L.L. Bean toiletry bag. The contents of her closet glow in right-angled perfection. The sight burns my eyes, like staring at the sun. I don’t have a walk-in closet. I once had an L.L. Bean carryall—it was aspirational—but on its maiden voyage, it suffered a tragic assault by an errant, loose-capped conditioner. Reprinted here, for your reading pleasure, is A.’s single-sided, three-part guide to preparing for college:

1. Memorize this: I am going to college in civilization. There are stores that sell desk supplies.
2. Bedbugs are cuddly sleep-buddies compared to the miscreants who owned your bed before you. Buy a mattress protector.
3. Decorative pillows are a need manufactured by Pottery Barn.


"I find A.’s last gem particularly validating—they are called shams for a reason. Armed with A.’s imparted wisdom, and in deference to the calendar’s unsympathetic countdown, I’ve spent the past few days accepting these essential sartorial truths about myself:

"I own psuedo-preppy metallic boat shoes and leg-shortening moccasin boots. I’m bringing both to campus.

"I once dressed up as Ke$ha for a costume party and left feathers in my hair for days. Said feathers may or may not find their way into my dorm room.

"I count my favorite scarves as dear friends, especially the cashmere Alexander Wang that I snagged—snag-less—for $25 at last summer’s sample sale.

"Somehow, come August 25, I will make it onto campus with the rest of my co-eds. I will be the one attempting to burn the dung-brown down coat that my mother insists I bring to brave the New England Arctic behind my new dorm building. Once I trudge upstairs, I’ll be faced with more boxes than are appropriate. I’ll look around and realize that maybe I harbor a serious—likely diagnosable—aversion to unpacking because an empty suitcase somehow signifies The End. For all my New York-bred bravado, even I can’t ignore the series-finale overtones of moving into college. But more likely, I’ll take a generous survey of my new, half-baked digs and think: This can be taken care of later!"