What To Keep & What To Toss When You Move Out Of Your College Dorm

Photographed by Erica Gannett.
Graduating from college and leaving behind the place you've called home for four — and sometimes more — years can be an emotional experience. In many cases, you have to say goodbye to friends that have become like family, professors that have become mentors, and the last safe little bubble before life in the real world. Given how tough this ending can be, it's vital to make the actual moving away process as painless as possible. In order to learn exactly how to leave a dorm for the very last time without losing your mind, bursting into tears, or holding onto college crap you'll never actually use again, we spoke to Ali Wenzke, author of The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness.
"In The Art Of Happy Moving, I talk about how [moving] is the best opportunity to reinvent yourself. This is especially true for someone who's moving from college to their first apartment. This is a completely fresh start," Wenzke tells Refinery29. "There was one study that showed 36% of successful habit changes were attributed to a move to a new place... I would recommend for the college student to think about this before they move so they can take advantage of the fresh start and not slip into old routines. Knowing what you want to do ahead of time can really help you get there."
As important as it is for new graduates to think about the type of person they want to be and the kind of life they want to live post-college, that fresh start isn't going to happen until some actual moving takes place. For that part of the journey, too, Wenzke has practical tips.
So many of us think of the moving process as just dumping everything we own into boxes and taking those boxes with us to the next place. Wenzke outlines a more mindful approach for college grads who are about to start adulting. "Decluttering for a move is different from decluttering just to 'spark joy,'" she says. "I would tell students to start with your heaviest items first, and then ask yourself 'Is it worth packing, moving, and unpacking this item?'" To help you figure out the answer to the big "is this worth moving" question for those large items like futons, chairs, desks, rugs, and ironing boards, Wenzke has five more questions grads should ask themselves about each item.
If you have a sense of what your new place will be like, ask, "Will this fit in your new place?" about each item. If you're in a transitional period and need to store some of your furniture for a bit while you figure out where you're going to land next, ask "Is it worth the additional storage cost to keep this item or would I be better off just selling it now?"
Another question to ask is, "Did I ever use this in college?" Wezke explains, "With this question, I'm thinking about that ironing board or other large, bulky items that are on all the college packing list, but did you ever actually use that ironing board? If not, are you really going to start using it in your first apartment?"
Finally, for those larger items, Wezke encourages students to ask, "Does this look like it belongs in a college dorm room? And, does this smell like a college party?" "This is your fresh start, a new life," Wezke reminds. "So if you have things like those bed risers or those egg cartons, things that just look like they belong in a college dorm room, maybe let the circle of life continue for those items and sell them to a rising sophomore."
After you've tackled the larger items, Wezke advises moving on to the smaller ones like towels, bedding, and lamps. These pieces have their own set of questions. The first question to ask is, "Would it make me happy to buy a replacement?" Wezke points out that buying a new toilet plunger probably won't bring you joy, so pack the one you already have. On the other side of things, however, it might make you happy to buy a brand new bedspread for your new place. Before you toss your current bedspread though, it's time for question two: "Can I live without it for a few months until you do find a replacement?" If you want to upgrade your bedding or buy a new lamp, but still need a blanket or lighting while you look for the replacement, pack the ones you have then get rid of them later.
Perhaps the most vital question that college graduates should ask themselves when packing up smaller items from their dorm rooms is "Will I ever use this again?" This is an important one because you've likely got a lot of books and papers that won't be of much use to you now that you're no longer in school. "I made the mistake of taking my law school textbooks from state to state," Wezke admits. "My husband and I moved 10 times in 11 years, and my law school textbooks moved from California to Illinois and then, I think, to Tennessee. It took a few moves to realize I would never again open up my Rules for Civil Procedure. So those are items I wish I had tossed earlier."
Finally, the last question to ask is "Does this have sentimental value?" This transitional period is emotional enough, so if it makes you feel better to hang onto photos or yearbooks, go for it.

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