College Life: Back-to-school basics

As students everywhere start preparing to head to college this fall, I want to talk about the art of small-space living. College students are a demographic that have particular stock in simple living, as does anyone with more possessions than space. Whether it be a 500 square foot downtown studio apartment or a shared room with a sibling, it can be difficult to live in a space the size of a dorm room.

Most students arrive at campus for the first time, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with a minivan containing all of their worldly possessions. This is great until they are affronted with a dorm room approximately the size of a large closet.

If this sounds like it could be you, here are a few basics for maximizing your living space. I want to begin with an obvious tip:

Reassess your stuff.

The best way to fit your stuff into an itty-bitty space is to have less stuff. Only take the essentials with you. You shouldn’t abandon all of your trinkets at your parents’ place, either. Photograph and get rid of the napkin from prom and donate those t-shirts from your middle school musical to a local charity.

If your dorm room is a suite and has a kitchen, do you really need that mini-fridge, toaster oven, and microwave? Are any of your roommates bringing those items? There is no sense in having three blenders, even if you really like smoothies.

Take advantage of movie and music streaming services and let go of your CD and DVD collections.

Unless you are in the business school, do you need that suit?

Do you really need that commemorative Coors Light bobble-head, under any circumstance?

Even if you follow this advice, be prepared to bring a lot of things home for Thanksgiving break. Good luck to everyone heading off to school in the fall and stay tuned for more back-to-school tips.

College Life: Invest in a laptop

Today we present Intern Julia’s third installment in her series on back-to-school preparations.

Have you ever lost a notebook or a folder the day before an exam? Do you find yourself recycling pounds of notebooks at the end of the semester? Is there always that one irritating classmate who never goes to class, and then shows up before a test begging for you to Xerox your notes for him?

Taking notes on your laptop eliminates all these problems. If you make sure to backup all your files on an external hard drive or online storage system, you’ll never have to worry about losing your notes at the last minute. You’ll save trees, and you can say goodbye to spirals that eventually warp into wicked metal spikes that get tangled together and slash up your Ultimate Frisbee hand. You also can e-mail the irritating kid your notes, and, in the college bartering system, now he owes you a good turn if you ever happen to miss class yourself.

A laptop at school also eliminates the need for a physical CD collection and a phone in your room with the help of services like Skype. You also can set up an account with Picasa or Flickr and keep all of your photos online instead of littering what little surface area you have.

Get yourself a good lock for your laptop for when it’s in your dorm room, and choose one that is light so that it’s easy to carry with you. A cord that is at least five feet long is also good because you’re not always going to have a fully charged battery and you won’t want to trip people coming into class late. I also suggest that you buy a major brand of computer so that it will be simple to find someone to help you when you inevitably run into technical problems.

Finally, be sure to check out The Unofficial Apple Weblog’s article “Back to School: collecting and organizing information” for many great programs to keep your work organized this year. A number of the programs mentioned in the article have PC counterparts, so don’t be fooled by the site name. The article is a must-read roundup.

College Life: Making your dorm room livable

Today we present Intern Julia’s second installment in her series on back-to-school preparations.

Most everyone, college student or not, has periods in life when we have more stuff than space. Beyond the obvious solution of vastly reducing the amount of stuff you have, here are more ideas for making do with the space you have.

Shelving: Most dorm rooms don’t come with it, and with a minimal amount of square footage to work with you want to utilize as much vertical space as possible. If your college allows you to put nail holes in your walls, I highly suggest floating shelves for your lighter possessions. Otherwise, go for a tall, cheap bookshelf, and use it for everything from books to files to your shower caddy. If you can’t afford a cheap bookshelf, never underestimate the power of the classic plank-and-cinderblock construction.

Loft Your Bed: If your school will allow it, lofting your bed is another great way to maximize space in your dorm room. Some colleges provide beds that can be lofted on their own. If not, you can buy a lofting structure that supports your bed on a metal frame. You can tuck your dresser or desk under your lofted bed to free up some floor space.

Store Information Digitally: Most colleges encourage students to have laptops, and digitally storing your information is a great way to combat clutter of all kinds. First of all, invest in an external hard drive. And, no matter what, make sure you buy a light laptop you can lug around easily.

Feel welcome to read and add more space-saving advice in the comments.