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College Prep: Packing

As our children get closer to departing for college and we’re on the verge of losing the day-to-day interactions with them, it can feel like falling off a cliff. How will we manage without them? How will they manage without us? At the same time, they need to leave ... and there is another part of us that is more than ready to have them go.

Sometimes it’s easier to ponder smaller issues like, ”where can I find the right type of extra-long sheets for the bed in their dorm?” than to think about the really big stuff. So, let's take a break from all that big stuff for a minute and just think about shopping. Here are two typical college shopping stories:

The first is one of my father’s favorites: “We sent you off to college with a beautiful wardrobe. You came home from your fancy East Coast college wearing nothing but blue jeans and pocket t-shirts. We were horrified!”

Do not equip your children as if they are leaving for an Arctic expedition as you send them off to college.

Here’s mine: Our daughter went off to college with the casual wardrobe she’d worn in high school. Jeans, T-shirts and workout clothes from the local mall, like the rest of the kids at her high school. She went off to her fancy Midwestern college and developed an interest in expensive designer clothing and accessories. I was horrified.

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Conclusion: Do not equip your children as if they are leaving for an Arctic expedition as you send them off to college. They do not need an extensive wardrobe to take with them, even though they may insist they do. Their taste can change radically within a short period of time.

As you might recall from your college visits, dorm rooms can be very small and it may be difficult to find places to put a wardrobe that was easily contained at home.

I distinctly remember the struggle we went through to find another crevice in the closet to cram one of the seemingly endless pairs of jeans my daughter brought to her freshman dorm (yes she dressed casually, but she also shopped voraciously for those casual items!).

Despite your child’s possible belief to the contrary, there actually happen to be clothing stores in many college campuses in this country where he may purchase his own items of clothing and other necessities. There are even ways that students can get to those stores without their parents or a car.

Many colleges have group outings during freshman orientation to a nearby mall or big box retailer. These end up being social and bonding occasions in addition to their practical usefulness. In fact, a former patient of mine who went to a state school in a rural area told me that the main social hangout on her campus was the local Walmart.

When it comes to dorm rooms, schools vary in terms of what they provide. Some rooms have hangers, some don’t. Don’t buy your darling a room-sized rug before you know for sure that the room isn’t carpeted already.

If you have a son, consider minimizing your investment in sheets. We sent our son off with two sets of sheets his freshman year. He rotated them in the following fashion: One set was for his freshman year, and the second was for his sophomore year. At that point there was no longer the possibility of rotating them again so they went in the trash.

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Also, you may be more interested in this process than your child. If so, try as hard as you can to disengage. I know that’s not easy. It may be hard (this applies again especially to mothers of boys) to understand why they have not contacted their roommates before they get there to figure out how to furnish their room. The prospect of sending them off with no bedspread, window coverings, etc. may be hard to take.

Remember, you won’t be living in that bare room. They will, and they may not mind it at all. If it does bother them that much, they’ll do something about it. This is Responsibility 101, one of the main benefits of college.

One of the benefits for you is having them out of your house: What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you. Their messy and/or barren room won’t be in your house. It may not even be in your state!

Here’s another of my father’s favorite stories to illustrate that point: My parents visited my brother at college over a parents’ weekend. Being people who valued neatness and order, they were shocked at the mess they encountered in his room.

While trying to keep their emotions under control a friend from down the hall came by to say hello. He said, “Hey Jim, I see you cleaned up your room for your parents!"

RELATED: Emptying out Your Nest

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