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Parent’s college-bound student guide

How to Help Your College-Bound Student Pack — and What to Do with Their Empty Room

Your oldest child is taking off for college — and emotions are running high. Both you and your child are probably excited and terrified that they will be living away from home and enjoying the newfound freedom that comes with less structure and supervision. Before summer ends and this new journey begins, your college-bound kid will have a lot to manage — packing, purging and purchasing — to get ready for a new life.

Sure, there are many lists that you can check to get your child all packed up, but it’s easy to overlook the little reminders of home that can help your child through those first few homesick weeks. That first semester away at college can be confusing and taxing on freshmen, especially if they are living away from home for the first time. Not only will so many changes be going on in the dorm, but lots will be transitioning at home, too. So while you are packing for that trip to higher education, but sure to think about what needs to be taken care of on the homefront.

Storing and Purging

 As you start to pack, your college student needs to think ahead:

  • What things will they need to use over breaks?
  • What items won’t be needed until next fall?
  • What have they outgrown?
  • What are they holding onto that was impulsively purchased, or should never have been bought in the first place?

Have your college-bound child separate the items they are leaving behind into these categories, so organizing the move will go a lot more smoothly.

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Renting a storage unit makes it easy for your child to keep their belongings secure without taking up unnecessary real estate at home. Plus, storing their things in a safe, climate-controlled place makes the moving-back-in process a lot easier, whether they come home for a summer, a semester or longer. Your child also won’t have to worry about forgetting essential items or having to make a purge decision on a sentimental childhood toy before they’re ready. Most importantly, your college-bound student’s belongings won’t get lost around the house or get in the way of repurposing the room. Storage units are also an ideal option when you have bigger pieces of furniture, like beds, desks and dressers, that you don’t want to give away at the moment, but also don’t need to use right away.

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When it’s time to get your child’s items ready to move back out of the dorm room, whether to an apartment, the attic, back home or a storage unit, make sure your child has a solid checklist and remembers to:

  • Separate their belongings from roommates.
  • Clean out out old papers, projects, binders and miscellaneous work that won’t be needed in the future.
  • Return items that don’t belong to them to the university, like sporting equipment rentals, uniforms and library books.
  • Set pick-up times for any items they may have rented, like mini fridges, washers and dryers, computers or televisions.

Getting your child organized for the move to campus won’t necessarily ensure they’re organized for the move back. However, showing them how to organize will instill them with good habits that will make every transition a lot easier.

The Vacant Room

When your college student takes off for campus life, you wind up with a lot of empty space. Maybe things changed a lot, maybe only a little. Once the empty-nest jitters settle, a whole world of opportunity opens up. There’s a lot you can do with this space. For example, you could move your next oldest child into the now-empty bedroom, especially if they now share a room with a younger sibling. You may want to turn it into a guest room for visitors, and for your child when they come home to visit and on holidays. Even though repurposing the room seems like an obvious choice, you need to tread carefully here. The idea of giving up their room, the college-bound child’s private place, probably makes your firstborn feel as out-of-sorts as the day their younger sibling came home from the hospital. Though both times may be exciting to you, whatever you choose to do with the room could be bittersweet and even painful for your child.

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Like most college-bound teenagers, your child is feeling a lot of positive and stressful emotions. Fear might be one of them, and they see their childhood bedroom as a security blanket. If your child still wants to keep their room at home, it’s usually not because they want to be remembered, but probably because it is a sanctuary from college stress.

However, deciding to move younger sibling into that space can hurt your college-bound child much less if you are honest and firm from the beginning. This is an emotional time. Explain why you’ve made this choice, and be transparent. Maybe the room is bigger, or the younger sibling currently shares a room and is ready for a space of their own. Let your older child know that they have a room in your family’s house whenever they need it, and a space to call their own — no matter which room it actually is.

Creating Your Own Space

Whether or not you have a younger child, you may still decide to repurpose the bedroom for other reasons. Either way, the first step is to clear the clutter. Maybe you want that space to motivate you to pursue a hobby or activity that you put on the backburner years ago. This could help build your self-esteem and give you a new sense of purpose, which also helps you cope with your newly-empty nest.

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In this new, free space, you can create a:

  • Second-Floor Speakeasy: Wine, beer and a widescreen TV — that’s one way you can turn your extra space into a place for entertaining and enjoying fine spirits with your friends.
  • World-Class Closet: Create a dressing room where you can take your time picking out clothes, shoes and makeup every day, and even include some spa-like pampering with a massage chair or foot bath. Adding freestanding clothing racks, shoe racks and easy-to-install shelving can be simpler than you think. You can also add panache with a spot for coffee or cucumber water. Don’t forget to make it fun with mirrors, lighting and chairs.
  • Made-for-Movies Viewing Room: Movies are meant to be savored. Turning your spare room into a home theatre allows you to take your love of Hollywood to the next level. Bring in a spacious sofa or reclining chairs, and add some dark red curtains to create a genuine movie theatre experience. Make it even more exciting by adding a mini fridge for snacks and drinks, and an old-fashioned popcorn machine.
  • Relaxing Retreat: Maybe instead of adding more to your to-do list, like sewing in a craft room or lifting weights in a home gym, you can create a space truly dedicated to the art of relaxation, of letting go. Bring in soft speakers for music and an aromatherapy air freshener, in addition to lush, comfy chairs, sofas and pillows. This can be a place for gentle yoga, reading books or creating art — whatever calls you to relax and unwind.
  • Casa of Cash: If college tuition is making you sweat, consider renting out your child’s former bedroom or putting it on a travel site like Airbnb. If space allows, you can add a fridge and microwave so guests don’t need kitchen privileges. You can also bring in an exchange student. This is a great way to bring some culture into your family, as well as continue the parenting life — if that’s what you want.

With a little planning and a lot of patience, you can not only help your college-bound child transition smoothly, but also bring some space, peace and purpose into your home.