Rob Puts His Foot Down About College Shopping

Rob has had to gently put his foot down, again, on the topic of college shopping. But first, I want to draw your attention to this great article HKS mentioned in the comments section of the last post: Sending Sons Off to College, and Finding Solace in a Big-Box Store. The little animation is distracting, but I found it worth it. (I held up a hand so I couldn’t see it.)

One reason I mention this is that a lot of you are on the same page as me: adding MORE items to the list, wanting to make the list LONGER and MORE COMPREHENSIVE. Like the mother in the article, we find it soothing: making lists, being prepared, Thinking of Everything. But that is not what Rob wants. When I came home yesterday with more things for his college stash, and one of those things was duct tape, he said, “What is this for?,” and I said, “…I don’t know, I saw it on a list, I’m sure it would be useful for…something; duct tape is always useful for something!,” and he said, not unkindly, “Okay. Yeah. If neither of us can think of anything I need something for, then I’d rather not bring it. If I find out I need it, I’ll buy it there.”

I never used duct tape in college, not once. I don’t know why I bought it for Rob, except that I saw a list online where it was written in all-caps. I used regular scotch tape in college, though, and he uses it regularly, so he will bring a roll. And packing tape, to remake his broken-down packing boxes when he needs them again. And scissors.

He does not want a tool kit. I wanted Paul to make him a small tool kit anyway—until Paul and I realized that neither of us had a tool kit in college. I know I took apart bed frames, and Paul and his roommate built a loft—but neither of us owned tools. Where did we get tools? Neither of us remembers. I think my dorm floor had a communal supply, or maybe the R.A. had some? Paul thinks his dorm’s desk clerk had them and you could check them out like a library book.

Rob is willing to take along all the medicines I think might be necessary, so I included even some he’s never taken in his whole life, because it makes me feel less anxious to think of him texting me with some illness that’s left him bedridden, and me being able to say, “FIND THE X IN YOUR FIRST AID KIT AND TAKE SOME.” It also makes me feel better to know there’s a Student Health Center he can go to for anything a basic first-aid kit isn’t prepared for.

He will take along the bottle of multivitamins, but he will not promise to remember to take them. I asked would he TRY, and he sighed and said yes. I accept that compromise. I will not text him every day to remind him to take one.

He does not want more than one set of sheets, or more than one set of towels. I didn’t have more than one of each, either, when I was in college: on laundry day, I put the sheets and towels in with everything else. He says if he runs into problems with this, he will acquire more sheets and/or towels at that point.

He doesn’t want a mattress pad. I didn’t have one either in college. I’m sure the mattress wasn’t particularly deluxe, but I don’t remember noticing it at all. He says if it gives him trouble, he’ll acquire a mattress pad at that point; he can certainly survive with the provided mattress until he can figure out how to get to a Target, or while waiting two days for Amazon Prime. And his college has banned some types of mattress pads anyway, for flammability reasons.

His dorm is not air-conditioned, so he will take a little fan. He will take the shower caddy he thinks is wrong (BUT IS RIGHT), and he will take the shower shoes everyone agrees he needs. If he noticed the box of condoms I put in with the shampoo and body wash and razors and deodorant, he did not comment or protest.

But he will not bring the hole-punch, even though I saw it on a list. He says he has used a hole-punch approximately twice in his life, and that in a pinch he can borrow one or cut a hole with scissors or poke a hole with a pencil; and if he finds he uses one regularly, he will buy one there. He will not bring a bathrobe: he plans to walk to the showers in his pajamas and get dressed after the shower before going back to his room; if he finds shower protocol makes this an uncomfortable or unworkable plan, he will acquire a bathrobe then. He will bring an umbrella, but not rainboots or a raincoat: “I have never worn either of those things.” (He is wrong—but to be fair, the last time he did so they had little froggies on them.) I didn’t have rainboots or a raincoat in college, either; I had and used an umbrella.

He has agreed that it seems like a good idea to bring a microwave plate and bowl and mug, and I am happy because those are HIGHLY FUN to choose: Target has a ton of by-the-piece options, and I am going to get him to agree to indulge me by considering and discussing each possibility rather than choosing the first acceptable one. So I’m glad he doesn’t know that what we all did in college was swipe some from the dining hall. The dining hall put a big empty bin in each dorm at the end of the year, with a wry note from the kitchen staff asking if on our way out we could please drop off all the dishes for a good cleaning before we re-borrowed them next year.

I’m guessing I can sneak one of those tiny sewing kits into his gear. But he is not bringing a doorstop, even though we’ve seen it on a lot of lists: he says if he wants to prop the door open, he’s pretty sure he can use a textbook or a half-full laundry bag or a pair of shoes or something.

He’s not bringing cleaning supplies, or an iron. I didn’t bring those things, either: in my dorm we had to clean our own bathrooms (in his dorm he does not), but the college had a closet on each floor with bulk custodial cleaning supplies. If he needs something the college doesn’t provide, he can buy it there. But I’m not sure what in his room he’s going to clean: a vacuum system is available to use, and the rest of the room is just cement blocks, some desks, some beds. I can’t picture him putting a careful Windex shine on the windows, or using Lemon Pledge on his desk.

53 thoughts on “Rob Puts His Foot Down About College Shopping

  1. I know it's boring, but...

    Microwaveable dishes: someone gave me a big glass Pyrex measuring cup and it was the best thing for dorm meals – many microwaveable meals are made with a specific amount of liquid, and this way you could measure, heat, and eat all from a single “dish.” Seemed weird at the time, and is not nearly as fun as picking out some at Target, but proved super practical!

  2. Jd

    My 5 yr old daughter has been uninterested in selecting a new back pack for kindergarten- she says the one she has from last year is fine. I offered a new pencil case, she picked the first one and said that was great. New outfit? She wants to wear a hand me down in her closet. I should be greatful she is happy with what she has but *I* wanted to mark the occasion of my first starting school with shopping. I suspect her college departure may be like Robs.

  3. Ernie

    I think you toss the duct tape in the car. I think last year we taped down extension cords, etc. Remember kids are lots more ‘plugged in’ today as opposed to when we were in school. I think guys in general use less ‘stuff’. I’m honestly fine with it. Since we are doing a family vacation on the way to drive Laddie out east, I’m pretty sure I will be busy packing for the rest of the gang, especially food. Lad has spent the summer pushing the envelope, thinking our rules are for the youngsters of the house. At this point I’m happy to tell him to load what he wants in the car and he can deal with his missing items when he gets out there. #exhausted

  4. Shawna

    Oh I so admire Rob for being able to say no to his mother. It shows you have a very good relationship with good boundaries and he knows you will listen and not be mad. I am 35 and I still have a very hard time telling my mom “I neither need nor want that.” plus she sulk and it’s easier to just throw it away when I get home sometimes.

    1. Blythe

      Yes! I thought this too. It’s great that he feels he can be honest with you, and it sounds like he is doing it in a nice way.

      1. Slim

        More applause for Rob and Swistle!

        My oldest is about to be a high school senior, and I thought I was doing a good job of not being overbearing about college applications, just asking the odd question (“Do you want to visit any more places this fall?”) or offering very loose advice (when he said his high school counselor wasn’t much use, I said, “We can hire someone if you want”). And STILL he said, a month or so back, “I think I can handle this myself. And if something goes wrong, I’ll either handle that, too, or I’ll ask for help then.”

        All the evidence to that point indicated that he can, in fact, handle this. So I am shutting up SO HARD, and so far, he is letting us know what he’s up to and we are continuing to shut up.

        It’s probably good practice for when I want to tell him about the wonders of duct tape and microwavable bowls.

  5. Kay W.

    “He will bring an umbrella, but not rainboots or a raincoat: “I have never worn either of those things.” (He is wrong—but to be fair, the last time he did so they had little froggies on them.)”

    This made me tear up a little.

  6. Stephanie M

    The one thing I really disagree with is the one set of towels. Just because I remember spilling things and grabbing whatever was closest to clean it up, and laundry day getting delayed, etc. I’d say sneak one extra bath towel in.

  7. Blythe

    This reminds me of when I was pregnant and I was nervous and found it soothing to shop for ALL THE THINGS on the list of baby supplies. And then after I had the baby there was a moment when I realized, “Oh, I am still allowed to shop for these things when the need arises; the baby supply aisle doesn’t case to exist because I didn’t buy it all before the baby came.”

    You could purchase and hang onto some of these items so that when Rob comes home for Thanksgiving you can make them available to him, and he’ll quietly put the doorstop (or duct tape or whatever) in his suitcase because his next-door-neighbor has one and actually it’s really useful and he doesn’t want to spend his own money on it.

  8. M

    I wish they had Amazon Prime when I was in college! At my school, freshmen were not allowed to have cars, so I had to beg an older friend to drive me to Target if I needed anything.

  9. Elsk

    I love this post so much. Rob does indeed sound sensible and also like someone who knows his own mind and is ready to go off and find his way. I agree with the above posters who say you have raised him well and that it’s so healthy that he can disagree with you. I dunno, I just like getting this little window into what it’s like to be preparing for a kid to leave for college. It seems like a foreign land to me, with my small kids, because of course it felt very different when I was the one leaving for college back in the day.

  10. Britni

    I will say we used duct tape for TONS of things.
    One roommate wants to go to sleep? Duct tape a sheet to the ceiling! Shower caddy cracks or rips? Duct tape! Seal around the window is bad and cold air seeps in during winter? Duct tape around the window! There are no limits lol!

  11. Chrissy

    I remember having to call home and ask permission to use the ’emergency credit card’ for rain boots. I went to college on the coast, and it was very flat, so when it rained the whole campus had a 3 inch layer of water on it. I had never worn rain boots before either, ROB. :)

    Also that article was so beautiful and sweet and it made me a little weepy.

  12. Becky

    I went to a college only an hour from home, so it was easy to go home every few weeks to get things that I realized I needed, like more fans (it was HOT in those dorms!) or extension cords or whatever. I didn’t have a lot of money so it was way better to go home than buy it myself. One year I grabbed my winter jacket on a whim when I was home for fall break in a October and on Halloween we had a massive, record-breaking blizzard with 29 inches of snow. Sometimes planning for every occasion is useful! I can’t imagine that Rob will be traveling home very often, but he seems to be ready to adapt to circumstances.

    1. yasmara

      I had to buy a huge winter jacket my Freshman year at the U of MN. Despite growing up in Alaska, I didn’t have a coat with a hood that was also long enough to cover my butt – we had a record cold winter that year & even had college classes cancelled, something that’s unheard of in MN. But mostly it was a factor of having no car, having to walk to class, & the crazy wind between tall buildings…in HS, I drove a lot more & would just go from warm car to warm building.

      1. melissa

        I lived in a suburb of chicago and went to college in milwaukee. I thought I was prepared, weather-wise. I did NOT take into account that I drove almost everywhere in my suburban life and walked everywhere (or waited for the bus outside) in milwaukee. I had to go home at christmas break and request a much warmer, more practical coat and boots that were not decorative.

  13. Suzanne

    This made me unexpectedly teary. Swistle. Sending hugs and love to you and all of us parents who have to eventually ket our children go.

  14. Alyce

    He’s wrong about the robe, or some reasonable facsimile thereof if he’s modest. If he gets dressed in the bathroom he will have to carry wet caddy shower stuff plus deodorant (and foot spray?) and underwear and a whole change of clothes. That’s too much to carry and store.
    Reality: robe or just boxers

    1. yasmara

      No one I knew in college used a robe & this was over 20 years ago (oh man, it was almost 25 years ago)!

  15. Chris

    Two years ago, I took our oldest (boy) to college and then last year I took our next (girl) to college. VASTLY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES. My son moved into his dorm with one massive box that included the dorm linen package he picked out himself (hunter green towels???), some toilet paper, some paper towels and some clothes he decided he needed. He also had his laptop, speakers, headphones and I don’t really know what else was in there. But, we looked very similar to every other boy moving into the dorms. Girls and their parents? Boxes and boxes that required multiple trips. They had appliances like rice cookers (we are in PNW), room decorations and who knows what else.

    Last year, I took the next kid (GIRL- very important difference) to school. We flew into the college town (unfortunately, I did not plan ahead and have Amazon Pantry/Box deliver a bunch of things) and I joined the thousands of other parents making the many many trips to various Targets, storage stores, Costco, etc. to outfit and decorate the dorm room and get her all prepared for any possibility. SHE had a first aid kit (same one from Target but I made her accept the cute red container- ha!), school supplies, a printer (totally unnecessary), extra ink and paper for that unnecessary printer, cables and chargers, rugs for the dorm floor, extra shampoo and conditioner, Tylenol and so on. She also plays a collegiate sport so I made sure she had all her various things needed for that. I was still running around when she went to orientation. By the time I said goodbye and left for the airport, I was both exhausted and significantly poorer. Later this month when I take her back to school to move into her first apartment with roommates? I am telling myself that it will be a much different experience. She is in a major city at a large university. She has a bus pass and friends with cars. She can go buy something when she needs it. And she has Amazon Prime. So do I. We already established that she can receive deliveries just fine. Beyond a bed to sleep in and a dresser to put her clothes in, this should be her experience as I have already outfitted many living spaces. Now let’s see what happens and if I stick to it!

    1. Shawna

      I agree that shopping for college has become unnecessarily complicated/expensive. BUT – one thing to consider is the printer issue. You can get a simple and decent printer these days for less than $50. I teach college and I see way too many situations in which a paper is submitted late because of a printing issue (many campuses have printers available for all students to use, but there are often long lines and functionality issues). Many assignments are now submitted online, but it’s worth considering later (once Rob knows his professors’ preferences) on whether a cheap printer might save time/stress.

  16. Connie

    I am an overplanner and it normally means I take way too much shit. Rob is right. You can always buy it there. Amazon will always come through.

  17. Beep

    Good for you for putting in the condoms.

    I loved this post. My eldest is 7, but this will be me someday. I hope my kids are as sensible and have as good of boundaries as Rob.

  18. Ruby

    I clearly remember my first phone call home in college, in which my my mom said to me, “Dad was getting very worried on the way home because he realized we forgot to buy you a funnel.” A FUNNEL.

    I did bring an iron to college, and I was one of the only people on my floor who did so. I rarely used it myself, but lent it out a lot. (I became known on my floor as “the girl who has an iron.”) I think having a communal cleaning supply closet is a great idea–not every student needs an iron, but every floor should have at least ONE iron.

    I am preparing for an international move, and I keep having to remind myself that they will have stores where I’m going. In fact, sometimes it’s BETTER to buy things once you get there–you’ll end up with less stuff you don’t need, and it will free up luggage space. (I can only take two suitcases with me, so luggage space is AT A PREMIUM.)

    1. Britni

      Yes buy when you get there especially because all the plugs will be different anyway and it will be nice to have items you can plug directly into the wall (Swistle – this also applies if Rob goes abroad in 2 years!)

  19. Lawyerish

    I am loving these college posts SO VERY MUCH. I think Rob’s reasoning is generally quite mature and sound, aside from the shower caddy thing, which we will not belabor, and of course he can get so much of what he discovers he needs after he gets there (o, to have been a college student in the age of Amazon Prime!).

    THAT SAID, I am deeply concerned about the sheets and towels situation. I mean, Rob seems to have his act together, so probably he will do laundry once a week and will include all of the linens when he does so. I am just saying, I have known more than one male college student who NEVER CHANGED THEIR BEDDING or (more commonly) washed their sheets and towels FAR LESS OFTEN THAN IS NECESSARY. So multiple sets would at least mean that SOMETIMES he would have clean sheets and towels, and if the laundry rotation goes on for too long, he will have something clean to use.

    1. yasmara

      Yeah, my rule is one on the bed/towel rod and one extra set. But my boys would never change their sheets if I didn’t prompt them (neither would my husband). On the other hand, right now they seem to think that Every Single Shower should get a fresh towel. I’m trying to enforce the New Towel Once Per Week rule.

      1. Slim

        This is inspiring me to be firmer about my On Saturday You Change Your Sheets rule, because maybe it will become a habit by the time they leave for college. Maybe?

  20. Tina G

    My son went off to college exactly ten years ago and if I recall he and his roommate (who was a friend from high school) decided not to bring duplicates of everything and shared a lot of stuff. He did get the flu in his 3rd year and refused to go to the health center which made me very anxious and mad – he missed 3 days of classes and didn’t get an official excuse so there were grading consequences. When he switched majors his second year he also lost his scholarship when his grades had fallwn6. He also had girlfriend trouble (she was at another college a few hours away) and money problems when he moved off campus his last year and his job fell through. Despite the fact that he didn’t finish his last year- we call it the Oswego curse as my husband dropped out with similar timing back in the day- I am happy to report that he is conscientiously paying his student loans, owns a car, has his own apartment and has a good paying job at 28. Don’t worry about the little stuff. Remind him to keep plugging away when its year 4.

  21. Jean

    LOL! With Thing 1, I did the same thing. He didn’t resist, though. But I was not-really-surprised to find about 2/3 of what I carefully bought and packed for him come back unused at the end of the year.

    I learned. Thing 2 did his own packing and we shopped together for the minimal amount of stuff he wanted/needed.

    If it’s not on your list – buy/give him a good power strip and an extension cord. They are definitely needed.

    1. yasmara

      The ones with USB’s on them are especially handy. This is a good one because they might not think they need it, but it’s good protection for laptops, phones, etc.

  22. Melanie

    Just send the other stuff to him in an endless stream of care packages. Cookies, cash and duct tape this week. Next week – goldfish, a screwdriver and socks. The possibilities are endless.

    My oldest was the most popular girl on her floor because she had tools. Just saying.

    1. yasmara

      I still have a hammer I got when I moved into my first apartment in college (almost 25 years ago!).

  23. Ellen

    I sent my son off to his first college apartment with many, many necessities… can openers, towels, oven mitts, etc., etc. And my son came home from his first college apartment with all of these things still in their original packaging. It is the way of things, I think. *sigh*

  24. Kara

    A large majority of the forks in my house were borrowed from either my husband’s college or mine, 20 years ago.

  25. Judith Rosa

    OMG I got my heart to start fibrillating from laughing so hard. Not at you by any means but remembering when my sons went off to college and I too put a passel of condoms with their stuff. There was no asking or telling then either. I had forgotten this.

    And, yep, I did a lot of retail therapy then too.

    Rob will be fine, Swistle. You are a very conscientious momma and even the times you might think he was not listening, he was. You’ll see.

  26. Gigi

    As with everyone else, I did the same. And the majority of stuff he NEVER USED. He’s being very sensible. But I know the mama in you wants to make sure he has everything he “might” need.

    Since you mentioned it, I will note that MC just mentioned to me over the weekend, while trying to find an Urgent Care Orthopedic place, now that he’s living in the real world he really misses the ability to just go over to the Health Center whenever he had an issue.

  27. Blythe

    Ha! My mom and I both subscribe to your approach to disaster-preparedness, and there were still things I didn’t bring that I turned out to want (and MANY, MANY things I turned out not to need– though I did enjoy them). The only “ack” moment I recall was when we had TORRENTIAL RAIN my senior year, and I got a pair of rain boots from Zappos (free overnight shipping!). Until then, I used a hair dryer on my shoes…

    Kids are resourceful and have a high tolerance for discomfort. That is a winning combo for college.

  28. Rachel

    If you’re going to be making lots of trips back and forth to the car carrying his stuff into his dorm room, bring a doorstop and then you can either leave it if he wants it or take it home for the next time you’re helping him move.

    If the doors in his dorm are anything like all mine were, they are heavy and annoying to prop, at least until you unscrew the fire safety self closing arm.

  29. Jodie

    I will say that in college I had two sets of sheets and enough towels that if mine didn’t dry, I could use a clean one. I found that putting fresh sheets on the bed while my laundry was washing was very satisfying. Also if a roommate spilled something on my bed I could worry about washing later and still have sheets.
    But I agree he doesn’t need duct tape or tools.

  30. Katie

    So, I went off to college within the last decade (and I’m technically still living the grad school life)… Rob is 100% flat out shower caddy style wrong about the towels and sheets. Here are some examples of times I was happy I had two sets of towels and sheets while living in a dorm:

    1) One time I dumped a glass of water onto my bed by accident. I used the second towel to wipe up the water and I was able to sleep on dry sheets that night.

    2) One time I had a stomach bug and was very thankful about the second set of sheets for… erm… gross reasons.

    3) One time I had a friend come visit and I was able to lend them my second towel. My friend appreciated not having to share a towel.

    I don’t mean to stress you out at all. I think this is an executive mom style “I bought you two towels… oh look they’re magically in your dorm…” moment. I brought so much random stuff to college I never used but the extra sheets and towels ended up being a very good idea.

  31. Maureen

    Once again, I haven’t read all the comments-because if I do, I forget what I wanted to say! It’s nice Rob is being low key, my daughter is the same way. One thing to remember, schools are not like they once were. Cutbacks abound, and I am going to say this again-the mattresses are much worse than they were when I was in school. My daughter has a bad back from hers, and she is too young for that! The good thing is you can check out the situation, and if you have to-do a quick Costco, Sam’s…whatever your college town has to offer- run. I guess my experience is the kids are nonchalant until they need something-and then they need it NOW. So, I would much rather be over prepared than under. And if he actually does have a laundry day once a week, that is very impressive!

  32. Lydia

    I don’t know if the mattress pad Rob rejected was the egg crate style foam kind, but I had one in college…17 years ago…(as did most kids, actually) and it made the dorm mattress extremely comfy, much more so than my ancient old mattress at home. Something you might never realize you wanted but find is awesome once you have it.

  33. Lashley

    Team duct tape! Would it help if it were one of the fun colors/patterns that exist now? No? Just me?

    Would he tolerate a package of non-babyish-branded baby wipes? Good for spills, good for freshening up on a late wake-up day, even for “dusting” if things get grimey.

    Good work on the on-going conversation with your big kid!

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