You know you are a design dork when your daughter says her future college roommates are planning on a pink and light blue color palette for their dorm room and your immediate response is “As in the Pantone colors of the year 2016?” instead of “Sounds great, Honey. Let’s go shopping.” I’m just saying that may have happened to me last week and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t judge.
Everyone is getting on the dorm room decorating band wagon these days. Dorm room decorating – like other forms of trend decorating – is big business. Target has its back to school section, of course, as do teen standbys like Urban Outfitters and PB Teen, but even more traditionally full service furniture and décor sources are getting in the mix. This month’s Better Homes and Gardens has a small feature about dorm décor from the 1962 at the very back. For better or for worse, we’ve come a long way in what is available to decorate dorm rooms. Planning ahead and “matching” with dorm mates is a thing now. There are even dedicated dorm décor websites (check out Dormify and Room 422). It’s all I can do not to pull out one of those “In my day, we…” comments. Honestly. Anyone else just go to Bed Bath and Beyond, buy some twin XL sheets, and call it a day? Just me?
On the other hand, not much has changed. BHG has it right: a dorm room really only needs a space to sleep, study, and store (although the function of a desk in a modern teenager’s room is questionable, let’s be honest). So, as a parent, how do you navigate the dorm madness?
Set your collective expectations
As with decorating with any of your kids, this is a really important part of the process. Don’t skip it. Your idea of an ideal dorm room is likely not the same as your teen’s vision. Your budget is likely not in line with your teen’s vision either. Be clear about both. Ask your teen what she’s thinking. Create a vision board together before you go shopping. Ask about her roommates. Have they agreed on a particular palette or style or, design gods forbid, theme for the room?
Remember, Mom, this is your kid’s room. You do not have to live in it. Not only that, this is your kid’s first room outside of your family home. It doesn’t have to flow with anything. It is most likely your kid’s first opportunity to express his or her own decorating style (or lack thereof, because that is also an option). If your son really likes Japanese animé, and you have always been anti-poster, now is his chance to wallpaper his dorm room with posters. Your daughter wants a tapestry on the wall or a papasan chair? Excellent. I hear the seventies are making a comeback in décor.
The more you both understand about your individual expectations and set a clear budget, the better you will feel once you get to shopping. (Need more advice with this part of the process? Your wish is my command.)
Make a list
The school has likely provided a list of things to have and things to skip. Go through it carefully. Evaluate what your child can take from home and what you will need to purchase. She’s less likely to think about the things she actually needs (comforter insert for that cute duvet cover, shower shoes) over the things she wants (fairy lights with clips for photos). Divide the list in two parts – needs and wants – if that makes it easier. I’m guessing your teen has done that exercise in school once or twice over the years. Doesn’t hurt to do it again.
Kids are also less likely to think about the fact that they will have far less space to live in than they have ever had in their life. Maybe your kids have always shared a room, and that’s great, but it is hard to prepare them for communal living with a three-foot closet that needs to store not only their clothes, but all of their toiletries, shoes, seasonal items, etc.
My daughter asked to buy two sets of towels for her dorm room when we were shopping the other day. I reminded her that one set of towels takes up the same amount of space as an extra pair of shoes or a sweatshirt. She went with one set of towels. Dorm room shopping is a great exercise in prioritizing. Your list will help you stay on task in terms of not buying things that your child simply doesn’t have space to store at school.
You and your kid are probably both a combination of excited and stressed out about her upcoming departure. Honor that. Take a break from preparing and get coffee together. Change directions if that makes sense. Make space in your list for a splurge item, something just for fun. Add a monogram to her towels. Take a silly selfie that you can send her once she’s at school. Take a silly selfie that you can frame for yourself once she’s at school. Enjoy the process, Mom. You deserve it.