8 things you don’t need (and what to get instead)

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It’s back-to-school season, which means that everywhere you turn for the next few weeks, you’ll be slammed with lists from shopping experts telling you what you have to buy. From new clothes to cute kid-friendly supplies, back-to-school roundups are chock-full of products that are supposedly essential for getting the school year off to a great start, and this is especially true for those headed to college in a couple of weeks. 

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Compared to elementary school or high school, college is a whole new ballgame because dorm living is the first experience many students will have living on their own. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and to panic over what to bring, especially if you’re a first-generation college student headed into your freshman year.  

But here’s the reality: Most of those so-called college dorm essentials you’ll find in shopping roundups aren’t actually that vital. If anything, they’re just encouraging you to buy overpriced appliances that won’t truly serve you any good. Below are eight commonly referenced back-to-school products you probably think you’ll need for dorm living that aren’t necessary at all, plus eight products that you should definitely grab instead. 

1. A daily planner 

The 4th generation Echo Dot is both affordable and stylish for any home—or dorm room.

Daily planners can be incredibly useful for managing everyday tasks, but let’s be real here, too. In college, you’ve got so much to keep track of between your student ID, your laptop, your books, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Do you really want to add a daily planner to that list? We think not. 

Enter the Echo Dot (4th Generation). As our favorite affordable Amazon smart speaker, this little gadget is a great option for anyone who wants to jam out to a Spotify playlist while they’re supposed to be, ahem, “studying,” but it actually does a lot more. You can use it as a smart assistant, set alarms and reminders for tasks, and tackle a variety of other tasks.

Get the Echo Dot (4th Generation) at Amazon for $44.99

2. A printer

You don't need a personal printer in college—just grab one of these flash drives instead.

Between research papers and course readings online, the number of times you might need to print off documents in college can seem vast. But the truth is, most colleges and universities offer printing services in the campus library.

Rather than shell out money on a big printer, you can save a bundle by just investing in a good flash drive, like the top-rated Samsung Bar Plus. Nearly 35,000 Amazon shoppers swear by this ultra-portable device and give it a 4.7-star rating on the site, and you’ll have plenty of storage options, as it’s available in 32 gigabytes (GB) and up. It beats finding space for a printer on your already crowded desk, that’s for sure.

Get the Samsung Bar Plus at Amazon from $7.99

3. A coffee maker  

The good travel mug could end up being the workhorse of your college years, in ways a coffee maker just isn't.

Keurigs and other single-serve coffee makers might seem like a fantastic investment for students who are on-the-go and short on counter space, but in actuality, coffee makers aren’t necessary at all when you’re on campus, because you can usually get free, fresh java in the dining commons. 

Instead of investing in a coffee maker (and worrying that your roommate might break it when you’re not around), consider grabbing one of the best travel mugs we’ve ever tested, the Contigo Autoseal West Loop. This mug has a 4.7-star rating and more than 110,000 positive reviews on Amazon, and our own testers found that it’s nearly leak- and spillproof, and kept coffee at a steady 150 degrees during an extended car trip. 

Get the Contigo Autoseal West Loop Vacuum-Insulated Travel Mug at Amazon from $19.13 

4. An air conditioner

The Vornado 660 was the most powerful fan we tested, producing high speed wind even at a distance.

Chances are, it’ll still be warm out during the first few weeks on campus. You might be tempted to grab an air conditioner to help ensure you’re not sweating up a storm every time you head back to your dorm.

However, installing an air conditioner isn’t a great idea, as you have to consider your roommate’s comfort level, as well as the potentially difficult logistics of fitting one into your window in the first place. Instead, a good fan like the Vornado 660 (the best we’ve ever tried) offers tremendous air speed and volume, can maintain a breeze over distances, and at around $100, is a fraction of the cost of most air conditioners.

Get the Vornado 660 at Best Buy for $99

5. Extra bedding

When it comes to college bedding, more isn't necessarily better, but better quality goes a long way.

When it comes to planning out your college shopping list, certain sleep products—a set of Twin XL sheets, a new comforter, pillows—are all must-haves. One thing you don’t want to do, however, is stock up on extras, because you’ll have limited space in a dorm to start with.

Instead, just make a point of buying really good quality bedding in the first place. The brushed-microfiber Mellanni sheet set is one of our favorites and you can choose from a wide variety of colors in the Twin XL size. For the best comforter money can buy, we’re big fans of the Linenspa all-season down alternative quilted comforter, which is made with a soft microfiber material and is also available in the Twin XL size.

Last but certainly not least, you can snag a two-pack of some of the best pillows we’ve ever tried, the Beckham Hotel Collection gel pillows, for an extremely affordable price—just $39.99, or about $20 per pillow—on Amazon.

6. A Blu-ray player

Stream your favorite movies and shows with this simple stick.

Grabbing a TV for your dorm is a good idea, especially if you’re a movie lover. But you probably won’t be bringing a library worth of Blu-rays to your dorm, especially if you want to conserve space. That means a Blu-ray player—while definitely a great investment in general—probably shouldn’t be high up on your list of dorm room essentials. 

A better option is to grab a streaming device, as it’ll help you stay connected to Netflix, Hulu, and every other streaming platform you love at home. While the Roku Ultra and Google Chromecast are great choices, the Amazon Fire TV stick 4K is an excellent choice if you’re looking for an affordable stick-based device.

Unlike the Roku Streaming Stick+, the Amazon Fire TV stick 4K has a superior search functionality, which allows you to search for titles across all platforms simultaneously. While it does tend to favor Amazon Prime content, this stick works well with Alexa and is—in my personal opinion—the better choice for streaming. 

Get the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote (2019) at Amazon for $39.99

7. A vacuum

Forget a vacuum or other heavy cleaning supplies—a Swiffer WetJet will suffice for most college students.

A vacuum cleaner is an essential household item to have in almost every instance—except when you’re living in a dorm room. The reason being, most dorms aren’t actually carpeted anymore (unless you bring an area rug), so lugging a big, heavy, high-powered vac just isn’t necessary. If anything, it’ll take up valuable space and become something that gets covered in dust anyway.

For most college students, a Swiffer WetJet is probably all that’s needed to keep floors looking mostly clean. It’s our favorite mop and is virtually ubiquitous in most homes. Plus, it’s easy to use, cheap to maintain (important for college students), and could be easy to store underneath a bed or in a closet. 

Get the Swiffer WetJet Floor Mop Starter Kit at Target for $22.99 

8. Dinnerware

These storage containers can be great for keeping snacks and food from the dining commons fresh.

Some folks will tell you that grabbing cheap plates, bowls and cups is a good idea if you’re headed to college, but that’s incorrect. Most students—especially incoming freshmen—won’t need to do much cooking in the dorms, so all that dinnerware will just end up going unused.

Food storage containers, on the other hand, are a way better investment because they offer a convenient way to store snacks. Also, if you want to grab some food from the dining commons for later on while you’re studying in your room, having storage containers on-hand can make your life so much easier. Our favorite plastic containers are from Rubbermaid, and this 42-piece set comes with containers of all sizes, so you’ll get everything you could possibly need and more.

Get the Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids Food Storage Containers, 42-Piece Set at Amazon for $31.49

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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