It may be the start of summer but having had two kids go through university I can tell you that it’s never too early to start getting organized for September. It will come quickly. If you have a student living on campus in residence here is your essential shopping list.

Depending on the college or university, most first year students will secure accommodations on campus aka “residence”. Most universities have a basic move in checklist so that’s where you should start. Most residence student volunteers who help supervise on campus will offer a glimpse into what the spaces look like (via Instagram and TikTok). This will help with planning.

Residence are varied not just university to university but also from building to building. Students will either share a room or an apartment style accommodations with private bedrooms but shared common spaces like kitchen, bathroom and living rooms. Some are lucky enough to have their own room. Whatever your kid has just remember to make the best of it.

Dorm room standards usually include a bed, desk, chair, dresser for each student’s room. Know that most of the time, they do not allow any other large furniture or chairs. There’s usually limited space. A personal sized fridge can probably fit into the room. Check to see if they rent them out before purchasing one outright. And honestly, not a rush to get before move in anyway.

But don’t worry. University and college towns always have handy shopping nearby. The kids will muddle through. We want to just help minimize some of the stress to get them started. They will want to seek out the nearest Walmart, Homesense, Dollarama, for any quick shopping. IKEA is great but don’t wait till the last minute as things sell out closer to September. We also love Japanese retailer MUJI for thoughtfully designed and economical options. And hey, there’s always Amazon!

If the residence is a shared immediate space (eg. 4 students in one unit that has private bedrooms but a common kitchen, living room, bathroom) you’ll want to try and sort out communal items and not have to double up on things. Kettle, coffee maker, pots and pans for example.

Speaking of kitchen ware…most first year residence kids use the cafeteria meal plan. Again, depending on their living arrangement they might not even have a kitchenette or kitchen in their unit. Often there will be a microwave and sink on the floor to use if necessary. But if they have a small kitchen area, a couple of pots and pans, cooking utensils, knives, kitchen sheers will all be handy to have.

Here’s our best essentials list and tips to consider from our experience…


Bedding: before you go and splurge on bedding, check with the building residence on the size of the bed. Yes, they are singles but my older son had an XL single which meant it was longer than standard. We really appreciate the thoughtful details with Casper bedding. Even duvet covers has little openings at the corners so you can easily secure the ties.

Mattress Topper: the beds are generally not the most comfortable so you may want to invest in a mattress topper that gives the bed an extra squish.

Computer: obviously. Laptops are ideal as they can take them into class. Check about wi-fi connections at the residence and any additional fees.

Printer: most courses have students submitting assignments etc online. But the rare professor may ask for hard copies. Both my kids shared printers with a few students who lived within range of their dorm rooms. If you do decide to get a printer, go as compact as possible and remember a sleeve of paper.

Extension cords/power bars: if the residence is older, chances are they won’t have too many electrical outlets in the rooms. A power bar comes in very handy.

Lighting: Additional desk lighting may be included..or not. And also we found this to be a personal choice on what works best for each student.

Alarm clock: no explanation needed here

Small bluetooth speaker: there are great options out there like JBL or UE Boom that are compact speakers that sound great. Music isn’t just for chill times with friends, it can help muffle out other noises and calm down the energy when needed.

Noise Cancelling Headphones or Earphones: Sometimes it can get pretty rowdy on residence. These will help when your kid needs sleep or study.

Wifi/Data: Check on your current plan to find out if your kid’s phone is covered or if it needs to be updated.

Dirty Laundry Tote/Basket: laundry facilities vary. Our older son had one in his room while our younger one had a laundry facility in the building. Either way, they’ll need somewhere to put their dirty laundry somewhere. BTW, check the residence about laundry detergent. They will often have it near the machines if there is a common area.

Wall calendar: a write on/wipe off style is ideal. Make sure there’s lots of space to write on it. This will definitely be handy to keep assignments/test dates organized. If you forget, usually the bookstore on campus will have them.

Small message board: again, a write on/wipe off style. Just something to just keep inside the room for quick notes.

Organizers: This is personal preference and everyone finds their groove. This is one area that’s important to have your kid’s input. No clue? IKEA has a few great ideas that are economical and well made that can last the full few years of living away from home.


Some students will have a private shared bathroom for up to four people. Others may have to share on a floor so some stuff won’t be necessary.

  • Towels
  • Slides because no one wants to be bare foot on a shared floor bathroom!
  • Bathroom Caddy – to tote your shampoo, soap etc if it’s a shared bathroom
  • Bathmat/shower curtain – for those in a private bathroom and not a common floor shared environment.
  • Cleaning wipes come in very handy in a crunch! While residence may have a cleaning service that comes in once a week (or every other week), these will be ideal in between those times. We also think it’s a good idea to have  a bottle of spray cleaning solution and a few rolls of paper towels on hands. There will be times when someone might get *sick* and trust us when we say NO ONE will come and clean up in the middle of the night.
  • Hand soap if residence is private
  • Toilet paper – always have some extra on hand just in case
Family Guard

Family Guard line of cleaning solutions has a light citrus scent and no harsh smells. It also kills 99.9% of germs including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.


Invest in a kit from your local pharmacy that will have the basics. Add in Polysporin and extra bandaids. Also, a bottle of Tylenol or Advil (whatever your preference) to have handy is good. First Aid Kits are available everywhere including

Hand sanitizer is still good to have handy.


This isn’t necessary but necessary. First year in residence away from home can feel really strange and lonely. Decorating to make their space feel more comforting is important. Have them print out their favourite photos (pets, friends, family, travel etc) and remember the sticky tac for the walls (check the residence for what is allowed on the walls). The campus bookstore will also sell posters. Add  a low-maintenance plant or two. FYI generally candles are not allowed.

Also worth looking into (but not immediately necessary on move in day) is a fan, air purifier, and humidifier.

IKEA - Wall Art

IKEA is great for inexpensive wall art


  • Travel drink vessels
  • sharpie markers (always handy)
  • Lunch bag
  • Hangers
  • Food storage containers
  • Kettle and coffee maker
  • Tissues
  • Chip Clips – they come in handy for many things!
  • A few snacks – bars are great as the kids get use to the whole concept of being on their own and adjusting to a new routine.
Enjoy Life

Enjoy Life has a great range of snacks that are tasty and free form 14 allergens. Their Breakfast Ovals come in a variety of flavours and their Lentil Chips are a great options to regular chips.

Also, if they plan on doing some cooking and have the space, now is a good time to start giving them helpful kitchen tips and easy recipes. Like, clean pots and pans right away (or at least soak them) and cook enough to make a couple of meals. Start by asking what recipes they are interested in. Go for budget friendly, tasty and easy to make because grocery prices have been crazy lately! Print out some easy recipes ahead of time. Also, invest in good pots and pans that can carry them through a few years and beyond.


We’ve tested out Kilne’s Everything Pan and it’s a winner. Easy to clean, non-stick, and large enough to work with. It’s become our go to.

Now is the time to have all their medical, dental, and eye check ups done before they head off to school. Also, book your next appointments as they tend to get popular when everyone rushes back home during reading weeks and winter breaks.

Check identification cards including healthcards are up to date or don’t expire during the time they are away from home.

Big hugs and deep breaths for all the first year university and college students and families! Exciting times ahead!

What else would you add to the essential list for first time residence?