Across the country, college campuses closed abruptly this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That sent students rushing home in a chaotic fashion, tossing belongings in suitcases or piling the family roadster high without time to do the traditional “sort and pack” that keeps belongings orderly.

Or, even worse, many students never returned to campus after spring break and therefore haven’t yet been able to retrieve their items. They’re now returning to their dorms in waves in order to vacate the room, while still social distancing. Many students stashed items in nearby storage units, not knowing when they would be able to return.

Whichever group you’re in, college kids (and their parents) are wondering what to do with all this stuff as summer approaches. Here is how to organize it, whether you’re at home separating items you hastily brought with you or on campus making one last melancholy walk through the dorm hall.

Go Through Every Box and Drawer

Remember when you were a kid and you would gleefully rush off the bus, throwing your backpack in the corner on the last day of school? There it would sit until September when your mom would suddenly remember the backpack, and you’d open it to retrieve moldy leftover lunches and scrunched art projects.

Don’t be that person now that you’re in college. In other words, don’t wait until it’s time to go back to school to figure out what you have. Take an inventory of all of your items that you brought home with you while you have the downtime, instead of waiting for the school year to start up again.

If you have items in storage, try to remember what you stashed away and write it down. Storage fees add up so you might want to keep in mind the value of what you are keeping in your unit. Writing a list of your storage contents will help you do just that.

Decide What You Don’t Need

Your first step is to triage your items, deciding what you want to keep for future years and what you no longer need, particularly if you won’t be moving back to a dorm. Yes, that dorm room décor that you so lovingly picked out probably will never be used again if you’re moving to an off-campus apartment in the fall. Ditto the shower caddy, laundry basket and anything else that screams “dorm.” And we hate to break it to you, but that ultra-cushy mattress topper probably won’t be needed either (nor the sheets). That’s because nearly every other bed in the world is a completely different size than the typical XL Twin.

There might be other items you know you don’t need or want, such as the towels that have seen better days and the dorm theme T-shirt that will make you look like a freshman if you wear it in public. Take everything you’re ready to part with and decide if you’re going to store it for a sibling going to college later (that’s a yes on the expensive matters topper!), sell it to an incoming freshman who sees the wisdom of not buying all new stuff for one year, or donate it.

Decide What You Need to Keep

College dorm packing has a second layer; there are many items you’re keeping for next year that you don’t need at the ready over the summer. That includes most dorm accessories, like your desk lamp, rug, bookshelf, coffee maker, etc., since your house already comes equipped with those. (But it is smart to hold these essentials for next year.) You also don’t need to give prime closet real estate to winter clothes, dressy items or anything that’s super college-specific. Put those in labeled boxes and take them to a storage unit or haul them down to the basement.

If you’re currently on campus wondering what to do with the “keep for next fall” stuff, it’s probably best to put it in a local storage area unless your car has a ton of room. You definitely don’t want to load up bulky items to take on a plane. Many college towns even have “valet” or full-service” storage, where they will help you pack and then haul the boxes away, bringing them back when you return.

The Big Question: Will You Return?

With Fall 2020 up in the air due to COVID-19, that’s the question on everyone’s mind. If you loaded up a storage unit full of your stuff in March and have been paying to keep it there every month, then you are probably really waiting for an answer.

As of now, some will and some will not. Either way, you will need to make a plan for your items now so you are prepared for when the time comes for you to move again.

Alexander Harris