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Saturday, August 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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What I learned in college: pack light, scale back

The Washington Post

Until I left for college in Chicago, I had lived in the same house in Miami my entire life. Karma caught up with me, and in the past four years I lived in five different rooms on campus.

It was too far to drive back and forth from home to school, so I was confined to two checked bags, a carry-on and whatever I bought at school.

My advice is twofold: Live with less stuff and organize what you already have so you don't buy anything unnecessary. After packing, moving, unpacking and repacking, I learned to scale back.

Even if you are close enough to drive to school, limiting what you pack will ease the hectic freshman move-in days.

In my case, the bulk of what I packed was clothes, which have a way of taking over the room because closet space is nonexistent in dorms.

To keep the mess at a minimum, I rotated the clothes by season. When I went home for Thanksgiving, I'd bring back my coats before winter began. During spring break, I'd bring sweaters home and return with summer clothes.

Before you clear out Target's inventory of portable shelving, wait until you actually see your room. Dorm rooms are notoriously tiny, and you'll probably have to share that space.

During the summer, talk with your future roommate about who will bring more expensive things, such as a mini fridge or a television, so you won't end up with two of everything. It's probably best not to split the cost of these things, because that will raise the issue of who gets to keep them at the end of the year.

While it's impossible to predict what new technology will be invented in the next four years, try to be forward-thinking in your purchases. I got a stereo, and then realized that my laptop served as both word processor and music player. I also insisted on getting a computer with a drive for floppy disks (remember those?), which obviously became useless rather quickly.

There are lots of other items you can hold off on buying until you get to campus. This is America. There's a store on every corner. You can buy shampoo when you need it.

Remember that everything in your room has to be stored, either on campus or elsewhere, or shipped home for the summer, which can get expensive. Also keep in mind that you have to repack everything at the end of the year, so as important as it is to decorate your room, too many accessories make moving out more difficult.

College is great practice for your first few years in the real world, when you might have to move quickly, and frequently, for internships or jobs. I just moved two months ago and managed to fit everything into my small studio apartment in Washington.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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