Standing in the checkout queue and Sainsbury’s I couldn’t help but notice the trolley behind us piled with pillows, a duvet and an assortment of kitchen equipment, a girl and her mother stood beside it, a tentative look of excitement on their faces.
“Ahh they’re shopping for uni supplies” I whispered to my mum, before my suspicions were confirmed by the girls mother explaining that she’s need ‘ a scrubby thing’ to clean her new pots and pans when she goes.
The scene brought back a cascade of memories and I began to feel a little bleary eyes as I remembered my own off to uni experience and being stood in nearly the exact same place with my mum 5 years ago.
Shopping for uni supplies is nothing short of a rite of passage and it’s incredibly exciting to begin putting together an eclectic mix of things to start your own little home but the expectation of what you need for uni, based on the cute online check lists, movies and TV shows, and the reality of what you’ll most likely end up using couldn’t be farther apart.
So what did I really need for uni?
Let’s just say in my first year my cute polka dot kettle with matching tea and coffee jars were my pride and joy, and by third year I was most proud of the wine stash I had hidden under my bed and the polka dot kettle was now unusable after the bright idea to use it to boil eggs had unsurprisingly been unsuccessful.
Kettle and toaster
Leave them at home. In my first year of uni I stayed in King’s College London halls of residence, I had an ensuite room and shared my kitchen with 4 other people. Not only were a kettle and toaster provided by the halls but both myself and 3 of the people I shared with had purchased our own. I decided to set my kettle up in my room (which was 100% against the rules of the accommodation) and the toaster lived under my bed for the year. It’s so tempting to buy a cute matching toaster and kettle but unless you’re moving into an apartment alone and you’ve quadruple checked that one isn’t provided then save yourself the money and buy a box of wine instead.
Plates, bowls, mugs and cutlery.
Do you need a dinner set for 4 people, no. Did I buy one, of course. I’m proud to say that every plate, side plate, bowl, fork, knife, spoon and mug from my 4 person dinner set survived the entirety of my three years at uni. How? Because I honestly only used one of each. But what about that 3 course dinner party you’re going to throw?
Dinner party…? If you do end up cooking for your friends you won’t want to be washing up for them and paper plates will become your new best friend. Your expectations of evening meals and the reality are pretty far apart and having friends over usually means pre-drinks or a greasy takeaway, neither of which require a dinner set. Take a maximum of 2 plates and 2 bowls. You’ll thank me when you’re lugging it all up the stairs to the eighth floor because the single lift is permanently occupied on move in day.
Are you a wine lover? Take a wine glass, but you’ll soon realise no one else bothers and you’ll become very comfortable drinking out of a variety of random vessels. As for glasses in general, I knew several people who didn’t even bother, they either used a reusable water bottle or drank from one of their mugs. Out of all the things you take to uni your glasses are least likely to survive the year, so if you do take them, don’t splurge on them.
Pots and pans
Alongside a 4 person dinner set I also decided to take a full set of pots and pans including a Wok. I had enough kitchenware to furnish a semi professional kitchen. Although I do love to cook and having the right equipment was important to me looking back I would have streamlined things a little. Unless you’re the next Raymond Blanc you’ll need one frying pan, one saucepan and an oven tray/dish. Washing up by hand gets boring pretty quickly and you’ll become very adept at cooking from one pan to avoid it all costs. You’ll also find that you have at least one flatmate who seems intent on using your things, especially if it looks like you have more than enough for yourself. If you need more pans for a particularly elaborate recipe then you can always borrow them (with permission), that’s what flatmates are for. Less pots and pans also means more cupboard space for the essentials – like wine.
Now you’re not taking a 4 person dinner set, a kettle, a toaster and the kitchen sink you’ll have room for the important things like food! Take as much food from home as you can carry. Food is life, and food is expensive. The tins of beans, packets of pasta and bags of rice I stashed from home each visit were my lifeblood and left me more money for the important things – like wine.
Unless you want to spend all of your student loan on ink then don’t get a printer. Having a printer at uni is like having a packet of chewing gum at school, once people realise you have one they will not leave you alone until it’s all gone. Use the library printer. Or best of all don’t print at all – you very rarely have to and the environment will thank you.
Your entire 12 step skincare routine
Whether you were lucky enough to secure a room with an en-suite or you’re sharing a bathroom one things for sure, you will have very limited bathroom space. I would love to meet the person who designed the en-suite rooms for the accommodations I stayed in because he (or she) was very considerate with their design and made it so that I could sit on the loo and shave my legs in the shower, at the same time! But seriously, the en-suites (if you can even call it that, toilet pod would be more suitable) are tiny, you actually had to remove the toilet roll before you showered to avoid it getting wet. And forget about shelf space, so pack light. It’s also worth purchasing some sort of temporary shower shelving simply to hold your shampoo and shower gel.
I think I’ve covered most of the things you probably don’t need to take but there are also a few things that you definitely should:
Blankets and throws
If you don’t want to freeze in the winter then bring at least one blanket or throw to add an extra layer to your bed. Halls of residence radiators are often time limited, so you have to keep pressing them every five minutes to keep them on. In the end I actually purchased myself a small portable oil filled radiator to keep my room at a liveable temperature. Blankets and throws are also great for making your room feel more cosy and for covering what can sometimes be a pretty gross looking communal sofa in the kitchen.
A laundry bag/basket that can be carried easily
You will often have to go on quite the expedition to reach your laundry room and so having a laundry basket or bag that’s easy to carry and won’t drop your socks and pants all over the halls is essential. On the note of laundry, most laundry facilities (or at-least all the ones I experienced) now operate cashless and you have to provide your own washing powder of pods. Pods are by far the easiest and least messy option but they are also expensive – laundry pods are therefore another of the top things you should be taking from home.
On the subject of laundry the laundromats can be very expensive. I’m talking £5 for a wash and dry. If you have delicate clothes or pristine whites then the laundry facilities at uni will ruin them and separate loads can drain your bank account. One way to make some savings is to buy one of those fold out drying racks and keep it in your room, you can then save on the drying cycle and dry non-essentials yourself. By the end of uni I didn’t buy anything if it couldn’t be chucked in one washing load – there are benefits to an entirely black wardrobe.
Despite my room supposedly having been professionally cleaned I still needed to wipe out drawers and the fridge before I felt comfortable moving my things in. Take at least a bag of disinfecting wipes with you on move in day but, as with laundry pods, cleaning products can be expensive to buy and so if your mum wants to do an under the sink clear out then take all the products that she will donate to you. Ones you definitely will need are – toilet cleaner, bleach, surface cleaner and surface wipes, a back stock of washing up liquid comes in handy too as you’ll find everyone steals it. Quickly while we’re on the subject of washing up liquid and sponges etc if you are in a shared flat then at the beginning a neat row of sponges and washing up liquid will line the sink. By week 4 a few grimy sponges and rinsed clean washing up bottles will remain. Either work out a way to share the purchase of washing up liquid or keep yours in your cupboard and out of easy reach. Similarly, if you have any care for your health, then keep your sponge away from the sink too. Some of the people I lived with never, in the whole year of living with me, changed their sponge which as far as i’m concerned should be classed as a biohazard. Change your sponge regularly and keep it away from the people who will use it and then leave it sat in a washing up bowl of raw chicken (yes that really happened).
I feel as though I could write a whole book on the expectations vs reality of university but this is getting a bit long. I’d like to leave you with one final piece of advice – Don’t panic – There’s always Amazon.
- Turns out there’s no toaster or kettle – Amazon.
- No washing up bowl or drying rack – Amazon
- No toilet brush, bin or mirror – Amazon
- Room looks like a prison cell – Amazon
There is literally nothing you could need that you cannot now buy on Amazon and have delivered by the next day. Move in day is often hectic and you will need to carry everything you take with you sometimes from a road or two away from the accommodation and up several flights of stairs. Less is more. Move in some essentials and then take stock of what you still need and place a big Amazon order to be delivered the next day. It’s much easier to buy things you forget than store things you don’t need in your shoebox room for a year.