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Packing for College: The Essentials



July is ending, and your college-aged kids are going back to school in just a month. You might think of this as a sad time of year – or you might be ecstatic. Either way, you need to get your children across the state or across the country to their college or university, preferably with their possessions intact.

None of us here at Elevate are going to lecture you on how to pack a box (if you want to load your child’s Xbox directly underneath their kettlebell set, go right ahead), but there are some considerations you may wish to take into account:

  •        How far away is your child moving?
  •        How much packing material do you want to use?
  •        How much stuff do they have?

The answers to these questions will help determine how much time, effort, and expense you need to put into moving back to school. Here are a few ways to minimize that effort.

Unfortunately, There’s Not That Much To Downsize

Maybe it’s the first time your child is moving to college. Maybe you’re two or three semesters into the moving cycle and are looking for ways to make it faster or more efficient. Either way, you’re going to have a lot of things to move. The College Board has a list of exactly 100 items that your child will need on their journey to college. While some of them may be unnecessary (does your child really need “at least” four stackable desk trays?) others, like clothing, electronics, and medical supplies are indispensable.

Since you may not have that much of a choice when it comes to how much stuff your child is bringing to school, the least you can do is make packing easier on yourself. Choosing the right materials will make it easier to pack and move. Making the right choices will also reduce the risk of lowing or breaking items while in transit.

Paper Or plastic?

Cardboard boxes vs. plastic totes may not seem like much of a debate, but there are reasonable arguments for both materials. Cardboard is:

  •        Inexpensive
  •        Relatively sturdy
  •        Recyclable, but not reusable

On the other hand, plastic boxes are:

  •        Slightly more expensive
  •        Extremely sturdy
  •        Both reusable and recyclable

If your child is moving a long distance with a relatively small amount of stuff, it makes sense to use plastic boxes. They’re both more durable and more weather-resistant, so they’ll be better able to stand up to the wear and tear of moving. Another benefit? They’re environmentally friendly. Not only are they fully recyclable, but also they’re sturdy enough that you’ll need to purchase less non-recyclable void fill (e.g. bubble wrap or packing peanuts) to protect what they’re carrying.

Unless you have a big moving budget, however, it’s probably best to use at least some cardboard boxes when moving a lot of material a long way away. Place cheaper, more durable, and less valuable items in cardboard boxes to minimize risk. Alternatively, you could:

  •        Ask your child to downsize their possessions to make moving less of an issue
  •        Rent a storage unit near their college to store their possessions temporarily

A Note On Tape

If you go with cardboard boxes, your choice of tape is going to be more important than it appears. A lot of people who are new to packing go with whatever they have on hand – usually duct tape. This can be a mistake. Duct tape doesn’t actually stick to cardboard all that well, which will make your packages less secure. When it does adhere, it will usually do so well enough that it will tear the cardboard or leave residue when you remove it. This will make it difficult to reuse or recycle your cardboard boxes.

Packing for college is often an emotional experience – but it doesn’t have to be high-effort. With the right materials, you’ll be able to get your fully-equipped child on the road in less than a day. While leaving your kid might be an emotional wrench, at least you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that they’ve gone off to college having safely packed everything they need.


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