Once the college dorms clear out for summer break, all of the laundry, sports equipment, bedding, school supplies and other items are headed right back home to your house! Your child may have left home in the fall organized, fresh and new, but they are often returning jumbled and soiled after the haphazard dash to move out and stuff the car full to head home for summer.

Of course things will have multiplied by the time the school year is finished. You’re not only getting everything back, you’re getting more. Lucky you! If your kid is not the organized type, you may even find some empty pizza boxes and soda cans among the returning items.

The first thing to do is to unload the car into an open space, such as the garage. Do a quick sort and pull out anything dirty. Clothing can go right into the wash. Trash can get tossed. If you have a large volume of dirty clothes, consider taking it all to a commercial laundry and use the large machines to save time and manage the bulk. At the same time, towels, comforters and other large bedding can be washed there.


Any items such as small refrigerators, microwaves, coffee pots, toaster ovens, etc., should be cleaned thoroughly and left in the garage or basement. There’s likely to be sticky and splattered food residue on these things and cleaning them up right away will avoid a more difficult job at the end of the summer (and bugs!).


Unpack boxes or bins containing liquid items such as shampoo, laundry detergent, nail polish remover or cleaning products right away. These things can leak and cause a mess, especially if they are open and weren’t packed carefully. Integrate supplies like this back into the household rotation for the summer and purchase new for the trip back in the fall.

Rugs & Decor

If rugs or small upholstered items come home, choose a dry, sunny day to air them outside. You can stain treat and freshen them before storing them inside the house. This is especially important if your kids have roommates at school. The more kids using something, the more likely it is to be soiled and/or stained. Inexpensive indoor/outdoor rugs are the option for dorm rooms. They can literally be hosed off with soap and water and air dried.

Decorative items that went up on dorm walls should be stored in one area of their bedroom if they are returning to school with them in the fall.

Finding the Space

I worked with a client’s daughter every year to get her off to school and organized back home for the summer. She was an ambitious student and worked every summer at an internship that would begin immediately in the summer and end just a few days before she returned to school. So, she had little time to pack and unpack, and no time to organize.

To help her function at home, we immediately unpacked all of her clothes and shoes and put them away. We kept a list of the things she would need to pack up again for the fall. It’s best to keep most of the items that won’t be used all summer in one place, but if that’s not possible, a running list is a good idea. She loved decorating her dorm space and every year she acquired more stuff to bring back and forth. After her freshman year, we designated a space in one corner of her room and left two large bins open so she could continuously add the things she wanted to take back to school.

If space is an issue or your child attends school a plane ride away, I recommend renting a temporary off-site unit for the summer near where their school is located. This way, they can clear out their dorm and take only a minimum amount of items home. The space could be as small as a closet, as long as it fits their stuff.

A great solution is to keep items in usable storage solutions such as stacking drawers or under bed bins. The kids can keep the items in the containers all year and then transport them home and store them without having to unpack and re-pack them. This can work for their entire college duration if you choose the most suitable options. For example, a set of stacking drawers can keep small clothing such as underwear and socks organized and function as a bedside table. When the drawers come home, they can be easily transported and used in the same way in their rooms. Under bed bins can hold shoes, clothing, school supplies, etc. in tight dorm rooms and provide storage in the very same way at home.

It’s a good idea to review the items that come home from school with your kids especially after their first year. There may be things that went unused. In that case, those items can be put to use in the house or eliminated if they will never be needed.

Now, it’s up to you whether or not you want to put your kid to task doing all these things, help them, or just do them yourself and get it done. Either way, your college student will be organized and ready to go back to school in the fall.


Sarah Buckwalter

Certified Professional Organizer®

Sarah Buckwalter is a Certified Professional Organizer® with over 18 years of experience in home, move and office organization. She is the founder of Organizing Boston. Organizing Boston is the largest professional organizing firm in New England and was awarded Best of Boston Home™, Best Professional Organizer.

Nationally recognized as an organizing industry expert, Sarah shares her expertise through speaking, writing and on television. She is a regular guest blogger for nationwide companies and has appeared several times on the hit series, “Hoarding: Buried Alive” on TLC.

Sarah also runs Organizing U. Organizing U is an online training platform focused on business development, to help Professional Organizers and small business owners achieve their dreams of success.