Star columnist Susan Vollenweider knew she was in over her head.
The college had been selected, orientation attended, and she and her son were left with one major task: dorm supply shopping. When the school provided the What to Bring checklist, she shoved it in a pile. She went to college and figured it would be a snap. But when she glanced at the list later, she realized there was no way her son was going to bring the basics of her days long ago: an iron, DVD player and stuffed animals.
What else didn’t he need? What do kids bring now that “alarm, camera and music player” are all combined into a device that is perm-attached to said kid?
She needed help, and her son wasn’t about to offer it.
She found it in a friend who had learned the tricks and tips — and who knew, deep in her heart, that no shopping expedition is ever complete without servings from the Snack Pyramid: Coffee. Pastry. Cocktails. Appetizers.
She found it in fellow Star columnist Denise Snodell, who had been through the experience already.
Following is a journey through their adventures. The power shopping duo share their shopping adventure, and the tips they learned along the way.
Denise: A fun friend, gourmet snarfing, power shopping, and child-launching angst? Irresistible. I was impressed by Susan’s appropriate apprehensiveness. Susan lives in 816, and I live in 913, but sending a kid to college is an experience that defies area codes and evaporates state lines.
Her instincts were correct: Don’t over-buy. My family made that mistake four years ago. There’s a bulky loveseat and beautifully destroyed wool rug clogging my basement right now. In retrospect, we should have gone with the folding bungee chair and bare floors.
As I explained to Susan from the top of the perfect metaphor that is the Scheels Ferris wheel: What she buys this summer will circle back to her home every summer … and beyond. My firstborn just started his career. He’s setting up his new place sans college furnishings. I offered Susan a two-ton loveseat and a formerly-beige (100 percent wool!) carpet. She took a pass. Quick learner.
We would go off the beaten college shopping path. … So we started at Best Regards Bakery, 6759 W. 119th, Overland Park, because nothing gets done ’til Mama gets sustenance. Besides, we needed time to create a realistic, experience-based What to Bring list.
The day was off to a great start with two-for-one eclairs. It was a sign! Only pleasant surprises to come.
Scheels All Sports, 6503 West 135th St., Overland Park.
Susan: Thank goodness for the coffee-stained list. This place screamed “Impulse buys! Look! Shiny!” The eclectic outdoor statuary slowed Distractible Me, but my shopping mentor helped me focus. First up: pool noodles.
Denise: Pool noodles sound weird, yes, but they’re functional for lofted dorm beds. As I explained to then-side-eyed Susan, you slice ‘em open lengthwise and affix to the bottom of the metal bed frame with zip ties. Otherwise, teens are likely to bonk their heads every time they rush up from a desk chair or regrettable loveseat purchase. Bonus! Noodle application is a great project (read: distraction) for a parent on that emotional move-in day.
Susan: We left Scheels with a good dent in the list and rode the Ferris wheel as a reward for (semi) focused shopping before heading off chanting, “Think outside the dorm supply box” … all the way to ...
Ikea, 6000 Ikea Way, Merriam
“Wait!” Some might say. “Ikea is dorm-shopping central. Stepping inside breaks your mission promise.”
But we didn’t go in. Too many distractions. Too many puppy-butt-shaped hooks, storage options and ambient lighting. We literally shopped outside the big dorm supply box from our tablet. Two Ikea storage carts and a lamp later, we thanked modern technology.
The 913 retail mecca offers a lot, but don’t underestimate the bounty held in the rolling hills of 816. Over the river, Denise!
Denise: I’ll cross any body of water, mountain or intergalactic force field to shop with a friend.
Goodwill, 4824 N. Oak Trafficway, Kansas City
Susan: Resale shops are perfect places to find just about anything, but nabbing a specific item isn’t guaranteed. We wandered the aisles (and paused to try on jackets because … $5 jackets) and ended up with a haul of plastic drink- and dinnerware, a small frame for a family photo, a lamp and two sets of silverware. Our off-list buy: a set of martini glasses for us over-21s. No need to explain. Next stop ...
Menards, 8901 N. Green Hills Road, Kansas City
Denise: Despite its lack of puppy butt hooks and indoor amusement park rides, I thoroughly enjoyed browsing around 816. The hills do indeed roll there, but not as dramatically as Susan’s shopping cart. I thought she was a blur at Goodwill, but at Menards, she broke the sound barrier. It was an easy spot to check off the more practical dorm necessities like storage crates, surge protectors, hangers, small tools and flashlights.
Since Susan’s son is sharing a bathroom with three other boys, I strongly recommended an over-the-door, four-hook rack to hang towels, and an upgraded shower head for inexpensive luxury. Towels, by the way, should be identifiable in a terry cloth lineup, either by color, border, unique textures or monogram. Plain towels can easily disappear before midterms.
Susan: Menards had more than we came for, including an As Seen on TV section. (Ah, the siren call of Simply Fit twist boards.) We spotted many other impulse items, like clever closet organizers. As tempting as those are, it’s best to avoid purchasing them until you know exactly what your student’s closet offers. All rooms are not necessarily like the model you see on the tour.
The last stop? Since this was a college-themed day, we regrouped at my favorite restaurant for the flavors of my college years:
Soirée, New Orleans Bistro at 14121 Earthworks Drive, Smithville
Susan: JoCo has a lot to offer restaurant-wise, but it doesn’t have this fantastic joint.
Denise: Agree. Laissez les bons temps rouler a la Smithville!
Susan: Cocktails and appetizers in hand, our tablet’s data plan put the retail world at our fingertips. Luke’s twin XL bedding? A few sips and a nosh later: on the way to my house. Thread count is important, but a forgiving-to-college-living-stains pattern is up there, too.
At home, I ordered the rest, including a storage ottoman, Keurig and more organizers from Wayfair.com, Overstock.com and Amazon.com. I took advantage of a reasonably priced (nylon) area rug from a company that delivers to the school.
Finally, I’m hesitating pulling the trigger on the under-loft futon; Denise’s dire warning of it haunting my basement for years is on a brain-loop.
Denise: We need to form a futon viability committee.
That research could take a while, so for immediate qualitative snooping I asked my firstborn, “What was your most important dorm purchase?” His answer was swift: “The sheets.” I freaked out over everything, but it’s the basics, the simple things, that matter. Keep this in mind, parents. (But go for the thread count.)
For now, I look forward to another delicious meetup with Susan at Soirée. Hopefully late August, after her big drop-off day. At that point, we’ll both be official Ladies Who Launched.
Susan: When we toast in August, I’ll remind Denise that not only do I have two more kids to launch … but we both have second acts for ourselves that will need launching, too. Cheers.
Susan Vollenweider, 816 columnist, lives in Smithville. Denise Snodell, 913 columnist, lives in Leawood.
Dorm shopping do’s and don’ts
1. Eat an eclair before you shop and/or take the time to write a thorough list.
2. Realize that the college’s dorm supply list contains suggestions, not requirements.
3. Aspire to make your student comfortable, but with a wink and nod to minimalism.
4. Have the Dorm Dweller be involved as much as they want, even if that means you aren’t.
5. As you curse the weirdness of twin XL, remember thread count matters.
6. Take a close look (pinch your nose if necessary) to see how your kid lives now and shop accordingly.
7. Supply a framed family photo for the desk. Snapshot size. Not a mantel piece. Please.
8. Go for a backpack style/cross shoulder laundry bag for easy lugging; keep cleaning products to a minimum.
9. Consider allergy-proof, bed-bug prevention mattress protectors and a mattress topper.
10. Measure dorm window, get tension rod to add curtains over mini blinds, if possible. (Or don’t. See: Don’ts No. 3)
1. Over-buy. Most dorm items are temporary.
2. Purchase an expensive area rug.
3. Be the decorator extraordinaire. You aren’t living there, your kid is.
5. Shop all at once or without a list.
6. Forget coupons.
7. Shop for yourself. (And good luck with that.)
8. Go anywhere near the As Seen on TV aisle; some impulse items ARE cool — but are they on your list?
9. Linger when you drop off purchased items on move-in day.
10. Pay attention to No. 9 too much. Or do. … Oh, we don’t know. Your call.