Going away birthday gift?
July 21, 2011 2:11 PM   Subscribe

My sister is going to university in September. It's her birthday soon, and I want to get her something that will make her life easier while there. What could I get her?

I never went to uni so I have no idea what the dorms are like. It's her 18th and when she leaves I won't see her for most of the year so I want it to be a nice gift. What made your life easier while living in dorms? What did you wish you had?
posted by daysocks to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Quarters. All the quarters in the kingdom.
posted by spec80 at 2:15 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

An electric kettle.
posted by deanc at 2:18 PM on July 21, 2011

Oh! You are in England. The appropriate coinage for going to the laundromat is what I am getting suggesting.
posted by spec80 at 2:19 PM on July 21, 2011

Every university or dorm has different policies about what is and isn't allowed (and then, what you can and can't get away with). Many don't allow burning items (candles, incense, etc), some allow rice cookers and coffee pots. Some dorms don't allow you to hang things from the walls, or only give you corkboard panels to stick things into. Check the university / dorm websites for more on this.

* Comfortable earplugs, or sound-dampening earphones (no noise canceling necessary - good earbuds will block out the world, for good or ill).

* Something to remind her of home - not everyone gets homesick, but most people enjoy reminders of family and friends.

* Webcam and headphones with a mic for Skyping (and get the same for family/friends who she'll miss, if she might miss folks).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:22 PM on July 21, 2011

Quarters. All the quarters in the kingdom.

Most universities these days have card scanners that work off of pre-loaded laundry credit. No quarters required.

This was never a problem for me, but when my brother was in the dorms he had a lot of trouble with kids stealing things out of his dorm room. Might have been the difference between a small private school and a large public school--I don't know. A small (but heavy, or able to be secured to furniture) locking safe might be a good idea.

Probably what I used the most was a small, sturdy set of cups, silverware, and dishes. There was always food in the dorms, but never anything to eat it off of.
posted by phunniemee at 2:22 PM on July 21, 2011

An e-reader.
posted by Lobster Garden at 2:23 PM on July 21, 2011

Get her an ipad if you can afford one.
posted by babby╩╝); Drop table users; -- at 2:29 PM on July 21, 2011

A nice bathrobe and some flip flops for travel to and from communal showers.

Personally I could never seem to buy enough command strips which i used to hang everything on my wall from posters to clocks to mirrors and bulletin boards, and you can get hooks too . . . those things are fantastic.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 2:30 PM on July 21, 2011

+ 1 to the iPad, & electric kettle. If she likes coffee, a small press-pot might be good too.
posted by Hylas at 3:52 PM on July 21, 2011

Some interesting string-style lighting, maybe? The lighting in dorms is always crap, and a string of two of christmas-tree lights makes a nice soft light. Or maybe some interesting art, as long as it's in a form she'd be able to hang. Or there might be other decoration-y stuff she'd like. Dorm rooms can be extremely sterile.

Does she read, and will she be driven to school? A small bookshelf could also be nice, if it wouldn't be too impossible to transport, and she likes to read and is likely to run out of shelf space (I always did).
posted by pie ninja at 3:53 PM on July 21, 2011

Definitely command strips and christmas lights!

Also, um, I don't know what kind of relationship you have with your sister, but mine is also about to go off to college and I got her a copy of The Guide to Getting it On. You know, just in case.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:05 PM on July 21, 2011

Oh yeah, christmas lights are a great idea! personally i used halloween lights- they were an awesome combo of green, purple and orange. i'm sure such a thing could be found online.

if you get her christmas lights don't forget to include several packs of command hooks to hang them with!
posted by GastrocNemesis at 4:59 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, guys!

An iPad is a bit far out of my price range, and I'm thinking of donating my Kindle to her (I mostly read on my iPhone these days - easier to carry around). Command strips/hooks and christmas lights seem to be a hit - I'm definitely going to get some.

Keep the ideas coming, I really appreciate it! :D
posted by daysocks at 5:04 PM on July 21, 2011

In my tiny freshman dorm room, someone had left the fantastic, custom-built shelf modification that their dad had made to sit at the head of the lofted extra-long twin bed. I know you may not know her dorm situation in that level of detail, but that shelf was a godsend. It gave me a place to stick my water, my paperback, my phone, and it kept my glasses from being crushed. Thanks, shelf!

Those big command strip hooks are also awesome, I will agree.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:06 PM on July 21, 2011

- small/portable vacuum
- streaming netflix account (watch movies on laptop, phone, etc)
- itunes giftcard
- a really good backpack/laptop bag
posted by deeman at 6:49 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

A massive mug--Good for everything from the convention coffee/tea to cereal to applesauce to ramen to cake in a cup.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:08 PM on July 21, 2011


Forgot to add--A humidifier would be good if she's going to school somewhere that's considerably colder and/or drier.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:09 PM on July 21, 2011

Tools to:

Hang decorations
Fix small items/change batteries
Make measurements

For some reason, tools aren't usually given to young women. My brother gave me a toolkit before I left for college, and my dorm-mates were knocking on my door to borrow tools all the time.
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:05 PM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had one of those sort of mock-papasan chairs in my dorm room and I loved having somewhere cozy to curl up and read. A bit of searching on Amazon suggests that the type of chair I'm thinking of is called a sphere chair. These were quite popular dorm room items when I lived in the dorms, and encouraged folks to congregate in that room because there was extra seating available. Of course, an actual papasan would be way more awesome, but it would also be more expensive, more space-consuming, and more difficult to move around for the next few years. The folding nature of these sphere chairs is a big plus.

A gift I was delighted to get during my first year of university was a tiny (and I mean tiny, like smaller than my head) humidifier. Boy, did those dorm rooms ever get dry once the heat was on. We all kept bowls of water on our radiators hoping it would have some effect. But this was in a really old building in a very wintry northern climate, so her mileage may vary.

I agree that a toolkit is an empowering gift to give a young woman. My dad gave me a nice one right before I started university and I now use it all the time. However, I should mention as a caution that the only thing I actually did with my toolkit during my year in the dorms was put a giant hole in the wall while trying unsuccessfully to hang up a shelf. There may or may not have been alcohol involved. Perhaps this might make a better housewarming gift when she's a year or two older and moves into her first apartment?

If you wanted to go bathroom-themed, I'd add a nice shower caddy to the suggestion of bathrobe/flipflops (a big, fluffy, high-quality bathrobe is a great gift, and not just for dorm life). I had a cute metal one and I really liked carrying it to the bathrooms and back -- it was kind of like this only cuter. With a scrubby loofah thing and some yummy shower gel, this could be a pleasant contribution to her daily routines.

On the food-preparation front, might I suggest a can opener? I guess a lot of cans these days don't actually need them, but I have a particularly vivid memory of a time when I was really, really hungry late one night and all I had was a can of spaghetti-o's and no can-opener...very frustrating. But then I lived in a dorm with no weekend meals so the food situation was sometimes a little touch-and-go. Which reminds me, another food-prep item that we used endlessly in the dorms was a small sandwich press. So many variations on grilled cheese!

Finally, one of the great bonding experiences of dorm life is drinking. If she's somewhere where she's of legal age, and she's at least somewhat social, getting her some higher-class alcohol (in this context, hard liquor, or at least anything that isn't the worst beer imaginable) and a set of fun glasses (er, possibly glasses of the hard plastic variety) to drink it from would go a long way towards helping her establish herself as the center of any social circle she might choose to entertain.
posted by ootandaboot at 9:55 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does the dorm have individual bathrooms (one per room, or per every two rooms) or community (shared amongst everyone on the floor) bathrooms? If the latter, a good set of comfortable "bathroom shoes" (flip-flops or slippers in the old days, maybe Crocs now?), and nice bathrobe and a basket to carry showering supplies and etc. is a godsend. Bathroom shoes that can get wet = less chance of picking up athlete's foot too. Because NOBODY wants to clean a shared shower, so it never really gets cleaned...

Even if individual bathrooms, having a robe to throw on is a great help in a pinch.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:42 PM on July 22, 2011

As someone who went to University in England and stayed in the dorms - possibly one or two of these:

1) Something to decorate her room - wall hangings, pictures, photos
2) A nice bottle of alcohol to help break the ice on her first day
3) A DVD player and a collection of films
4) Something for her to look at when she's homesick (a photo album with photos of family and friends?)
5) A good simple recipe book. When I was a student I found it very hard to find recipe books that a) taught you the basics b) had food that was quick and easy to make c) had food that was cheap and d) had food which didn't use obscure ingredients that you'd never use again. If you have some of your own recipes you could include in the book then even better.
6) A dressing gown (I'm assuming that there will be a shared bathroom and if so, its nice not to have to get dressed if you need the toilet in the night, are going to have a shower etc.
7) A food stash that she can keep in her room for when she doesn't feel like cooking: - Cereal bars, chocolate, instant noodles etc.
posted by Laura_J at 8:46 AM on July 23, 2011

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