Thu. Jun 13th, 2024


     Living away at college, I’ve invested in more than just an education and everyday learning experiences. I’ve invested in everyday supplies. 

     Shopping was never on my to-do list. I grew up learning the difference between wants and needs of basic items. I also grew up shopping in my sisters’ closets for clothes, borrowing from them, instead of purchasing my own dress clothes. If they ever needed a t-shirt, I had plenty. I did a check-out process with them. Need black dress pants and a nice shirt for a high school speech? It’s in their closet, down the hall from my bedroom at my parents’ house. Need a formal dress? Check the attic for a dress my sister bought for a high school dance. Convenient. 

     The years away from home to be at school may explain why I joke about living with my parents until I’m 30-years-old. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sense of freedom that is granted. However, I officially would no longer take for granted the smallest items in my household. 

     Living on-campus has better prepared me, and I’m sure most students, for living on my own and for being professional, even in simple aspects about how we dress. 

     Freshman year, after I unpacked my belongings, I had plenty of room in my closet, space under my bed and bare walls. Now years later with the same amount of space in my room, I think I need a slightly bigger closet, I fill up every storage space possible, and I even decorate the walls. Still feels like home. 

     I recall my speech class being the first of many reasons for me to purchase more of my own clothes to wear. I couldn’t always borrow clothes, though it’s still an option from time to time. My professor required we dress up for our four speeches. At the time, I had two pairs of heels, one pair of dress pants and two collared shirts. The rotation wouldn’t add up. The time for shopping came. 

     Even with the amount I bought over time, my wardrobe racked up, though my total spending didn’t have to. Just like finding deals of 10 cents for a pack of note cards, I could find ‘buy one get one half off’ deals at clothing stores. I collected hand-me-downs from my sisters and friends. One year a group of my friends hosted our own swap-shop in which we exchanged clothing. 

     When first I came to college, if I didn’t pack clothing or other items, I simply didn’t have it. If I didn’t own it, I wouldn’t have it. My new bedroom was a 45 minute drive from my sisters’ bedrooms and closets. That drive would explain why I have doubles of items: one to leave at home and one to leave at school. 

     I should have realized when I went shopping for school supplies that I would need to purchase my own clothes and miscellaneous items.  Other than picking up a few notebooks from a store, I haven’t been school supply shopping since my elementary years. At home, anything I needed could be found in the other room. Open the cabinet; we had every supply neatly organized. At the store, I had to start fresh. 

     My empty cart was suddenly full of rubber bands, stacks of note cards, a handful of paperclips, two packs of highlighters, colored folders and notebooks, tape dispenser with refills and a stapler. It didn’t end there. My sister, now a college graduate, handed me a pack of staples and a mini stapler. Being a college student, she knew how handy that would be to carry in my schoolbag when the resource staplers are often found empty. 

     A sense of reality hit when I could no longer see the bottom of the shopping chart. 

    I knew I would be in a new place I call home and my family wouldn’t be in the room next door. Reality set in when I noticed the little things. I didn’t gain the freshman fifteen, but rather lost the weight, when I only eat at meals and didn’t snack throughout the day or night. 

     I wouldn’t have the refrigerator from home with drinks, snacks and meals. Actually I didn’t own a mini fridge, so I wouldn’t have that at my home in West Chester. My first semester my only snacks were a chocolate assortment I got for my birthday, and by the end of the semester my parents bought me a finals week survivor kit from RHA. The following semester I bought junk food and my parents supplied me with goodies again. It looked like I had a treasure chest full of snacks. During that first winter away at school, I discovered how much I love Ramen soup. 

     With every year of school, students learn how to pack and appreciate what they have. My nice sweaters have replaced my hoodies. The smallest to largest parts of college can prepare you for the future. It could involve dressing up for an interview, class, extracurricular event or meetings. It could be as simple as changing your dialogue from asking ‘what’s up?’ to ‘how are you?’ for the appropriate setting. 

Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fifth year student, majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at

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