Firstly, congratulations: you got your A-Level results and a load of 50-year-olds with newspaper columns told you your clean sweep of As and A*s don't matter "because the exams are easier these days", and "anyway, they just teach you to pass exams", and you go home and your mum allows you exactly one glass of champagne and says she is proud of you and then gets out a copy of a broadsheet newspaper with an article called "Uni Essentials!" in it and says, "Well, we'll have to find a day to do a big trip to IKEA." And this is your life now. This is adulthood. Welcome into it.
Anyway: those university "things you need" guides are essentially just glossy-spread things aimed at your mum to make her buy a load of cutlery sets and £150 duvets because "she's setting you up for an adult life", ignoring the fact that most of the things you own will be trashed, lost or broken by the end of first year. Like: here's a GQ one that says you definitely need a £22 pen. This Telegraph list says you need to take "an open mind". This Guardian article hints at saying you might want to take a cello.
Here's the deal: you need to, in an emergency, be able to get all of your possessions into one small Fiat in case you need to drive through the night to get home. You do not need anything from John Lewis. That is how university works. You need to work smart and work small. You need to be prepared for the entire rugby club to break all your shit for absolutely no reason other than they are pissed. You do not need to take more than one car journey to move all your stuff in and out. Here is a realistic list of things you need, and then a list of things you definitely do not need.
STUFF YOU NEED TO TAKE
A DUVET AND TWO DUVET COVERS (OBVIOUSLY)
You can technically get away with just one duvet cover if you launder it and dry it and put it back on in the same day, but we all know you're definitely not going do that and instead end up sleeping on a bare mattress under a bobbly cheap duvet for like six weeks before you actually do your duvet cover big wash, and in that time you will somehow conspire to spill an entire plate of Bolognese sauce on your duvet, leaving a large brown stain and just: right, no, just listen: no. Two duvet covers. Use them in rotation. Store the duvet cover folded inside the pillowcase so it takes up less room. Thank you.
A BLANKET, I AM VERY SERIOUS ABOUT BEDDING
People say blankets are unnecessary, but i. they make your bed more cosy and inviting for potential sex partners; ii. at some point in the summer your halls will organise an impromptu picnic or beach visit and you will want a blanket to take to sit on; iii. your halls central heating will fail in winter and you will appreciate my blanket advice; iv. literally nothing feels better on a hangover than traipsing through to your front room and flomping on the sofa with a blanket, and you are going to be hungover minimum of two days in every five, so you will need this. Get a blanket. Take a blanket.
You need a laptop. It is technically possible to get through university without a laptop, but buddy: you need a laptop. It's essentially your work machine, your TV, your music library and the thing you watch Netflix and porn on, and it takes up, like, zero room. If you don't have a laptop, get a laptop. Beg for a laptop. Get a used laptop. You need a laptop.
ONE OF THOSE COOL BLUETOOTH SPEAKER THINGS? YOU KNOW. YOU KNOW THE ONES I MEAN. THEY ARE LIKE WIRELESS? IDK. THEY ARE LOUDER THAN YOUR LAPTOP SPEAKERS. THOSE THINGS.
One of those Bluetooth speaker things is going make every Netflix & Chill session and every music listening event you have for the next three years like a billion times better. Plus: your mum really wants to buy you a "nice present" to "say well done" for doing well in your A-Levels, so you may as well let her drop a hundred quid on one of these.
There is always some lad who is like, "A lamp? What am I, a willy woofter? No, the sparse bare light of the university halls-issue bulb is more than enough for me, thanks," and thus lives a bizarre lamp-free life, and I ask you: can you even imagine getting fucked by this dude in the full, blaring, illumination of a halls-issue bulb? Every crevice of your body and his is lit in full HD. There is no escaping your pores, your flaws. You are young and you are beautiful but you are not ready for that. We need to make lamps cool again. If you go back to someone's house and they don't have a lamp, don't fuck 'em.
I HATE TO SAY THIS BUT TAKE A THING OF FACEPAINT
It's very hard for me to not to fall into a sort of chasm of self-loathing as I am saying this, but: students are obsessed with fancy dress, and every event somehow ends up turning into fancy dress, and you yourself – no matter how cool and cynical you think you are – are going to end up getting Bang Into Fancy Dress, and unless you want to take a legitimate dress-up box to university with you, a tray of like 16 facepaint colours can get you ready for a themed-party in ten minutes flat. This is going to make for what seems like some very cool – then, in hindsight, some very awful – Facebook profile pictures.
HEY KIDS, IT'S ME, YOUR GRANDPA! ANYWAY: BUY A STURDY AND PRACTICAL LAUNDRY BASKET
Get a decent laundry basket, because the most mess in your room is going to be your clothes on the floor. If you put them in a basket the room looks 100 percent better immediately. Ideally, find one that you can also carry to the laundrette with you. Nobody is going to fuck you because you have a cool laundry basket, but it's just going to make your life a little bit better.
A SMALL AMOUNT OF FLAIR TO MAKE YOUR ROOM NOT LOOK LIKE A SERIAL KILLER LIVES AND OPERATES IN IT
You need about four books that make you look smart, a pot plant and six DVDs (DVD cases are perfect for storing drugs in – and doing drugs off – as well as for storing DVDs, which you can watch, but let's be honest you have Netflix and know how to stream, so the DVD cases are essentially just for storing drugs in). If you are a girl you will get an overwhelming urge to put a string of fairy lights either around the head of your bed or along a corkboard that is inexplicably fixed to your wall, and just go with it. Just embrace it.
A DRESSING GOWN
If you sleep naked you should take a dressing gown for first year because you're going to get woken up in the middle of the night about six to eight times by fire alarms, and it's way easier to just bang a dressing gown on and run downstairs and outside than find and apply full pyjamas to your body while your entire room is screaming.
A Sharpie and a chalk mirror pen are both essential for doing bathroom graffiti in pubs, which, by the way, as a student, you are now really, really into.
PLUG EXTENSION LEAD THING
If I actively have to tell you to take this I don't really think you're going to do too well in a place of learning, but w/e.
STUFF YOU DO NOT NEED TO TAKE
You do not need to take condoms; they give them out like sweets at fresher's week. And plus: you are not going to get laid as much as you think, truly.
A FIRST AID KIT
If you hurt yourself that badly, go to A&E or a clinic. I do not trust you to fix yourself. You shouldn't either.
WEIRD SHIT YOUR MUM THINKS IS IMPORTANT
Your mum is going to make you try and pack like six tubes of toothpaste she bought on multipack offer at the supermarket. Do not let her pack this much toothpaste. She has, like, 800 bottles of Palmolive shower gel ready in the garage. Your imminent journey away from her has sent her into a frenzy.
Things I legitimately got convinced to take to university with me that turned out to be utterly useless: a miniature ironing board. An industrial-sized tin of dried milk. A fucking hoover.
A mini-fridge seems like a really good idea – you can keep your own butter, cheese and milk* in your own private fridge! Cold Coke cans whenever you want them! It's clean! – for like exactly one second, before you try and sleep in the same room as one and it clunks and whirrs and emits a small blue light, and sleep is just a fantasy, now, you will never sleep again; and plus, at the end of year the halls administration sends you a bill for all the extra electricity you managed to use just to keep half a thing of halloumi cold.
* Butter, cheese and milk make up the so-called "Dairy Triangle" of food that students give absolutely zero shits about stealing from share fridges, the absolute fucking cunts
If you have a laptop you don't need stationery. You can get away with the aforementioned unessential pens and some of those special see-thru Post-Its you put in books to mark the page.
A SUIT OR FORMAL OUTFIT
For some reason every fresher's guide seems to think that university is a heady string of formal ball after formal ball, which may be true if your rich dad spoke to his rich mate and got you into Oxford, but for normal people the main thing you wear at university is "a hoody with the name of your department's society on it", "a string bracelet that you think is important for some reason" and "the shittiest-fitting jeans you will ever wear in your life". If there's a Summer Ball at the end of the year and you really want to go, you can rent some formalwear then. Until then, the only person wearing a suit about is "suit guy", the fresher who, for some reason, literally every university has, who turns up and wears suits a lot, and when you talk to him he's like, "Yeah, I'm the suit guy," and you realise the suit is there in lieu of a well-formed personality. Don't let that be you.
Do not bring a printer. You think you're going to need a printer because "you're an academic now", but in reality you will use it about twice a term for a couple of essays, and in the meantime it will just take up room and accrue dust. Also: even the smallest printers seem to take up massive amounts of room because they have huge power cables and for some reason you bought an entire ream of printer paper that you keep half-open on a shelf and it keeps falling off and paper keeps getting everywhere – plus, plus: everyone on your floor in halls now knows you have a printer and is like, "Hey, can I print something real quick?" and essentially any time a big deadline is coming up your room is just going to be filled with people you half-know who can't find their vital end-of-term essay on the USB stick they bought and your printer is just howling "CHK–CHK, WHIRRRRRRR" and no: just go to the library. Go to the library to print.
A GAMES CONSOLE
Don't bring a games console unless you plan to spend the entire first year eschewing friends and just playing Call of Duty online instead, like, oh, I don't know – and I'm picking an example entirely at random here – me. University console ownership goes one of two ways: you play it, alone, in your room, endlessly, missing coursework to instead play PES, get that PES team perfect, get really good at PES; or, you're the only console on your block, and everyone is constantly in your room trying to play Mario Kart on it, even when you're working, even when you're asleep. Essentially: there is no way taking a games console to university with you is going to turn out to be anything other than a curse.
A LOAD OF POSTERS
Hey, quick thing you might not have ever noticed: posters look like warm shit. Additional poster con: putting them up requires a load of Blu-Tak, which leaves these weird little oily marks on the walls, and your halls of residence will punish you for it when it comes to claiming-your-deposit back time. If you go to university completely poster-free, which a lot of people do, normally something happens about week two of term where living with entirely bare walls is just a little bit too "we put you in this special isolation room to calm you", so people tend to tape up a load of weird cheery colourful postcards that get handed out a lot at fresher's fares, and it seems quite nice until you go into someone else's room to borrow a liquitab or whatever and realise they have the exact same postcards in the exact same order taped up, and like: fuck. My advice would essentially be "bring one nice framed print, ideally not of Bob Marley or a poster for the film Amelie".
~THE COOKING EQUIPMENT SECTION~
You need a decent pan and a decent knife. Sainsbury's have this amazing £8 knife that you can't buy online (because: knives) but if you go to a Big Sainsbury's it's right there in some purple-and-black Taste the Difference-style packaging that says "Cook's Collection" on it. This will cut most things and stay more-or-less sharp for your first year. A good glass measuring jug is useful (you can literally make Supernoodles in it then eat the Supernoodles out of it; the perfect single-equipment zero-cutlery meal). A chopping board won't hurt, but most of your halls people will have chopping boards. Your halls mates will have colanders, sieves, cheese graters. Your halls kitchen will just be a thousand IKEA-brand cheese graters, a million boxfresh colanders. You do not need to buy these things.
But you do need two pans: a decent non-stick frying pan, maybe a decent deep pan for boiling pasta, and that's about it. Other people will have everything else. A big mixing bowl is useful for things, mainly for when you buy a big bag of crisps and want to serve them in a nice way, but it is not essential. Don't bring a sandwich toaster with you. You think you're just going to eat toasted sandwiches for every meal. You're not. The first time you have to clean cooked-in cheese off a sandwich toaster you're just going to wrap the chord around it and leave it outside on the pavement for the gods.
You cannot cook. Adding dried basil to something never makes it better. The only herb you need is Nando's salt. Do not take any additional herbs.
THE WOK CONUNDRUM
A lot of university guides are going to tell you to bring a wok ("It's the perfect pan! You can cook anything in it! Wok!") but honestly: do you think you are a wok person? I can tell you that you are not. A big good non-stick pan will do that sort of bastardised stir-fry** recipe you eat for every meal to an acceptable degree. Do not buy a wok. Woks are just big and awkward to store in small halls cupboards, and already smell weird from where your dad tried to "season" it with half a litre of sunflower oil, and you do not know how to use a wok. Do not take a wok.
** A tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of fish sauce and some chilli flakes makes a Just About Acceptable stir-fry sauce, just FYI. You can literally just put that on broccoli and serve it with rice and it is a meal. You are going to really start to miss real food.
HOW MANY PLATES AND BOWLS YOU THINK YOU NEED, HOMEBOY?
Do not take plates and bowls. Do NOT take plates and bowls. You are one person: why are you taking like 32 pieces of ceramic to university with you? IKEA do these things called "FÄRGRIK" that are halfway between a bowl and a plate, and you can eat pretty much anything out of them. Get maybe four of them and hide one in your room for when everyone else who uses your kitchen somehow smashes all your crockery by December.
Similarly: take ONE NICE MUG and GUARD IT WITH YOUR LIFE. KEEP IT IN YOUR ROOM WITH YOU. That mug will see you through anything if you treat it well enough. You know how, in the army, all the soldiers really care about their guns? This mug is your gun. Don't leave your gun in the kitchen where some dude called Elliot can piss in it "for the banter" and then break the handle off "for spectacular bants".
Glasses are free if you steal them from pubs, idiot. Don't take glasses.
AN OPEN MIND
You actually are honestly going to need an open mind – I know I took the piss up top there, but I've seen the error of my ways – because students are often the most awful people on earth, and living with students is often the most awful experience of your life, and unless you're going to let all your frustrations with that turn into "leaving passive-aggressive notes on the washing up", "dobbing in your flatmates to the halls front office" or "straight up committing a murder", an open mind is really going to see you quite far. Also: if there's a shared shower, don't ever shower with anyone else's shower gel in there. A boy a floor down from me in halls got full-on arrested and put in jail for hiding a webcam in one of those. Have fun! Don't forget to call your mum sometimes!
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