{ Cardboard Box Season }

I've been thinking a lot about seasons lately. Part of this is my growing fascination with plants, domestic and wild: as a novice gardener and forager, I am learning to divide my year into planting time and weeding time, spring greens and summer flowers time. I will return to Oberlin in the rich, full belly of harvest time, and reap many of the seeds I sowed.

It's already squash and zucchini time, and I just got around to reaping the benefits of the long summer pesto season, reducing our basil bushes to shadows of their former selves. My watermelons are round and growing heavy. The Joe-Pye weed is tall and proud in the meadows, the goldenrod gilding the roadsides; some of the sumac berries are already ripe. The year is waning as the plants prepare for snow. But my own year is really just beginning, as my time in Connecticut draws to a close and I prepare to move back to Ohio.

You might be, too. If you're a first-year, you just received your housing assignment, and if you haven't shopped already, you will now. Returning students probably have the essentials, and many of us have already begun to collect the boxes that will ferry our belongings back to Oberlin. I like to think of this as cardboard box season; like lingonberry season, it happens twice a year. Beware what you buy during shopping season. You will need boxes for all of it.

I should know: I have seventeen. I often wonder how this happened. On its own, each box seems perfectly sensible — it's hard to believe they add up to this:

This pile is all the stuff I didn't unpack. The clothes and books that I did unpack probably fill another few.

I have at least three boxes of books, due to their disconcerting ability to multiply on my bookshelf, and a few more boxes of clothes for all seasons. I have bunny supplies for my rabbits, who live with me during the summer and kind friends during the year. (I also have the bunnies themselves, of course, who take up two seats in the car and tremble all the way there.) But a few of my things are just silly. I have a whole box of fleece that I haven't made hats out of yet. It has travelled Route 80 with me at least three times.

I have a complicated relationship with stuff, and after a few years in the Oberlin salad bowl, you might too. Oberlin has only exacerbated my pesky habit of thinking about things. One view on where stuff comes from and where it goes is illuminated in the Story of Stuff (and its transcript), which is well worth the look if you haven't seen it. The CliffsNotes version: we make our stuff in a linear process on a finite world which will run out of resources eventually. Worse, the process is less like an orderly line than a leaky sewer pipe, spewing toxins all along the chain. Not going to work in the long run.

Obviously, the answer isn't "don't use stuff." As heterotrophs1, we can't choose not to. And using only biodegradable stuff is not feasible for most people, either - I'm typing this blog entry right now, after all, and you're reading it. Although I wouldn't say I needed to bring a computer to school, I certainly wanted one, and it's made life easier in a thousand tiny ways. I love having tools, and I love being able to cook. You might be light-years ahead of me, using measuring spoons you made with a burnt coal and a desk lamp you scavenged last April, but if not, you will probably need to buy some things before you come.

So what would I recommend for the stuff-conscious Obie? Here, for your first cardboard box season, is a list I wish I'd seen. For a more succinct one, check out the Oberwiki list. If you're like me, though, you'll want more than one source of information. And the more the better.

This list is biased towards, well, people like me. It's not written especially for OSCAns, but there are notes for OSCAns scattered throughout. It also assumes you are coming in a car. If you have to fly in, many of the items can be bought in town at Ben Franklin (the general store) or Watson's (the hardware store). There's a Wal-Mart outside of town, but the difference in price is worth paying.2

What to Bring

Weather gear. This can wait until fall break if you're short on space, but October can be treacherous, so it's helpful to at least have the basics with you now. I get along just fine with a medium-weight winter jacket, gloves, a hat and a couple of scarves. It does get very snowy here, but you don't need to be outside for very long, and if you do enjoy the lovely winter woods, layers are your best bet anyway. My winter jacket is light enough to double as a rain jacket, but a separate one wouldn't be a bad idea. Gloves that are waterproof are very helpful during snowball fights.

Get boots you love. You will wear them a lot. Mine are big snowboots; I take the liners out and they become rain boots. I would recommend a separate pair for most people, who seem to prefer that their shoes fit. But if the weather is too warm for snowboots, it's warm enough to go barefoot, right?

A love writ large on dusted snow: one of the many uses of quality snowboots.

Clothes and bedclothes. Obviously. A note, though: most people's laundry schedule is determined by their supply of clean underwear. Plan accordingly. There are some equally obvious things that I don't need to mention. You'll think of them. (Or your parents will.)

Detergent. No one likes people who steal detergent in the laundry room (although most of us have done it, me included). If you live in a co-op, Dr. Bronner's will be provided for your use. Even so, you might want to bring shampoo and conditioner if you have a favorite brand; otherwise, you can pick stuff up at Ben Franklin's once you're settled. Soap is nice too. Your hallmates will thank you.

Quarters. Lots of quarters. Not only will you be able to do laundry at will, so will your friends. Your bank will give you quarters for cash if you set up an account in Oberlin, but it can't hurt to bring a roll.

A bandana, if you are OSCAn, is a must-have. Bring two; you can wear them in the kitchen instead of hairnets. Even if you're not going to be hanging out in an industrial kitchen, bandanas are useful for everything from improvised tails to apple picking.

My friend Krissy took this photo of Peter and me after our first successful co-op meal. Peter went on to be Keep's Head Pizza Cook and then one of three at Harkness. I went on to own several more bandanas.

Basic tools. It's nice to have a screwdriver body with several different attachments. This is useful for everything. I've heard of people using it for various heinous deeds, such as detaching the arm that slams your room door so that you can leave it open invitingly. It used to be helpful for roof access, too, and may still be in some places. I have never done these things, nor has anyone I know, nor do I recommend doing them under any circumstances, but a screwdriver is a wonderful thing to have. I have repaired several electronic doohickeys with mine. If you have a PC and a little bit of confidence, you might want to pick up a whole miniature set.

I have also been happy to use and to lend my pliers, wire cutters, and wrench. I would recommend buying a small combination kit, writing your name on everything, and lending tools freely: you might get cookies in return.

Duct tape and packing tape are both in high demand. You can buy them in town, but if you have a roll around, you might find a use for it the very first day.

A small sewing kit is good to have even if you don't know how to mend. I have no idea how to mend, but somehow I've fixed up most of my pairs of pants and a few hoodies as well. Sewing buttons is easy, too.

A sharp pair of scissors is invaluable. Put your name on it! I've lost three pairs.

A camera is fun to have — I wish I had taken more pictures. There's no need to get fancy if you're just a casual picture taker, but do pay attention to the quality of the pictures it can take indoors at night — that's when I have the most picture-worthy moments, like this one:

Ben Hanna took this last Halloween. I'm in the fox mask, being saved from some nefarious logger chap by Hayley, dressed as Ben.

A whiteboard. You can use it as a message board on the outside of your door (or the inside, in case you and your roommate keep different schedules or have taken a vow of silence) or as a calendar. I've enjoyed mine immensely, as have my hallmates.

An alarm clock and a fan are both useful — don't buy a window fan until you see your room, as many windows can't accommodate them. To power these gadgets and a handy non-halogen desk lamp, you'll want a power strip and possibly a grounded extension cord. (If you don't have an extra one to take, wait and buy it at Ben Franklin's once you see your outlet layout.) An Ethernet cable is also very helpful; the wi-fi in the dorms is good, but a hard link is even better.

A basic first-aid kit: Painkillers, cough medicine, band-aids and itch cream. Ginger-ale is good to keep on hand, too. I bought a "dorm essentials" first-aid kit that turned out to contain band-aids and nothing else. It's better to buy everything separately. Plus, then you can get band-aids like this:

This picture is licensed by Joriel Jimenez, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Coffee and tea equipment. I had long dismissed electric kettles as silly, but they're perfect for dorm living, especially if your co-op is missing its kettle. If you drink coffee, a kettle and French press or a coffee machine are well worth bringing. Kettles facilitate dorm-room tea parties and late-night study drinks.

Relatedly, basic cookware will be helpful if you plan to cook at all. I have used co-op-ware in the past, but this year I'm coming equipped with a frying pan, a cake pan, a saucepan, a cookie sheet, a spatula and a ladle. These six tools can cook about 95% of my repertoire. For OSCAns, I would recommend a house-sized cake pan and saucepan,3 because the OSCA versions of these essentials are too big to use for casual cooking.

What Not to Bring — at least at first

A minifridge is firmly on my list of things I wish I hadn't brought. It served as a bulky end table for about two weeks before I started renting it out; I regained what I had spent on it before I lost touch with the renter and let it disappear into the ether. This will probably not happen to you, since I know very few people as careless as I am. However, I do recommend waiting to buy a fridge. If you eat at a dining hall, all the food you can eat - including fresh fruit and vegetables - will be available three times a day. You can always save an apple for a midnight snack.

OSCAns also have plenty of food (including vegetables, except on Monday night). Life is tougher for midnight-snacking OSCAns since we lost the right to keep leftovers, but if something from dinner was really excellent, you can always keep it for personal use in a yogurt container. If you miss meals, saved plates will be made for you. I know lots of people (especially dining-only OSCAns) who use their fridges often, but I also know many who don't. I would wait a few weeks to see if you want one once you've settled in. You can always take a field trip.

A printer is also unnecessary for most people. Everyone gets forty dollars of free print money each semester, which prints 200 double-sided pages. I usually have ten to fifteen dollars left by the end. Many of my friends with long readings to print do have to worry about their print money — if you're going to be an English major, you might want to invest in a printer of your own — but don't worry too much about convenience. I found that the hassle of troubleshooting my printer far outweighed the convenience of not taking a two-minute walk to the nearest campus printer. (There are dozens, and at least three are available 24 hours a day.)

I do not recommend bringing blades, as they are dangerous and not allowed. But OSCAns who live off campus treasure their chef's knives. Some are very fancy, but even cheap knives are sharper than most OSCA knives, which are used without mercy and sharpened only rarely. Razor blades could also theoretically be useful for scraping off window gunk, stripping wires, and cutting paper, among other things that you should do only at home. And a good all-purpose knife with a midlength blade (three inches or so) is your best friend - when you live in a house of your own later in life.

Bed risers are useful if you need a lot of storage space, but wait to find out. Some of the beds are already set high, or you might want bunk beds. Old bed risers make good planting pots if you drill a hole in the bottom. You'll find a lot around. Extra furniture is generally a bad idea. I know that six-cube portable dresser looks like it could vastly expand your storage options, but in reality it's just one more thing to store. Once you settle into your room, you might have a hankering for more shelf space. Buy it then.

Animals soothe the spirit and feed the heart. Don't bring them. Really. Having animals at school — even if you can board them with friends — complicates your weekend plans and might make it impossible to go home for breaks. Animals are prohibited for several excellent reasons (if not several dozen). If you want to bring your pets to school, you're certainly not alone. Don't do it. Definitely not your first semester. Acclimating to college life is hard enough for you. Do you want your pets to go through it at the same time?

If you need the company of animals to get through your day, you have lots of options. You could cuddle kittens at the Ginko gallery, volunteer as a dog walker at the Oasis shelter or visit the AJLC chickens. Or if you're missing your beloved bunnies, email me and we'll set up a playdate.

Here, by the way, are the obligatory pictures of animals:

An orange kitty took a nap on my lap the last time I went to play.

The flock in Fall 2012.

What? Who knocked over that picture frame? I am at the mercy of friends regarding rabbit housing, so they might be with me in Oberlin this fall and they might not.

So, returning Obies, what's on your should-have-brought list? First-years, are you wondering whether to bring your throw rug, foam sword or bread maker? (For the record: probably not; definitely; can we be friends?) My list is a little unconventional. Let's get a conversation going.

- — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — -

[1]An organism that cannot fix carbon from solar or chemical energy, and must consume organisms that can (or organisms that consume organisms that can).

[2]Of course local businesses keep more money in the local economy, but I also have selfish reasons for shopping at Ben Franklin. I walk in with strange requests all the time: mordant for dyeing, sealing wax, and compost thermometers, to name a few. If they don't have it, they can point me to a place that does. Krista didn't have any mordant, for instance, so she called Karen, a local dyer who does amazing things with natural dyes. Karen talked over my project with me and brought me to her house to lend me dye pots. Imagine that happening at Wal-Mart. Yeah, no.

[3]I meant a cake pan suitable for a house, but I really like imagining a cake pan the size of a house. I want to eat that cake. You can help.

P.S. It has come to my attention that some excellent entries have been written on this subject in the past, including Tess's 2010 what (not) to bring guide (rich with photos) and Joe's 2011 "list of things to leave in the car if you have to make a choice on the matter." A search even deeper into the archives revealed Will's 2008 "haphazard packing list" and Alice's 2009 musings on senior-year packing and fashion. Who wants dibs on the 2013 version?


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{ Responses To This Entry }

Nice post. Your ideas about what to bring and not bring seem pretty in line with mine. To anyone packing for college for the first time, remember that all the stuff you bring will either have to go back home with you or into storage at the end of each year, so less stuff is less of a hassle. And as people have written on the blogs before, you can get many things for free/ cheap once you arrive. Eli wrote a good post on this topic: http://blogs.oberlin.edu/community/life_culture/come_to_oberlin.shtml

Posted by: Nora on August 5, 2012 8:56 PM


I agree that printers are utterly superfluous, but I actually made quite good use indeed of my minifridge when I lived in Dascomb my first year. They're obselete in OSCA, I'll give you that, but I was very glad to be able to stock quality/specialty foods in my room when I was in CDS. (On the other hand, it wasn't like I was buying a minifridge for that purpose - I've had one for years because I went to a boarding high school - and it is certainly possible to get along without one, so if storage or money is an issue, I can see why minifridges could be low priority. Anyway, point being, I greatly appreciate mine.)

Posted by: Ida on August 5, 2012 10:13 PM


Nora, thanks for linking to that! I remember reading it right before coming to Oberlin and being really, really excited. Protip: the RPC has tons of envelopes and looseleaf paper. (You can buy stamps to go with your envelopes at the Wilder Info Desk three floors below.)

Ida, I noticed your comment on Joe's post, too, and I agree: three or four people who make daily use of their minifridge come to mind. But so does the Keep attic, which had several abandoned (working) ones in it before it was cleaned out. Also, first-years, be aware that minifridges cannot be stored in college summer storage, even if you're not storing anything else. (Nor can rolled-up carpets or anything larger than 18 inches to a side.)

Posted by: Griff on August 5, 2012 11:08 PM


GRIFF I am really looking forward to seeing you!! There were some great sentences in this blog! and I appreciate the description of Oberlin as a salad bowl.

Posted by: Eleanor on August 6, 2012 1:34 PM


My mom bought me a screwdriver as a moving-into-Harkness gift. She's actually bought me three, most recently for my new house. It's a fabulous tradition, and they are infinitely useful. That, and a hammer for moving beds up and down.

On the note of fridges: I ended up with my roomie's fridge midway through my first year in Harkness. I never thought I needed one but I found it awesome for two reasons: if I was working late, I wanted healthy snacks around to nourish me, so I kept baby carrots and hummus in there constantly AND when Harris and I lived together, we would keep a small bottle of milk for tea.

I couldn't have survived in college without my electric tea kettle. Make sure you get one with an automatic shutoff!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on August 6, 2012 1:54 PM


wait...what??... a blog by my wonderful Griff??? Ahh, another year at Oberlin. I cannot wait for more posts. And all you say is the truth! To all the newbies, you are in for a most wonderful time. I wish for you all the best. You have a great journey ahead of you. Have a wonderful time!

Posted by: mom on August 8, 2012 3:23 AM


Griff, those little tomatoes look yummy.I know it was supposed to be an animal picture, but I see those tomatoes! Ms. Chicken seems to agree with me. Don't you love the little pointed ones that mature to deep orange? I got my seeds from Seedsavers, bet you know them!

Posted by: Muriel on August 8, 2012 4:46 PM


Eleanor, I can't wait to see you, too! I almost wrote you another letter, but I don't know where you are right now. I think Oberlin is the kind of salad with fruit, nuts and cheese. Delicious. And a little strange. (Also olives, but olives is not a pun.)

Ma'ayan, what a useful gift! Screwdrivers are excellent. So are automatic shut offs - do they even come without them anymore? - and the diversity of perspective on minifridges. How did you store yours?

Mom, another one's already in the works. Hopefully I will post it before we leave for the beach and it gets lost in the ether forever.

Muriel, the picture was actually taken to highlight both of them, so you and Darling are spot on there. I don't know the specific cultivar of my orange tomatoes, but I love them to bits. (Delicious juicy tomato bits. I would put them in an Oberlin salad for sure.)

Posted by: Griff on August 9, 2012 9:41 PM


There are still kettles without auto shutoff, but at this point, even super cheap kettle comes with auto shutoff.

My fridge went home with another friend's fridge so they would become friends in their garage over the summer (we secretly hoped they would hit it off and spawn other fridges so we could sell them to first years). Once I passed on the fridge to Ben, he stored it in his off campus storage place along with other belongings.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on August 10, 2012 11:57 AM


Griff, I love this post! Readers, everything in here is really good advice.

Regarding kettles, I have a little thing called a Hot Shot that I got for about $20 freshman year (still working, too!). It heats up two cups of water or so at a time and has proven invaluable for cocoa, tea, oatmeal, and ramen--essential college foodstuffs.

Posted by: Tess on August 10, 2012 7:08 PM


Great post! I agree with you when it comes to what to bring and what not to bring on pretty much every count. I brought a printer to campus, but upon realizing that I had printer money at the beginning of second semester, I never used it again - I stored it just in case I end up with a lot of readings to print or a lot of sheet music to scan and print. The only non-OSCAn item that you recommended bringing that I found no use for was a toolkit, but similarly to the printer, I'm bringing it back because of a string of "what ifs?"

Tess: A Hot Shot sounds like it's just what I need! I didn't really mind going to Dascomb to get hot water for my daily mug of tea because I ate breakfast most of the time, but it was a hassle and I wished that I hadsome source of hot water in my dorm room all year.

Posted by: Emily on August 13, 2012 10:24 PM



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