For the millions of kids headed back to college this fall, the idea of dorm life can be exciting: no curfews, friends living right next door, epic parties, and the occasional (and much-needed) study session. But for as fun as it can be, dorm living is also famous for other characteristics: the stench of week-old pizza, your roommate’s dirty lacrosse shoes, and dirty piles of laundry. The comforts of Mom & Dad’s house – where carpet was vacuumed, baskets of clean clothes magically appeared, surfaces were dusted and trash was emptied daily – are often a thing of the past, since healthy dorm rooms aren’t exactly known for being a “thing.”
While no one expects the average college student to keep their dorm room at Martha Stewart levels of clean, studies do show that messiness and clutter have a negative impact. Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published the results of a study they conducted in the January 2011 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. They found that when your environment is cluttered, “the chaos restricts your ability to focus. Clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. [It] makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.”
Not only that, but many college-age kids are susceptible to breathing difficulties like asthma and allergies; the detritus of a messy environment can actually exacerbate the symptoms, or contribute directly to the problem.
We came up with 8 great ways you can help your favorite college scholar achieve a room that’s comfortable, healthy and easy(ish) to maintain. (Hopefully they’ll bring home a 4.0 to show their appreciation!)
It’s disgusting to think about, but most dorm room mattresses have seen better days. There’s a very good chance they’ve been in circulation for longer than intended, and in that time, have been prone to spills, bed bugs, dust mites and who knows what else. All of these things can wreak havoc for someone with allergies and asthma. If a new mattress can’t be secured, it’s best to cover the one assigned. Waterproof mattress covers are a good start; on top of that, place a dust mite- and allergen-proof cover. Even if they’re using their own pillow, using allergy-proof casings for those is a smart idea as well.
If there are bunk beds, and your kid has a choice, always go for the top bunk: that makes it less likely that they’ll be exposed to any dust, dirt or debris that can fall from the top bunk on to whoever’s sleeping below.
Tossing a damp towel, bathing suit or blanket on the floor is a surefire way to end up with mold or mildew, which can plague an allergy-sufferer. Even if they plan to wash it later, drying out clothing and linens before piling them in a hamper can save them from a stinky, nasty mess later.
Dust mites, which are almost everywhere on earth, thrive in warmer temperatures, and many asthmatics find it difficult to breathe in hot temperatures.
If the dorm is equipped with air conditioning, keep the room as cool as possible. If not, consider using a fan to keep temperatures as comfortable. Opening a window for a few minutes every day can also allow for air circulation (provided the pollen count isn’t at dangerous levels).
A good air purifier will help reduce stinky, stale odors that seem par for the course in many dorms; a great air purifier can actually banish odors and clean the air and surfaces in the room. Modern air purifiers come with a range of features, settings and price points, and can make a noticeable difference in how an environment feels and smells. Find a purifier that removes particulate matter, dust and allergens from the air.
Face it – throw pillows, rugs, stuffed animals, curtains and extraneous bedding is good for one thing in a dorm room: collecting dust. For asthmatics and those with allergies, it can really spell trouble. Opt for plastic or wood window coverings, bedding that is easily laundered, and if they need a rug, choose one with low pile and that’s small enough to be carried outside and shaken out.
It might be tempting store a spring wardrobe under the bed in a cardboard box, but come 2nd semester, that same box (and its contents) will most likely be filled with dust. Opt instead for sturdy plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Dust is much less likely to find its way inside.
While many dorms prohibit the use of candles (and rightly so!), plug-in fresheners – as well as sprays, mists and solids – are still an easy go-to for freshening a space. But many of those contain artificial fragrances, chemicals and dyes, which can aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms. Try putting a few drops of essential oil or vanilla extract on cotton balls and placing them strategically throughout the room. It’s a fresh, natural scent that’s not overwhelming or filled with toxic ingredients.