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Colleges are returning to their pre-pandemic normal this year, which also means a return to dorm room living. Since this is the first time many of you will be away from home, it’s a good idea to stock up on a few items for your new tiny abode. Not all of our recommendations will be strictly tech-related here because, while tech is important in college (of course), we also wanted to cover the other essentials that will bring you the comforts of home to your dorm and hopefully make student life less stressful.

Examples include kitchen items like an adjustable-temp electric kettle, a weighted blanket for reducing anxiety, and a mattress topper that will make that dorm bed much more comfortable. At the same time, you might not want to be in your room forever, which is why we’ve also recommended a few items that could improve your social life, such as a portable Bluetooth speaker for parties and a couple of casual board games. Whether you just want to chill out or make a few friends, we hope this list will help you settle into dorm life.

Linenspa foam pillow

Comfort is key to dorm living, which is why we recommend an oversized reading pillow like this one from Linenspa. It helps change up your seating position so you’re not in your desk chair all the time, plus it’s a lot more comfortable than just piling up bed pillows against the wall. The pillow is filled with shredded memory foam so it won’t put a lot of stress on your back, plus it comes with a soft velour cover. That posture support makes it great for reading, playing games or watching TV. As a bonus, there’s also a handle on the top that makes it easy to carry around.

Buy LinenSpa pillow at Amazon – $40

Mind Reader lap desk

If you frequently use your laptop not just for work but also for watching videos and general entertainment, consider getting a portable desk that you can place on your lap. This one from Mind Reader is excellent thanks to its dual-bolster pillow support. All told, it has eight different angle options that you can adjust to your liking. Additionally, you can use it to prop up a book or tablet for easy reading. When you’re done working, it also works well as a tray table for snacks while watching TV.

Buy lap desk at Amazon – $15

Aeropress

Aeropress for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Having a reliable way to make coffee every morning is practically a must-have for a lot of college students, especially for those dreaded 8am classes. One of the cheapest and fastest ways to get an excellent brew is to use the Aeropress, which has been a favorite among caffeine addicts for years. It can make a strong, full-bodied cup in just a few minutes, and its plunger-driven design is so simple that even a coffee beginner can use it. It’s small and compact enough for travel and it doesn’t require any electricity, which makes it ideal for camping trips. On top of that, there’s minimal cleaning involved. Equally important, it’s quite affordable at around $30.

Buy Aeropress at Amazon – $32

Black+Decker Dustbuster Pivot Vac

One of the first lessons you’ll likely learn as a college student is that you’ll have no one to clean up after you. That means doing your own laundry and yes, cleaning your own room. The easiest way to do so is with a handheld vacuum, like the Black+Decker 20V Max. It only weighs three pounds so it’s lightweight enough for you to clean your whole room without a lot of fuss. It has a pivoting nozzle which makes it ideal for getting around tight corners and hard-to-reach shelves. Its high-performance motor provides plenty of suction and its 15-ounce capacity is large enough for most dorm rooms. The bowl and filter are removable so you can give them a good wash in between uses. It’s also overall easy to use and fairly affordable, two things you can’t often say about fancy, expensive vacuums.

Buy Black + Decker handheld vacuum at Amazon – $90

Anyday Medium Deep Dish

Anyday Medium Deep Dish for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

You’re probably not allowed to have an Instant Pot in your dorm room, but one kitchen appliance that almost always gets the thumbs up is a microwave. Sure, you can use it to heat up frozen dinners, but why not try it to cook actual dishes as well? Anyday’s line of microwave cookware lets you do exactly that. Everything is microwave safe, including the stainless steel rim (its smooth and curved shape prevents electrical arcing). Its primary feature is its lid, which has a knob that can vent excess steam when it is lifted. Thanks to this innovation, you can make everything from mac and cheese to a breakfast burrito using only your microwave. For college students, we recommend the medium dish set — they’re sized just right for solo diners.

Buy Medium cookware set at Anyday – $55

Bearaby Cotton Napper

Bearaby Cotton Napper for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Bearaby

If you’re like most college students, you’ll probably have your fair share of stress throughout the semester, which can make it harder to get enough sleep. One way to help overcome it is with a weighted blanket, which helps reduce anxiety. Our favorite is the Bearaby cotton napper. Unlike other weighted blankets that are filled with tiny glass beads, it’s handmade with a heavy chunky-knit material that feels like a warm hug when wrapped around you. Another bonus is just how gorgeous they look: They come in a variety of luscious colors — from Midnight Blue to Butternut Bliss — and their knit design makes them far more stylish than most weighted blankets on the market. They’ll go well in any decor and are sure to garner plenty of likes on Instagram.

Buy Cotton Napper at Bearaby – $250

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Even though you could use your phone as an alarm clock, it’s still useful to have a dedicated device for the task. It lets you keep your phone away from your bedside for a more restful sleep, plus you can tell time just by glancing at it. One of our favorites is Lenovo’s Smart Clock Essential, which has Google Assistant built in. There are other smart alarm clocks out there — like Amazon’s Echo Show 5, for example — but it retails for close to $85. The Smart Clock Essential, on the other hand, is very affordable at only $50. Sure, it isn’t nearly as advanced as the Echo Show 5, but if all you want are the alarm clock features, then the Essential should more than suffice. The clock’s 4-inch LED screen shows time in bold digits, and you can ask the Assistant to play music, set timers or create reminders. The integrated nightlight is also a nice touch for those who don’t like to sleep in complete darkness.

Buy Smart Clock Essential at Best Buy – $50

Lunya Organic Pima sleep mask

Lunya Organic Prima sleep mask for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Roommate pulling an all-nighter with the lights on? Want to catch some z’s in the afternoon in between classes? Or maybe you’re just particularly sensitive to light? If you can relate to any of this, we recommend getting a sleep mask to make it easier for you to drift off into dreamland. This one from Lunya is one of our personal favorites because it completely blocks out light and feels comfortable to boot; it’s like wearing pillows on your eyes. We tend to prefer this model over masks with eye cups because it’s not quite as bulky. The Lunya’s wide elasticized band will fit most people and it even covers the ears, which helps reduce noise. It’s also machine washable, so you can easily keep it clean.

Buy sleep mask at Lunya – $48

OXO pour-over kettle

OXO Pour-over kettle for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Most dorms don’t allow appliances with an open heating element, which is why there are no toasters or hot plates on this list. But thankfully for tea and coffee aficionados, many do permit electric kettles. One of our favorite models is the OXO Brew Adjustable Temperature Pour-Over Kettle. You can adjust the temperature in one-degree increments from 140 to 212 Fahrenheit, which is perfect for those who like to dial in the right temp for a specific brew — most green tea, for example, brews between 160 and 170 Fahrenheit, while you generally want boiling water for black tea. This specific model is especially useful for those who like pour-over coffee due to its gooseneck spout. There’s also a built-in timer to keep track of your brewing process. Of course, you can use boiling water to heat up other concoctions too, like hot cocoa mix or cup noodles.

Buy OXO kettle at Amazon – $100

Pure Green latex mattress topper

Pure Green Latex mattress topper for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Pure Green

Chances are, the bed in your dorm room isn’t very comfortable. It’s also probably not easy (or cost effective) to change the mattress. That’s why we recommend getting a mattress topper because it’s the one way to control how your bed feels without spending a lot of money. We prefer a natural latex option like this one from Pure Green because it delivers comfort and support without the sinking feeling of memory foam. It also won’t absorb much body heat, which helps keep you cool throughout the night. Pure Green sells its mattress topper in three different thicknesses — from 1-inch to 3-inch — to fit your particular needs. Opt for the 1 or 2-inch if you want firm or medium-firm, or spring for the 3-inch model if you prefer things soft.

Buy mattress topper at Amazon – $110

Rubbermaid food storage containers

Rubbermaid food storage for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Rubbermaid

When you’re in college, you’ll no longer have quick access to your family’s pantry, which you could easily raid for late-night munchies. Instead, you’ll have to supply your own, and you’ll want to keep them in airtight storage containers like these ones from Rubbermaid. The lids snap tight to keep food fresh and they stack on top of each other in order to save space. They’re durable enough to withstand everyday use, whether you use them for crackers, pretzels or cereal. You could also use these containers to grab a hot dinner from the dining hall on your way to a group study session.

Buy Rubbermaid Brilliance container at Amazon – $17

Ultimate Ears Boom 3

Ultimate Ears Boom 3 for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

College life isn’t all work and stress — sometimes you’ll want to have parties and blast your favorite tunes. The best way to do so is with a Bluetooth speaker like the Boom 3 from Ultimate Ears. Your smartphone just won’t have the same level of volume or audio quality as a dedicated speaker, and your laptop’s speakers likely aren’t to task either (not to mention you probably want to put your laptop away if you’re at a party). The Boom 3 has an attractive cylindrical design, a rechargeable battery that lasts 15 hours on a charge, and it delivers punchy, immersive sound that will easily fill the room. It’s also IP67-rated to be waterproof, which makes it ideal for hanging out by the pool or a trip to the beach.

Buy UE Boom 3 at Amazon – $150

Codenames

Playing casual board games is a great way to socialize at gatherings without the need to engage in small talk. A really popular one is called Codenames, a party game that pits two teams of spies against each other. Each “spymaster” has to get their teammates to guess hidden words (which are plotted out on a grid) using only one-word clues and a number. For example, if you wanted your team to guess the words “costume,” “web,” and “spider,” you might say “Peter, 3” to indicate that there are three clues on the board that match that word. There are also clues you have to avoid, which makes the game a little harder. The game is easy to explain, plus it encourages communication, which helps break the ice.

Buy Codenames at Amazon – $20

Monikers

For larger groups (up to 20 people in this case) who want to have a bit of silly fun, Monikers is a fantastic party game. Players take turns giving clues to teammates so that they’ll guess what’s on the card, which can be anything from a famous musician (eg. Rick Astley) to a viral meme (e.g., LOLCats). For the first round, they can use as many words as they want to describe the clue. But in the second round, they can only use one. In the third, they can’t use any words at all, which is basically charades. Almost every game of Monikers will result in giggles, laughter and hopefully a memorable evening.

Buy Monikers at Amazon – $30