When Their College Dorm Room is Upstairs…in Your House

When our son, Zach,  turned down his first choice of universities to accept a scholarship from a college in town, I considered how to help him still have the college experience while still living at home…sleeping in the bedroom he had been sleeping in since he was four years old. Here is what I came up with to give him a little feel of dorm living while still living under our roof.

Zach's Room 2011

The first thing I suggested was that Zach go through his room and remove ANYTHING he would not have taken to college. That adorable picture of him and me when he was two – box it up. The dresser knickknacks accumulated over the years, and the books on the bookshelf from younger years – box those up too. I provided him a plastic tub so he didn’t have to get rid of anything, just box it up now and go through down the road.

We gave him some funds to purchase new bedding, and then we sent him to Lowes to pick out paint for his “dorm room”. We had him paint his own room – giving valuable experience in wall prep, taping, painting, cleaning brushes ~ as well cleaning paint from the carpet! He received a mini-fridge for graduation, so that came up from the basement storage area and went in his room as well – which he kept stocked all year with an abundance of chocolate milk, Gatorade, and Coke! He and I picked up a small corner desk to give him a study space. He decided he wanted his own TV, so off he went with some of his graduation money and purchased one. Slowly but surely the space was transformed, looking less like his old room and feeling a more like a dorm room.

Lastly his dad and I sat down one evening with Zach and went over the Dorm Perks & Rules. Here they are:

  • We offer free Wi-Fi!
  • We offer free printing!
  • Quiet hours after 11:00 PM on weekdays.
  • All friends are welcome to come over anytime – may have to work with your sister on reserving the basement.
  • You don’t have to ask us if you can go anywhere or do anything – but letting us know would be respectful.
  • When you come in late, come in quietly.
  • We are not a co-ed dorm  :)
  • We are an alcohol free dorm – except for the RA  :)
  • We are a drug-free dorm – no exceptions  :)
  • Unlike other dorms, we are open over winter, spring and summer break – you are welcome to stay over these breaks!
  • We do not have a healthcare facility on site, but we do offer free healthcare!
  • We will offer you a $20 weekly gas stipend – if you had gone away and lived on campus you would not have the added financial cost of driving to and from campus each day.
  • We offer an all inclusive meal plan, with options available 24 hours a day – totally free to you!
  • You will be expected to voluntarily contribute to a minimal level of house chores weekly. This includes bringing the garbage to the curb.
  • On occasion, (but not often) you will be expected to pick up or drop off your sister.
  • In the winter, you will be expected to sometimes help shovel snow.
  • We will expect you to communicate to us if we are not being respectful of your need to have study hours.

Most of this was tongue in cheek as you can see, but it seemed important to lay out what was in our heads so no one was guessing about what was expected. Since we had never done this before, we said we would schedule an assessment of the Perks & Rules in 6 to 8 weeks. Scheduling it was important so that if things weren’t going so well we already had a plan to address it, and if things were going well, it would be a quick meeting.

Zach’s freshman year has come to and end – I believe it went pretty well, but I have invited him to be a guest writer here on this topic later this week so you can hear his perspective as well. I am sure there are things he experienced that we could have done better, and because  I love sharing things that go well as well as learning through things that don’t go well, I have asked him to share openly and honestly.

I admit there were times I had to intentionally remind myself that he wouldn’t have to answer to us if he lived away at college, so I made efforts not to ask a lot of questions. I wasn’t concerned about him making crazy choices that were going to derail him so I tried to change my verbiage from ‘What time will you be home?’, to ‘Have fun!’ He had to experience more freedom if he was going to feel good about living here, so I had to shift what I expected of him.  It wasn’t natural to let go so swiftly, but it was important to the process so I worked at it.

Univeristy-of-MinnesotaDuring his freshman year, Zach applied for and was accepted into a program that has given him the opportunity to transfer (on that scholarship!) to his number one university. In 10 short days we will get in the car and drive him to his next dorm room – 10 hours away. I have a feeling I’ll have to intentionally work at a lot of new things very shortly.

Summer 2014
Summer 2014


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