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Cram Session

College freshmen are hitting the booklets, studying the models and scanning the stores to help them turn dinky dorm rooms into class acts.


They've got it all planned out.

Refrigerator, microwave, footlocker and full-length mirror.

All white drawers, hangers and the like.

And there will be a little bit of pink thrown in for accent, too.

Brooke Smith and Jacqueline Wescom, Santa Margarita High graduates who are freshman roommates at USC this fall, checked their list, then checked it again while gathering supplies and other essentials to organize and decorate their dorm room.

Likewise, two other Santa Margarita graduates, Amy Aylor and her USC roommate, Jill Cooper, also had a plan well in advance of the first day of school.

Laptop, printer and modem.

Radio, phone and answering machine.

They, too, will have a mostly white and neutral decor, with color coming from their matching denim and cardinal gold bedding.

All four of the women moved to the head of the class by getting organized at the Container Store in Costa Mesa.

"We bought the store out," said Aylor, 18, who was a soccer star at Santa Margarita and will play for the Trojans. "We bought a bunch of stuff; it was fun to do together."

The Container Store, which has been assisting college students with their dorm rooms since 1983 through a national program, specializes in furnishings and accessories for storage and organization. Through the program, the Container Store, which has more than 15 outlets across the country, dresses dorm rooms at several of the nation's universities, including USC and UCLA.

The model rooms are used in conjunction with student orientation--and many of the schools, including USC, leave the room open year-round.

The store also sponsors a college night for students and their parents and publishes a step-by-step guide, which works like a survival list of dorm essentials.

"It's a whole checklist," said Smith, 18, who used the brochure to ensure she would be well-equipped for the long year ahead. "You won't be missing a thing" if you follow it.

"[Wescom and I] went page by page through the store."

Smith and Wescom bought grids and hooks to hang items on the vanity, the door and the closet.

They plan to raise their beds a bit off the floor so they can put drawers and footlockers underneath. Robes will be hung on the door.

Their bedding will not match, Smith said, but it does go together. And they'll probably split the cost of a piece of carpet.

Aylor and Cooper, both 18, also studied the store, with "my mom putting in her two cents," Aylor said, joking.

"We went through each station and every little knickknack. In the laundry section, we got a container for detergent, then got some shelving in the closet section."

The 19-page booklet, "The Ultimate Guide for College Bound Students," has a monthly countdown that begins its timeline six months before school starts.

There are separate sections under "Dorm Room Basics," which address specifics such as the laundry--yes, you have to wash your own clothes--the bath, the closet, the desk, walls and doors and storage.

There's even a section on snacks because pulling all-nighters just wouldn't be the same without lots of junk food, soda and caffeine.

The booklet also has hints and tips for those who must ship their belongings out of state.

"We want to show the students how to use every inch of space," said Lynn Langit, manager at the store at Metro Pointe in Costa Mesa. "We show them how to use vertical space since horizontal space is limited."

Good vertical-space users are over-door racks and grids, available at the store in an array of sizes. These pieces can hold caps, shoes, towels, snacks, CDs and more.


Also, rolling carts with stackable shelves that slide out and drawers with top surfaces that can support refrigerators and microwaves are ideal space savers.

Other products making the grade: laundry bags and stands, shower totes, stack baskets, double hang rods to make the most of your closet, message boards, travel bottles and plastic tubular hangers in assorted colors.

In fact, on college night, when more than 500 people descended on the store for an invitation-only event in late July, 16,063 hangers, 298 laundry bags and 277 shower totes were sold.

And items with coordinating colors, especially those of the university, drew cheers from the crowd too. When school colors were not available, translucent blue items were the most popular.

Oh, and there's an extra credit: Besides meeting an immediate need, Langit said, the items "help students develop good organizing habits that they can use throughout life."

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