How times have changed! When I drove off in 1960 to Notre Dame in my 1951 two-door red Chevy, I carted all my belongings in the trunk, with room to spare. The other day, while in a Bed Bath & Beyond (BB&B) store with my wife, Cindy, I picked up a flyer entitled “College Checklist.” It’s a 100-item college survival kit. I didn’t even own 100 items in 1960, unless you counted my baseball-card collection.
The BB&B “College Checklist” has seven categories: Eat, Sleep, Wash, Chill, Study, Organize and Breathe. The “Sleep” category would amuse my old roommate from the Bronx, N.Y., Joe Birmingham.
BB&B says that today’s college student needs 15 sleep items, including a down comforter, bedside caddy and aerobed (whatever that is). Joe needed only one sleep item. No sheets, pillows or pillowcases, just an old Army blanket swaddling his often fully-clothed body.
The BB&B sleep list includes one sheet set. That would have worked for me. I used the same sheet set at Notre Dame for one full semester. Do you know what sheets look like when you use them night after night for five straight months? OK, OK, you don’t want to go there.
Suffice it to say, any student emulating my feat today would do well to invest in several BB&B “Breathe” items: the room fragrances and the air purifiers. In fact, BB&B puts odor eliminators in its top-five “Must Have” category, along with a mattress protector to fend off bed bugs, a mattress enhancer, a lingerie bag and bed lifts. I can’t imagine how I got through Notre Dame without a lingerie bag and bed lifts!
So, what are some of the other things BB&B considers essential to dorm life today? Your own coffee maker, toaster oven, microwave accessories, electric toothbrush, shower radio, lounge chair and ottoman, collage frames, mp3/mp4 accessories, digital E-book, iPod speakers, paper shredder, digital audio recorder, ironing board, safe, hat organizer and closet organizer.
Is this BB&B’s idea of a joke? Can’t be. Corporate America doesn’t have that much of a sense of humor. Is the checklist just good marketing, directed at real or perceived needs? Let’s hope that today’s college students are not so pampered or overindulged as to think they really need all of those creature comforts.
Trouble is, the Wall Street Journal just reported circumstantial evidence to the contrary — that the students may well be occupying lots of time absorbed in the checklist items. A study by two University of California economists indicates that, in 1961, students spent 24 hours per week studying, that that number dwindled to 14 hours per week in 2003 and that study times are likely still in a modest decline.
Somehow my generation managed to survive and prosper with less than a trunk full of belongings and without collage frames, shower radios and closet organizers. Sorry BB&B, but maybe the conclusion is that the fewer of your “College Survival Kit” items the students have, the less they’ll be distracted and the more they’ll study and learn. Worked for my generation.
Edmund Adams is a retired attorney living in Columbia-Tusculum, Cincinnati, and Longboat Key. He is a former chairman of the Ohio Board of Regents.
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