A new reality TV show

Let’s all applaud the newest reality TV show . . . Surviving the College Dorm Room Race!

At least that’s my idea for a new show, after spending the weekend dodging around parents and their almost-adult children shopping for back to college supplies. I honestly thought one family in Target was about to start a full-out brawl in the towel aisle.

Furnishing a dorm room seems to have evolved into a major production since my college years. Families with a set budget waste a portion of that budget racing from Target to Bed Bath and Beyond to Best Buy to the malls, all so their sons and daughters can have the latest, greatest, color-coordinated and stylish dorm room ever. They work their way down a long list of absolutely essential, can’t survive without them furnishings and techie-toys in a wide price range. And if they’re lucky, they survive the experience with part of their sanity still intact.

Saturday, I stopped into three different Targets, two Bed Bath and Beyonds, an organization store at the mall and Best Buy. I was looking for things to use in reorganizing and redecorating my apartment — not a major overhaul, simply some updating of towels, rugs, candles, etc.

As soon as I hit the housewares section of the first Target, the fun began. Race-walking down the bedding aisle, led by their daughter, came a couple, each with a half-full shopping cart. The girl had her tablet out, and was comparing — well, at first I thought she was comparing prices, but when I passed her I glanced over and saw she was actually looking at a picture of a pile of pillows and a throw (I think). Coordinating, I presumed, with her future roommate. Before I got out of the aisle, she’d dumped two sets of sheets into her Dad’s cart, on top of a duvet, at least four pillows and a mattress topper. I shook my head, remembering the narrow beds at Penn State that barely, just barely, allowed for one pillow and a narrow quilt.

That family and I met up again at checkout — they were ahead of me in line. The total for the bedding, lamps, plates, towels, rugs, wallart, oven and assorted knick-knacks? Seven hundred plus dollars!

As they walked out, the daughter told them they had to go to Best Buy next — for her TV and a new Roku.

At least that family wasn’t arguing, and seemed rather well-organized, compared to others I saw throughout the weekend. The next Target had the family arguing in the towel aisle — the daughter wanted Fieldcrest towels, the parents were getting her the Target brand and she was red-faced and whining over how they were going to embarass her in front of her new roommate. Her father was getting a bit red-faced himself while obviously biting his tongue. Her mother wasn’t holding back, telling her daughter if she wanted the other towels she could pay for them herself in a very shrill voice with extremely-colorful language. Clearly, they had overdosed on the back-to-school shopping safari.

The story was repeated everywhere I went that weekend. Parents and children, with and without lists, all armed with Smartphones and tablets, color-coordinating with roommates’ decor while hopping from store to store to compare product offerings and prices.

And every family was buying multiple cartloads of things to furnish the dorm room.

Really? That much stuff? I would love to see the size of these dorm rooms. My room at Penn State was something like 8 by 12 feet (if that), into which was already squeezed two large stationary desks, two closet units, two wall-mounted side cabinets and two narrow twin beds. There was barely room to walk down the aisle between the two halves of the room, much less fit all the things students today ‘need’ to survive their college experience.

I didn’t buy that much to take with me when I went to Penn State, largely because I knew I wasn’t going to start out in a dorm room. There were so many freshmen my first year at college that some of us ended up housed in study lounges. Since I was going to have to move in a few weeks, I bought the minimum amount of things I would immediately need. Quilt, pillow, clothes and school supplies, a few personal books.

A month later, I was assigned a room across the quad in Pennypacker Hall, and I was able to move everything in just one trip. At that point, my new roommate and I looked at each others’ stuff. My blue primary-colored quilt coordinated with her yellow primary-color quilt and the multi-colored rug she already had. We had a color scheme.

I headed out to the stores and bought more throw pillows to mix and match with hers. She had a coffee maker and a hot plate; I picked up a toaster and mini-crock pot. I added a set of plates and a couple of glasses for me, some plants in pretty pots and most importantly, more posters of sunny beaches (come January at Penn State you need reminding that there are warm places in the world). On the weekend, my parents gave us a sound system to go with her mini-TV, and we were set. My total bill for that dorm room was probably half what that first family spent just in Target, and I managed it in just two stores (one for the posters and one for everything else).

What really struck me, though, was the different treatment some of these students gave their furnishings and their school supplies. At the last Target, while I was looking over micrwaves (mine having died), there was a guy comparing different models of coffee makers. He was rather obsessively looking up product reviews on his smartphone when his mother came over and asked him what type of pens she should get. His answer? Anykind, ’cause he didn’t think he’d be taking that many notes.

My hope is that he meant he would be taking notes on his tablet, not writing them down, but I’m rather afraid that he, like other students I saw this weekend, was more concerned with his surroundings than his classes.

Meanwhile, I really think someone needs to turn this whole experience into a reality TV show. Assign each set of parents a budget, give them an excessively-long list of required items and then send them off with their excited offspring. Add in a time limit for shopping, create some sold-out product roadblocks and sit back and score the hilarity.

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