Dolce and Gabriella

Little thoughts from the Big Apple


The Freshman Fifteen…Things You Didn’t Know You’ll Need

Alright chickadees, I’m back with a vengeance. The swelling’s reducing, the headache’s retreating…a few more days and I’ll be able to put this whole wisdom teeth thing behind me. It’s been one rough ride. From what I hear, getting your wisdom teeth out isn’t usually this bad–I just had a series of bad reactions to first the anesthesia and then the painkillers. If anyone has extractions of their own coming up, my biggest tip is to take Dramamine (the motion sickness drug) with your painkillers. I wish someone had told me that sooner, because I had a couple awfully woozy, nauseous days.

So. Thank goodness that’s almost over. Back to regularly scheduled programming:

A lot of my friends are heading off to college for the first time in a couple weeks, and they’re understandably freaking out. This time last year, I was in Total Panic List Mode. I made pages and pages of lists with the idea that if I could plan the move to college down to a tee, I could take the fear and overwhelm out of the transition. Not so; fear and overwhelm are a completely necessary and unavoidable part of going to college. Looking back at it, they’re actually part of the fun. I over-planned, overpacked, and definitely over-stressed.

On the plus side, I had everything I needed. There are some weird, silly things that you might think are overkill to pack, but I give you my word: at some point in the year you’ll be thanking your lucky stars you threw them in at the last minute. Here’s my list of the fifteen must-haves you didn’t know you needed.

fifteen things freshman

Hey! You should pin me!

1. Water pitcher with filter

Staying hydrated is the #1 easy way to be healthy in college. Drinking lots of water gives you energy, helps with weight management, and boosts your immune system. Unfortunately, water from the drinking fountain doesn’t always taste good…and if you’re drinking a lot of it, you want to know it’s clean. I have this slim pitcher and it’s perfect. It doesn’t take up much room at all, and it makes my water taste so much better.

My suggestion: Brita Slim Water Filter Pitcher, 5-cup, $19.60 on Amazon

2. Bra Balls

Industrial washing machines wreak havoc on delicate lingerie, but you won’t want to hand wash in the dorm bathroom. These are the next best thing–they keep your bras and underwear from being flung around and bent out of shape.

My suggestion: Woolite Bra Wash Bag, $12.99 for two on Amazon

3. A bright desk lamp and extra lightbulbs

I’m sure you already got a desk lamp. But did you get a lightbulb that’s bright enough to study under? There will be plenty of nights your roommate wants to go to bed before you, leaving your desk lamp as the only source of light in the room. Make sure it’s not too dim, or you’ll get headaches squinting at your history reading. Don’t forget to bring a couple spare bulbs in case yours burns out.

My suggestion: KVART Work Lamp, $12.99 at IKEA

4. A second pair of sheets

Someone will cry/vomit/bleed/track mud onto your bed at the least opportune time. If you bring a second pair of sheets–even an inexpensive Target set or a $1 garage sale find–you’ll be able to swap out your linens without doing laundry.

My suggestion: Xhilaration Sheet Set, $12.58 at Target

5. Sewing Kit

Even if you don’t have a wardrobe malfunction–a torn hem or a popped button–someone else will. They’ll walk down the hall asking, “Who has a needle and thread?” and you’ll get to be the cool kid who says, “I do!” You can pick up mini sewing kits in hotel bathrooms for free sometimes. I got mine at a garage sale for a quarter.

My suggestion: look around and get something cheap. Or try the Smooth Trip Unisex Compact Travel Sewing Kit, $6.29 on Amazon.

6. Dry shampoo

Face it: however frequently you want to wash your hair, you’re not going to hit that mark. There are days when you’ll think, “UGH–I need to shower. I can’t believe I didn’t shower.” And then you know what you’ll do that night? You won’t shower. Or you’ll shower, but you won’t have enough time to wash/brush/dry your hair. Take it from someone who knows.

Dry shampoo is my best friend. It soaks up the oil in your hair, making it look bouncy and freshly washed. The best thing about the brand I use is that you can’t overdo it–I’ve used dry shampoo three days in a row before. Am I proud? No, but it worked. Wait til Psst! is on sale and stock up.

My suggestion: Psssssst! Instant Dry Shampoo, $8.73 on Amazon

 7. Emergen-C or Airborne

Living in a dorm is like going to preschool: germs are everywhere and there’s no way to avoid getting exposed. Unless you have Superman’s immune system (and I certainly don’t), you’ll eventually get at least a little of whatever’s going around. And a LOT will go around: strep, mono, and the flu passed through my floor a few times each last year. I protected myself as best I could by drinking Emergen-C packets a few times a day as soon as I suspected I was getting sick. Even if you can’t prevent yourself from getting sick, you can often postpone it for a few days or shorten the illness’s duration.

My suggestion: Emergen-C Super Orange 30-count, $13.05 on Amazon

8. An overnight bag and cosmetics case

At some point, you’ll hopefully go on a short trip and will have to pack a couple days’ worth of clothes. Don’t be the kid who packs her stuff in a Walgreens bag (ahem.)

My suggestion: The Twill Weekender, $95, and The Twill Dopp Kit, $35 at Everlane

9. Granola bars

On the days you oversleep and can’t make it to the dining hall for breakfast (um, every day for me), protein-filled granola bars are much healthier and more cost-effective than a muffin from the coffee shop. I order mine in bulk on Amazon.

My suggestion: White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clif Bars, $13.99 for 12 on Amazon

10. A sleep mask

Some nights, your roommate will want to go to bed before you; others, you’ll be the one crashing early. Don’t let her study habits get in the way of your beauty sleep. I have a plain jane fabric mask, but my roommate has this one with molded cups to protect her eyelashes. It’s so handy.

My suggestion: Dream Essentials Sweet Dreams Contoured Sleep Mask, $9.95 on Amazon

11. Comfortable headphones

You’ve heard you need headphones to block out the noise in your dorm or library…but have you heard how much you’ll be wearing them? All. The time. When you’re constantly surrounded by other people, there’s no such thing as a no-distraction environment. Make sure the set you’ve picked out still feels good into hour three (or six, if you’re a design student chained to your laptop.) Mine are excellent and worth the splurge, considering I wear them for about 25% of my life. They fit comfortably over my ears, which I prefer to the on-ear designs–they give me headaches–and they’re lined with a fuzzy material that doesn’t get sticky or sweaty.

My suggestion: Incase Sonic Over-Ear Headphones, $89.99 on Amazon

12. A plant

Everyone agrees: plants are great for your health. They clean the air, they lift the spirits, and above all, caring for a little-bitty living thing is a great stress reducer. Don’t have a green thumb? Don’t worry. Plenty of options like succulents and cacti require very little care. You can pick up a potted plant (or four) at Trader Joe’s for just a few dollars.

My suggestion: Head to your local stores and check out the options! Trader Joe’s, the Home Depot, IKEA and most grocery stores have decent selections. Image from Bliss Bloom Blog.

13. Extension cords and power strips

My dorm had exactly two power outlets, one on each side. I had a lot more than two things to plug into mine, so I used a system of surge protectors and extension cords to plug in my laptop, phone, lamps, and hair dryer.

My suggestions: Tripp Lite Surge Protector, $8.49 on Amazon, and Axis 3 Outlet White Indoor Extension Cord, 6 Feet, $4.99 on Amazon

14. A big ass bottle of hand sanitizer

Refer to #7: germs are everywhere on a college campus. Protect yourself how you can by keeping your hands clean–put the sanitizer on your dresser and make a habit of using it every time you come in your room. Buying a big bottle like this is a lot more economical than buying a dozen little bottles. You can refill your little bottles from the big bottle.

My suggestion: up & up Hand Sanitizer, $4.59 for 32 oz. at Target

15. A fun random plaything

Break the ice in your dorm by initiating an activity that everyone loves. Think classics: no one can resist a game of Cards Against Humanity or a casual Frisbee toss. Some of my favorite memories of my first year are sitting around in my dorm room with friends playing Taboo, Twister and Apples to Apples.

My suggestions: Cards Against Humanity, $25.00 on Amazon, and Discraft 175 gram Ultra Star Sport Disc, $8.69 on Amazon


So, college students (and graduates): what’d I miss? What couldn’t you have lived without your freshman year?


All images are from the web store I linked to in the item’s description (except for the potted succulent image from Bliss Bloom Blog.



College the 80/20 Way: Make the Most of Your Time Studying and Socializing

Have you heard of the 80/20 principle? It’s an old economics idea that’s been recently popularized by a guy named Richard Koch. Koch wrote a book in 1999 called The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less, which outlines some of the major ways that the 80/20 Principle influences our lives. I read it a few weeks ago and have been fascinated with “80/20 thinking” ever since.

Koch’s big point is that the relationship between cause and effect is not as direct as you’d think. In most situations in our lives, a small minority of causes produces the majority of effects. For instance, 20% of the salespeople at a store usually make around 80% of that store’s total sales. We wear our favorite 20% of our clothes around 80% of the time. Around 80% of the work you get done happens in 20% of the time you spend on it (thanks, Facebook.) The exact relationships vary, obviously, but it’s surprising how many imbalanced cause-effect relationships fall right around the 80/20 range.

Koch says, get rid of the idea that putting in X amount of work will get you X results. X work might get you 4X results, if what you’re doing is really efficient. Or it could get you .2X results if you’re not using your time wisely. Maybe you’ve experienced this while writing an essay (or a blog post.) You struggle with words for ages and not much good is coming out…and then, in a burst of inspiration, you bust out four paragraphs in 20 minutes and feel like a rockstar. In a small percentage of the time you put in, you accomplish most of your success. The key to being more productive at everything, then, is figuring out how to milk those rockstar moments for all they’re worth, while cutting out the time you waste getting zip done.

Although Koch’s book, particularly the first part, is a good read, the big takeaway can be summed up easily as I did above. The more interesting thing to do is take the 80/20 concept and apply it to your own life. So, I started thinking about college: I could have really benefitted from this 80/20 stuff my freshman year. When so many people and assignments and opportunities are thrown at you at once, it can be really stressful and overwhelming. Luckily, you can apply the 80/20 principle to get the most out of your time.



1. Choose depth over breadth when it comes to activities.

This isn’t high school. You no longer need thirteen thousand items on your resume to make it into Dartmouth. The things you do outside of class aren’t for padding an application, they’re to help you grow. The large majority of learning and satisfaction that you derive from extracurriculars will come from the small minority of opportunities that you deeply invest yourself in. So don’t waste time juggling ten clubs. Instead, find one to three that really speak to you and give them your all.

2. Prioritize your perfectionism.

You can do a satisfactory, probably even pretty good job in 20% of the time you spend on a big project. It’s when you say, “oh! And I can do this too…” or, “but it’s not COMPLETELY 110% done yet…” that things start to go haywire. “It is the inclusion of the ‘nice to have’ features that turn potentially sound projects into looming catastrophes,” says Koch, meaning that it’s easy to blow tons of time on little odds and ends of an assignment that, while nice, aren’t worth the time you’re spending on them.

There are certain projects–ones that have big implications on your grade, your career, or your success in some other way–that are absolutely worth being a perfectionist about. But–you guessed it–a small number of projects carry a huge amount of weight in life. This is true in college classes, where an essay can be worth half of your grade, and in most other areas as well. You can’t possibly give every single thing on your to-do list the star treatment, so you need to be smart about which tasks deserve your heart and soul and which you ain’t got time for. Regarding projects that aren’t really going to give you much in the long run, it’s okay to do a satisfactory (80%) job in a small amount of time (20%) and then move on to something else that’s worth your attention.

Not everything can be, or should be, done perfectly. That’s hard for a lot of overachievers, myself included, to swallow.


3. Try working by time rather than by task.

You’d be amazed at how much of the work you do can be accomplished in so little of the time you usually give it. On a particularly busy night, try giving yourself time slots to work on assignments instead of diving into one and only moving onto the next when the first one is complete. For instance, work on three tasks for only an hour each. Having a deadline can really boost productivity, so you might be surprised by how much you accomplish in just the hour. Even if you don’t finish, at least you know which assignment needs the most additional work and how you can best spend your remaining time. You’ll make significant progress on all of your tasks instead of finishing one and ignoring the others (my biggest studying issue.)

4. Selectively socialize.

The second half of Koch’s book, where he talks about how to apply 80/20 thinking to social situations, gets a little confusing. But the basic 80/20 concept definitely applies to college social life. From how it looks in the movies, you’d think every night at college is a party. For some people, it is. But the truth is, to get good grades, to really learn and grow in the way you’re supposed to in college, you have to work a lot. You’re going to have to say no to some invitations.

When I think back on my freshman year, I can count the “wow, that was a really great day/night” moments with my friends on both my hands. The large majority of the happiness I got from socializing came from a minority of the time I spent doing it (and, it’s worth mentioning, the majority of those great moments happened with a very small group of people.) When you’re busy with other stuff, you’ve got to prioritize if you want to feel fulfilled socially. Only say yes to the stuff that actually sounds like a good time (and people you actually like.) Life’s too short for lame-o parties, you feel?

5. Put out the right fires.

80% of all your problems can be solved by fixing the peskiest 20% of the issues causing them. If you feel down in the dumps around February (everyone does), take a good look at your situation and figure out what’s causing the most trouble. That history class is super-stressing you out? Make an appointment with your TA and clear things up once and for all. That guy you got involved with is causing way too much drama? Buh-bye. Even if you can’t fix everything that’s going wrong, fixing the few things that are causing the most issues will make a huge difference.

6. Build on your best 20%. 

Koch’s mantra: run with what works, ditch what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to abandon things that are “just fine” to dive into something else that you’ve fallen in love with or are really good at. Figure out what your top-20-percent activities are and give them the time/energy/resources they need to be the very best for you…even if doing so means taking resources away from stuff that maybe “you technically should” be doing. Cut out the least productive/satisfying activities you do–YouTube, a boring club, a useless assignment–and give that time to the things that are giving you the most success. Your overall productivity and happiness will multiply.


Have you read the 80/20 principle? Do you have any tips I missed?