Packing for College: 2019 v. 1990

In a month my oldest son will be heading to Boston to begin his freshman year of college. It’s time to let my baby go and it’s not easy. He’s ready. Me? Not so much. I’m feeling overwhelmed and I’ve been coping by helping him prepare and pack. In the process, I’ve come to realize that packing for college in 2019 is nothing like packing for college the way I did back in 1990. Sure, some things are the same. Extra long twin sheets and shower flip flops are still essentials, but so much else has changed. Here’s what I mean…

Word Processor and Research

2019-My son is going to college with a touch screen laptop computer for researching, writing papers, etc. He doesn’t need a printer. There are numerous printers available in his dorm and in other campus buildings. 

1990-Smith. Corona. Word. Processor. That’s what I used to write my papers. Anyone else have one of those beauties? If not, a Smith Corona Word Processor was a glorified typewriter. It had the added bonus of being able to save work on a floppy disk, but it only electronically displayed about four typed lines at a time. It even used typewriter ribbon cartridges, for heaven’s sake. I may be mistaken, but I think my Smith Corona required continuous form computer paper—the kind where the pages are attached to each other and you have to remove the perforated margins with circular holes. As for researching, that occurred in one place only—a library with physical sources like books and microfiche. Any else remember microfiche? That lovely microscopic film of newspaper or journal articles that had to be viewed in a special magnifying machine? I considered myself fortunate when my research was confined to the campus library and didn’t involve making multiple trips to libraries across the state. 

TV and Movies

2019-My son will likely binge watch TV shows and movies on demand using his laptop or phone through streaming services like Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime, etc.

1990-I lugged my TV, VCR, and VHS tapes to college with me. If my dorm room was facing the right direction, I could watch shows broadcast on local stations during their weekly scheduled time slots with the help of TV rabbit ear antennas. When my roommate(s) and I were in a splurging mood, we’d head down to the local Blockbuster Video to rent a newly released movie on VHS tape. We lived in decadence when we got cable TV during our last two years of college. 


2019-My son will listen to music on his phone through iTunes, Amazon Music, and other streaming services.

1990-The CD/dual cassette player boombox was all the rage when I went to college. Why? We’d listen to our CDs/tapes (we brought dozen upon dozen of them) AND make tape mixes for our friends. Any else remember carefully selecting and recording  tape mix songs to memorialize friendships and relive happy moments? Receiving a tape mix in the mail from a high school friend at another college was pure gold! 


2019-My son will use his phone to communicate via social media, texts, emails, voicemails, and live conversations whenever he pleases.

1990-I brought a landline phone and an answering machine to college. Each year my roommate(s) and I contacted the phone company to activate our landline and we were assigned a new phone number. We shared our phone number with friends/family by either calling them or sending them a letter in the mail. Since we shared the phone, we often scheduled phone usage times. When the phone bill arrived each month, we combed through the dialed call list line by line to figure out how much each of us owed. It was tedious, but recording our outgoing roommate answer machine messages more than made up for it. Anyone else record cutesy messages where you alternated every other word or sentence with your roommate? Those were roommate relationship defining moments. One roommate and I did our own rendition of the When Harry Met Sally answering machine message alternating the lines ”The fact that we are not answering means we are either (a) Not home, (b) Home, but don’t want to talk to you, or (c) Home, desperately want to talk to you, but trapped under something heavy. If it’s either (a) or (c), we’ll call you back.” It was fun.            

Miscellaneous Stuff

2019-My son will use his phone as an alarm clock, a flashlight, a camera, a contact list, a calculator, a photo album…you name it.

1990-A separate alarm clock, flashlight, camera, phone/address book, calculator, and photo albums accompanied me to college.

The Verdict

I brought a Smith Corona Word Processor, typewriter ribbon, computer paper, a TV, a VCR, VHS tapes, a CD/dual cassette boombox, CDs, tapes, a landline phone, an answering machine, an alarm clock, a flashlight, a camera, a phone/address book, a calculator, and photo albums to college. My son is bringing a laptop computer and his phone. Seventeen items versus two. While my son is packing a lot lighter than I did, there is a part of me that feels bad for him. He’ll never receive tape mix care packages filled with meaningful songs and happy memories. They were the perfect remedy for lonely, difficult days. He’ll never record goofy answering machine messages with his roommate. Thirty years later, those things still make me smile. They were worth the extra packing. Now, if only I could find one of those old tape mixes…  



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