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Typical Dorm Disasters (and How to Avoid Them)

Typical Dorm Disasters (and How to Avoid Them)

If you stick a bunch of 18- to 21-year-olds in a confined space with limited supervision and lots of electrical outlets, something's bound to go wrong eventually. Say there are 700 people living in your residence hall. Odds are that at any given time, somebody's doing something stupid. But don't be quick to judge—that somebody could be you one day. As someone who's well-versed in the art of causing disasters, I feel obligated to tell you how to avoid them. Follow my advice, and your college experience will be blissfully free of catastrophes (except for when you inevitably trip down a flight a stairs and land, inexplicably covered in spaghetti, in front of your crush. That happens to everyone. There's just no way around it).

Disaster #1: Burning something in the microwave.

Now, the extent of this problem could range anywhere from "minor inconvenience" to "calamity the likes of which will incite riots," depending on a) your dorm's fire alarm system, b) the time of day, and c) how well you hide the evidence. Let's just say that you're an innocent freshman tossing an Easy Mac in the microwave, but—oh no! You forgot to add water! The Easy Mac combusts! (This has never happened to me. Well, only twice.) What to do? You don't want to be the one that set off the fire alarm. Nobody likes that person. That person is awful, and probably smells bad. And it's even worse at, say, 2 o'clock in the morning, when a good chunk of people are sleeping and not eager to go crawling off into the night to wait for the fire department to fix your mild screw-up.

Here's what you do: close the door. In many residence halls, the alarms in rooms and the alarms in hallways are different. If you can contain it to your room, minimize the impact, and save the rest of the building from the mind-boggling terror of that hellish noise (DORM FIRE ALARMS ARE THE WORST THING YOU WILL EVER HEAR), do it. A lot of dorm fire alarms are heat-activated anyway; if there's smoke but no fire, you might be in the clear. Just open the window or turn on your fan. I know plenty of people who had incense in their dorms and never once set it off; the only guy who ever did had also accidentally set a chair on fire, and he closed his door to contain the alarm in his room only, displaying the kind of presence of mind you don't normally expect from people who inadvertently set fire to chairs.

Disaster #2: Locking yourself out.

This isn't a disaster, per se, unless you're a) wearing only a towel, or b) running late to something and NEED TO GET IN RIGHT NOW. Typically you can either get a replacement key from your dorm's community center, or from your RA. It's a simple fix. But how can you keep from doing it in the first place? I lock myself out consistently every Tuesday and on alternating Thursdays, so I can tell you it's a struggle. But there are some things you can try:

  • Always leave your key near your phone and wallet, so you never take one without the others.
  • Always leave your key near the door, or hang it on your doorknob.
  • Put a sign on your door that you'll see every time you leave. I had a sign last year. It didn't help, but I think it was a question of urgency. "Don't forget your key!" didn't work, but a big, bold-lettered "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON'T FORGET YOUR KEY OR EVERYONE YOU LOVE WILL DIE" might have done the trick.
  • Tape your key to your face. (Last resort, and a daring fashion statement.)

Disaster #3: Punching a hole in the wall.

...Or any damage done to the dorm, basically. The only way to really avoid this is to, you know, not do it. Hindsight is 20/20, and it will only occur to you after your vicious game of furniture dodgeball that maybe this wasn't the greatest idea. So in this case, the emphasis is on what we can do after the fact. Use toothpaste or white-out on tiny holes. If it's bigger than that but still small, I would recommend trying to spackle it yourself. With anything bigger than that, you might just want to accept the bill, because there are only so many things you can say to the charges if it looks like you took a baseball bat to the drywall.

Disaster #4: Being in the shower when the fire alarm goes off.

The first rule of dorms is there will always be fire alarms. Always. Whether it be because somebody is doing something stupid, or because your building is haunted and just likes to set them off when things are getting quiet, they are inevitable. And they will come at maddeningly inconvenient times, but none more so than when you're in the shower. There are always two or three people in towels and bathrobes wading through the masses on the sidewalk outside, shivering and wet and waiting to be let back in. Don't be that person. It sucks, and it's chilly. To avoid this, always bring a set of clothes (or at least a big fuzzy robe) with you if you have communal bathrooms. I'm telling you right now that I never do this, and I probably never will, and one day I'll regret it passionately.

Have any of these disasters ever happened to you?

Topics: Life, College Advisor
Tags: guides, awkward things, embarrassing things, funny things, how to, dorm showers, life at college, dorm life, dorm disasters, fire alarms

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In real life, she goes by the name Courtney Gorter. This is a closely guarded secret, and you're the only one who knows about it, so be cool. You can follow her on Twitter or check out her website if you want, but it's just going to be a lot of complaining.

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