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Dorm decor now big business

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Animal-print sheets. Translucent-green cordless phones. Collapsible crates. You didn't think a college freshman could get by with just a trunk and a desk lamp, did you?

Decorating a dorm room gives many kids their first shot at self-expression. Yet freshmen aren't the only ones who consider dorm decor serious business.

Merchandisers want a piece of the $100 billion market, pitching everything from linens to school supplies. A starter kit can top $500 (computer not included).

Before shopping, plan ahead: You'll spend more wisely if you check with the college first about room dimensions, furniture and appliances.

Many students like the extra space that loft beds provide and buy kits to raise their beds up off the floor. But after a while, crashing uphill can be a pain. So before you spend the money on a new kit, check to see if you can recycle someone else's, or set your bed on cinder blocks.

Some dorm beds require extra-long (80-inch) bedding, available in back-to-school sets in department and mass-merchandise stores. Buy a duvet, which is easier to wash than a blanket. You may also want a matching carpet remnant, which cushions the floor. Some campus organizations sell remnants and may be able to find you a rug that already fits the room.

For seating, look at lightweight butterfly chairs or inflatable furniture. You might also want to substitute a comfortable desk chair for the standard-issue straight one.

A laundry backpack helps you hike your clothes to the laundry room. You can also get a chrome trolley with a pullout hamper and a shelf for books, or a laundry stand with a removable mesh bag.

Stackable drawers and under-the-bed bins equipped with wheels are great for extra storage. For holding and folding, choose collapsible crates or twist-down mesh boxes. Plastic food containers can hold everything, and you'll probably want to invest in a vented shower tote.

Some schools are outfitting all dorm rooms with a refrigerator-microwave combination. If the school doesn't provide kitchen equipment (and the rules allow it), consider bringing a 1.7-cubic-foot fridge and a 600-watt microwave.

You'll also want a window fan if your dorm isn't air-conditioned. A phone set with a cord sometimes comes with the room, but cordless devices with integrated answering machines are popular at schools that don't provide voice mail.

Adhesive hooks and double-stick felt let you adorn your walls with abandon. For posters, check out ArtistDirect www.artistdirect.com, which features licensed merchandise from 102,520 different artists.

Now all you have to do is load the car, drive to campus, unload the car, carry the boxes up several flights of stairs, and kiss your parents goodbye.