School starts tomorrow. And for once I’m not frantically racing around from store to store finding all the school supplies and new clothes that herald the start of another school year. I did purchase some items, mostly for my new middle schooler (why do they need TEN folders?). It wasn’t just budgetary considerations that kept me away from Walmart this year. It was this sense that we are being swallowed alive by too much stuff. When my 7 year old hears I’m going to the store, he grabs his wallet and hollers, “I wanna come too!” When I ask him what he needs from the store he replies, “I just want to buy something.” Sometimes I think we all succumb to this need. But where does it come from?
It’s tradition to buy all new notebooks, lunch boxes, backpacks, and clothes for each school year, right? It feels good walking down the aisle tossing in fresh crayons, sets of highlighters in eight colors, and Sponge Bob book covers. Then we hit the young girls section and find new socks, a cute outfit, and maybe some hair accessories. I always feel like a real parent when preparing my kids for the new school year. I pore over the list, label everything with permanent marker. I’m even that parent that shows up at the bus stop on the first day of school with her camera. So really, I’m in touch with the great urge to BUY STUFF, especially at the start of the school year.
With the exception of the school supplies that weren’t already leftover from last year and two new lunch boxes (because the others smelled soooooo bad and vinegar couldn’t take the scent away), our budget escaped unscathed this fall. There were no new clothes. My kids have plenty of clothes. More than they need. I know this because of the number of weeks they can go before they finally bring their dirty clothes to the laundry room. Even then they are never naked, they have something to wear (they just might not like it so much).
As you get ready for school to start, consider what you already have. Are there notebooks that survived last year? Do you have as many colored pencils as I have? We bought a new set every year for all three kids for too many years to count and now have thousands. And really, who uses colored pencils? They aren’t nearly as exciting as scented markers or twist up crayons. Today the kids will choose from the thousands of colored pencils we’ve accumulated and we’ll crank up the pencil sharpener and have at it. We’ll track down the highlighters from the junk drawer and write names on them (last names so they can be used again). Pencils seem to multiply at our house. It’s just a matter of choosing the ones with the best working eraser and sharpening them to a surgical point.
When I first made the decision to reuse as many school supplies as possible this year, I planned to pay the kids a dime or a quarter for each supply they located and agreed to reuse. I figured they’d need incentive after years of consumer programming regarding the start of the school year and new stuff. Miraculously, I didn’t have to pay them. They were fine with using the stuff we had (as long as they didn’t have to use the same smelly lunch box!). And there were some things on the list we couldn’t avoid buying. (Why does a fifth grader need to own her own three-hole punch? Seems a little over the top to me, considering there’s one in every classroom). But if you need to bribe your kids, I think it’d be worth it.
This morning we sorted through all the clothes dividing them between school clothes, play clothes, clothes that don’t fit anymore and clothes they would never be caught dead wearing. We dug out some sneakers and made sure they still fit after a summer of bare feet. Tonight we’ll pick out the perfect outfit to wear (or in the boys cases, I’ll pick out the perfect outfit) and I’ll lend my daughter some earrings for the first day. I’ll wait for the Labor Day sales to buy new socks we need them and make it a point to stop in the Goodwill a few times this month for a few unstained shirts for the boys.
It is possible to make this a special start of school without all the brand new clothes and fresh school supplies. This afternoon we’ll pack up the backpacks and bake cookies to pack in their lunch tomorrow. Tonight we’ll have a dinner everyone loves and stop at the local ice cream stand for dessert to celebrate the start of school. And tomorrow morning I’ll trail them to the bus stop, camera in hand, ready to start a whole new year.