Back to school shopping

Our school district generally starts the new year after Labor Day, but this year, the kids go back Aug. 30. And look, I’m not complaining about that. You go to school, kids, and be glad that you can. (Not all girls are so lucky in this world.)

What I’m complaining about is the fact that I have to get my act together to actually procure supplies et al.

I really, really hate shopping.

This might not look like a lot to you, but this is the most we've ever been able to reuse from home.

This might not look like a lot to you, but this is the most we’ve ever been able to reuse from home.

And I was dubious about how that was going to look in light of the project. Thankfully, detailed and mandatory school supply lists are a thing of the past, as Abby is in high school and they trust her to figure out what she will use, and Johanna’s list is simply “suggested.”

Actually, Johanna had the smallest list of her entire school career, and Abby mostly just needed notebooks. I really appreciated that.

Going through the Box of Awesome, I found all sorts of items Jo could reuse — colored pencils, highlighters in three different colors, a handheld pencil sharpener, lots of pencils, an eraser, sticky notes (???), and ear buds. And you bet I tossed in her scissors with the three-inch blades. She’s using those things for the rest of her life.

Johanna LOVES shopping for new school supplies. Every year she starts asking to hit the stores mid-July, but there is no way I’m emotionally stable enough to handle THAT that early in the summer. So tradition holds that we wait until the last possible second, which usually means the week before school starts. And then we’re fighting the crowds and that makes me even more anxious. But I forget that part until we’re in the thick of it. 😉

THIS year, I started a week and a half early (!), by going online to see what sorts of “green” office supplies were out there. I went to sites I trust, I went to sites that might be sketchy, I looked around and saw the options and tried not to cry.

Because here’s the problem: Items might have been made from recycled materials, but they’re still packaged. They’ll still need to be shipped to my door, which means even more packaging. And the prices were much higher, shipping costs aside. (With the added bonus of not knowing what sort of quality you were getting.)

FINE, I yelled, I’ll go to the stores, then.

And there was much rejoicing in the house.

So on Saturday, we headed to the next town over to see what we could find. “Green” supplies were not really a thing. One plus: Unpackaged items were possible. One negative: Some were packaged-only.

We do what we can with the options provided to us. I kept chanting that to myself, and it took me a while to figure out why I felt so vaguely terrible about this whole ordeal. It finally occurred to me that it wasn’t what we were putting in the cart, per se, but the fact we were at the store at all. Being a minimalist really puts a damper on shopping. All I can think about is, how are we going to get rid of this someday?

What did help: Abby has already been through middle school AND that supply list, so she could tell us what Jo actually needed and what we could pass up. There’s no way you need two packs of tab dividers, she advised, no one cares how many highlighters you have, and I used my 200 index cards for five years, so don’t buy that many. Now THAT is info I can use.

Ye olde list.

Ye olde list.

Clothes shopping was easier. Johanna only needed a couple of pairs of jeans, and since she doesn’t care about clothes at all, she picked out a new t-shirt and declared herself done. Abby’s shopping will be a little more involved, but she’s opted to go into Portland with a friend, and we don’t know how that turned out yet, so I can’t report.

So how did we do? Well … I think we did okay. It didn’t occur to me until I started writing this post that I should have emailed Jo’s list to my parents and in-laws to see if they had any supplies we could use — that might have negated the need for new binders. But aside from that, we did the best we could: Jo got a metal ruler that she’ll be able to use for the rest of her school career and that we can recycle at the end of its life. When packages were the only choice, we opted for bulk (like a value pack of glue sticks the girls can share versus individually wrapped). Some items, like the index cards and binder tabs, were packaged, but I know will be reusable next year (and hopefully the year after that, too). Spiral notebooks can be taken apart and recycled after they’ve been used. And we recycled as much of the packaging for the other items that we could — because yes, Johanna came home and right away got all of her supplies sorted and packed in her backpack. She’s so happy. (I’ve already told her that if we ended up buying something she doesn’t actually need, it goes straight into the Box for next year.) Still a lot of plastic.

The solution to all of this might be to look for supplies all year round — get whatever is in good condition at Goodwill as soon as I find it, scope out “green,” unpackaged supplies at various stores, put the word out to family and friends that we’ll take their castoffs. I haven’t embraced this, though, because my minimalism is getting in the way again — I don’t like storing stuff “just in case.” But if it’s hidden away in the Box, what does it matter?

I have to think about that one.

Next up: A conversation at the grocery store.