I used to love back to school shopping when I was a kid. The stationery store was so exciting with all the binders, dividers, specialty pens, and notebooks, oh my! Nerd alert. Then there was the clothes shopping! My Grandma loved to take us back to school shopping. I’d try on oodles of clothes and she would help me accessorize each outfit properly. Then we’d have lunch at some charming place or another, I usually got the caesar and lemonade, she would always surprise me. It was so fun, in a ladies that lunch sort of way. Looking back I can see how wasteful it was and I was, though. So this year I tried to be really strategic about how I shopped for back to school for my daughter.
The clothing industry is a huge contributor to climate change and a waster of our precious resources. Not only because nearly everything is shipped in plastic, even before it makes it store front, tagged with plastic, wrapped in plastic, and even made of some from of plastic, but mostly because we are buying so much useless stuff because it is trendy or on sale. My mother’s closet is the perfect example of this! I desperately want to attempt “the curated closet” but since I am roughly the size of a 1969 VW bug trying to figure out what works for my body does not make any sense. Once the baby is born and I start to resemble my old self I plan to dive in head first. I’ve got the book and started to plan what I can, but I’m not going to try anything on with this big bod. Instead I have directed my attention to my ever growing 4 year old. Of course because she is constantly changing, full of stain opportunities, and looks good in everything, most of the basic curated principles need not apply. I’m not running out and buying $200 jeans for her, but I am planning rather than walking in blind and grabbing every cute thing that swings our way.
Recently I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts “So Money” with Farnoosh Torabi and her guest was talking about how her parents forced her to make a budget to go back to school shopping. She had to write down everything that she would need and estimate how much it would cost, then her parents would give her the money and she would have to complete her shopping within this budget. I LOVE this idea, however budgets and four year olds are not quite a match made in heaven just yet. So instead we made a list of all the things that she would need to get her through the school year. X amount of pants, Y amount of shirts, 1 heavy duty jacket, 2-3 neutral sweaters etc. She really responded so well to this activity and as we went through what she had, she made sure to notate her favorite colors to wear (pink purple blue and yellow) so that we could make sure lots of things match. She seemed so grown up! Our list was as follows:
Underwear with NO characters
1 jacket (like the green one, but purple and fuzzy inside)
2-3 neutral sweaters
1 pair of shoes (this is optional, she has shoes that fit, though most are on the way out and she could use a simple but dressier pair)
Now she is a great list maker but not always a good shopper and I knew I wanted to buy as many used items as possible so I started out on Thred-up. I had great success! I placed all the items in my cart that were her size, good condition, and something that she would love. Then I narrowed it down to make outfits that could be mixed and matched. I was able to get all her shirts and pants with no issues and found one navy cardigan to coordinate.When they arrived in the mail, we went through them and checked the items off our list. Now we needed to find those other items locally.
After having no luck at our local thrift and the very few local kids shops around town we headed to the mall. She found a pair of subtlety sparkly ballet flats and days of the week underwear and socks. The line for the latter was so long and slow that I totally forgot to have the cashier take the tags and plastic off the items, big fail. The shoes however we ditched the plastic wrapping but kept the box, she uses those to organize her toys like her play food. When M was 2 1/2 she received a down jacket with a fuzzy inside that is reversible for a Christmas gift. That jacket is just now getting too small, we have gotten two strong years out of that thing, so that was what I was in search of the second time around. I have had my eye out for one on eBay and the like, but rarely did something come up and it was usually covered in “minor” stains or not quite the right size. I finally broke down and decided to buy a new one. We got SO much use of that thing, and she was never cold when she wore it, even in the snow. It was by far one of the best gifts anyone has ever given her, as she got so much use of it (plus I’m saving it for baby number 2 too!). She of course had her mind set on a purple one, thinking they wouldn’t have it I told her if they had purple she could get it. We walked into our local North Face store and there right in front was that jacket in bright purple, she was in heaven. She tore off her sweater to try it on. It was big but wearable and the only thing not perfect about it was its hefty price tag. Holy moly was I not prepared for that. I had to remind myself how she wore her green one everyday in the winter for two years, how she even tried to wear it when it was too hot. Here’ s our curated moment. I could change my mind and go back on my word and buy something half rate at the GAP and risk a battle to get her to wear it, or I could suck it up and buy it. I bought it. It hurt. The good news is she is already trying to wear it. There have been several times where I’ve found her during “quiet time” wearing it and “reading” to her bear. Money well spent, I hope….
The last items on the list are two neutral sweaters, but I am aiming to find those used. After splurging on the jacket, I cannot fathom spending $30 on a kids cardigan, nope. So I shall continue to watch my local used shop, eBay, thredUp and even etsy for something fall is coming but it is still very warm outside. Maybe I should break out my knitting needles and make her one? She’d probably hate it.
Luckily pre-school doesn’t require any “school” supplies, but we still have a lunch box and back pack as well as slippers to worry about. Montessori requires the kids to wear slippers in the classroom to keep dirt and noise at bay. We found a used pair of purple crocks…that she has been swooning over, to act as her classroom shoes this year. They are a little big, but she won’t be running in them so they’ll work. As far as the lunch box and backpack go, we are using the same ones as last year. My mother would buy us a new set every year! What a waste! Especially for a family that was not exactly swimming in money. It seems so ridiculous to think a backpack can’t last more than a year. But this is case in point with the curated closet….if you buy it right you buy it to last. I had the flavor of the moment character, which was totally out by the next year. One more reason to not buy the soulless crap! Last year I let M pick the animal on her SoYoung set, they’re made of linen, (no BPA, no vinyl) machine washable, and small enough for her little frame. They are in great shape and although I don’t love how the lunch box opens (I didn’t even think about that when I originally purchased it) it works so there is no need to replace. Inside her lunch I use a combination of beeswax wraps, tiny jars, and metal containers. I splurged and bought her an insulated one for use this year because I was concerned about her eating a cold lunch on really really cold days. I thought I could put in something like hot pasta and that would be a nice warm treat. Overall there is no waste, even though she asks if she can try yogurt in a tube, gross! Why do people buy that junk for their growing babies!?!?!?!? Best part is her teacher complemented us on her lunch and our packing at our teacher conference last year. I guess they try to not put their garbage can out too!
So as you can see there is no one size fits all with back to school shopping. It can be hard to navigate in an earth friendly way, but the best advise is make a list, follow it, and start by looking for used items first. By not buying excessive items that are not practical or necessary and by giving new life to something gently usedwe are truly doing our best to manage resources in a sustainable way. Nothing is as important as our babies’ future both educationally and environmentally. Take responsibility in your own home!