Monday, September 13, 2010

The School Supply Sheet on a Shoestring

Many children have started school in the past week, and everyone else will start shortly, including myself. This week, it seemed to be fitting to confront a particular list that is very not minimalist: the school supply sheet

It happens the same every year. The end of summer rolls around, and these giant pamphlets are released "for your convenience,"so your child can have all the same stuff as everybody else. Except they never do, do they? Especially in grade school, whoever has the nicest back-to-school clothes and the fancy school supplies with whatever is in style on it that year always seems to have the easiest time of it. It's times like these where we are trained as children to compete with the Joneses and enter the rat race.

So, what are we to do as parents? This huge list of required items is ridiculous. They always come back home at some point with their things, and half of it is untouched. Not only that, school shopping is expensive. The average amount spent per child on back-to-school shopping is around $400, and the amount goes up as the child gets older. Does that strike anyone else as ludicrous? At the same time, you want your child to be well-prepared for school, and you do want them to be accepted by their peers. Does this mean you cave, spending hundreds of dollars on Hannah Montana themed everything that won't be "in" next year? I don't think so. 

Why not take the list and adapt it a bit? Do they really need the specific brand listed?  Who comes up with these lists anyway? If you really think you child is going to be missing something vitally important on their first day of school, which is highly unlikely, talk to their teacher before the fact. Building a relationship with your child's teacher is important, and they will know exactly what their lesson plans call for during the year. 

When it comes to back-to-school, the best thing you can do is involve your child and get creative. Here are some tips to save you a whole lot of cash and make your child feel like an individual. 

1. Take the school supply list, and see what you have around the house.

Does your child currently have a backpack? I'm sure you have pens and pencils around the house. Old notebooks? Tear out used pages, and it's like new. Binders? The best ones without a doubt are the ones where you can slide pages into the front and back. Crayons, colored pencils, art supplies, scissors, fabric, paper; anything you can think of that you can either send off on the first day, or use to help prepare for it, should be ransacked and brought to the table.

2. What can you remake and reuse?

It's all about letting your little one's personality shine through here. Remember that old backpack? Will it still work for this year? How can you modify it to make it seem like a new thing for your child? I recommend putting patches of their favorite things on there. If your daughter loves dance, find patches with ballet slippers on them! If you want a full-blown change, you can do that, too. The sky is the limit, so let your creativity run wild. Check out this diy job for inspiration!

Why not dress old pencils up a little in a fancy diy pencil case? Here is an easy one older kids could even do themselves.  This one is a little sewing heavy for those non-sewing folks out there, but check out this girl's other ideas! These are fantastic, totally customizable, and have the potential to be totally gorgeous. 

My own idea, which I must say I find pretty damn clever, cost me about four dollars. So, I needed a bulletin board, and I hadn't been able to find a big enough one a Goodwill. Also, I don't sew. This led to a trip into Dollar Tree, where I found foamcore. I got two of them and walked back over to Goodwill, with the intention of fitting them into a frame. I was going to put fabric over the top piece, and voila! Bulletin board! It didn't quite happen that way, though. I looked through the frames, but none of them where the right size. I walked over to find fabric, thinking I'd come back later for the frame, when I was hit on the head by the Inspiration Fairy. I picked up a pretty pillow case and slid both boards in. It was a perfect fit. Try it. You'll like it.

3. What do you still need?

If you've been here before, you know I don't buy things new unless it is entirely unavoidable, and I advocate you adopt the same policy for back-to-school shopping. Thrift it up, ask family members, but avoid at all costs buying brand new stuff. It's bad for the environment, and it will send your kids mixed messages about needing to buy things new for it to be "better." 

Going back to school doesn't have to go against your minimalist principles, and it doesn't have to expensive. Stop listening to those marketing ploys, and start getting creative! You're kids will think it's a blast, and they get a lot more out of the bargain. Instill in them now they don't need everything brand new because they make the old new again!

Stay tuned for tomorrow where we will discuss the back-to-school wardrobe! 

Creativity for Kids Ribbon & Felt Tote   Fashioning Technology: A DIY Intro to Smart Crafting (Craft: Projects)   Craftivity: 40 Projects for the DIY Lifestyle


  1. As a parent, one of the greatest tools is a sewing machine and/or a simple needle and thread! It is unbelievably easy to hit up goodwill and make all sorts of recycled diy projects. Plus, your kids will grow up with unique and special things that are made from the heart. That is much more special than something store bought without any thought put into it (not to mention that was probably made unethically). If you have anytime/interest learning to sew is amazing and fun. Here is a link to an awesome sewing book for babies and mamas:

  2. I hear you on the unethically made thing. That is one my biggest concerns, and it is just so hard to really find out where something comes from.

    I actually plan on starting a blog in the near-ish future which will catalog my adventure to learn how to sew. So, it is in the works!

  3. I'm in the (re)learning process as well, but if you ever need any advice, just let me know. I was given a really quality sewing machine as a gift and I am so stoked to start using it more. As of now, I mainly quilt, but I've started making pillows and some rad baby clothes. Currently I'm working on making a tutu for my friend's daughter. I can let you know how it goes/give you the pattern when I'm done if you'd like.

  4. Since you live in the Portland area, SCRAP (School and Community Reuse Action Project) is a great resource as well. One time, I found upholstry fabric @ $2/yard (dirt cheap) and extended the life of my beatup couch. There is also cards, office supplies, and much more, all recycled and reusable materials!