A Pen Addict's Assessment of School Supply Shopping

Colored Pencils

(Sarah Read is an author, editor, yarn artist, and pen/paper/ink addict. You can find more about her at her website and on Twitter. And check out her first novel, The Bone Weaver’s Orchard, now available where books are sold!)

Like many of us, my love for stationery began early, possibly from birth. Was there anything better, in childhood, than a fresh box of crayons? Back-to-school shopping was the highlight of the year. Better than my birthday or Christmas. Back then, the school supply lists gave general guidance on what you might need, and the list hinted at what grand adventures might await in the new classroom. I remember the first time my list had paints on it. The excitement was almost unbearable.

College school shopping was extra exciting--there were no real lists, and I was free to use glitter gel pens and fountain pens and Clairefontaine notebooks to my heart's content. No more college-ruled loose-leaf nonsense! I missed school shopping, after I graduated. The rows of bins of fresh erasers still tempted me every fall.

So, you can imagine my delight when my eldest child started school and back-to-school shopping reentered my life.

Gel Pens

But times have changed. The list has changed. And some of the fun has gone out of school shopping. The days of picking out your own markers are over--now they give you an item number or exact brand name and type. It's more of a scavenger hunt than a selection process, and it takes place in a maze full of frazzled obstacles. What once was the biggest celebration of the year has become the biggest burden.

Now, part of that is the financial aspect. The school list alone, without any of the extras, like shoes or the requested classroom donations, runs about $300 a child. Between the two kids and all the gear they need, we can easily top $1200, if we're not careful. So we have to be very careful. Every year it gets more expensive (separate gym shoes! Calculators!), and every year, I have to develop new strategies to make sure my kids have what they need to get through the year.

Pencil Shavings

My strategy this year? Screw the list. Yeah. Normally, I'm a list follower. I used to glide gleefully down the aisle from item to item, checking things off. But I'm just done. 48 sharpened number two pencils? No. That's ridiculous. Twelve red pens? I don't think so. I spent twelve years of my life editing for a living, and I don't think I went through twelve red pens in that time. He has two, still, that we got him last year, and that's enough. It's true that he might lose them, and in that case, we'll have to get more, but I hope he might learn, instead, to keep track of what's important.

He'll need new notebooks, of course, and I'm always happy to provide the classroom with sanitizing wipes or whatever else they may need to prevent the rampant spread of classroom diseases, but the supply list madness has to stop.

We're having to watch our pennies quite closely this year, and I think a lot of my frustration comes from that--that these items are deemed necessities when, really, many of them are luxuries. And I realize the high quantities on some items are because we're supplying the classroom, not just our child. And I don't believe that teachers should ever have to purchase classroom supplies, and I know how often they do, and it breaks my heart.


But I also don't feel like my eleven-year-old NEEDS a wireless mouse, so he's not getting one. He definitely needs jeans and a new coat, so we'll focus there.

Maybe I'm just being grumpy. Maybe I've got the summer break blues. Tell me, parents, do you still enjoy the school supply shopping? Or has it worn you down? How many pencils does your list ask for? How much do you end up spending on your school shopping? Do you follow the list?

I hope the magic is still alive for you. And I hope it comes back, for me, too! Perhaps it will next year, when we'll be school shopping for three, as I'll be going back to school, myself. I can't deny that one of my first thoughts when I decided to return to school was that I'd need school supplies! I wonder if we need fresh crayons for grad school...

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Posted on August 8, 2019 and filed under School Supplies.