Every year, at almost the exact moment that your backyard deck is finally bug-free and BBQ-ready, the “Back-to-School” marketing onslaught begins. They’re on TV, they’re on the car radio, and they’re in flyers all over your front porch, telling your kids (who then tell you) what all the “cool” kids just have to wear (four-eight weeks later!) on the first day of the new school year.
No sooner have you uttered the word “looks” (you know, as you’re singing “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty…oh, crap, is that a Back-to-School ad already?!”) when you are bombarded with carefully-manufactured worries about achieving the just right look for grade one (or two, or four, or six…)
Well, as a Mom of three, who is also a public school kindergarten teacher, I’m here to tell you: It’s a lie. It’s a big, orchestrated marketing booby trap, designed to make good Moms who want to take good care of their kids feel bad.
Your kids need almost nothing in September that you didn’t already have in August. Or July. Or last May. The “perfect for Spring” jacket is likely also perfect for Fall. And if you do need new stuff, please don’t be conned into wasting your last precious days of nice weather and family time at the mall! There’s almost nothing on that “school supplies” list that can’t wait until October. I repeat:
Don’t drink the Back-to-School marketing Kool-Aid!
1. Reason #1 is one I like to call “The List Lies.” This part may, admittedly, not apply to you if you live elsewhere or send your kids to private school (however, I might humbly suggest that you consider the following in any case – my rationale for minimalist living is not financial.) In Canada, public schools use tax money to provide basic school supplies such as pencils, notebooks, crayons and so forth. All you need to go to school in Canada is a backpack, a lunchbox and a smile – okay, maybe a bit of lunch too. Throw in some curiosity and a good attitude, and you’re all set for school. Done.
Be forewarned: Your child’s public school teacher may try to give you a “list.” In fact, I recall one Toronto kindergarten teacher who sent home a list that cost me over $100, and even specified the brand of scissors she wanted my kindergartener to bring – “Fiskars” only, please and thank you. But when she didn’t return all those scissors at the end of the year, and then sent out the same list again the following year, I began to wonder: What does she do with all those scissors? Maybe she eats them. Attempting to digest a belly full of Fiskars primary scissors would explain a lot about her general personality, come to think of it….
Me? I’m more experienced, and frankly, grouchier now that I’ve got three kids in school. These days, when I get a crazy school supplies list, I turn it into a paper airplane (which I enjoy flying during my last days of summer weather with the fam) and then tell the principal what she should be doing with my tax dollars. Plus, if push comes to shove, and your guys really can’t wait until October, you probably have some pens and pencils in the bottom of your purse. I know I do!
What I urge you to resist, even more heartily, though, is the marketers’ suggestion that your child “needs” not just markers, but Crayola markers, and not just the regular six-pack of primaries, but also erasable markers, permanent markers, chubby markers, glow-in-the-dark markers, fluorescent-brite markers, pastel markers, skinny markers, chisel-tip markers, pipsqueak markers AND smelly markers. Here’s a tip from a trained and accredited kindergarten teacher (me!) that you can take to the bank: Kids don’t do their best artistic work with markers anyway. Get crayons – and get just one set. Broken ones work too, BTW. And, for goodness’ sake, nobody needs their Crayons to be “Twistable,” contained in individual plastic twist-up tubes. What will they think of next, in their efforts to make us “need” stuff?
UNIVERSAL APPLICATION OF THIS SAME PRINCIPLE (This principle is true in pretty much every country, including Canada): You don’t really need all the stuff you think you need, and neither do your kids. You may remember getting ready to bring home your first baby, if you are a parent. You thought you needed to have 20 outfits pre-washed and hung on tiny hangers, the baby’s nursery painted and stuffed animals at the ready. It wasn’t until weeks later that you realized you only needed a boob or bottle, some cotton onesies (the baby version of a cotton undershirt!) and a couple of fresh blankets, to do the job of caring for your baby. Personally, I think the “changing table” is the biggest marketing swizz of all time…but I digress…For school, all your really need is your brain and some curiosity. ‘Nuff said.
2. Seasonal Clothing Tip: August is a lousy time to buy fall clothes, for the most part. First of all, it’s still warm. Second of all, September will likely *also* still be warm. I don’t know how many years in a row we got gorgeous “First Day of School” outfits for the kids from Gramma, only to find that it was far too warm outside for the kilt/cardigan/cords/sweater-vest/tights ensemble that we’d planned on wearing. More often than not, the outfit made it into a posed “First Day” photo for “the album” (as we like to call the collection of shoe boxes under Mummy’s bed) which was later changed for shorts and a T-shirt. I should confess that these days we do our annual “First Day” photos on the day before school. This gives us the time needed to plan the real outfit we’re going to wear and shove all those overly warm fashionable clothes back into storage. Also, Mummy can’t take good photos in a rush, before several cups of morning coffee. It’s better for everyone, trust me.
3. Third, there’s a little objection that I like to call “My Kid Could Do That!” Do you ever wonder who decides what is “in for Fall?” I would humbly suggest that the marketing team at Target (substitute Zellers, Kohl’s, Burdine’s…or whatever store is in the mall near you) does not know what kids really like. Some (adult) genius, somewhere, has decided that it’s better (read “easier”) to tell kids what they should like. Then, we send them to school and try to teach them to think-for-themselves. Huh. Here’s a thought: See what your kids would wear if they were given free rein. I bet it would surprise you! Now, here at the Home Planet Project, we made a commitment not to buy anything new for a year. Our clothes, for this little experiment, came from a local thrift store called Value Village. Ironically, the selection of styles in a used clothing shop entirely frees you up from being a slave to current trends! It’s all “so last season!” I’ve watched enough HGTV fashion advice shows to know that while fashion is fleeting, style is timeless.
Here’s what happened when I took our seven-year old daughter M, who is headed for the third grade, to Value Village this week. I gave her a cart, into which I let her put whatever she wanted. Then I made her try things on, and put outfits together. Sure I gave her some guidelines (“Wear pants,” I suggested. Oh yeah, and my other valuable nugget was “Mixing horizontal and vertical stripes make Mummy feel a bit queasy, Sweetheart.”) This was (a) Fun, (b) Hilarious, (c) A cheap family summer outing and (d) Impressive! My seven-year old Sweetheart is so proud to show you what she came up with for Fall. Here is her kid-styled, second-hand “Look Book”: