Is it at all possible to go back to school without blasting out social media posts announcing each kid’s new grade on a chalkboard and purchasing a whole new wardrobe for each child? Has anyone ever tried? Would the world implode?
I’ve tried and succeeded. That’s right. I don’t do back-to-school shopping (despite how much I loved it as a kid) and I’m not sorry about it. I don’t have a chalkboard, either, but that’s a story for another day. The reason is simple. My kids are drowning in stuff, and a big portion of that is clothes. They don’t need more, even if there’s a fun ritual involved.
Growing up, back-to-school shopping was the thing that made the act of heading back to the temperamental, hormone-fueled classrooms and playgrounds worth it. My mom would take each of us, her three kids spread out over 8 years, shopping a few days before school. We’d each get $100 to spend. No more, no less because it had to be fair and even. OMG, that back-to-school shopping spree was like freaking Christmas and Hanukkah rolled into one for preteen me. You’d better believe I hit that Mode 5 and Styles For Less with a mission, catalog in hand searching for the looks that caught my eyes on paper. Tees with hearts on them. The baggier the jeans, the better. Maybe there’d be a few dollars left for some sparkly barrettes to complete the look.
The night before school, my siblings and I would each lay out our wardrobes for the first day of school. It was of paramount importance that everything was brand new. Preferably socks and underwear, too. We’d wake up early for the first and last time the entire school year, and put our new outfits on. Backpacks still stiff and smelling of plastic would complete the look.
New year. New clothes. New us. I totally get it.
Unfortunately for my kids, they don’t get that back-to-school shopping experience. Before you feel bad for my almost 8 year old and 4 year old, let me explain a few things. My mother-in-law is extremely generous to my kids, and loves to shop. My husband’s mom lives about four hours away from us, and we see her every few months. Whenever we see her, she’s armed with new clothes and toys for the kids.
As much as I appreciate her generosity, I can hardly hide the look on my face as she hands my kids more stuff that says “oh my God. Where are we going to put all of this?”
Then there are the hand-me-downs. Once again, I’m so grateful for the generosity of relatives who give us bags and bags of barely-used shirts, pants, sweatshirts and jammies. But it’s honestly way too much.
My kids’ drawers are stuffed to the point of overflowing, and I’m always trying to purge clothes. I donate the clothes, or continue handing them down if there’s an interest with friends or relatives.
This “issue” of too many clothes is the definition of first-world problem. We are fortunate. And I’m sure as hell not going to buy my kids back-to-school clothes for the sake of buying back-to-school clothes. Even though shopping for back-to-school clothes is a totally fun ritual that I cherish from my childhood.
But you know what? I didn’t have nearly as many clothes as my kids do. With the exception of maybe a stray shirt or pair of pants at the holidays or at birthdays, back-to-school shopping was the one time a year my siblings and I got new clothes. The rareness of clothes shopping is part of what made it special.
This year, both of my kids received a new backpack, lunch box and school supplies. They got new shoes because they needed them. But they’re not getting clothes. I want my kids to understand that we don’t shop just to shop (except maybe when Mommy’s craving a new handbag!) I want my kids to appreciate what they have, and to understand that others don’t have as much. It’s important to me that my children help choose clothes to donate to those who need them, so that those children also have nice clothes to start off their school year on the right foot.
Even without the new clothes, back to school is still special for my kids. There’s that early morning, first-day hustle and choosing an outfit. There are quick, cell-phone pictures on the front porch, no chalkboard sign necessary. There’s still the excitement of seeing familiar faces on campus, and the uncertainty of a new teacher and a new year.
There’s the opportunity for a fresh start. There’s just no back-to-school shopping. And maybe we’re better for it.