Do We Really Need Back to School Shopping?

$65 Shoes

There I was, surrounded by empty boxes, shoes scattered everywhere and my children climbing on the benches. It was the kind of scenario nightmares are made of.

While I’m a big fan of the summertime #Croclife, gym class requires tennis shoes. My minimalist school shopping still had me dragging three kids to Dick’s Sporting Goods.

school shopping and minimalism

Every time I turned around with a different size shoe, my daughter had either taken off the wrong shoe or completely removed her socks and put her Crocs back on. I felt like I was on a hidden camera show. With the help of a kind store employee, who I could only assume was my guardian angel, we were making progress. I recall telling him a couple times, “I’m not leaving here without shoes.”

We were the only ones there until a father and son team appeared. They too were on the hunt for new shoes and graciously weaved around my children as I scurried to make it look like we hadn’t completely taken over the place.

They browsed for a moment when I heard the dad say to his son, “These are $65. I don’t know. Are you worth $65 shoes?” He said it in jest and the boy, as far as I could tell, wasn’t nearly as traumatized as I was. His son didn’t miss a step because he didn’t doubt for one second that his dad would drop $65 or $165 on new shoes for him. He knew he was worth $65 shoes.

It’s Not a New Concept

I remember as a child, we would all pile into our blue Astro Van and head out to Mervyn’s (that’s right, I said Mervyn’s) for an annual back to school shopping day. It was somehow exciting and miserably boring at the same time. There were four of us, so it was all fun and games when it was your turn to shop. The fun was quickly followed by endlessly waiting for my siblings to try on their clothes. I remember it to be pure torture. Though I’m sure it was my mother who was in the most misery as the scene probably resembled that of my shoe shopping experience.

Year after year, I’d waltz myself into school on the first day, decked out in a new outfit. These new clothes offered me just the confidence boost I needed to dive into a new year and greet the classmates I hadn’t seen since spring.

The Wrong Message

Preparing for this new school year has me wondering what we’re doing. Is this when it starts?

I’ve spent my whole life buying a new outfit for every new event. Putting my best face forward always started with my style. I’m starting to wonder if the concept of back to school shopping is to blame. Are we telling our kids that what they have and who they are is not enough?

Do we as parents, mindlessly and of course unintentionally, perpetuate the idea that self worth is intertwined with material possessions, and that confidence comes from outward appearance.

Maybe it’s why we grow up to need that new outfit for every upcoming event or why we compare ourselves to others based on how they look. Is it why we feel the need to update our wardrobe with every new seasonal trend and spend more than we have to own all the things.

Maybe, just maybe, we can show our kids a different way.

minimalist school shopping
Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Here are 7 Things to Consider Before Back to School Shopping

Watch Your Words

Going back to school is exciting, but nerve-racking for our kids. Rather than medicate their fear of the unknown with a shopping spree, let’s work on their hearts, minds and spirits.

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been paying attention to how I talk about going back to school. Instead of talking hair styles and attire, we’ve been having conversations about who they uniquely are and the kind of friends they want to make and be.

Now is the time to start to ingrain in them that, who they are has nothing to do with what they wear and own.

What’s Wrong With What They Own?

The clothes they own were just fine all summer. The weather is not going to change between August 20th and August 21st that would cause my kids to need a new wardrobe.

Sure, I’ll make sure their outfits are free of worm guts, the fragrance of bon fire and melted marshmallow stains, but that’s about it.

school shopping and minimalism

Just One More Thing To Do

Sending our kids back to school is hectic enough. We’ve got to buy the supply list, adjust sleep schedules to rise earlier and start preparing lunches hours, or even days in advance. And some of us, have to actually start feeding our kids lunch all together. There may have been a few days these last couple weeks where I handed out granola bars and cheese sticks for lunch.

Shifting from a loose summer schedule back into the routine of the school year is overwhelming enough. We don’t need to add wardrobe shopping to our to-do list.

Fall is Coming

A couple of weeks before my son went off to preschool, I went out and spent way too much money on “back to school clothes.” That’s right, for preschool! This was before my shift into minimalism and prior to becoming a more conscious consumer.

He wore his new wardrobe for a month or so before fall rolled in and suddenly all of his cute new little man clothes weren’t going to work. I then had to spend more money on long sleeve shirts and pants. Of course, he grew like a weed that first year of school and none of those warm weather clothes fit in the spring. It was such a waste.

minimalist school shopping
Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

Aside from Christmas, back to school shopping seems to be when advertisers up their game the most. Let’s be mindful, pay attention, and don’t get drawn into the hype of it all.

Take Inventory of What You Have

Minimalist school shopping starts at home in their own closets. Spend a morning going through drawers and closets. Have your kids try their cold weather clothing from last year. Get ready for this next season by taking into account what they already have and what they actually need.

My son has pants that will still fit come October, but his long sleeve shirts, not so much. Because I’ve inventoried what we already have, I’ll be ready to purchase what he needs when the time comes.

Donate What They’ve Grown Out Of

Remove the clothes that no longer fit from their closets asap. It’s such a pain to dig through drawers of clothes to make an outfit, when half of it doesn’t fit.

Besides, this will help your mornings run smoother. We could all use smoother school day mornings.

Consider a Capsule Wardrobe

As we move into the next season, or if your kid woke up today with pants that turned into shorts overnight, consider a capsule wardrobe for the next season. A capsule wardrobe allows you to create multiple outfits with fewer items because everything matches everything.

Let me clarify. A capsule wardrobe does not mean the clothes you buy are all the same color. It simply means, for example, all of my daughter’s tops can be worn with her jean shorts or her black shorts. It means, she has one pair of dress shoes so any dresses we purchase will match that one pair of shoes. 

A capsule wardrobe is critical to keeping a limited wardrobe.

minimalist school shopping

Action Step

I know our kids need clothes. By all means, don’t send them to school with their ankles and bellies hanging out just to prove a point. If they need clothes, get the clothes!

We need to rethink this idea of back to school shopping and consider the impact it has on the first day of school and in a few short years, their first day of work. Let’s make sure they know their worth has nothing to do with the cost of their shoes. Let’s start traditions that give them the tools to be who they are, with a source of confidence that lasts.

What are your favorite end of summer traditions that don’t involve shopping?


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11 thoughts on “Do We Really Need Back to School Shopping?

  1. “The clothes they own were just fine all summer. The weather is not going to change between August 20th and August 21st that would cause my kids to need a new wardrobe.”
    My thoughts exactly as we approached the first day of school! I found myself wondering if people actually do back to school shopping? I guess they do, but I can’t think of a friend of mine who has gone “back to school shopping.” Love your take on minimalism…falls right in line with my thoughts! 🙂

  2. Good Morning!! It was interesting to find this blog topic in my email this morning. We have decided to send our kids back to a Christian School for the 2nd year in a row after home-educating for 5 years. So last week we went through all the clothes that they have to see what fits and what we may need for the next year and low and behold we only needed shoes and sandals!! Praise the Lord. We also go to a Value Village in a nearby city that offers rows and rows of clothes for the kids. My son also gets bags of hand-me-downs and we pass on our clothes to two separate families.
    In our family clothes don’t define us, as long as it is modest and respectable and sometimes fun logo, cheapest is best. And this particular Value Village has top name clothes anyways, they have just had some experience being worn by another:) I agree that there is too much hype in the “new outfits” for another year even though there is nothing wrong with what they have…until January when they both hit a growth spurt, but we will cross that isle when the time arrives. Thank you for your words of encouragement and your advice!! May God bless you in your Service to Him!

  3. We did minimal back-to-school shopping this year. My older son is using the same backpack and lunch box as last year; my youngest is starting PreK — he is using a backpack he already owned, but we did have to get him a lunch box. My youngest happened to be growing out of his current tennis shoes so we got new ones; my older son’s still fit, so we’ll shop when his foot grows! As for clothes, they both have plenty of shorts and short-sleeved gear to get them into fall (it won’t cool down until mid-October here), and a lot of winter stuff still fits from last year (and we have a bin of hand-me-downs for the youngest that are in good shape). The only thing we still need to get for both are blue jeans — neither have a pair in good condition. We were able to focus back-to-school time on actually thinking about the upcoming academic year, and not just trying to find the best sales, etc., which was nice.

  4. Love this! The way my kids play in their clothes and how quickly they grow, high end clothes doesn’t make sense for us either???? Certain brands last a bit longer than others so I choose those when I do need to buy new. But again, it’s nothing outrageous.

  5. We have the kids try on all their clothes at the end. Then we box or bag up the clothes that no longer fit and have the kids research and find the best charity for the donations. They come along and hand over the items at the charity. As an added bonus, we try to arrange a “teachable” moment with a staff member to explain their mission/purpose and how that use the items donated. Note: if the clothing is in anyway worn out, has holes, or stains, etc. – it does not get donated. As for beginning of school – its usually still hot so summer clothes until fall hits. (Only exception: shoes – we make sure if shoes are needed they are purchased straight out of the gates) Then we shop for needed items.

  6. You hit the nail again! Funny I noticed myself warning my oldest son he shouldn’t wear those pirate print socks in open sandals when off to his first day at middle school while he couldn’t care less ???? Another crazy marketing is the back to school stuff like pens, rulers, cahiers, binders and the likes. We are fooled into ‘needing’ to buy all new stuff in matching colours. And do we really NEED the newest atlas or dictionary? They didn’t move the borders or change spelling rules during summer as far as I know… We started first shopping the house for items that were in good shape and noticed there wasn’t that much left on the list. Such a good lesson to realise we already have so much! And commercial tricks in the shop have less impact when you know what you have. But oh… the shoes… they have outgrown them all in a few weeks! I have been guilty of buying a carload of shoes, trying them at home and returning what doesn’t fit. I sure can’t handle taking more than one kid to a shoe store! ????

  7. Thanks so much! Yes the school supplies can get out of hand as well. We just make sure and stick to our required list and try to check at home first to make sure we don’t have folders and binders from last year that will do just fine. My kids are rocking their same 3 year old lunch boxes and back packs!

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