Taming the Back-to-School Shopping Beast
For the last two weeks, I’ve been trying to keep the “shopping beast” under control. My “kids” – a daughter heading off to college for the first time, and a son returning to college to continue his studies – have been beating the drums for stuff they think is “essential” to their academic experience. They’re not talking about books, or even paper and pens so they can take notes. They’re thinking new iPods, new wardrobes, new computers, new sheets, pillows and towels, and anything else preceded by the word – you guessed it – “new.”
Fortunately, both my freshman and my junior know they have to make a pretty good case for “new” when they’re talking to me.
“Go shopping in your closet first,” I told them. “Look around your room. Then make a list of what you actually need.”
(I tried not to mention the same refrain they’ve heard over and over again: “In my day, I packed one suitcase and a manual typewriter, headed off to campus, and did just fine.”)
My daughter emerged from her room with a pile of gently worn clothes that she eventually took to Mustard Seed, our local thrift store, and exchanged for “new” (to her) sweaters and skirts. She seemed content to pack up the boots and shoes she already wears. We agreed that she needed new bedding to fit the extra-long twin mattress she’d be sleeping on at school, plus fluffy pillows and a fresh comforter to make her dorm room cozy. In place of a new laptop, she got a new laptop case. I couldn’t begrudge her a few picture frames (though something tells me my smiling face won’t grace them). And she has no choice but to bring her own desk lamp, hangers, and even rugs, since the university doesn’t furnish them. I’m insisting she take a reusable water bottle and her floor length robe (yes, it’s a co-ed dorm…enough said?). She and her roommate have agreed to share a refrigerator and microwave, both of which they can rent from student services. I refused to buy her a tv, and she opted to save her own money rather than spend it on more electronics. “Besides,” she noted practically, “we don’t get cable.”
As I look at the stuff she’s been setting aside, I'm satisfied to see that the pile is relatively small. By inventorying what she already has, sharing what she can, realizing she has most of what she needs, and buying just a couple of things to fill the gaps, she’s heading to college feeling confident about the comfy cocoon she’ll be able to create for herself. Meanwhile, I don’t worry that we’ve either broken the bank or left a horrible carbon footprint in our wake.
My son also managed to get a grip on his “needs.” He finally concluded that while his computer hard drive was irreparably fried, his “old” printer and monitor could easily last another year. We happily bought him a new pair of tennis shoes, which he will wear until, like the last pair, he completely wears them out. He will reuse the furnishings he acquired when he first headed to college a couple of years ago, including a fabulous travel mug from Hudson Trail Outfitters that keeps coffee hot for a solid two hours. His book bag is still in good shape, as is his calculator, so no additional purchases there. He did get a new electric razor, having somehow lost his other one half-way through the summer, but no complaints from me on that score. “With the electric, I won’t have to throw away all those disposables or use shaving cream,” he argued. Music to my ears.
Their personal gear under control, we turned our attention to the practical. They still needed supplies like paper, pencils, pens and binders, as well as shampoo and soap. Trips to Staples and Target were equally frustrating. The only available pencils were made by Ticonderoga, a company that recently received an “F” from Forest Ethics for the clearcutting it practices in California's Sierra Nevada forests. There was no recycled notebook paper to be seen.
Fortunately, I can mail order sustainably certified #2 pencils from Forest Choice and pens (left) made from sustainable wood scraps from The Green Office. I'll call Greenline Paper for that recycled item. We’re stuck with PVC plastic binders; I’ve seen some options made from recycled cardboard, but didn’t think they would stand up to the drubbing they’d take given my students’ rough-and-tumble lives. Besides, the kids really didn’t like them.
As for personal care products, both kids are particular about what they put on their bodies. My daughter tends towards Burt's Bees, which she'll be able to find as easily on campus as here at home. My son, true to his gender, uses very little beyond basic bar soap and (Tom's) toothpaste. Plus, he avoids any product containing anti-bacterial agents.
I couldn't send either child off without an energy-conservation care kit: energy-saving power strips for all their electronics, a four-pack of mini compact fluorescent light bulbs they're welcome to share with roommates (and bring home at the end of the year), and umbrellas so they can walk even when it rains.
"But, Mom," my daughter wondered, "What about the cookies?"
Oops. Better break out the organic sugar and flour for those.