The only time I've ever done any official "back to school" shopping was when M was in Kindergarten--a case of overeager first time parent syndrome (OEFTPS) I suppose. After I realized he would never even wear all the spiffy new clothes I bought him, and that we acquire school supplies simply by being alive I never went back to school shopping again. Whenever we are gifted the odd bag of red pens, ream of filler paper or box of crayons, I squirrel the items away in a box labeled "school supplies" in the basement...we just go shopping in that box. And, sometime after school starts, when the weather begins to turn, we go shopping again in the hand-me-down bins stacked up in the basement, in search of fall and winter clothes. (More on previous Buy Nearly Nothing Back to School years here and here).
This year, however, all three boys needed sneakers, badly. I generally try to buy shoes in the spring, so they can be worn all summer and fall, while in the winter snow boots reign, but M had shredded the sneakers he got last spring, Z was wearing a tattered pair of hand-me-downs that had been through at least two kids before him and E had outgrown the shoes he preferred last school year and wore sandals all summer. They needed shoes.
I have a hard time buying shoes, though, with the sweat shops and toxic materials and all. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about. I've been trying to find "greener" shoes for a few years. When M was in first grade, I bought him some Simple Eco-Sneaks, which were fabulous. When he outgrew those, I got him another pair, but they had changed their materials (from a heavy hemp canvas to thin cotton and from tan rubber soles to recycled tires) and the shoes fell apart in just a couple of months. Last spring we tried Keen canvas sneakers, which were a little better, but they had full-on holes by the end of summer, and they're not cheap. I was about to give in and buy all-leather Keens, which are neither cheap nor all that eco-friendly when I discovered Ethletic sneakers from Autonomie Project. They have that cool old-school sneaker look that M favors, they appeared more rugged than the Simples and they're less expensive than the Keens. And they're organic cotton with FSC certified rubber soles. (Plus, they were on sale and I get a discount as a member of Better World Club--the roadside assistance that lobbies for better alternative transportation and clean air, rather than against all those things like AAA).
I had to make the leap and guess at the right sizes (a problem with online ordering from anywhere). I got E and Z's right, but the sizing gets weird in the bigger kids (they go up to size 4 kids', then start all over at 3.5 in men's...I think it's a bad translation from European sizes). I had to order a second pair to get M the right size (which pushed him over into men's sizing...and pricing). The boys were all thrilled (E and Z probably because they haven't gotten new shoes of their very own--that weren't hand-me downs--in their living memory) and they seem to be working out great (Z even learned how to tie almost right away and E is almost there...I think it took until he was in first or 2nd grade to teach M)! If these wear out too fast, I may end up getting all leather shoes after all...but I hope they survive at least until snow boot season!
Other than sneakers, all I had to buy this year was glue stick for M's list. I spent a considerable time in Staples contemplating which was the least worst brand, finally settling on the official Glue Stick brand, because they labeled their package as PVC-free (though why I can't buy a single glue stick without getting a pack of three bugs me!). As it turns out, E and Z's teacher gave us goodie bags that each had a glue stick in them, so I could even have avoided that purchase if I had procrastinated a couple more days! E and Z didn't need any supplies for kindergarten, but the teacher had a wish list that included pencils, so I unloaded a ton of the pencils that have made their way into the house from various holidays (really, why does one need a Halloween pencil? And just so you don't think I'm too cheap, I also supplied wipes, tissues, and granola bars). M chose only yellow pencils from our stash (even ones that had been sharpened down to little nubs), so apparently he's outgrown the decorative pencil thing, and I really hate that plastic wrap that peels off many of the decorative pencils. Besides, how many pencils does one household truly need (I may regret my rash move next year when I'm trying to fill school boxes on another Buy Nothing Back to School kick).