Adventures in School Supply Shopping

In the the middle of Camp Paint-Your-Room last week, once I sensed that the week was shaping up to be the lamest camp ever, J and I took a break to go hunting down school supplies. M will be starting middle school in the fall, and one exciting thing about middle school is that they have a school store that offers everything we need, school-supply-wise, which benefits the PTO. M is excite about anything middle-school related, so she’s eager to shop at the official school store when it’s open. So J and I had a little mother-daughter time looking for pencils and such.

The trouble with school supply shopping is that needs are frequently quite specific, and both of us want to get all the right stuff. We’re like, obsessive-compulsive about it. It’s our first chance to make a good impression with the new teacher. Of course it’s especially ridiculous this year. We know the teacher–she was M’s favorite–and by the end of the year we were comfortable enough to tease her about our unexcused absences. But we can’t help ourselves. We want to be exactly, perfectly prepared, even when the school supply shopping starts to feel like a scavenger hunt.


We may have miscalculated from the start. Usually we wait until the bitter end of summer, and then we head to Target, where the back-to-school section looks like it’s been looted by the third week of August. Then we wander around in despair, listlessly picking up and setting down a package of pencils that turn out to be #3 lead with latex erasers, and finally we give up and head to an office supply store. More recently we’ve cut out that disappointing trip entirely and just headed over to Office Max, land of many supplies.


Except Post-It notes that are 1.5″ x 2″. Oh, sure. They had 1.8″ x 1.8″ and 1 3/8″ x 1 7/8″ and 1 7/8″ square. All very close. But not perfect. Really close. I mean, what is the purpose, here? Do we just want to make sure that no one comes in with anything too huge, or is there some sort of precision project looming? I have no idea. But J can read as well as I can and none of these were right. And so many pretty colors. I gave up and picked something close in lovely colors, figuring that I’d take them on for myself if we managed to upgrade to the correct size.

And then the glue sticks. Two large, please. So of course you know how they’re going to be packaged:

bts glue sticks


This isn’t so bad, really. Because my children can manage to dry up and/or otherwise destroy a glue stick faster than you can say “that’s too much purple to ever actually disappear.”

Same problem with the dry erase markers. We only need one of these markers. Hmmm. . . .


I have no desire for any dry erase markers in my house. No one understands that this means that you shouldn’t use them on paper. This has been mentioned many times. Plus, when my kids notice dry erase markers, they write all over my tidy little dry erase bulletin board. These extras are going to the teacher.

Ah! And the best. We’re supposed to have a “black and white, wide-ruled composition notebook.” Hey, here are some black-and-white notebooks! Awww, college-ruled.

bts college rules bw comp books

And here! Awww, colors.

bts wide ruled colorful comp books

Oh, but wait! Awww. . .

bts quad comp books

“Quad-ruled,” aka graph paper. Dammit. We give up on the composition books.

Time to head over to the folders. These are so specific that the third-grade teachers have provided a diagram to help us understand exactly what we need: horizontal pockets, fasteners, plain and in specific colors. Here’s a whole mess of them.


We start gathering until we realize that the green folders, of which we need 3, are without fasteners. Dammit, dammit, dammit. We’ve pretty much exhausted ourselves at this point, and the folders and Post-Its remain elusive. Now I’m taking pictures with my phone because it’s become a bit comical, and J’s getting impatient to head toward check out.


So it’s as I’m taking the photo of this green folder that an Office Max employee lady asks if she can help. “No thanks!” I chirp as I’m positioning the folder.

“What are you doing?” she growls.

“I’m taking a picture of this folder.” I answer. Like, duh.


“Oh, just because it’s funny. The uncanny ability to ask for exactly what’s not available in a sea of similar items.” I answer.

“I don’t think you should do that,” she admonishes.

“Really?” I laugh, uncomfortable.

“No, you shouldn’t go around taking pictures like that,” she scolds me.

“Honestly, I do it all the time. Nobody’s ever had a problem with it.” Because I do. Even if I’m not taking pictures of the blog, I’m taking pictures because I’m a comparison shopper or because I’m not an impulse buyer, but when I do want to buy something I’ll often take a picture of it to remind me where it was and how much it cost.
“Well you shouldn’t!” she retorts angrily, even as she’s walking away. I’m half-expecting her to run for a manager, but she doesn’t actually have much courage behind her conviction that I’m a Bad Seed up to No Good. I mean, if I were at a designer’s fashion atelier taking photos of stitching to bring back to my personal seamstress, yes, that would be problematic, but really? I mean, really?!? That’s an awful lot of hostility for something so innocuous.

So I’m standing laughing a bit and shaking a bit with a little adrenaline hit, and if I were a smart consumer I would just leave. But we’ve spent the last 40 minutes or so choosing all the stuff piled in our cart and J will be sad and I’m just not up for starting over. So I check out. But don’t go there. Or if you do, go to the Office Max on Central Avenue and take a bunch of pictures, just to irritate her.

J was still deeply concerned about our lack of folders and Post-Its, so we went to Target on the way home.

There I realized that I’d miscalculated. This year we were early birds, so the shelves were still full. Including a rainbow of two-pocketed, plain folder with prong fasteners. Whoopie!


Of course, the dry erase markers still came in sets of four.


And Target includes the additional hazard of reminding you that it’s literally as easy as turning the corner and next thing you know you’ll be buying college dorm supplies.


Bad Target! Stop putting me in a mini-“Sunrise, Sunset” time warp!

They also had a wide selection of Post-Its. . .


. . . but none in the elusive size 1.5″ x 2″.

Eventually I found them on Amazon. And that’s why we go Prime, baby!

Now all J has is the homework assignment. It’s one of those assignments that supposed to be mostly fun and creative. In other words, the kind of assignment that causes J the most angst. Looking forward to that. Maybe I’ll save the news about the elusive Post-It notes and tell her just when she’s in the pits of despair that her book cover design isn’t meeting with her expectations. The notes came in pretty colors, too.


  1. Michelle

    So….just had to point out (because it made me giggle) that the fine print on your Amazon Post-its notes that they are actually 1 3/8 x 1 7/8 – just like the ones you already found in the store.

    Also: I do the same thing with my phone for (mostly) the same reasons.

  2. Claire

    Oh my gosh, I can’t believe the manager got so mad about you taking pictures! People do it all the time for couponing blogs and things like that. I actually had a bad experience in that same Office Max last week.

    My son is about to start kindergarten, and I have to say that I am overwhelmed by how specific the supply list is, and I am very nervous about buying the wrong items. I don’t remember it being this complicated when I was in school.

  3. @Claire, she wasn’t even the manager, just a random angry employee. Oh, congratulations on him starting kindergarten! That’s a milestone.

  4. Julie

    Hi. I’m a teacher and I buy individual dry erase markers at Staples. They have many colors. I believe they are made by Quartet so if you NEED Expo markers, they’re out. Or you could send me the extras!

  5. Claire

    Thanks Katie! Preschool graduation hit me really hard. I loved his preschool, and while I also love everyone I’ve met at the elementary school so far (including his kindergarten teacher), I’m wish that kindergarten was more play-based. It is a half-day kindergarten, which I’m very happy about. So, we’ll see how it goes!

  6. @Julie, oh, good to know. I feel like I’d seen individual ones sold before, but it’s like in the old days when we used to have to rent movies: you knew there were a million things you wanted to watch, but then nothing was on a shelf in front of you. And J’s teacher will get my extras. Because I’m not above sucking up.

    And by the way, Michelle was totally right. The Post-Its from Amazon arrived today and they were clearly just ESTIMATING 1.5 x 2 inches–they’re actually the same ol’ 1 3/8 x 1 7/8. Dang it. Clearly I need to move on.

  7. Michelle

    I love love love this post (& the accompanying photos!)

    When I took the girls (C is starting Kindergarten – can you believe it?!) shopping for school supplies, A told C school supply shopping was going to be SO FUN. I agree – love school supplies! C, however, totally disagreed. She was not even a little bit excited about new binders/notebooks/Ticonderoga pencils. *shrug* Can’t win ’em all!

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