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August 25, 2008

Back to School Organizing Ideas: School Clothes Shopping

The weekend before school started was all about getting the kids ready for back to school. We participated in an annual right of passage, one I always looked forward to as a little girl, back to school clothes shopping!

In our family this event is preceded by the semi-annual kid’s closet and dresser organizing extravaganza. I thought I’d share some observations about what worked, in hopes it can streamline your school clothes shopping spree.

Observation number one: boys don’t like to try on clothes. So this year, we did some decision making before trying on clothes. Collin has inherited hand-me downs from a few different sources. This, coupled with playing on multiple sports teams and going to sports camps meant he had an over abundance of t-shirts. (I’m talking loads and loads of t-shirts.)

The first thing we did was sort all the clothes…those in his closet, those in the newly acquired hand-me down bags and those in the out of season / too big bins in his room. We grouped like items together: T-shirts with t-shirts; jeans with jeans; shorts with shorts; etc. Then, instead of making him try on everything…we first decided what he liked and what he would actually wear.

The questioning went like this.

Me: “Do you like it or dislike it?”

Collin: “Uh, I don’t know. I guess I like it.”

(Yes, that was the answer for the first ten or twenty shirts. Observation number two: this line of questioning isn’t working. It’s time for a new approach.)

Me: “Do you like it or love it?”

Then we were onto something. Somehow, it felt better to him to identify just the shirts he loved instead of saying he didn’t like something. So, the shirts he “just liked” went into the giveaway pile; the items he loved went into a second tier of decision making.

In this second round of decision-making, we decided if an item was school-worthy or weekend-worthy. T-shirts and sports shorts, for example, went into the weekend pile; collared shirts went into the school pile.

Once we had items grouped into the keep for school pile, Collin tried things on to see what fit. Items that fit were keepers; items that didn’t went into the giveaway pile.

After doing this sorting and trying on, the school shirt pile was very empty…not too many school-appropriate shirts in our midst, so we added collared shirts to the shopping list. He needed, at a minimum, five collared shirts, one for each day of the week.

Now…while we’re on the topic of quantity of shirts, I have to ask you to ask yourself, what is your comfort zone? How many unique shirts (or sweaters, pants, skirts, etc.) is the right amount for your kids to have to wear to school? Is one different shirt a day for a single week enough? Or is two weeks enough? Three? Four? There’s no right answer here…only comfort zones. The key is to identify your comfort zone, and then, add that quantity of items to your shopping list.

If you go through this process item by item, at the end of the closet organizing session you’ll have a terrific shopping list that you can take with you to the store. The four of us went through this process for Collin, and then, Jay and Collin hit the stores. (Kailea and I had created her list the day before, and went on our own shopping expedition.) The boys were much faster shoppers than the girls, which leads me to observation number three: boys don’t like to shop; girls do. But with a shopping list in hand, the process was simple and fun for everyone. Each team of shoppers knew exactly what they needed, and that took a lot of the stress out of school shopping (even for the boys.) This approach also kept us from buying loads of items we didn’t need (and would just have to spend time dealing with later.)

So that’s how we did it. How about you? How do you approach back to school shopping? I’d love to know your techniques and strategies. What works for you and your family? Do you do one big shopping trip at the start of the year…or do you buy a little bit at a time here and there? Please share. I’d love to hear from you!

Comments

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Lisa C.

My only problem with the "like it/love it" concept is that we can't afford to buy the kids new clothes every time they decide they no longer love an item. If it still fits and is school-appropriate, I'm not going to replace it on a child's whim. How do you get kids to wear the things they don't love?

Kristin

Wow that is such a great idea - having school and weekend piles of clothes!
My kids are still a bit young and the oldest only going to pre school but we still have the issues of what to wear in the morning etc. this system would take the pain out of saying ahh this is too good for school etc.


hchybinski

Hi Aby - great method (as usual!). . .I went through my almost 8 YO's closet and drawers and took out all the things I knew didn't fit or were not fit to wear and put them in donate and toss bins. From there, we knew due to an extreme growth spurt (height wise) he would need all new pants. I prefer collared shirts (although hoodies and long-sleeved t's are okay) for school too. We had a family & friends discount to the Gap, so on that day we went and bought three pairs of jeans - he only needed to try on one pair. I also bought 3 short-sleeved polo shirts that were already on sale - he picked them out from all that were there.

We are in pretty good shape now - we got sneakers a few weeks ago as well. My mom is letting him look through the Lands End catalog while he is at her house this week and pick out some things.

I would say I need 7-10 shirts/outfits for school - that's my comfort zone so I don't feel enormous pressure to do wash during the week. Same for my almost 2 YO. . .I like him to have 7-10 play outfits for childcare.

I have always LOVED back-to-school time!! Take care -
Hillary

Amanda

great method. my boys are too young for school but think i might try this method. my boys have too many clothes and just were given more hand me downs. so i'd love to try this method to sort their clothes. thanks for sharing!!

Julie

This year my daughter started high school in a new school system. She came up with an idea that I loved. She decided to pull together a couple of outfits she already owned, loved, and felt confident in to wear the first few days of school. Then she scouted out what styles, brands, and outfits other kids were wearing. She has her own unique sense of style but wanted to still feel comfortable with what was the norm for this new environment. We had already cleaned through her closet and set aside items for the resale shop; and of course made a list of what were are "have to get's" (i.e., # of jeans, # of tops, etc.). We went shopping the weekend after school started, and actually tons of stuff was marked down even further, so she collected quite a bit more than we'd have been able to if we'd gone earlier. Also, for anyone with brand conscious teens, I'll pass on this last tip. I told my daughter to think "bang for the buck," and that if a certain logo that was important to her, to get an item that could be used more frequently. She wound up with a cool tote bag vs. back pack with a Hollister logo that she can use every day vs. a shirt which is only worn every so often. She also went for some zip sweatshirts/jackets for the same reason. She has her brand name, and I still have money in the checkbook.

For my 7th grade son who wears uniforms, I am thinking 10 outfits would be my ideal comfort zone for school. We are working up to that. Can I just say, I love uniforms! So easy on parents. :o)

Julie

This year my daughter started high school in a new school system. She came up with an idea that I loved. She decided to pull together a couple of outfits she already owned, loved, and felt confident in to wear the first few days of school. Then she scouted out what styles, brands, and outfits other kids were wearing. She has her own unique sense of style but wanted to still feel comfortable with what was the norm for this new environment. We had already cleaned through her closet and set aside items for the resale shop; and of course made a list of what were are "have to get's" (i.e., # of jeans, # of tops, etc.). We went shopping the weekend after school started, and actually tons of stuff was marked down even further, so she collected quite a bit more than we'd have been able to if we'd gone earlier. Also, for anyone with brand conscious teens, I'll pass on this last tip. I told my daughter to think "bang for the buck," and that if a certain logo that was important to her, to get an item that could be used more frequently. She wound up with a cool tote bag vs. back pack with a Hollister logo that she can use every day vs. a shirt which is only worn every so often. She also went for some zip sweatshirts/jackets for the same reason. She has her brand name, and I still have money in the checkbook.

For my 7th grade son who wears uniforms, I am thinking 10 outfits would be my ideal comfort zone for school. We are working up to that. Can I just say, I love uniforms! So easy on parents. :o)

Jean

I like Julie's idea! We sort of did the same thing without knowing it. My son is only in kindergarten but he still notices the trends. He noticed right away someone wearing a cool Star Wars shirt. We like him to wear collared shirts but every once in awhile a t-shirt is ok.

I bought some stuff over the summer when I saw some good deals and I will continue to shop throughout the fall when I find new things. It is hard for me to shop for sweaters when it is still 100 degrees here in Tucson! As for hand me downs, they go his little brother. After that, they will go to a friend.

Relyn

We start so early in August that shorts and scooters are the order of the day. We buy one fun outfit for the first day, but that's it. Sloane "uses up" her summer clothes. Wears them a ton because soon she won't be able to. She wears her sandals half to death in an attempt to make it to fall before needing new shoes. In September we buy mid-weight clothing - not a lot of it. In October and November we buy winter weight clothing. Of course, we have a good bit from friends' children and last years good deals shopping sprees. So, we mostly fill in the holes. Plus, my Mom is a major shopper, so she keeps Sloane well-stocked.

Aby

Lisa raised an interesting question about getting kids to wear things they don't like. This hasn't been too much of a problem here...this year it was more about having too much stuff and whittling it down by child's preference worked well to get the number of items back to a more manageable level. And my kids aren't terribly particular about what they wear—yet I imagine!

As the youngest child (my sister was 5 years older than me) I have a soft spot for kids and clothing and wanting them to be comfortable. Because 5 year old clothing was typically not fashionable and it was just no fun to always have the hand-me-downs. I think Julie's idea is terrific, getting a lay of the land as far as what the kids are wearing and then stretching the budget. I've always erred on the side of fewer clothes that I really like as opposed to having a larger selection of things I don't really care for...and I'm leaning this way for my kids, too.

I hope this helps!

Aby

Heidi @ Blue Eyed Blessings

Great tips! I'll be sure to tuck this sorting idea away for future use when it's time for me to go "back to school" shopping for my kids. I have a girl and a boy, so I'm sure I'll experience the love and dislike for shopping trips!

Lori S

Aby,
I did almost the exact same thing as you did and yes, it worked!! And it was even better to see that I came up with the same idea as an organizing genius such as yourself did!! OMG! That means there really is hope for me! I found out about your site/blog on Ali's a couple weeks ago and have been really getting inspired and motivated! You should see what I did with my pantry after reading some of your past posts. Thank you so much! Sometimes a person just needs a little spark of inspiration to get the motivation ball rolling. You rock!

SuzieQ

I love your like it or love it method and will do that this weekend. One DS has wayyyy to many shirts so that will work great for him. I've also gotten to the point of what they don't like goes, helps a lot! My boys typically have a growth spurt right after school starts so I only buy them a few new things before school. Then around October they need more clothes in bigger sizes so we go again. It works better for sizing and for the pocketbook!

Jenn

Wow! I actually did this last week - before this was posted! I'm pretty impressed with myself! :)

After analyzing my daughter's closet we decided that she needed one or two pairs of jeans, one pair of black pants, tennis shoes and maybe dress shoes and black boots. We (by "we" I mean me) also decided that she needed absolutely NO shirts. Her closet is LOADED with shirts - especially Hannah Montana shirts.

And we actually did pretty well - we came home with 2 pairs of jeans - check, black leggings - check, tennis shoes (Hannah Montana of course) - check and 2 of the CUTEST shirts you've ever seen...I know, I know, but at least they're not Hannah Montana. ;)

YvetteDownunder

This article fascinated me in the "look how the other people do things?" way. I find the difference between "here and there" interesting and thought others might too!

Down here we have the "joy" of the school year beginning only a month after Christmas :0 which does make the family budget groan and protest. We also, for the most part, have school uniforms at government as well as private schools. These make life a lot simpler, as there is no fashion factor or need to dress to impress. We also must have a much more casual attitude to clothes all around, because the standard outfit for primary school (5-11yo) is a polo shirt, track pants/shorts and windcheater (mmm ... not sure how to translate that: the top part of the track suit?) Some components of these might be available at Kmart, Target etc and others are sold through the school uniform shop, which also raises funds for the school and is staffed by parent volunteers. Secondary school (12-18yo) tends to have stricter rules an more formal dress, however polo shirts still tend to be the norm.

I understand that in the US uniforms are not part of the public school system at all and - from what we see on TV - children have a dress code that we would consider quite formal.

Thankfully my last child is in his second-last year of school and I expect most of his uniform will last the distance, so I may retire gracefully from worrying about it after 20 years!

Anyway, that is how it is in the land Downunder!

Brenda B

My kids are older, my son is 14 and my daughter is 17, so it isn't such a big thing to have brand new clothes for the beginning of school because they buy one or two items here and there all through the year. We just have to go through the closets and come to an agreement about what is school acceptable and what is not. This is much easier for my daughter than my son! For him we actually have to put his school clothes all in the closet and his other clothes in the drawers so he isn't tempted. This is also when we get rid of whatever doesn't fit. We usually only have to buy a few things at the very beginning of the school year, and then our big shopping trip comes when the weather really turns cold around October when we have to replace the shorts with jeans and replace all of the hoodies and warmer shirts that they have outgrown over the summer. I think maybe it's a little easier with teenagers because they are certainly more vocal about what they like and don't like, and they also can do some shopping on their own. One drawback is that the clothes are certainly more expensive.

Organizing Mommy

We do the like it or love it. I can hardly imagine the drama of getting kids dressed every day for school. We homeschool and don't sweat the issue except twice a week for outings.

Kelly C.

Wow, this is an enlightening article! I must say, having two boys, ages 11 and almost 17 who attend public school we do not have uniform issues, but we definately have name brand/being hip & cool issues. Luckily, my oldest hands downs some cool stuff to the youngest and that works out well.
We pretty much follow what you do Aby and have a major sort, purge, donate and evaluate prior to school starting. After that we determine a "budget" for each of them to spend on nothing but clothes & shoes. And then off we go, one at a time (for a nice individual special day at the mall & we do a nice lunch together) and get the shopping done. If the guys want to spend more than their allowed budget, they are responsible for that out of their on pockets. Actually they are becoming really great shoppers, look for sales or specials and only purchase what they really like. They seem to take care of their clothes too, realizing what they cost, they won't wear them as play/outdoor stuff, they change into older things. Overall, it has worked very well around our place for a number of years...hope this helps!

Megan @ Disorder2Order

When you talk about your kids (the boys), I see my future, it's kind of refreshing to know what to prepare for. This year (now mind you mine are much younger) I bought the basics like jeans and pants online. I know exactly their size and style they like, which saves me the headache of having to choose. Not to mention I can do better price shopping that way.

We did need a few shirts so I decided to take them both to the mall. It was really easy because I would pick up two shirts and say "this one or this one." Not only did this give THEM CONTROL, but really, I had the control.

I am sure, as they get older it will be more challenging, but you are so right, boys DO NOT LIKE TO SHOP!

Great post Aby!

Megan @ Disorder2Order

When you talk about your kids (the boys), I see my future, it's kind of refreshing to know what to prepare for. This year (now mind you mine are much younger) I bought the basics like jeans and pants online. I know exactly their size and style they like, which saves me the headache of having to choose. Not to mention I can do better price shopping that way.

We did need a few shirts so I decided to take them both to the mall. It was really easy because I would pick up two shirts and say "this one or this one." Not only did this give THEM CONTROL, but really, I had the control.

I am sure, as they get older it will be more challenging, but you are so right, boys DO NOT LIKE TO SHOP!

Great post Aby!

stacy t

oh aby, i love this method (even going to use it on myself - haha). finally got a chance to catchup on your blog since coming back from maine. and going through my new shopping box that jay sent over with all my lovely new russell+hazel stuff....oh god do i love getting a box from you (thank Jay!!). anyway - i'm going to sit down with the kids this week and go through their clothes. i'm not sure at 5 they will be able to give me any help in the like/love dept but if i can get them to start making decision about clothes, then maybe next year it will come natural to them.

thanks!!
ps finally got a blog started. i have no idea what i'm doing but it's started!

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