Color coding back to school shopping

. October 1, 2015.

There is nothing quite like the smell of back-to-school.

I’m not talking about the ocean mist of summer vacations, or the smoke of backyard bonfires. Neither is it the whiff of desperation as both bugs and kids realize the summer is starting to fade. This smell is unique to this time of year. It’s the unmistakable smell of school supplies.

By mid-July, our local stores start shoving aside summer and start stocking notebooks, folders and pencils. Where there were once pools, sunscreen and beach towels are the signs of school. Once we see those supplies in the stores, we buy early and often.

My high schooler wants everything color-coded – we were the people in Walmart in early July making sure we had the right shade of everything times six. This year it was pink for honors geometry, green for honors biology and orange for honors chemistry. Other subjects are assigned other colors, but she makes sure her favorite classes get the best colors. I have no idea how she assigns them but it helps keep her organized with her small locker. Those supplies include special easy-open binders with a clear plastic cover, a heavy-duty folder with punch holes, stretchy book cover and a one-subject notebook. I spend a small fortune on her supplies, but she makes the honor roll so I’m not begrudging her a pink notebook if she wants one.

My middle-schooler is less picky, in large part because we go by a provided school supply list. Her list is pretty reasonable, and there is some leeway in what she picks in terms of brands and styles. Out of town friends tell horror stories about needing to buy 96 glue sticks or 12 packs of crayons. At this point we buy what she will use, plus a bit extra for the inevitable restock after Christmas.

It’s that “extra” that is hard to resist this time of year. I have shelves in my storage closet that have school supplies from a couple years ago that were never used. Boxes of crayons, stacks of loose-leaf paper and enough stretchy book covers to keep the library in business. Yet, every year I buy at least a few more. Part of it is because of the color-coordinated sophomore. But part of it is the temptation of the new and the promise of the future.

Those unbent binders, untorn spirals and super-sharp pencils mean a fresh start. Compare what you send in September to what you get back in May. Most of what comes home in backpacks consists of worn-down crayons, pens missing their caps and erasers that have seen a lot of mistakes. There might be an item or two that could still be used for the next school year, but when this time of year rolls around, we end up rebuying most supplies.

I really don’t mind. These are the tools of their trade, necessary for doing their job of learning. Will they die if they don’t have a pink notebook? Of course not. But I say ‘yes’ when I can because I understand the excitement of the new.

Pretty soon the binders will get bent, the spirals will get torn and the pencils will be worn down to nothing. When that happens, they will likely only need to reach into my supply closet to restock – and recharge – for the next couple months. There is nothing like a new notebook and those super-sharp pencils for a fresh start, even if it’s in the middle of the year.