Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Don’t Over Buy

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


At the end of every school year, I volunteer to take home all the lost and found from my daughters’ school. I look through it, sort it, wash it, fold it, and give it to charity. The amount of lost and found (or as the Head of School calls it, “Lost and Sometimes Found”) is absolutely amazing.  At the end of this school year, I had 20 expensive metal water bottles (one still had a clear $25 price tag on it), a dozen lunch bags in good condition, probably 50 items of clothing worthy of the thrift store, and 5 or 6 coats, including one very nice Columbia brand coat.

Such waste!

Colleen once wrote a post, which I cannot locate, about “What if I had just one?” Just one pencil, just one coat, just one pair of scissors, just one water bottle and one lunch sack?

Overbuying has to be part of the explanation for this phenomena. In my house, the girls have two water bottles each – one large and one small, and they each have one lunch bag. If the bag doesn’t come home, they take their lunch in a plastic sack, which in itself is a reminder to check the lost and found. But if you overbuy, then each item has less value and less chance of staying with its owner.

When my daughters first starting attending school where they had to provide their own supplies, I was absolutely horrified by the list: 2 boxes of 8 markers, 6 glue sticks, 4 packs of post-it notes, and my winner for most ridiculous: 48 pencils. 48 pencils times 15 girls equals 720 pencils per school year per classroom! How many third-world classrooms could be outfitted with 720 pencils? I thought it was because the girls went to private school, but my public school friends told me that their lists were similarly excessive.

Why would you value a single pencil when there are 719 more in your classroom?

It’s so easy to overbuy when things are “2 for 1” or “Buy 1, get 1 at half price”? I know I used to do it too. But it’s just not necessary. It’s bad for the environment, bad for your check book, and devalues each and every item, making each one more likely to be lost, discarded, or shoved to the back of the cabinet.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter an aspirational item. Something you aspire to getting around to using or trying one day but you know one day is unlikely to come.

Today’s Declutter Item

I would like to say this is the last of the snow gear but there is still a snowboard out in the garage to list on ebay before that chapter of our lives is behind us. It is one step closer though and that is all that counts. I sold this jacket on ebay on the third attempt.

Ski/Snowboard Jacket

Eco Tip For The Day

Donate or sell under utilised items in your home in the hope that it will prevent someone else, who might have a use for them, from having to buy new.

* * * * * * *

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. Well, I just got back from a clutter free (but shopping filled) vacation to the beach. Prior to going on vacation, I packed up a container of pretty (and interesting) rocks to give to a girl just getting into rock collecting. I did this so that I could replace a couple of them with new ones from the beach. I got rid of 12 medium-large rocks and only brought home five small ones. (I have containers of rocks as decorations around the home, so they’re not just sitting in a box in the closet). As for the shopping filled, I browsed the toy stores (so many toys to play with!) and the candy stores (free samples!). The only things we bought were food though. While one of the purchases appears to be clutter at first glance, it’s absolutely not. There was an incredible sale on juice at the local grocery store, so we ended up buying 39 bottles (about 2 liters/half gallon). Given that we go through a bottle or two a week, and have plenty of space to store it (in our decluttered kitchen), we know the juice will be gone by the end of the school year at the latest. Plus, given that it’s organic and naturally sweetened, it’s a lot better than the usual juice we drink (and tons better than the pop often consumed by those our age). Overall, we brought home way more stuff than I intended, but the vast majority is consumable (we already drank 2.5 bottles of juice since Thursday, it’s so delicious).

    I’m not sure what to do about aspirational clutter, but I think instead I will go through our spare bedding and get rid of a few pillows that are no good anymore.

  2. I have three kids (now all in college). Every year, I dutifully bought everything on the list, which wasn’t too bad until I started counting up all the left-over colored pencils. I haven’t bought a colored pencil in years, but we still have enough pencils to outfit a complete schoolroom (even though I’ve given a lot away and I stopped buying colored pencils by the time they were in middle school). You should see locker/class clean out at the end of the year. Kids throw away mostly empty notebooks, barely used pencils, and lots of binders and paper. It’s like a ski area (e.g., Aspen) at the end of ski season, where dumpsters are filled with clothing and even skis.

    • Totally agree – I can’t believe the waste at ski areas – I did a season at Vail (in 2000) and folks would just leave skis, walkie talkies, all their kit lying at their backside. If I remember rightly though most of it was ‘tidied’ up by staff and put back into good use.
      It’s the waste at big events that horrifies me too – here in the uk we have shops offering ‘festival packs’ ie a tent, sleeping bag and camping mat for a very good price and then loads of these get left behind! and end up in the dump.
      Nothing seems to have any ‘value’ these days. Maybe it’s just me but I remember scrimping and saving like mad to buy my first tent and sleeping bag – and then being gutted when they eventually started to give up the ghost (after being well used for many years) – I still passed them on to others though for the little life that was left in them.

      • Hi Fruitcake,
        the waste by the people leaving their stuff behind is bad enough but then the laziness of the company running the place to just trash it rather than donate it to a charity is just incredibly wasteful. I am sure too that if they phoned Play It Again Sports who sell secondhand sports gear they would be more than happy to collect it.

    • Hi Jude,
      I quit paying any attention to the list of supplies my kids needed sometime in elementary school. I discovered that the list had been made up at the end of the previous year but the teacher who ended up in charge of the class had other ideas of what she wanted the kids to have. I made sure my kids went off to school with enough stuff to get by on and waited for the teacher to tell them what she wanted them to have. I also only replaced coloured pencils, pens, erasers and the like if they were necessary.

  3. Great post, Cindy! The numbers are astonishing. But I have to admit, even with lists that called for one box of colored pens, one watercoloring kit, one eraser etc. when I went to school, I discovered lots of leftovers when I went through pencils and such for decluttering some time ago. I found colored pens from first grade! Why did not use them up in second grade? Probably because we got a list that told my mum to buy new ones … Doesn’t feel right to me in retrospect. I hope, teachers learn until I might be in the position to have to buy school stuff for kids one day by either encouraging use up (it would have been absolutely fine to replace only the colors that were less than half of the original size, wouldn’t it?!) or organize a donation to kindergartens or daycares were the kids just take from a big box and put back after use anyway.
    I remember that is felt nice to have shiny new things for a new school year – but maybe that is just not the right message for kids in consumerist times like today anymore and there surely could be found other ways to make the new start feel special.
    And, after all, thinking about it closely: we were supposed to take care of our stuff. But what made the difference to it if we didn’t if the stuff got replaced soon anyway?

    • wow. you are so right. your comment just brings back a lot of memories. I cant recall if we got new pens for every new year (I remember in third grade I got a new fancy pencil case), but I for sure know that we had to get new (note)books. and that sometimes you had to get a new one close to the years finish, because the first was full. And my mum would make me use the old ones (tearing out the few scribbled pages) instead of buying me new books – even for the new year! I hated that I had a mother who didnt “follow the rules”. I was also one of the few kids who got the brown paper notebooks from recycled paper, and I was always jealous of my classmates who got bleached white books.
      its weird to remember the feeling of jealousy as a kid, when I feel today as an adult, that my mum was absolutely right in that matter.

      • Lena, perhaps your mum had a certain influence on you as a child, that moulded the adult you, without you even realising it. She was ahead of her time as it turns out. Good for her.

  4. One of our school districts put 60 – SIX ZERO – glue sticks on the list. For. each. child. in the classroom. Absolutely insane. I don’t even remember using up the one I had each year when I was in school.

  5. Oh wow, we never had that kind of excess. We got all the needed supplies from school, and you can bet it was rationed according to actual usage. We did buy some cute erasers and fancy pencils in the beginning of the school year ourselves though, but it wasn’t that many.. Most kids got those with their own pocket money.

  6. I was reflecting on this very thing! Being in an impoverished family we DID only have one of everything (some things were shared-like the bicycle or some we had 2 like pencils and some 3, like socks or underwear) and we paid great care of those things; especially if they were bought “new” for us, since most things were hand-me-downs. If I had lost my mittens I would have had freezing hands and leaving a jacket behind would have been unthinkable here in MN! There was no lost and found in my school; anything left was picked up the next day. The same went for food- we ate everything we were served because there was nothing else. My best friend wore taped-up eyeglasses for the enitre 6th grade! The North American world has done 180, hasn’ it?

    • my aunt just recently explained to me that she had one dress her entire childhood. and that every year when the taylor came to town, the dress would get (professionally) a new length, with additional fabric. I was actually shocked. I dont dare to – and I probably couldnt – estimate the number of clothes I had during my childhood.

      there should be a middle way between excess and one dress. (its rhyme-time over here ;-))

      • Hi Lena, I think I lived in that middle ground between excess and too much. My mother was quite thrifty which I am sure is where I learned it from. Being the forth child I had a few hand-me-downs at times particularly school uniforms and shoes but that was fine they were still in good condition because we looked after out things. We had adequate and delicious homemade food at all times but never more than we needed like the overweight population of our country today. And enough pocket money at times to buy some candy at the store.
        I don’t remember ever losing an item of clothing or school items of any kind during my entire childhood. Because we only had enough losing things would have meant going without or at least an angry parent.

        • lol – I had a lot of “angry parent” moments, I was careless as a child, and I can still remember my parents vividly when I broke/lost/forgot/gave away something that I should have kept and cherished. well yeah. then again, I probably only lost those items that I didnt like or was bored with. I had very rarely new clothes, me being the first-born. My mother used to give us second hand clothes, because she didnt want to spend the money (and she was the organizer of this children-clothing-bazar)… I read used books, I wore used clothes, I got used furniture, etc.

  7. I am a Montessori teacher. We teach the young children to value the shared supplies by limiting what is available to use. So, sometimes a child will have to wait to use a glue stick or a particular color of pencil. Sometimes we “run out” of paper or some other thing and the children will have to wait until the next day or even the next until a particular item is replenished. Once this lesson is learned early in the school year, supplies are almost never wasted. Now if we can just get moms to put the child’s name in their coat!

    And yet, as a mom I dutifully bought new pencils every year for my children. I still have a box of 20 year old colored pencils which I should donate to my friend’s Montessori school.

  8. Interesting post. I volunteered in the classrooms a lot and learned that some teachers put an excess on the list because of the number of children whose parents could not afford to buy or would not buy supplies; to cover for kids who left things at home, etc. One teacher was rather annoyed when I labeled all of my son’s things with his name (before I found out I was supposed to be supplying the classroom). I understood the teachers’ problems with the cutbacks on education funding in the US but wish that they had simply asked for donations — I would have been pleased to bring in the supplies and/or cash, but it would have been nice to get a deduction on my taxes for a donation.

    And the over-buying hits all over the place. We moved this weekend from 5,000 sq. ft to 1,310 sq. ft. We believed we had gotten rid of enough stuff — auctions, charity pick ups, charity deliveries, selling cheaply, giving away to friends and family — but we are full in our new place and are nonetheless awaiting a second, smaller truck load! On top of that, I took several large containers holding cleaning supplies, aluminum foil, wax paper, parchment paper, etc. to friends to use/distribute! Our first shopping trip here I was somewhat hysterical: “buy the smallest size! buy the smallest size!” Lesson learned the hard way.

    • Yay to you for downsizing! 5000 sqft is incredibly big by european standards and 1310 would still be considered quite big but downsizing to a quarter of the size is impressive nonetheless.

    • Hi Sabrina – well done you! That is a significant downsize.

  9. Hi! I don’t think I have ever posted here yet but I have been faithfully decluttering this whole year and reading this blog every day. It has been such a big help to me. My house is really looking good. Thank you for this blog!!!!

    The reason I felt compelled to post now is because this really hit home to me. My Dad suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 2009 and was in intensive care for 40 days and then in hospital and nursing home care for another couple of months after that. My Mother then decided they had to move to semi-assisted living. So we moved them out except for some bigger furniture – dining room set, bedroom set, kitchen table. The place sat empty for about 9 months at which time my son decided he wanted to move in there and help take care of the place. Well I thought my Mom didn’t have anything else in there until the other day when she called and told me to get out the clothes in the front hallway. She wanted to donate the coats to the Thrift store (which is good). But oh my goodness she had a more than a good dozen winter & spring coats plus some better dresses, etc. Now remember she moved out in 2009 so she already had coats that she has been wearing why did she ever feel she needed to have another dozen coats???? I know we live in MN and do need a variety of outer wear but still……

    My husband also has excess with his blue jeans. I own 3 pairs of jeans – 1 for every day and the other 2 when I go out. Of course I have good slacks for work so I don’t need more jeans than this. But the same could be said for my husband. He has a uniform that is required for work so he doesn’t need jeans there. I counted and he has at least 22 pairs of jeans. I know he does need every day ones for when he does yard work, changing oil in the car, etc. But still 22?? And then I had to go out to the garage the other day and I saw he had bought a new pair that was still in the shopping bag. Why I tell you??? It drives me crazy. I know I would like maybe a couple of more pairs for myself but I am trying to lose weight so I don’t want to buy any until I lose some more. I don’t think I would ever buy that many jeans though.

    I have to admit in my cleaning I have also found tons of color pencils and some notebooks and wonder WHY?? But again probably it was on the school LIST so you had to do it.

    I am working hard on not over buying and I think I am doing good at this.

    Again I love this blog <3 ! Thanks!!

  10. I think one of the reasons we stock up so much is so that we don’t have to go back and get more. We also seem to think that it is cheaper to get the big pack rather than the small one. In many cases, this isn’t true either because the price is not better or becuase by not using all of them we end up paying out more and wasting. I’m learning that with most things I can always wait and buy the item the next time I am out. I”m even learning to do that with food. It’s helping us to realize just how childish we can be about wanting something NOW when we can usually find a substitute or a way to make do for a few days. After all, we have several stores only a 1/4 mile away.

    • You are so right Deb J. Laziness and instant gratification is the cause of the overstocking of supplies. I consider it a fun challenge to run things down to nothing and perhaps even go without for a while rather than overstock my home with “just in case I run out” items. One tends to use things up this way rather than move on to the next thing while the other goes stale of off.

  11. Hi Cindy, great post. I have never had a problem with my kids loosing their things at school. They probably knew it wouldn’t go over well with me if they did. In fact I can remember the only thing I think one of them ever lost and I can assure you I searched high and low in the lost property box at school to find it. Someone must of acquired it though because it was homemade and very distinguishable but it never turned up.
    The schools my children went to always had lost property days on a regular basis where all the unlabelled lost property would be spread out on long tables in the common area for people to scavenge through for their stuff. The parents where informed of these days so they could also be involved in the hunt. Of course they were always more enthusiastic to locate lost items than the children were. What wasn’t claimed went up for sale in the supplies room for those who were smart enough not to insist on new things or simply couldn’t afford new.

  12. Hi Cindy – great post! I have told this here before but it fits. My kids attended a primary school that covered Year 0-8 (primary and intermediate) and it was designed by an ‘out of the box’ thinker.

    Each teacher was given a budget for stationery and the class supplied stationery. If it ran out, it ran out. But there was no obligation to use ‘label’ stationery and it didn’t matter where the supplies came from. Here’s where it got good. Whatever was left in the budget at the start of term 3 could be transferred against the annual class camp. So each teacher went all out to save as much as possible. Parents got right behind it and we’d do things like bring in exercise books from the previous year which still had space in them, found items in clearance bins, snapped up discarded stationery from our work places ie one lady the letter head had changed at her workplace so she brought in 10 reams of letter head and that was the art paper, draft paper for a couple of years. The teacher would put out the word she wanted to do water colours for art, so we all scrounged around in our own craft cupboards etc. Pens – the kids got ONE and it was named – they could only get another one off the teacher if they returned their old one. Scissors, a dad gave the ones from the year before a sharpen. So on and so on. I didn’t realise how great this was until my kids advanced to College (High School) and we got this big list. The thing we also enjoyed about the system at our old school was the team effort it was for the parents, yes the same parents were always at the fore front but it was pretty cool to have our school camp (usually) almost for free.

  13. Oh I used to be rubbish at keeping a hold of ‘my’ stuff – stationary was something so regularly borrowed in school, esp boarding school. But since uni (and me paying for more of it), I’m awesome. I have the SAME eraser since 2004, which I ‘stole’ from a friend (he preferred my little eraser, and I liked his pen shaped one!) My mum spent FOREVER naming everything I owned cause of the communal boarding house laundry. Bet she doesn’t miss that! I also recollect desperately wanting ’72 derwents’ (a brand of pencil). I STILL Have them – not names, and not in the original metal case, in a make shift pencil case. And the favourite colours are tiny nubs of pencils, and the less liked colours are almost full length. Oh, I was so pleased to own those pencils!! (and to think… I’m not even artistic imo!)

    • 🙂 I too wanted a set of 72 derwents – I asked for mine as a xmas pressie in the late ’80s – mine are in the tin and I still have ’em in the tin. Many of them have been replaced but I am ashamed to admit i haven’t used them in about 20 years – keeping them for good/ when i get back to drawing (I know, I know)

      • that probably hits, aspirational, sentimental and guilt clutter all in one go, oops (I’m still not parting with them yet though, lol).

      • Oh, I had a set of 72 of the Derwents, brought in the English Lake District where they were made. This was back in the 1980s when I was an art student. Most of them were still very long and usable when I did a declutter in 2005 and offered them to the professional artist husband of a friend, for him to use himself or to donate to a young artist. They’d become clutter to me but they were going to be very useful to someone else. He was thrilled and I was very happy to see them go to a good home. Win-win, hey?

        • Brilliant GQ – I’ve made a bit of a start to clearing out the stuff i’ve kept from being an art student in the 80s too – sold my techy drawing pens and compasses. Gave my layout and marker pads to a friend who is a professional designer. Got rid of the paints that have dried up. Looked out the misc colouring pencils etc for my nieces and nephews. Donated any blank sketch books. I’ve still got the ‘boxed sets’ of pencils and pastels to go – eek… Anyone want an A0 left handed t square, lol (it has failed to freecycle – i think i will have to use it in next year’s bean frame in the garden – this year’s used 2 old windsurf booms :))

  14. Oh, I absolutely agree that we waste so much, and most of us have so much, when we compare ourselves to other countries. We take so much for granted. I really tried to pull together all of my school supplies this year and use as much as possible that I had left over from the past year before I went and bought more. Knowing what you have on hand and getting organized saves time and money. I did not have to buy much at all and I am glad that my pile is dwindling without wasting money on things that my kids already have for school. My youngest child also was more than willing to wear hand me downs and therefore I did not have to buy new clothes for him either. I was a little surprised to find that my 9th grader needed crayons for a class, but nevertheless I found that using items until they are no longer usable has worked for us, like an investment in a good backpack can last a child a few school years. I was able to give donations of school supplies to my local donation center this year and I gave to school as well, and I still have a small stockpile to keep my kids going during the school year. I can remember as a child taking all of the wire out of my spiral bound notebooks and saving the paper because we could not afford to just throw it out. That is how I am looking at my items now, if I am not using it, then it is wasteful and instead of throwing it out, it needs to go to someone who will use and be thankful for it.

  15. The last couple years I have smartened up and mostly ignored the “supply list”. My boys are not gentle on their things so I stick to replacing the essential, destroyed things. They are sent to school with a half pack of paper, a few pencils and one of each of the important stuff. If they run out, I will find more, but not before. If the teacher asks for sonething specific I will get it before they need it. That year the grade 3 teacher demanded each student had 35 LARGE name-brand glue sticks each and then retired 3 months into the year gave me a healthy sceptisism for the “list” (we ended up throwing out dozens of glue sticks that dried up before even being opened!)

    • Here in Arizona it is so dry and hot most of the year that glue sticks dry up fast. Lots of sticky things and liquid things (markers) can dry up fast. We buy as they are needed so that they are still usable.

  16. PS Great to see you back Colleen, just wasn’t the same without you! Did you sort out a washing machine for your mum? What did she decide on?

  17. I have to admit that when I am grocery shopping since the great pantry declutter, I even think twice about items which are “2 for”, unless it is something I use on a weekly basis or I know I will use within the next two weeks I just buy the one.

    I can’t remember which article or which 365er it was, but her philosophy was if it wasn’t going to be consumed or utilised within a month, the money was better off in her wallet.

    If someone could find the article that Cindy refers to above “If I just had one” – as it would be really cool.

  18. Rebecca B. A. R.

    I absolutely hate waste, and have ever since I was a kid. I think that is why I lean towards wanting a very small house, or even a tiny house. Less wasted space, less the heat and cool, less to clean, just less of everything in general.

  19. Every year in late August, we would do a roundup. We would go through all our desks, back packs, and drawers and find all pencils, pens, notebooks, etc to use for the upcoming school year. Oftentimes, some notebooks had only 3 pages left. I kept those and used them by the phone but ones that had a substantial amount of paper, we ripped out the used pages and the kids used them for their homework. One year, I found about a dozen partial packs of mechanical pencils in my son’s desk. I wondered why he kept asking for more pencils. First, he did not know he could refill the lead. Second, he only liked to use certain colors and if he lost that or the lead ran out, he got a new pack of pencils to get the color he wanted. Now, interestingly, the only colors on these pencils was on the top and the clip to hold it on to your shirt. You can be sure that once I was on to him, he did not get anymore pencil packs. We did buy lots of lead. Saved a ton of money that year. 🙂 I have noticed that we are accumulating a lot of pens around here again. I am collecting them from everywhere and will check to see if they work. The dry ones will get tossed and I will keep a few near the phone but the rest, I will donate to a school for classroom use. My dad gave my daughter a beautiful box of colored pencils one year when she was in elementary school. It was in a box that could be folded back to make a stand. She used these through her art class in high school and then my son got them. To this day, I am still using the remainders. The box has held up well and I use them for my quilt designs when I am deciding on colors. I think dad spent more for these pencils than I would have at the time, but they were a special art pencil and of high quality. (And he was buying for his granddaughter). Whatever they cost has been well worth the money.

  20. My aspiration choice is an electric (220V…overseas at the moment) rice cooker. I bought it from a friend of mine when she moved back to America. My “plan” was to start making/eating rice a lot more over other sides. She sold it to me in the box she bought it in. I just yesterday sold it to my neighbor in the very same box….never once removed in over a year of having it.

  21. Gen, I laughed when I read your note. We all have that gene. My daughter uses a rice cooker at least 4 times a week. He husband loves rice. I can barely get my husband to eat it and I love it. So, I just make the Success rice for me. Just enough for 2 meals and no waste. My daughter says I am spending money needlessly but why make tons if it goes to waste. Some things are left better “unpurchased.”

    • Hi Maggie, I make my rice in a saucepan on the stove. Sometimes I will cook just a little say 1/4 cup of rice. All I do is double the water to the rice bring to the boil reduce the heat to low put a lid on the saucepan and leave to cook for 1- to 12 minutes. Hey presto, no mess, no effort, no excess.