Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Don’t Over Buy (revisited)



This post first appeared in September 2012. Since I am in the thick of plowing through the Lost and Found and checking the cleanliness of all the uniforms from the uniform exchange closet, it seemed like a good time to reprint it.

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 something in an area that is overcrowded to the point of causing disfunction.

Eco Tip For The Day

As adults it is our job to teach our children to conserve power and water. If you raise your children with good habits now conservation will come naturally to them when they become the adults themselves.

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

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

  • Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Pantry Management There is such potential for waste in the kitchen! I am certainly not perfect, but I really try to keep it to a minimum. Here are some of my tricks and tips: Don't buy in bulk except […]
  • Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ The Shortage Is Only in Your Mind I went to high school with a girl named Helen, who was extremely petite and wore a very tiny shoe size, 5 I believe. In college, Helen and I lived in the same dorm. Her room was […]
  • Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ How to Begin Cindy's Weekly Wisdom Several people have recently asked me how to begin decluttering, and someone confessed last week that she thought all of us were running to the thrift store every […]


  1. With back to school sales, you can get supplies for hardly anything that it is easy to overbuy. For example, if you were planning on spending 50 cents to buy crayons and you find a sale for 5 cents each instead, it is easy to buy more than you need. In relation to the lost and found, a friend told me that she only buys her kids cheap coats, etc. now. When they have had nicer things, they tend to get stolen. Also, for gloves/mittens, buy 2 or 3 pairs of the same kind. That way if you lose one, you still have one that will go with the one that is left. This works with socks too. If you have several of the same kind, you aren’t getting rid of a sock every time you lose its pair. I found that if I simply couldn’t pass up a back to school sale, like 1 cent for a package of lined paper, I would donate it to the schools. There is always someone who could use it. I am glad my kids aren’t in elementary school any more. It was such a nightmare when we had 5 kids in elementary school and I had those LONG lists of things to buy. I had some teachers that would send me notes home if I didn’t buy baby wipes to clean off the desks or something that I didn’t think was necessary. This same thing happens in college with books that students don’t end up using for the class and sometimes they can’t sell them back. It would be nice if teachers would go over their lists and see what they really need. I do think it is a challenge for schools to get all the supplies they need and that is why they ask parents for the lists they request.

    • I can’t imagine having 5 kids in elementary school at once! Congratulations for making it through without going crazy. That in itself is a big achievement!

  2. Since I joined this community, I have become better about not over-purchasing. It takes up too much room and when a local food drive happened, I had to discard so much because it was out of date. What a waste! I don’t have children so school supplies aren’t on my shopping list, but over buying food/cleaning/toiletries have always been my thing. But it’s funny because I would forget that I already had something and then buy it again. No more, I say!

    I’ve been mostly getting the kitchen back together (but I don’t have the damaged wall repainted yet). There is room on top of the cupboards where I had all manner of knick knacks and such. Well, I’ve been putting some back up and, even after declutting a bunch, it still seems crowded up there and I know I have more things that are still packed away. If I feel dissatisfaction looking at those things, rather than pleasure, it’s past time to do another declutter job up there. When I view items in my home, I do want to feel happiness seeing them. Otherwise, it’s just something else that I have to clean. Ugh.

    This morning, however, I finished my two yard art projects for my mom and I put a coat of paint on my brooch display cabinet. I’m going to try to get it done before our visit because I think she’d like to see the display cabinet. She’s kind of expressed an interest and if she does like it, I’d like us to pick out fabric for the interior that she’d like and it could be a gift to her. 🙂 It’d be fun (as well as a neat memory) to go fabric shopping with my mom.

    • I’m glad you’ve decided to declutter more than you initially intended to. You’re not done until you feel free and happy when you look around your home.

    • Hi Michelle, I also am looking forward to seeing the finished brooch cabinet. 😉 Better to have your pretty things on display than hidden away in a drawer somewhere.

      • I DID IT! I DID IT!! Feels like I ran a marathon or something. LOL Got home from work last night. Told hubby he was on his own for dinner. Ran upstairs and finished the cabinet! Very pleased with the final product and will get you a picture when we get back from Mom’s after the 1st.

        You know, here’s the thing . . . I suppose the entire project wasn’t really that time-consuming. It was just a matter of carving out some time to get it done. But with my step-dad’s passing in April, the laundry remodel (April/May/June), putting in the garden, etc., etc., etc., I just wasn’t getting the job done. This may come down to some poor time management on my part. 😉 This morning while drinking my coffee, I pulled out my CDs that I can get to, and pulled out 7 to get rid of. I have some more CDs in a spot I can’t get to just yet, so that’s for another day.

        And Cindy, I so agree with your sentiments!

  3. My kids have school supply lists like that. This year, my daughter brought home from first grade 60 (yes, sixty) almost-like-new pencils and all eight of her double-sided markers, as well as two barely used pink erasers. They are definitely going to be used toward her second grade supply list. We also have at least three boxes of 48 crayons, partially used, but they may go back to school with her in the fall.

    I have bags of miscellaneous markers and colored pencils stowed away, and I think some of those also will go toward next year’s supply instead of being purchased new. The kids use all these items at home, as well, but not at the rate at which they’re coming in. I’m feeling swamped, which is why I was able to get rid of at least half of the crayons we had on hand to accomplish Tuesday’s mini-mission.

    • I absolutely sent partially used stuff back with my kids the following school year. A slightly blunt crayon works just as well as a brand new crayon.A school supply drive may be an option for you to unload some of the excess that is swamping you.

  4. I think over-buying becomes easy when people are in a hurry. I know I’ve done this myself when time was in particularly short supply when I was working full time and going to grad school full time. If I found I needed a note book or paper I’d buy quite a few extras because I didn’t want to make the time to run back out to the store should I need more later in the month. When you’re only sleeping 3-4 hours a night, it’s easy to see why that seemed justifiable. Any thing that took me away from homework, sleeping, class, or work was something to be avoided like the plague during that time period. Thankfully during that time of my life I lived alone so staying organized was rather easy and I would actually be able to find the extra stash of notebooks should I need one. When I completed grad school, I did have an overabundance of school supplies that I likely won’t need in the future so I donated the extras away.

    I don’t overbuy too much these days and when I do the motivation is different than it was in those grad school days. Sometime I don’t know how many I’ll need of something so I figure there’s no harm in getting a couple extra because I’d rather donate away the excess or save it for another time than be short. I tend to apply the same attitude when cooking for a large group. I’d rather have left overs than to run out of food. Left overs are always eaten in my home so it’s not a waste.

    • I agree that having an extra or two of something doesn’t have to be a big waste of money or space. But my cousin uses this thought process each and every time she goes to the store: She could open a Target in her house! So much sunscreen, many multiples of toilet paper, cleaning product after cleaning product. A bit extra is okay as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

  5. I love reminders like this. We make sure not to overbuy by sticking to our grocery list every week. We used to have extra apples, extra bananas, etc. Now, we don’t. It is good for our world (less waste), our waists (less eating), and our finances.

    As a former public school teacher, I can say there is a lot of waste. I was never asked what I wanted on the school supply list. At the end of the year, I always had leftover supplies. I usually gave them away to students who had less. I also saved them from year to year because you never knew when budgets were going to be cut. I used notebooks and post-its as a way to decrease the number of mindless worksheets I see still being used in schools. We crafted our own pieces of writing and used post-its to hold our thoughts for book discussions. We were careful not to be wasteful (and yes, I had to teach this because it is often not taught in the home) because when we ran out of these supplies it came out of my own bank account.

    • I think for a while, our teacher put their lists together with the “let’s list it all, no harm done” system. Later, the lists were more refined, and later still, the school started supplying everything. Personally, that was my favorite time.

  6. I find this principal applies in many areas of the household, I had a tendancy to prepare for all possibilities in the pantry and keep two of items in the pantry so that I could see what I needed to add to my shopping list, so an item which was FINALLY used for unexpected guests was instantly replaced. Now I work off my meal plans.

    The kitchen counter cooking school book you reviewed Cindy, that I read said that people are more likely to be able to substitute ingredients successfully if they have fewer options in the fridge or pantry.

    • Moni, That same book also said that you shouldn’t be afraid to see the back of your refrigerator. I’m not sure what happened in mine, because I usually stick to that rule, but right now it’s PACKED and I hate it!

      • Cindy – you might like this monthly blog:
        Some interesting and clever ideas in it, alas I am southern hemisphere so I’ll have to wait until Summer to try these.

      • Cindy – yes sometimes my fridge gets full too, but I just decide that I am not making anything else or going grocery shopping until it looks more reasonable again. That’s when the meals get, ahem, interesting trying to find ways to use that particular combination of left overs.

  7. The school supply lists for my kids were also long with numerous items requested. Now I have quite a pile of partially used spiral notebooks. Sometimes they came home at the end of the year with only one or two pages used, but the notebook looked a bit tatty from being in the backpacks. I wish that there had been a bit more focus on avoiding this kind of waste, but as you say the items lose their value when they are available so cheaply and in such quantities. I can still remember from my schooldays when the school provided the notebooks and paper, and it was really drummed into us not to waste space, to use every line on every page etc, and we had to show the teacher that the book was full before we could have a new one. I am trying to use up some of these spiral notebooks for my lists and notes at home, and I shall suggest to my sons that they each take a couple back to college with them to use as scratch paper.

    • I particularly dislike spiral notebooks. I think they’re the most wasteful because they get partially used, the spirals are often bent, and the kids don’t want to use them again. In fact, I took a cruddy old one to a meeting just today.

  8. Hi Cindy, it never ceased to amaze me how many items there were in the lost and found in some of the schools my kids went to. I am proud to say that in all the years of school they attended that one sweat shirt is the only thing I can remember ever going missing. We searched lost and found several times but it never showed up. It was very distinguishable because I had made it out of the scraps when I made the kids their school tracksuits, so I would have found it had it been returned. My guess is someone must have taken it by mistake.

    I guess my children knew that they would be in trouble if they didn’t take care of their things so they made sure they did their best to do just that. Nothing was ever treated as easy come – easy go in this house and that attitude obviously rubbed off.

    • Audra had a jacket stolen one year, and I’m sure it was stolen because there was a rash of missing jackets, and that’s about the only thing we’ve lost. There was this one girl a few years ago who had *multiple* sets of clothes in the Lost and Found. She changed for dance class at school, and frequently left her clothing behind. It was baffling.

  9. Every year I see the school lists out and can’t imagine the kids needing all that stuff. Then a friend of mine who was a teacher told me that her school sent this list out, gathered the items in one place in each classroom and gave them out as needed. She said that way the kids whose family couldn’t afford things would have some. I thought that was rather strange thinking since every home owner is accessed property taxes with part of it going to education. So I tracked it all down and found that in order for homeowners to pay for every child to get what they needed they would be hit with a tax bill twice as high because over half of those in school were from renting families. My suggestion was that they up the sales tax so that anyone who bought would be paying taxes rather than just those who owned a home. Years later that’s what they did but I still would see those lists. I’m so glad i was out of school before they started this.

    • It does seem peculiar to me too the way the school supply lists are handled. Every August I see moms in line at the store purchasing many boxes of tissues, erasers, etc and when I ask about it they always say that it’s for the classroom at their child’s school. Apparently they all have to bring in several boxes of tissues at the beginning of the year now for use by the entire class.

      • School lists are crazy. Here’s a list of 1st grade supplies: gym shoes to keep at school, 2 large boxes of tissues, 4 packages of pencils, 4 pocket folders, 3 pads of handwriting tablets, 4 dry erase markers, small art supply box, box of 24-count crayons, 2 bottles school glue and glue stick, 1 pair scissors, 1 eraser, 3 each 70 ct. spiral notebooks, backpack, 1 box gallon-size baggies, 1 box quart-size baggies, 1 set washable watercolor markers, and 1 bottle liquid soap.

        The 5th grade list was even longer and included more folders, packages of loose-leaf paper, pens, protractor and compass, etc.

        Oh, and everything must be labeled with the kids’ names and room numbers.

  10. It is funny how we all tend to put so much into maintaining and keeping up with big purchases that we have only one of. We should all put more thought into keeping up with and maintaining small purchases, after all they can add up over time if they have to be purchased repeatedly.

  11. I always find it strange to read that, because over here it is one of the “educational goals” in elementary school that children learn to take care of their things.
    Teachers encourage writing the name on each and every school supply item, so retrieving lost possessions is easier, and it is normal (and the goal) that each child uses his/her supplies for several years or even that things are re-used by siblings. Things are to be replaced if they are finally used up or permanently lost (which doesn’t happen that often, I was a “bad” loose-it-all child and lost about one pencil a year permanently). Teachers also check in the first years if the pencil cases of the children are in order.

    Of course, parents over here complain as well (e.g. teachers and schools use a colour coding for subjects, because they often collect note books or binders to check homework etc., so a blue file/binder won’t do if a yellow one is requested), but especially after reading your posts I think, it’s rather resourceful over here. (after all you may use that same yellow binder or note-book cover for several years and it’s encouraged)

    I’ll have a teaching job in summer. I’ll teach German for three weeks to foreign teenagers who don’t know a word yet. Let me tell you that requires as much material (pictures, posters, games, paper clippings) as a kindergarten class. I try to not buy too much (though I have a budget), but use up some of my office supplies and use free material (junk mail with photos of food and clothing make good material for vocabulary training), but I’m really happy, that it is just a summer job and not my main profession. You really need many things to make lessons fun and teach well. (different colours and/or touching things is really important for better learning)

    • We’ve had problems a few times with no being able to find the required color of folder – that’s a real pain too. And the year that each of us had to provide ONE red pencil, but no one could find them in packs of less then 12. Fortunately because my girls go to a small school with little turn over, it wasn’t hard to coordinate all those pencils with the other parents. But a pain in the rear nonetheless.

      Good for you for thinking of cheap / recycling ways to help your students.

  12. One year my daughter wanted a special winter coat, one with a zip-in part that could come out and be used as a jacket. We found one on sale at REI and purchased it. The first day she wore it, she left it in the band room (thinking it would be safe there) and went to her next class. She had to come back to the room for a lesson later in the day and thought she’d pick it up then since it was so bulky to carry around and the lockers were too small to hang it up. Well, needless to say, it was gone. We searched Lost and Found, we advertised on the bulletin board, she asked her friends, and we checked with the band director (whose office was attached to the band room). NO ONE saw the coat, no one took the coat. It just sprouted legs and left the room. 🙂 Anyway, we couldn’t afford another coat like that so she had to wear her last year’s coat for that entire winter. She learned a valuable lesson. If you want to keep something that belongs to you, you must take care of it. And the sad thing was, only band members had access to the band room so someone that she knew took the coat. I told my daughter that I hoped the person who took it really needed it. She didn’t even think that someone would take it but it was a sad lesson to learn. She never lost another thing, even her guard outfits with all the bits and pieces, always came home.

    • That’s unfortuante. As I wrote above, we had a rash of coat thefts one year at school. I assumed that they ended up being sold at the flea market, because no one person could have needed the variety of styles and sizes that disappeared.

  13. I hear you on this! My daughter uses pencils like she has a million–and they aren’t built to last either. We sharpen and sharpen because they break easily (while sharpening as well as while writing). She also chews off the erasers, breaks them in half, etc. and it’s the school supply lists doing it–dozens of pencils she had to bring and barely a one brought home at the end of the year. Crayons and markers were thrown out, so I guess pencils were, too. I didn’t now in advance to tell her to bring everything home instead.

    • I hate it when people are too lazy and just throw good things away. I know some people would argue that it’s not laziness, they’re just pressed for time, but you know, I’m busy too and I never just toss good stuff away. That’s why I sort through the lost and found at the end of the school year and make sure that everything is in nice order for the thrift shop. They’re not a trash can, either, after all.

  14. One of the things that the teachers at my daughters’ school do commonly is have raffles from little gifts they’ve been given or materials that have been left behind. My daughters have brought home some really cute notebooks, greeting cards, and art supplies this way. They love it.