Back-to-school supply shopping around here usually requires hundreds of dollars, secret strategy by my mom and my dad and me, three trips to six stores, cussing, a Costco membership and plenty of booze guzzling. But this years, the heavens opened and shined a light upon the third grade classrooms at my son’s elementary school and an enlightened teacher got his wings he asked only that parents pay $40 so that he could purchase all the supplies himself before school got started.
You know what that means, other than the teacher just added 20 bucks to his winter holiday Starbucks gift card? It means that I had plenty of time, energy, patience and cash to fill up a basket with my very own school supplies. I asked a bunch of moms to join me — not literally, as most of them were still crabby and frantic getting every single item off of their kids’ lists (sorry for gloating, parents) — and share their favorite school items to buy and keep all to themselves.
Juice-box sticky hands off, kids! Here are the supplies mamas love most.
Which one will be the big winner? And which of these will you add to your own backpack?
Oh, sure, we all go to our happy place carrying Taylor Swift spiral notebooks, Washi tape and chalkboard labels. But which school supplies do moms give high marks -- and buy every single back-to-school season? And which earns the top pick? Click through to see if a classic or newbie product wins.
Clean erasers get a thumbs up from preschool teacher Barbara Brandt.
These oft-underestimated sweet little baby school supplies aren't just for little ones who can't yet be trusted with a "permadent marker" (as my son still calls it, bless his 8-year old soul) or teachers. They are for every mom who has cringed at the squeaky sound of a flattened eraser being ground into a homework sheet or who has tenderly erased each side of a dirty, ten-year old eraser she's trying to resurrect from her college days for a kid's school report.
When mom and graphic designer Andreah Weitz told me she loves to stock up on PeeChees, I admit, I had to Google to be reminded if her kind of school supplies were actually kid-friendly. As soon as I saw these vintagey portfolios pop up on my screen, I recognized the drawings that students in my classes spent many hours of algebra and Western Civ turning into hilarious, strange and questionable cartoons. And my favorite part of the PeeChees? The inside pockets, covered with cheat sheets of "Useful Information."
While you're reminiscing over the pink-ish football players and carefree tennis lady sketches, you must check out The Oatmeal's take on PeeChee graffiti.
"If there was paste," says mom Amy Cohler, "I would cover myself in it. Love that smell!"Paste does actually still exist. It's just a lot easier to find art paste now, a powder that is non-toxic, non-staining, colorless and, when mixed with water, can be used for crafts, like papier mache. Great for parenting. Not as much fun for parents to roll around in.
I'd be happy just putting brand-new colored pencils in jars on my desk, evoking a smart, creative vibe in one set of inexpensive (inexpencil?) prettiness.
But Claire, a mother and artist, says colored pencils have been a lasting love since her elementary days.
"My treat every September is to buy a new set of colored pencils," she says. "I have cheap sets, sets from the dollar store and some that come in a fancy brocade case. I love them all because they are new and the colors are so beautiful."
I share the love, too, and toss in a new kaleidoscope coloring book to put the pencils to use. Conference call boredom? Conquered. Happy place? Achieved.
Nearly every parent I spoke to said Post-Its were at the top of their lists of favorite school supplies. The neon-colored kind, the ones with cute animals, animal-printed, even the cheapy promotional logo-ed sticky notes all are a staple in home as well as in the classroom.
I am right there with those parents, and nearly every room has a corner of a cabinet, computer, notebook or door that's plastered with sticky reminders, quotes and love notes. So when Post-It sent me a back-to-school packet of ginormous Big Pads, you can imagine the thrill it gave my third-grader and me.
We've already put these to use by creating our own collaborative comic strips, mapping out the month's activities and setting some new allowance rules. I'm going to need about 800 more of these pads. And a little cheetah print or graph paper wouldn't hurt.
Teacher/mama Jen Eisenbrandt Christensen says she buys a new set of PaperMate Flair felt-tip pens every fall.
To her, I say, "That's it?"
I have a really hard time keeping myself from buying a new set of felt-tips every time I'm at the store to pick up TP and toothpaste. There are black Flairs tucked in every drawer and left lazily on nearly every flat surface in my home. I'm more selfish with the rainbow pens, using them for greeting cards and really, really important to-do list items.
Some days, I'm tempted to stick one of these -- stuffed full of permission slips, Tae Kwon Do uniform stuff and whatever else I've reminded him 87 times to put in his backpack -- directly on my child's chest. Alas, I've only followed through with adhesing it to my laptop when heading off to a meeting, the inside of my kitchen cabinet to hold cluttery take-out menus and inside my work binder to keep track of oodles of accumulated receipts.
My friend Kathryn brilliantly stuck one on the backside of a clipboard, then filled it with coloring sheets and flat crayons to keep her toddler busy at restaurants and in the car. Of course, the toddler is most entertained by the Velcro tab that closes the pocket, but that still counts as a moment of mama genius.
Jade says she stocks up on these to make her feel organized, but hasn't yet figured out the perfect place to stick the plastic pockets. I get that. Points to Jade for organizational effort.
"I still stash my bills, notes and reminders away in a Trapper Keeper," mom Kate admits.
Too bad the pictures of hang-loose kitty and Lisa Frank hearts and unicorns have been replaced by boring blue fabric and Beiberfication. Still, the old-timey close-up folder is doing its job, all these decades later.
"I try to hide [these] in my desk, but somehow the kids always manage to snatch them," says mom, writer and yoga teacher Hillary Easom.
Kids love these classic pens because they can make fine lines that show every detail of an itsy-bitsy stick-figure drawing. We have carried that affinity over into inking our Target and to-do lists with perfect penmanship (OK, slightly more legible).
I used to be stingy with my binder clips, especially the hot pink and lavender baby-sized ones, until I realized that containers of rainbow-colored clips are often stashed in the dollar bins at Target. I bought a hoarder-load and now it makes me happy to binder-clip generously. My files look brighter and more organized and I've allayed a little of my irritation at having to print, sign and mail stacks of tax forms, contracts and other paperwork to work and school. All of that, one little cute, clearance-priced clip at a time.
Many of the shoe fanatics I know told me they keep one of these tape dispensers on their desk to make craft and work projects feel more like fancy-lady time. One even told me hers sits empty - she ran out of clear tape over a year ago - but that doesn't matter since the holder has become more decor than dispenser.
SHARPIES. OHHH, SHARPIES
While lots of mamas throw in Post-Its and their own favorite flavor of pen into the cart when they are stocking up for their students, no supply is as beloved, bought and used as the Sharpie.
Several respondants said bluntly, "I WANT ALL OF THE MARKERS." But even that declaration of love was blown away by loyalty to the one, true, reliable, perfectly inked Sharpie permanent pen.
This is why the people who think up smart stuff for the Sharpie elves to make that will drive mothers insane with marker fumes have created pens that don't bleed through paper and key rings strung with tiny markers to stash away in a purse pocket and rainbow colors. RAINBOW COLORS.
Whether we're leaving instructions for the new babysitter or prettying up a crappy dresser or writing embarrassing lunch notes or doodling during a conference call or filling in scratches on the family car or mailing off way too many holiday cards for this digital age -- it's a Sharpie we're using.
And that doesn't even count the artwork our pre-Pinterest craftastic-savant toddlers have added to the side of her baby brother's cheek with these favorite school supplies.
You'll be just as permanent in our hearts as you are scribbled on our leather couches, Sharpie marker.
Add a bit of bling to boring old black Ikea shelves?
Make that kid's birthday gift you scrambled to wrap in an inside-out Trader Joe's brown bag look intentionally shabby chic?
Give a hint to the teacher that your that awesome mom by filling out the student information sheet in silver?
Turn the reminder to pay bills into a happy note?
Yeah, that's all with a parent's special gold, bronze or silver "adult mahhkuhhh."
This post originally appeared on Babble.com.