Favorite Hobby: Back to School Supply Shopping

Is it too soon to write this piece? I mean, just the other week we officially entered into summer, summer, summertime. Yet here I am, still combing through my weekly online Target ad for the magic words to crop up, for the first few pictures of rulers and glue bottles to hit the back pages and work their way up to the front cover.

Back to school supply shopping time: it’s one of the most wonderful times of the year!

Okay, so maybe I’m writing this piece for nostalgia’s sake. I graduated from college a year ago and landed into a nice job where, if I need supplies, my employers buy them for me. But work supplies are different from school supplies. You can get them at Office Max year round, but they don’t include pencil bags made from a Capri Sun packet or locker mirrors. You don’t even get to shop for them on your own. They just come in a box to your company and 9 times out of 10, you don’t even get to unpack the box.

Before I graduated from the school system, school supply shopping was an event I couldn’t wait for. It took well over the course of several days to get all of the supplies on the list, especially if you had siblings. And if you went to Target like I did, you might remember bringing The List of all supplies needed, The Other List of the supplies not mentioned that your locker needed and a pen to check everything off that you forgot about using upon arriving to the aisle of Lisa Frank folders. This is why it took the course of several days to complete the shopping process – because you’d get home with 15 packs of gel pens and zero Kleenex boxes. Why, teachers? Why didn’t you just go to Costco to get the Kleenex in bulk and save us more money for novelty scented erasers?

There was a surge of excitement being in the hallowed aisles of Target that only a week prior held gardening tools and bags of dirt. The energy in the air was electric. Bins of Crayola crayons! 25 cents for a folder with a metallic design! Pencil toppers and neon colored protractors and lunchboxes with little thermoses strapped inside with Velcro!! I swear I got a contact high off of the bottles of glue – which I did open and sniff because who does not love the first whiff of fresh gluesticks?

As a seasoned school supply shopper, I knew how to navigate those aisles loaded down with ‘tweens and get what I needed. Of course, what I “needed” I wouldn’t like beyond a semester. But who cared about that unnecessary detail? A novelty Hercules backpack with a big picture of Meg on the front that would not hold more than 2 notebooks was a “need” for the moment, only to have me switch over to a heavy duty forest green backpack 3 weeks later.

Much like Halloween, this was one of the few times of the year where everyone could buy a gummy eraser shaped like the Magic School Bus and feel like a kid again. I recently text polled some of my post-grad girlfriends on what their favorite supplies to shop for were. Turns out everyone piled their carts high with the following staples:

The Write Stuff


My BFFs. No joke.

Gelly Roll pens were where it was at. You could pick up a pack of five for $3 – more expensive than the 25 cent for a pack of 10 ballpoint Bic counterparts but prettier and more creative to express yourself with. I’m sure I’m not the only one who went to a school where the use of glitter pens was banned for homework assignments, but they weren’t banned for doodling in the margins of your notebook! Gelly Roll pens in glitter, metallic and the elusive stardust shades were carried with pride in the front pocket of your binder. Right next to them were the fluffy feather pens that Cher Horowitz made famous in Clueless and a series of mechanical pencils with Troll pencil toppers. Regular pencils broke too easily. If the lead ran out on your mechanical pencil, you could always count on more lead underneath to roll up with.

I have to give the Bic ballpoint pens that came out with erasers a fair shout-out though. Whoever invented those had their thinking cap on.

The Coloring Crew

Nothing beats a fresh box of crayons. Nothing.

Markers and crayons and watercolors and colored pencils, oh my! Does anyone else remember having heated arguments with their parents over the brand to purchase? RoseArt was cheap, but it just didn’t have the same luster that Crayola did. Crayola just got kids. They gave us crayons with whimsical names like Macaroni ‘n Cheese, a little crayon sharpener on the back of the 64 count crayon box, made it vital to buy both original marker colors AND tropical shades and most importantly, all of their products were washable. I’d be remiss to not include the scented markers, glitter crayons, and stampers they came out with too. Pretty much all of my childhood can be summed up with Crayola.

FYI, the last time I went serious marker shopping last year, Crayola had come out with a line of markers called Pip Squeaks. They were smaller versions of regular markers and featured a cute drawing on the outside package of a bunch of markers all jovially grinning and laughing together. A couple might have even been playfully shoving each other. Did I muffle a squeal of delight and run, not walk, my way to the Rite Aid register? As Lucille Bluth says, I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it.


Dine ‘n Dash

Nothing sold me faster than including a Thermos!

The aisle with the lunchboxes was one of the first ones set up in the school supply section, usually right across the way from the backpacks. And what a glorious aisle it was! A rainbow of novelty lunchboxes, Thermoses, and backpacks lined the walls and shelves with designs including Disney princesses, My Little Pony, Power Rangers, Captain Planet and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. How do you ever pick just one? HOW? If you had a sibling, you could wrangle them into getting your second tier choice in lunchbox so that you guys could share joint custody over the pair. Whatever happened, the worst possible option was getting a lunchbox with zero pictures on it. I had a unisex lunchbox for years. It was really heavy and boxy, like a briefcase. Switching over to my zoo themed lunchbox in the 4th grade gave me one of my proudest struts into the lunchroom I can ever remember having!

“The Other List”

"I invented Post Its."

“This one is for the Post Its in those rainbow shades,
Funky Spacemaker pencil boxes holding all my gear for days,
Oh, oh you know I’d never do my locker up without a mirror,
And series of BSB (cooler than N*Sync) pics to see Kevin clearer.”

This poem is proving that I a) can’t write rap lyrics a la Nicki Minaj but b) I understood what a locker needed!

Lisa Frank & Jordi Labanda


These were my favorite brand names to invest in folders and notebooks from, with the former being from my middle school years and the latter from college. Lisa Frank was where it was at. Unicorn and dancing ballerina rabbits in holographic coloring filled every square inch of my binder, Trapper Keeper and desktop. There were moments I distinctly remember taking my folders home even if I didn’t need them just so I could spread them out on my desk at home and look at all the psychedelic pink pretty.

Totally owned this. Totally perfect for me.

When I got older, I wanted a more grown-up and sophisticated version of Lisa Frank to follow everywhere with me. Enter Jordi Labanda. Her illustrations of chic chicks wearing couture were absolutely ideal for my college classes. These notebooks rang up at a cool $8 a piece so I wound up buying just one and using it for all 4 of my summer classes. Luckily these notebooks contained more paper than the Lisa Frank counterparts did and even were marked off by color, perfect for multiple class note-taking. The notebook covers, designed to look like mini illustrated versions of Vogue, made me look like I was off to an important editorial meeting somewhere and not just another 4 hour American History course.

Hey, if you’re supposed to dress for the job you wish you had, having the right supplies can’t be too far off from that!

Did you have any favorite school supplies I left off this list?

  • http://www.facebook.com/frannyvasquez Frances Vasquez

    i am so happy for this article. i have the same love & loyalty to school supply shopping & the overwhelming feeling of happiness i get. fortunitly i can continue my enthusiasm through my 6 year old daughter! i enjoyed my multicolored gyro pen. i used it for each subject in my notebook & it looked so pretty. i also had a few twist erasers that i think i enjoyed the distration of during class which seemed to serve its purpose that way. but mostly i LOVED my Hello Kitty pens & pencils. the cute little figurine that dangled on my them made me feel just as cute.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=537675418 Mandie Mohrlock

    You are me, and I am you. I LOVE SCHOOL SUPPLIES!!! You really summed it up beautifully and I will so jealous as I walk down the aisles of my local Target and watch the other little kids pick out THE folder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=537675418 Mandie Mohrlock

    PS- I probably had every Gelly Roll pen that they made and I even had the notebooks they sold that had black paper! It really made the shimmer/sparkles stand out AND most of all it made me feel extra cool.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1249890070 Courtney Szymkiw

    soul mates.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pinkgrapefruits87 Lauren Nespoli

    I love this article, both the topic and the way it was written! I’m going to have to check out your blog later.

    Anyway, I love school supplies! I always dreaded the end of summer because what kid doesn’t?! Yet, once I got into one of those school supply stores and picked out my cute backpack and lunchbox and pretty colored folders, binders, notebooks, and pens I was kinda excited to show off my new stuff on the first day! And, of course, a lot of planning went into the “first day of school” outfit! I still get excited when Target has the back to school sale and I usually end up buying at least a cute notebook (I really want one of those Jordi Labanda ones now!) and some pens, just for my own writing, even though I probably don’t really need them!

  • http://www.facebook.com/samantha.balash Samantha LaRue Balash

    I love school supplies, and I am about to enter my last semester of college… :( But I don’t think I will ever get over the joy of back to school shopping! ps – LOVE the Romy and Michele reference!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chinabauhan Cheena Bauhan

    bouquets of sharpened pencils :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/pamela.algie Pamela Algie

    I’m a teacher and we finished school today. I’m already thinking about what I need to get for next year’s class already!

  • http://www.facebook.com/colleen.m.pinto Colleen McPhee Pinto

    Um, where is your Trapper Keeper?!
    School supplies were totally my favorite part of summer. And once I got to college and my OCD kicked into full gear, getting binders for each class and coordinating folder, pens, and highlighers made me ridiculously happy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brandy.burnell Brandy Denise Burnell

    The one thing I miss about most about school days. *sigh* I try to compensate by being an office supply hoarder, but it’s not really the same.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=905375482 Kristin Rosinski

    I don’t doubt that I will have children one day just so that I can go school shopping again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000019814363 Paula Cooper

    This is still true for me even though I’m in college, but nowadays I only get folders and a few pens :(. I still go school supply shopping with my younger sisters just for the memories. And Lisa Frank is still my favorite!

  • http://www.facebook.com/courtneymnichols Courtney Nichols

    THIS. IS. AMAZING. Back to school shopping is like Christmas in August. I love the smell of new notebooks and erasers and post-its. It’s like magic. I’m in college now, going on to my sophomore year… and you bet you’ll find me at Target getting snazzy notebooks and book covers and gel pens for the year! I just like getting colorful things because it makes learning more fun! Especially chemistry. Chemistry needs all the colorful fun it can get.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=116503461 Jamie Greenfield Craghead

    Cool pens were (and still are) my favorite! I’m a teacher now, so I still go school supply shopping every year, and every time I’m facing an overwhelming stack of papers to grade, I still go out and buy a pack of pens in awesome colors or sparkles or whatever!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=730621511 Kristine Songco

    I loved school supply shopping (and still love office supply shopping on the company’s dime), and I remember this commercial would play every summer and I’d think to myself: “Is it weird that I’m the dad in this commercial?”


  • http://www.facebook.com/josie281 Erin Bruner

    sharpee pens are fantastic!i start christmas shopping six months in advance so this is definitely not too early!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1252230887 Sarah Mihalus

    I love this article! Whenever I feel sad I go shopping for school supplies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rockinItalmajor Robyn Pennington

    You forgot giant novelty pencils. Particularly for me, because I grew up in So Cal, they were usually from Disneyland. But I do recall later on in elementary school that they were selling them at Wal Mart. I never shopped at Target because, well, Wal Mart was cheaper and we got everything we needed. Also, the shaped pencils that broke whenever you put them away or tried to use the eraser on the end. Ahh I used to love those. When I got into middle school, gelly roll pens were replaced in favor of the more slender milke pens that came in all kinds of crazy colors.

    Lisa Frank, in elementary school, was my favey! She was so awesome, I loved all the different designs but I was horrible to my poor folders and I had to get a new 25 cent folder every year lol. Ahh the memories

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=515004410 Béa Chavarria

    <3 the article, so many fond memories of Gelly roll pens :SIGH: especially the silver and gold ones…
    Just one thing, though, you're propably unaware that Jordi is actually a man's name, at least in Spain and generally in Spanish-speaking countries.
    So Jordi Labanda is actually A MAN, I checked.
    (see http://www.jordilabanda.com/)

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephaniefrady Stephanie Frady

    I had that exact Barbie lunchbox!

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