Everything shifts at the end of summer: The wind starts to give up on the summer heat; the scent of flowers vanishes to make room for the humus-scent of fallen leaves; and the sounds of children playing move from the street to the school yard.
Something in me shifts, too. I find myself at the office supply store loading up on staples and pushpins. I have a compulsive need to organize my desk. A few days later, I’m back at the store for three-ring binders, and I realize that what I’m really after isn’t office supplies—it’s back-to-school supplies. And I’m in my thirties.
As I browse the aisles, I find I’m inexplicably drawn to grape purple markers and glittery glue sticks—things I don’t need, but somehow, suddenly, absolutely need. Why doesn’t anybody make a school-supply list for grown-ups? I think to myself.
In the binder aisle I get a flash of memory: choosing just the right neon-colored Trapper Keeper to hold the aviation-themed folders my father gave me (he’s a pilot). By now, I’ve forgotten the name of the meanie who stole my pencil bag, but I remember it was silver with a clear window and fit perfectly in my binder. I’ve forgotten the name of my third-grade crush but remember that he complimented me on my strawberry eraser. And I know that countless such memories are concealed in those long-lost classroom tools and trinkets.
The next time your children are carefully mulling over their pen selection, chewing a lower lip and lost in thought, consider your memories of your own school supplies. Maybe it’s not too indulgent to splurge on that fancy red pencil bag just this once. And maybe, too, there’s a box in your storage unit or your mom’s attic where some of your favorite school supplies (and the memories they hold) are waiting to be shared.
These things are, after all, some of the little building blocks of growing up, and the joy and fascination of them may even breed a few good habits later in life—like organizing one’s desk every autumn.
The Official Hallmark School-Supply List for Grown-ups
Maybe you’ve had it up to here with school supplies. If however you still find yourself just a wee bit nostalgic when you walk past the construction paper, here’s a list to give you an excuse to shop for your own “school supplies.” The best part about this list: None of it is mandatory!
- An accordion folder for organizing your receipts (or coupons or whatever…surely you have something that needs organizing!)
- No. 2 pencils and handheld sharpener (because of that wood and graphite smell—mechanical pencils are frustrating anyway, right?)
- Ambidextrous scissors (so you can share them)
- A pocket-sized notebook with an elastic band to hold it shut (for lists, notes or whatever)
- Refrigerator magnets (because the fridge is the closest thing a grown-up gets to a locker)
- Pushpins of all colors (they're just handy)
- Decorate-able or decorated folders (for flair)
- A label-maker (let's just face it—these are just more fun to use than writing on things)
- Frames for pictures of loved ones (of course you can just pin them to the wall, too)
Chel O'Reilly is a freelance writer, social media maven and curious optimist. She still has her grandfather's drafting tools and her father's old aviation folders. As a child, she was an expert at coloring brown paper book covers with plaid patterns.