Back to School Wardrobe: Inventory Results, and Analyzing WHEN to Sew & When to Buy

So, OK, this took waaaay longer than I expected.  Partly because–duh–I realized that you can’t really do a complete inventory without first doing the LAUNDRY so you know that you’ve really counted everything.  Fortunately, I didn’t wait to start the inventory until after the laundry was done (because WILL IT EVER, EVER BE DONE????); I counted all the clean stuff while a load was drying, then folded the clean things, then corrected my tallies.

backto school wardrobes step 2

My finished pages look like this (I realized as I worked through that I had left a few categories off, so I’ve updated the checklist I posted last week.  You can find those here and here, or on the original post!):

completed back to school wardrobe inventory

What I found when I did these inventories is that (1) it is really, really helpful and motivating, and MAN did it make me feel unblocked and super organized and ready to ROCK for the first day of school, and (2) that what I knew I knew wasn’t really what I knew, and wasn’t necessarily accurate.  Which was confusing but so, so helpful.

kids back to school wardrobe organization

For example, I was sure that our four-year-old had plenty of underpants but not enough socks.  Turns out she has outgrown most of her underpants, and needs more–but I thought she had about a dozen pair and deliberately DIDN’T buy any recently when I had the chance, because I was so certain.  Note to self: check those size tags more often.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 12.07.37 PM

Check out all the items to donate! We take the tax deduction for all the kids’ clothes we don’t keep; that way, we earn back a portion of what we’ve spent each year sewing & buying clothing for our family. During this exercise, I filled TWO garbage bags with outgrown-but-still-nice clothing to take to Goodwill.

Another example: I was sure our eight-year-old had plenty of short-sleeved shirts and very few long-sleeved tops for layering; the reverse is actually true, and I would never have guessed from looking at the jumbled mess in her drawers.

Another another example: I figured our boy had the very least number of garments, and would require the most sewing; turns out, he just needs a TON of tee shirts, since his are almost universally torn/stained/stretched/outgrown, and pants (he actually owns ONE pair?!?  what??) but very little else–and since tees are pretty quick and easy to sew, he needs one pattern over and over and some jeans and he’s done!  It turns out it’s our tween girl who lacks the most clothing–she doesn’t have anyone handing down clothes to her (we have a very few nice things saved from our oldest, but I was extremely choosy, since there are 11 years between them, so pickings are slim) and she is growing like a weed.  She’s also really hard on her clothes, because she still plays HARD, but is starting to care a lot about what she wears and if it matches and how she feels in her clothes, in a way the younger ones don’t.  So her list of “to sew/to buy” is MUCH longer than either of the other two.

girls handmade tee shirts

If you think about it, that totally makes a ton of sense.  Tweens are such a funny age range–my husband swears you can’t be a tween until you’re 10, but the marketers sure want to tap into these kids once they hit 8.  Eight!!  She’s in third grade, and is beginning to have a much more clear image of herself as SELF, as an individual separate from us, with an identity of her own.  And what she wears and what she likes is a big part of that–her desire to have us HEAR her when she expresses an opinion, and demonstrate to her that her ideas and likes matter to us.  So.  Sewing list for her.

back to school wardrobe planning checklist

Let’s start with a confession: I did some shopping for her.  Actually, I did some shopping for all of them, and then I went back and did some more shopping just for our eight-year-old.  Her sewing list was just SO LONG, and we stumbled on some really absurd deals at Osh Kosh, and I bit.  (Can you say 25% off flash sale and $9 jeans? I am not a machine, y’all.)

back to school shoppingHere’s what I learned from the shopping I did for these children: I was right, and it can be INSANE the amount of money you can drop on back-to-school shopping for children.  My husband and I were invited to the opening of a local Osh Kosh/Carter’s shop (the company is based here in Atlanta, and they have a new shop about 10 miles from where we live) that was doing 40-60% off deals on almost everything in the store.  I bought one outfit each for our three kids, plus two pair of leggings for each of the girls and a pair of shoes for our boy (plus some underpants, because: unicorns!).  With the sale factored in, everything was in line with Target-level clothing pricing, and I think (hope–it used to be, but plenty of brands have been letting me down the past few years) the quality is a bit higher.

price of back to school shopping

Grand total?  (And remember, these are door buster deals with an additional 40-60% off many of the items.)  We spent $200 on these things.  Again: one outfit each, plus leggings.  On DISCOUNT.  I went back to their online site during the flash sale and spent an additional $200 on jeans for all three of them, and another two outfits for our eight-year-old, plus a winter coat for the youngest.  Which means for five outfits, four pair of leggings and five pair of jeans, I spent a little over $400. That is an appalling total, but still way below that national average cost for back-to-school clothing (which clocked in at $246 per child back in 2012).  According to their numbers, our family could easily have expected to spend $738+ for our kids TO GET DRESSED.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 1.24.05 PMI feel guilty about this number.  For real, I seriously do.  It seems HUGE to me, and it makes my gut churn.  It seems like such a lot of money.  It helps that I know that a part of it was “opportunity cost” associated with sewing EVERY garment our children will wear this fall and winter: I just can’t make it all.  I don’t have the time, and the costs associated with buying some items are much lower than the time it would take to sew all of them.  Had we not been invited to the store opening, would I still have purchased this clothing?  Probably not–or at least, not before doing the sewing.  I did try to get things that I would have gotten anyway–I’m not planning to sew any of them jeans any time in the foreseeable future–but probably purchased more than I might have if we’d never been invited, since I would almost certainly not have gone to the store in the first place.  When I filled my basket, I made a choice: more time with the actual children and less time sewing for the children.  So I feel like I spent too much, but looking at the national average expense and my own schedule (which is rapidly filling up), I am letting myself off the hook.  Putting that guilt in my back pocket, as it were, and forgetting it.

what to sew what to buy

Now it’s time to get down to the business of sewing what I CAN reasonably sew.  I made a whole new chart, after seeing how I used the inventory lists, so that I could organize my ideas (you can download this chart here or by clicking the image above).  In fact, I used this when I went back to the online flash sale and bought jeans and two more outfits for our eight-year-old–I knew what I was willing to buy new and what I wanted to sew, and used that to guide my purchases.

back to school clothes to buy new

One column is for “purchase new.”  These are things that I (1) won’t sew myself because they’d be too time consuming (like a winter coat) or (2) don’t want to sew because they payoff is too low (like underpants) or (3) can’t reasonably make at home (like socks, which again, I won’t be hand-knitting for children who routinely leave them in mud puddles in the backyard).  Also included here are hair accessories, shoes/boots and knitted sweaters.

back to school clothes to buy at thrift store

Another column is for “thrift store purchases.”  These are items that I (1) will use if I can find suitable candidates but that (2) I can live without if I can’t find them (or sew or buy new, if they’re essential).  Anything under the to sew/to buy list could reasonably fit here, but some things just don’t turn up at the thrift store in great condition with enough frequency for me to bet on them.  I don’t buy shoes for our kids at the thrift store (I have an ick issue, although I recognize that not everyone does), and I have ONCE, in nineteen years of mothering, found a decent winter coat.  So mostly these items are tee shirts, dresses, jeans, slacks, that kind of thing, the stuff that’s ubiquitous in the kids’ clothing at your usual thrift spot.

back to school clothes to sew

The last (and largest) column is “to sew.”  These are items that I (1) can’t bring myself to purchase because they’re so simple to make (like striped or printed tee shirts, which I have pre-hoarded jersey fabric to sew and am pretty excited about) or that I (2) know I can sew easily and thus can defeat the cost/benefit curve, or that (3) the in-store, off-the-rack versions are so poorly constructed/simply designed/over-priced that I cannot, under any circumstances, bring myself to pay the exorbitant prices that are being asked.  Even at a store like Target there are items on the shelves that are simply not worth the asking price–even if that price is $10.  They’d be so quick and easy to make that I can’t seem to put them in the cart–whether I actually MAKE them is the real question, but that’s for a later post.

So that’s where I am now.  And that’s why it’s taken so long to get this far.  I figured the real work would be in locating patterns for the things I’d like to sew, but that’s been way easier than the mental exercise of determining WHAT to sew, WHEN it’s worth it to sew rather than buy, and WHY I want to sew some things and not others.

How about you?  How do you make the decision when to sew and when to buy for your kids’ clothing?

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  • lisa
    August 11, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    One point I would share is church consignment sales. They are going on right now for fall/winter. A friend of mine sales and shops for her 3 kids and usually comes really close to breaking even.

    • Deborah
      August 12, 2014 at 9:37 am

      Oh, that’s a great idea! We haven’t taken our donations over yet–I should go through them and pull the things that might do well at a consignment. With two giant bags full, you’re right! We could come close to breaking even! Thanks for the reminder!

  • Claire
    August 17, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    I love the idea of doing an inventory – thank you for sharing. My daughter gets a lot of hand me downs from her cousin, and all of a sudden might have 20 long sleeved t-shirts bursting out of her wardrobe. At our school in Australia they need to wear a uniform, so the most I’ve been sewing is navy leggings and tshirts. I will do an inventory though for their entire wardrobes, and my own!
    I once realised that my then 7 year old son had still been wearing size 2-3 underpants. Whoops!

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