Long Haul — Minimalist Homeschool Backpack

We are homeschoolers.  That should mean we are schooling at home.  Right?  Then why should we need a backpack when our kids are not trekking to and from a brick and mortar school building.  Completely the opposite, we were going through a backpack every six months.  I was buying them at garage sales to be frugal or at Costco during the back-to-school sales.  And none of them were lasting the full school year.  We needed a homeschool backpack that would go the long haul.

UnknownAll I wanted was a backpack that the straps would remain sewn in and the zipper teeth would continue to line up for a smooth zip.  So we researched.  This became an economics lesson. An obsession at the stores. Andrew and I found the top rated zippers (TKK) and started checking all of our long lasting items, they all had TKK zippers.  All of the dead backpacks were non TKK zippers.  We researched material, the sewing process of straps, the buckles.  In the end we narrowed it down to LLBean backpacks.  (I’m sure there are other great sources, but this was back when we were without internet and relied on mail-order catalogs.  No endorsement from LLBean for this comment.)

Through the years we have bought some items from LLBean, but our frugal price point, usually meant these were items that we would never grow tired of the color, as they were going to last beyond the trendy state.   When calling LLBean (pre-internet sales) I told them what I wanted, a backpack that would last through high school and college.  They pledged that they would stand behind my purchase and I would be sick of the back before it fell apart.  In spending eighty dollars I wanted a guarantee that short of our damaging this bag, it would hold up.  (Ugh $80? Really, I was going to spend $80 on a school backpack?).

Andrew's backpackWe picked a “mountain red” that had a timeless color.  A backpack with enough room for two textbooks, a binder, notepad, and calculator.  Space for keys, snack, and outside water bottle.  For eighty dollars, this backpack was not only going to fit EVERY need that we had, but exceed our expectations.

We bought.  It arrived.  It held all Andrew’s books.  And he was off.

First he took it to Geometry and Physics classes, and it held the textbooks, and science projects.Then he took it to the community college for French classes, and it held extra work for when he waited to be picked up.  On scouting trips it became the day hiking backpack when he did not need his frame pack. When Andrew ventured on his exchange trip to Germany, he stuffed layers of clothing, snacks, and books for the trip over, so that his main luggage remained at fifty pounds to avoid the over-weight fees. And then heading to college this year, the backpack accompanied Andrew to and from home for weekend journeys, and through the daily trips between dorm and classes.  Come Monday, the backpack and Andrew travel to Oxford for a year.  I am going to miss seeing the red backpack spread out on the kitchen counter when he studies.

Eighty dollars.  Six years of use.  My calculations make this a $13.33 annual investment.  And it looks like the backpack will last many more years, as there is not an issue with the straps or zippers, and only one small snag on the water resistant fabric.

Emily's backpackYesterday I pulled up the LLBean website, Emily and I were searching for a backpack for high school.  Technology has changed life, and we are not flipping through catalog pages to compare.  We click on images and put possible bags into the virtual shopping cart.  This time round, I am not being frugal and shopping the garage sales or waiting for the back-to-school cheap sales.  I could buy a backpack every six months, but I know from experience that quality investment will pay off in the end.

Emily wants it water resistant.  She wants it large enough for two three ring binders.  It needs a space for her future iPod, and a hole for the headphone cord.  There needs to be outside water bottle pockets.  And the color can’t be trendy.  Not purple.  Not pink.  No flowers or patterns. This is not going to be a simple streamlined two pocket backpack. She has expectations and a long checklist.

This blog started because I came across one of our old backpacks.  It hangs in the garage as a backup when friends come over and we head out for an impromptu hike.  It was our back-up, backpack from the days when the school backpacks would suddenly fall apart.  The color is this really funky deep blue-purple that no one likes. Unknown-1 It only has one main pocket and an outer small pocket.  It was my backpack from high school, back when things were made to last.

Sometimes minimalism is not about the accumulation of things, or decluttering items, or reducing the schedule.  Sometimes minimalism does not equate with frugality or simplicity.  This backpack saga showed me that sometimes minimalism is about finding an item that will last a very long time. The right match for the right person. Carefully choosing for longevity.  And plunking down the dollars for the investment.

On Wednesday, Emily’s backpack will arrive.  It was an investment.  It will meet many of her needs.  Who knows where it will travel to and from. And hopefully in two decades she will be pulling it off the hook and remembering when she bought it with me.




  • Camille Kirksey

    August 28, 2016 at 10:24 am Reply

    I did the same sort of research when buying my oldest’s backpack. So far, so good. Minimalism really is about more than being thrifty and not having many things. It’s about buying quality items that lasts. Thanks for the post.

    • Anne

      August 29, 2016 at 11:23 am Reply

      AGREED! (We just loaded up the red backpack into son’s suitcase. It will be leaving at 4 this afternoon for Oxford. This post was therapeutic, a moment to rejoice, to grieve, to celebrate . . . Sending off the backpack for more adventures and waiting to see what it brings back.)

  • Charity

    August 28, 2016 at 1:36 pm Reply

    I really appreciated this post. Thanks so much for the thoughtfulness that you put into each blog post. They are always well-written, thought provoking, and applicable to a wide range of homeschooling families. Thanks again!

    • Anne

      August 29, 2016 at 11:21 am Reply

      Thank you. Your comment means a lot. Rather than churning out tons of emails or reviewing lots of products, I’ve kept my postings to a minimum. Quality posts rather than quantity. That you noticed, it always feels good to know your writing is appreciated.

  • Teresa

    August 31, 2016 at 6:53 am Reply

    I still have my jansport from high school as well. It’s our back up. 🙂

    • Teresa

      August 31, 2016 at 6:54 am Reply

      PS I like the deep blue.

Please take a moment to share your minimalist homeschooling ventures.

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