Ask Miriam | Backpack Replacement Perplexes Parent

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Dear Miriam,

My 7-year-old daughter wants a new backpack. She got one last year, and it’s still in good condition, but she doesn’t like the character anymore who’s on it. On the one hand, I don’t want to replace (and perhaps send to a landfill) something that works perfectly well. On the other hand, the cost isn’t an issue for our family, and it’s perfectly understandable for a kid to want a new backpack for a new school year. How do I reconcile this?

Signed,

First-World Problem

Dear Problem,

There are lots of places to teach your daughter about waste reduction, cutting down on consumerism and responsible purchasing habits, but her school backpack doesn’t need to be that place, at least not this year. She’s 7 and, at her age, the self-expression factor of a backpack is important, not just in an impulsive kid way, but as a part of her appropriate development. If she is required to wear a school uniform, allowing her to have a backpack that reflects her current style is even more significant as a way for you to support her as a parent.

a girl with black hair in pigtails and a blue backpack runs
Sasiistock / iStock / Getty Images Plus

There is, of course, a direct correlation between how much a backpack costs and how long it will last, so a $20 character backpack will probably do well for a year and then break in time for your daughter to move onto a new character. If you really want to emphasize longevity, spend $40-50, and it’ll last, but you may still get pushback because kids like new stuff, different colors, cooler styles, etc. Though money’s not the issue for your family for this item, it’s also worth starting to talk to your daughter in an age-appropriate way about how much things cost and how your family decides on your spending.

When you go to buy a backpack this year, there are a few factors you should discuss with your daughter before you get to the store (or the website). Encourage her to pick a solid color or pattern that she won’t outgrow right away. Talk about the reasons for reducing waste and choosing products that last. If she has her heart set on another character, respect her 7-year-old choices but remind her that if she loses interest partway through the year, she still has to use it. I wouldn’t insist that it has to last for two years, though.

If you feel very strongly about this and can’t give up on it, you could insist on a neutral, long-lasting backpack for the coming year(s), but be more flexible about the lunchbox. These wear out even more quickly in my experience (oh, the smell), even the more expensive ones, and they’re smaller, so they create less waste overall. Even if she does lose interest in the character on her lunchbox, it’s not quite as public an expression of interests.

As for the old bag, if it really is in good shape, I hope you’ll give it away to one of the many school-supply drives (unless they specify that it has to be new), or on a local Buy Nothing group or to a secondhand store. Unless it’s unusable, there’s no reason it needs to go to a landfill. Teaching your daughter good consumer habits doesn’t have to mean only that she never gets new things; it should include the way things can be reused, too.

Maybe you could even satisfy both of you by letting her choose a new-to-her bag from a secondhand site and then also explore sites where you can resell secondhand goods. I do hope she’ll start the year with something she feels good about, and that you’ll find ways to feel good about it, too.

Be well,

Miriam

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