How to do back-to-school shopping when there's no school to go back to

Friday 28th August, 2020

Yes, we have in fact entered an alternate reality. We've pulled a oeN (that's a reverse Neo), and entered into a digital reality. Everything's online, people are wearing masks, and haircuts have become a political statement. Strange times, am I right?

Included in this inversion of reality is the adjourning of education in a physical sense. Here in the US, many schools from primary to university have altered their activities to provide a completely digital tract for students. Educators are utilizing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams in order to deliver virtual classes. All done in the name preventing spitballs, which are now arguably equivalent to attempted manslaughter or homicide if done with intent.

But what does this mean to the students and parents preparing for the upcoming school year? If everything's typed, do I still need my number 2 pencils? Binders? Folders? A refreshing fall wardrobe for that first-day fit?

While the location of education has changed, so to has its needs. Many students are no longer sitting at desks and pulling out their calculators and pencils. Instead, they wake and take a short walk through the house-or just across their room-to their computer, which contains just about everything they need, including the aforementioned calculator.

So what would a student need then? What should you be shopping for now? Well, here's my list.


It should go without saying that students these days, regardless of COVID, should have access to a modern computer. In normal times, this would be a laptop that slides in and out of your backpack and can be easily toted from one classroom to another. This year, that isn't a mandate, but something that should still be considered seeing as a laptop is a years' long investment. 

I won't give you my personal opinion on what brand and line of computers is the best. I'm just a writer, after all. The Geek Squad can give you better advice.

What I will say, is you need to consider the work you do. I, as a student, don't need high-end CPUs and graphics cards. What I do need, is something small, lightweight, and simple (a.k.a. inexpensive). An art student should consider the screen (size and tactile/touch), and a student studying computer science, videography, or computer graphics should consider the processing power.

If you're shopping for someone else, I highly recommend asking them what they need. And if someone is shopping for you, I'd recommend creating a wish-list.

Desk Organizers

The first oddball for a normal back-to-school list. The fung shui of your workspace is imperative. It's important to maintain a clean, ergonomic, and professional workspace even when working from home. Otherwise, it becomes harder to fall into efficient work habits. Professionals who have been working from home for a while already know this.

If a student's home office or desk lacks professional vibes, it's easier to become distracted. This means keeping it clear of clutter, toys, and other distractions. While you may want to spice up a cubicle at work in order to remind you of home, your home office should do all it can to make you forget that you're at home. Remember: you're trying to forget that the fridge and the TV are less than twenty feet away.


Time management is key to working in an independent setting. You could sit down in the morning and tell yourself: "I'm not stopping until I finish everything!" But remember: a normal day at school can be six hours long. That's a lot of time spent focusing, and it can wear you down. After two to three days, you'll feel burned out.

Having a timer on your desk can help. Take fifteen minutes off for every forty-five on. And no phones allowed during those forty-five minutes either! Focus!

Note Paper

Taking notes on paper is scientifically proven to be more effective than typing them. And with your computer screen already occupied by a teacher or professor's lecture, you'll need to take notes elsewhere.

I always recommend three-hole punched paper and a binder for easily accessible notes, especially for STEM fields. You want to be able to access individual pages quickly when it comes time to study. Desk space will also be at a premium, and you don't want an entire notebook taking up space. It's better if it's just one page at a time.

A Fall Wardrobe

Yes! I mean it! Just like your desk's fung shui, your wardrobe will have a subconscious effect on your work habits. It's different for everyone, but I find I am my most focused when I take the time to select a stylish and comfortable outfit.

As Deion Sanders once said, and as is repeated in locker rooms across the US: "If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good." Likewise, if you look good, you'll feel good. And if you feel good, you'll work good.

For some, a groutfit may inspire effective habits. For others, a polo and chinos is what they need. It's important for you to evaluate what puts you in the best mood.

Daily Planner

Now, more than ever, adhering to a schedule is a necessity. While in past semesters a daily planner would be used to track homework, projects, and extracurriculars, this year it's about focus and mental health. 

Isolation can lead to a lack of purpose and a deterioration of social relationships. Both of these can lead to depression, amidst the hundreds of other stressors which circle like raptors.

Maintaining a daily routine can alleviate a lot of these stressors. Waking up and going for a run before classes, or setting aside time to meditate are a couple ideas. Regardless of what catharsis you choose, make it a habit.

A daily planner will help you create positive habits and develop a rhythm. These upcoming semesters will drag on longer than any before, and dedication and focus will be the first things to deteriorate. Having a schedule and holding fast to it will help keep you focused and sane as the days pass.

Books, Meditation Tools, and Time Wasters

The last element to an effective semester is utilizing your downtime productively and away from your screen. Gone are the days where you can rest and relax to an evening of Netflix. And that's not just because you've already spent your summer watching everything there is to watch. You'll want to step away from the screen to decompress.

Books, printed on pressed pulp, will be a great respite. Entertaining, time burning, and thought provoking, books will provide you with a breath of fresh air during a digital semester. Now's a great time to dive into the epics like Don Quixote, Moby Dick, or Ulysses. Or, if you just want something fun, a compilation of short stories or imaginative fantasies will do the trick. I recommend checking out Samuel Delaney for a combination of short fiction and sci-fi escapes.

Meditation tools like noise cancelling headphones, incense, yoga mats, and floor pillows are another great choice. Taking a digital detox will aid your mental health and stamina throughout the semester. Meditation should be viewed as a wellness technique just like exercise.

Other, similarly screen-free distractions like water color paint kits, origami books, and puzzles are an excellent choice for your back to school shopping - anything to fill the downtime and optimize your mental health.

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