Say No to Unnecessary Brand New School Supplies!

by Katy on July 27, 2015 · 39 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

Why buy new?

It’s school supply time and despite the glossy ads featuring pretty new pens, pencils, binders, scissors and whatnot, it’s actually okay to *gasp* reuse the stuff you already have. That’s right, fellow non-consumers, last year’s scissors will still work this year, and that slightly used pencil can be resharpened. And that grubby binder? Try giving it a scrub and laying it out in the sun to dry. You’ll be surprised how fresh it can look.

Sure, there are some school supplies that do have to be bought new such as 3-ring notebook paper and boxes of Kleenex, (umm . . .  not sure how you would buy used Kleenex.) But I’m usually able to get away with only buying a couple of things for back-to-school.

So dump out and organize your pens, pencils, scissors and general office-y mayhem; scrub out your binders, backpacks and winter coats and make do with what you already have. You’ve already paid for it, it’s already been manufactured and any excessive packaging has already happened.

It’s one of those win-win situations. It’s sustainable and will save you money. And you don’t have to be a member of The buy-nothing-new Compact to make these decisions.

So happy shopping . . . from your own stash!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

HeatherS July 27, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Just did this today to see what I would really need to buy. I actually don’t have to pick up much this year thanks to reusing previous years supplies. I have so many crayons and colored pencils it is crazy!


Karen July 27, 2015 at 1:30 pm

I watch the sales and generally buy 2 spiral notebooks for myself. I use them to record any changes made to my devices; it is very easy to forget what one has done, and may be impossible to reverse without a record.

I may go through my pencils and pens soon, new will go to donation. There is a “Stuff the Bus” promotion by one of the TV stations here.


Heather Elaine July 27, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Used kleenex? They’re called handkerchieves, and some people still use them! I doubt that the school would approve, however!


afs July 27, 2015 at 9:05 pm

I can’t understand why hankies aren’t popular. I love mine and wince every time I have to use a paper tissue. They should be all the rage just like cloth diapers are.


Laura July 27, 2015 at 9:41 pm

@afs – I agree 100%


Beth July 27, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Just had this conversation with my daughter (a middle schooler) about school supplies. We looked at the list of supplies on the school website and she still has it all. Only thing she asked for new is a binder. I will tell her how much I am willing to spend and she can make up the difference if she wants one of the “super duper” expensive binders.

Its tough going through the stores and seeing all that great school supply stuff. Anyone recall the chandelier you could buy for the locker that actually lit up last year? Things have gotten so extreme!


Donna July 27, 2015 at 2:30 pm

I am a 5th grade teacher and have been for 23 years. I believe in the use-what-you-have philosophy. I do not see the point in buying all new things every year. I had spoken to my boss about not putting much on my back to school “needed for 5th grade” list. There truly is not much needed! I am sure that parents can find a few pencils and pens around their home. I am sure kids have some crayons laying around. I have crayons and colored pencils and glue sticks recycled from the previous couple of years, that are usable, within my classroom. What bothers me is that I went to my principal at the end of the year and was told to have things put on the list, the parent expect it. The sad thing is I know the majority “expect it” and buy into the whole “we have to get new supplies every year” thinking. That is so untrue! I coteach and I am trying to convince my coteacher to band with me to get this changed. If we can’t change the school, we can change 5th grade!


Kayleigh July 27, 2015 at 6:57 pm

I teach third grade at a very affluent school, with a few not as well off students on scholarship. I make a special point to let their parents know that they really don’t have to buy much off the list and I will make sure they will have the same as the rest of the class. Some moms go overboard. I put everybody’s stuff on the first day of school into zip lock bags with their names on it and ration it out to them over the school year. Last day of school lots of kids have unused supplies leftover. When I see their moms I ask if they want it back or if they’d like to donate to my classroom for kids next year that run low.I know that sounds a little pushy, but honestly most of them seem happy to share.


Marcia July 27, 2015 at 3:45 pm

No school supplies needed here—only grandchild finished college last year, and while she’d like to go to grad school, she’ll have to do it on her own money.

I still have pens from when her mother worked in a couple doctor’s offices, and she hasn’t worked in about 10 years at least. And I have enough scratch pads for the rest of my lifetime that come in the mail with requests for contributions. I also use the backs of used envelopes for lists of all sorts–and put my coupons inside if it’s for a buying list. About as many scratch pads as I have address labels!! You can’t throw this stuff out fast enough to keep up.


pat July 27, 2015 at 3:52 pm

I work in a middle school and it would make you ill the amount of stuff kids throw away at the end of the school year. Brand new binders, packs of paper, packs of pencils, etc. The last 2 years years administration has finally wised up and now all that stuff is gathered up in the hall and stored for those kids less fortunate. Hurray! I used to buy packs and packs of pencils to hand out to kids every week. Now they only have to ask in the office and they get one per day because we have so much left from previous years.


One of God's July 27, 2015 at 3:52 pm

When I taught, seems ages ago, I told students that I expected pens, not pencils, to avoid unnecessary trips to the sharpener, lined standard-sized paper, and a way to keep it all together. I would not accept pages torn from a spiral notebook but would take those which were perforated for neat removal or those which had been scissor trimmed. If a student got to class minus pen and paper, I kept a container of pens rescued from the floor and some paper which had been printed on one side which could be used. When thy failed to return the rescued pens that source ran out.


Ruby July 27, 2015 at 4:05 pm

One of my friends had twin daughters in the same school grade as my son. I was horrified to find out that every August, she threw away their backpacks, which were loaded up with all their paper, binders, crayons, pencils, etc. from cleaning out their desks at school, without even opening the backpacks up to see what could be reused, and bought all new stuff. (Always while complaining mightily that she just didn’t know how they were going to make the house payments.)

It really does not take that much time to sort out the used-up markers from the good, sharpen a few pencils, launder the backpack, and assemble school supplies for what you already have around the house. That small amount of time saved us a ton of money. Most years he was in school, I had to buy only a couple of oddball items that no one had ever put on the list before.


Katy July 27, 2015 at 4:08 pm

That is insane!


HeatherS July 27, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Wow I cannot even imagine throwing all of that away! The week after school let out, both my kids spent time going thru the stuff they brought home and sorting out what could be reused and getting rid of anything that was used up or needed to be put into the recycle bin. “See if these markers/pens still work” is a great job for a 9 year old who claims to be “bored” in the summer! LOL


Rosa July 27, 2015 at 8:16 pm

we bought a backpack at the thrift store a few years ago and it came with a bonus mass of pencils, pens, and fun erasers.

But the other stuff, in earlier grades the pencils and colored pencils and glue sticks went into the classroom common supplies and the class always ran out of things – i bought a lot of late in the year glue sticks, because I noticed from volunteering in the classroom they were out. In late elementary there’s less sharing but more specific needs – a specific color of notebook for each subject, the same kind of planner/organizer that all the kids use, quad paper for geometry. So we’ll be buying quite a bit new (not a backpack though – the thrift store one wore out so we bought new last year and it should last him through middle school.)


nicoleandmaggie July 27, 2015 at 4:06 pm

The public school DC1 is at this year requests a school supply fee ($40) rather than new supplies. The fee is optional so that lower income kids don’t have to pay it.


Kim from Philadelphia July 27, 2015 at 4:28 pm

I always do this!
I refuse to buy a new 24 pack of crayons just because the point isn’t “sharp” and the box is mildly beat up. Same goes for markers. I check them all when they come home at the end of the school year. I snug their caps and store the felt tip down for the Summer. It seems to “refresh” them a bit.


HeatherS July 27, 2015 at 6:46 pm

My daughter’s crayon box was pretty trashed at the end of the year so I am using a plastic travel soap container to hold her leftover crayons for the coming school year. This will fit inside her shoebox size art box that she is also reusing from last year.


Kim from Philadelphia July 27, 2015 at 4:31 pm

Oh- I also invested in an LL Bean backpack when my son started kindergarten. No cutest kid patterns, just a standard sized red one. Currebtmy staring year 5 and so far so good.
I also refuse to get a new lunchbox every year. Darth Vader is still going strong…


Katy July 27, 2015 at 6:22 pm

My older son got a Jansport backpack in 4th or 5th grade and it’s going to college with him. Plain red. My younger son has a quality backpack that I thrifted years ago. We did have to replace the zipper, but a handy friend sewed it in for us!


WilliamB July 28, 2015 at 5:08 pm

My Jansport backpack looks new – well, the zipper and seams do, which is what matters, right? – and it’s at least 25 years old. The online price for that model is $45. Less than $2/year – score!


Joy July 29, 2015 at 8:41 pm

I am STILL using my Eastpak (and not even the pricey leather one that they sold…the basic model) that my mom got me when I started 6th grade. She had a cow at $25 but I begged! lol Lifetime warranty…I have sent it back twice to have the zipper replaced. It has gotten me through middle school, high school, undergrad, grad school, beach trips, etc! Oh, I am 39 now! Good buy, I say!


Christine July 27, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Just did this Saturday and it felt so good. We only needed a few things. I did need to buy ear buds for the computer lab, but my total cost was $10.00 and she is done. Most of her supplies are from what we had and last year.


Isabelle July 27, 2015 at 5:56 pm

I wish I could do this, but my girl is starting school this year…

Grandma bought everything (new, at Wal-Mart) for 115$ (backpack, lunch bag, thermos, running shoes, etc) and will also be paying the school fees of 68$. From then, I entend to recycle what is usable from one year to the next, and pass down to my youngest daughter (2 years younger) what becomes too “childish” for the oldest.


Anne July 27, 2015 at 6:28 pm

When my older daughter was in high school she was in the Environmental Club. Every year after the seniors left they would clean out the lockers. My daughter would snag all the paper, 3 ring binders, pens, pencils, and books (yes even books) she wanted. If the club didn’t clean out the lockers the janitors would and into the trash it would all go. I was shocked at what was left behind. Whole unopened packs is paper, pens and pencils. Dictionary’s, foreign language dictionary’s, great pieces of literature that were required reading for the classes. We saved so many things to use and to donate to others and all because those kids didn’t bother to clean out their lockers.


Denise July 28, 2015 at 5:11 am

I teach at a local high school, and the teachers are responsible for the locker cleanouts on their respective halls on the last day of school. It is amazing what all I have found throughout the years…one year I found a bag filled with all of the Art I supplies ~ brand new, with the receipt still in the bag. My son was taking Art I the next school year…perfect! I also find numerous college books from dual credit classes. I have used my “finds” to furnish school supplies for my son, and I keep the rest in my room for my students to use. I teach sophomore English, and my supply list consists of “paper and pen/pencil”….that’s it!


WilliamB July 28, 2015 at 5:14 pm

When I shut down my old company, one thing I did was collect and organize the office supplies. The remaining employees took as much as they wanted; the rest was donated to a school.


Betty Winslow July 27, 2015 at 6:49 pm

It’s a GREAT time to buy new school supplies for the Operation Christmas Child boxes in November, but all my kids are grown and gone, I never see my 15 yo granddaughter and my younger one is 3. But I did just buy a box of crayons, one of markers, and one of colored pencils for me, plus a grown-up coloring book, for relaxing coloring sessions.


AshleyAshley July 28, 2015 at 5:06 am

My son is starting 1st grade this year. I learned last year how exhausting some of these school lists can be. Thankfully he’s in a regular public school this year (he was at a charter school at the beginning of last year) and the list is smaller than some other places I’ve glanced a look at their supply lists. It amazes me that things like scissors are asked for from every student every year…..then kept by the school. How many pairs are really man handled by a 5 year old hard enough to break? It seems like schools want you to supply the entire class with needs, not just your child.

On a positive note, I shopped sale and clearance so hard last year that this year I only had four or so things to buy for my son’s school supply list. It felt great. This year I’ll only shop freebies or clearance.


Amy July 28, 2015 at 6:48 am

Our school district puts out a very specific, very maddening list of supplies we need each year. I don’t think they’ve updated it in a decade. It’s really frustrating. One year, there was a particular type of notebook my kids were supposed to have. It was the same exact notebook they both needed, but I had no idea because the descriptions were so different. There are specific name brands. We need to buy the pre-sharpened pencils (which I thought was annoying at first, but I’ve noticed that many pencils these days just refuse to be sharpened. As soon as you sharpen it, the tip falls off.)

But it turns out, the school also has a deal with Staples. You can purchase a kit from them and avoid the school shopping. No pulling your hair out trying to find the exact right thing! But strange how it doesn’t matter that nothing in the kits has the “correct” name brand.

I wish I could be stronger and just turn in the stuff from the previous year, but we have a fun “back-to-school night” where essentially, kids drop off all their shiny new school supplies in their new classroom. We’re expected to buy all this stuff, but we never see it again. It gets sorted into the appropriate piles at school, and that’s it. Some years we’ve had some of the used stuff returned to us (with other kids’ name on it, etc.). Of course we keep that and use it at home, but I feel like there’s no getting around buying the crap we’re told to buy.


WilliamB July 28, 2015 at 5:10 pm

What would happen if you simply didn’t comply? Get an automatic pencil and an other-brand spiral notebook or something? I’m genuinely curious as I don’t face this dilemma.


Mrs. LC@LooseChangeLiving July 28, 2015 at 7:01 am

Our boys were never fussy about their school supplies. A couple 5 cent folders and 19 cent notebooks and they were good to go. School supply lists I’ve seen at stores this year are insane!


Lucy July 28, 2015 at 7:39 am

When my son was in school we made a first-day-of-vacation tradition of going through everything he brought home, checking it for usability, placing it in his backback (for many years it was the LL Bean one he had passed down to him from a cousin), and putting the backpack away on his closet shelf. THEN school was over. At the end of summer he got it out and we rechecked (yep, sometime markers just die in storage), inventoried, and checked things off the school’s list. Then we tackled clothing. Our shopping was very limited, and after the first couple of years he did most of this process by himself!


Amy S July 28, 2015 at 8:24 am

Just this weekend we took a big box and gathered every office supply from every nook and cranny in the whole house. We found all the scissors, several staplers, countless pens, the disappearing sharpies you can never find when you need one, etc. We sorted, purged, and the re-allocated basics to each desk/space that needed office supplies, put together complete pencil cases for school, and then stored the rest in neatly labeled old chinese food containers. 🙂 I will NOT buy new supplies this year!!! (But my kids are older now so their supplies are less specific than they were in elem school.)


Ani Mia July 28, 2015 at 10:47 am

I am off to a good start. At my oldest’s school in K and 1 you pay a supply fee vs. bringing supplies. Nothing came home in K, but at the end of this year a high quality zipper pouch and scissors came home. I quickly scooped them up and put them out of sight to go to school this year. They are asking for laminated/plastic folders. I actually like this because they last so much better. I have one that came home with her from K in her bag every day and still looks new. That will be used as well. We need to buy Crayola markers and crayons and Ticonderoga pencils. She will also be using the Land’s End backpack I bought and put her name on in K for the 3rd year. It still looks new.
She wears uniforms which I buy a lot of at the used uniform resale- $1 per item. Her smallest sizes will be passed to her little sister this year. Use it up!


Ann July 28, 2015 at 11:18 am

My local thrift store has a big Back to School sale and always has tons of school supplies, many brand new and still in the package!


Diane July 28, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Anyone have any ideas on how to repair the mesh type water bottle holder on the outside of a back pack? Everything else on it is in great condition, but my son likes to take a refillable water bottle to school. I have tried a few “fixes” that didn’t work. TIA!


Nicole July 29, 2015 at 6:28 am

My (third grade) son’s school sent home an infuriating list that included things such as:

-7 pointed tip scissors
-1″ white binder
-one green plastic pocket folder
-one blue plastic pocket folder
-one red plastic folder with prongs
-48 pencils (SHARPENED–NO mechanical pencils)
-8 pack washable Crayola markers
-24 pack Crayola crayons.

There’s more, but I’m just getting angrier typing it in. I’ve had friends say that perhaps the school is trying to make everything uniform so that kids don’t feel envious. Which might make sense if the school requires uniforms, which it does not.


Denise July 29, 2015 at 8:28 am

We fully believe in reduce, reuse, recycle. This year I am thrilled that no one needs a new backpack. I have a basket filled with notebook paper that I have pulled out of the barely used required spiral notebooks. And I have made a vow to never buy another new colored pencil. But we always have to buy new binders for my son because he just can’t seem to not destroy his binder. Our elementary school has required supplies. When my daughter started high school it was nice to get her only what she needed – and her binders for French and Science can be reused this year.


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