School Supplies — Don’t Buy, Use What You Already Have

by Katy on August 26, 2011 · 21 comments

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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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

fiwa August 26, 2011 at 9:50 am

It’s also amazing the things you can get at Value Village second hand. I’ve bought several really nice, really cheap binders there lately. I don’t shop at Good Will as much so I’m not sure about them, but it’s probably worth a look. That’s also the kind of thing it would be easy to stock up on year round as you see them.


Katy August 26, 2011 at 10:29 am

I buy binders in new condition when I find them in thrift stores for $1.99 throughout the year. That way, when my kids ruin them by overfilling them and then forcing the zipper until it busts out, I am ready with a “new” one.

One no, they’re not fixable, as the quality is basically crap.



Elizabeth L. August 26, 2011 at 10:09 am

I went to one of those schools where parents wrote a check and the kids received a plastic tub full of brand spanking new school supplies and the teachers got lots of kleenex and paper towels. Even as a kid I was irritated to get yet another box of markers/colored pencils/red pens/insert school supply item here when I had a perfectly good, barely used set at home. Right before I left for college, I cleaned out my desk and donated a bunch of never-used pens, packs of graphing paper, and markers to a needy school in my area.

Who needs 100 red pens anyway?


Katy August 26, 2011 at 10:31 am

Although I am a fan of the check writing. That way the teacher runs one enormous errand of shopping instead of thirty parents running thirty gas/time guzzling errands. Also the teacher can buy what he/she really needs needs throughout the year.



Jude August 26, 2011 at 11:39 am

I reuse school supplies every year. I haven’t bought colored pencils since my 29-year-old daughter was in grade school. Binders, paper, science goggles, a compass, a protractor, pencils, pens, markers, crayons–though we no longer have need of them–they’re all in my supply closet. Unfortunately, there’s always some required supplies that I have to purchase, but I definitely shave my costs down considerably with my stash.


Carla August 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Aw, this is just too reasonable. NOBODY is gonna go to school with things they already have. (wink)


Tami -- Teacher Goes Back to School August 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm

LOVE it! Last year I consolidated all my used supplies from previous years and my class used what we had left over. It was the best year yet because everyone always had what they needed from the common box.

If their families wanted to do a little school supply shopping, I requested pencils (I think kids eat them), binder paper and kleenex. Easy breezy for everyone.


Sam August 26, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Fresh, clean notebook binders are often available free, if you know anyone working in an office building who keeps an eye out for the trash. I see that stuff stacked for the janitors after regular business hours. Companies throw them out every time they get a new book of paint samples, carpet samples, directives from on high, etc. Or, look for an office going “paperless.” Architecture firms often have fun creative trash. Sometimes these binders have interesting company imprints on them, too.


Melissa August 26, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Our school gives us the option of ordering supplies from an online source, but when I saw the kindergarten supplies were $66, and my third-grader’s were $55, I just couldn’t do it. That’s over $100 for crayons and glue sticks! Crazy.


Jackie August 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I love your photo…that colorful heap of goodies is just so appealing to my eye.

Also, I am 30 years old and still using the scissors my mom bought for me when I was in school…junior high, maybe?


Megan August 26, 2011 at 6:15 pm

We’re approaching this with baby steps. We did reuse some from last year and bought a bit new. It seemed my kids could have cared either way. It’s me that needs to come to terms with walking away from Target. 🙂

Btw, I changed my sheets BEFORE Mad Men tonight. Thanks for the inspiration. Oddly enough, I too am catching up on past seasons this summer.


Raf August 27, 2011 at 1:28 am

I recovered some stationery I used in high school and university… I’m using a fantastic hot pink pen from 20 years ago for proofreading 🙂


Anne Cross August 27, 2011 at 2:54 am

And if you have extra unused school supplies, homeless shelters that serve families could really use them. It doesn’t matter how pre-used they are — half a pencil still writes!


HeatherS August 27, 2011 at 3:56 am

I do this also and sometimes I wonder if the kids ever use some of the stuff we send in! I mean those Expo markers are expensive and I don’t think they get used so I make sure they haven’t dried out and keep sending the same ones back each time. I even took some of my sons plastic folders from last year and either erased the pencil marks/doodles or covered over the the marker writing (like class name or last years teacher name) with an address label and they are good as new.


Rubymay1029 August 27, 2011 at 5:37 am

The first time I reused colored pencils my kids were horrified. I asked them to separate the shoebox (yes, I said shoebox) of colored pencils we had into color piles. Then they picked out the best of each color and voila! A full set of nearly new colored pencils with PLENTY left over for home use.


Roberta August 27, 2011 at 7:12 am

Couldn’t agree more, Katie! My daughter is starting 7th grade and after we “shopped” for supplies in her room last week, all we needed to buy was notebook paper and two composition books. I also sprung for a new zippered pencil case that was 50% off at the Borders going-out-of-business sale, because her zippered pencil case from last year is so flimsy that it has holes in it from pencil points pushing through. Can’t believe summer’s almost over!


Kayla K August 27, 2011 at 7:18 am

My sister and I graduated college in May, and I just started teaching. I was practically able to stock a classroom with all of my college leftovers: promotional sticky notes, index cards, pens, pencils, folders, and notebooks that I always thought I “needed” for the new semester. Invariably classes would start and I would slack- never using the index cards, post-its, and notebooks.
No more school shopping for me! (and school is my career!)


Sandra R August 27, 2011 at 9:08 am

At my daughter’s old school the custodians put boxes out for unused school supplies that many of the students were just going to throw away. Instead of having to save the supplies from the trash as they had in previous years the boxes saved time and ensured extra supplies that could be used by students the following school year. I thanked them very much for their efforts as the amount of supplies many of the kids threw out was horrendous!


Megan August 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Oh Sandra, I love that idea. Now if we could do something about all the food they throw away in the cafeteria.


Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares September 1, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I like to check school Dumpsters at the end of the school year. I will NEVER have to buy a school supply, not even Kleenexes. You absolutely would not believe the waste.


A. Marie July 23, 2015 at 2:20 pm

(1) My late, great mom set the example for us kids by restoring tired old blue canvas 3-ring binders with Con-Tact paper, some 50 years ago. Love you, Momcat!

(2) The Great Trashpick here back in January yielded more office supplies than DH and I could hope to use up in what remains of our lifetimes (he’s 66, I turn 60 next month). We donated the bulk of them to the educational nonprofit organization down on the corner, which was more than happy to take them.


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