“Back to school” season is just around the corner! No doubt you have already been bombarded with tons of sale ads and promotions every time you walk into a store. If you have school-aged children, the daunting task of shopping for clothes, shoes, and supplies can be overwhelming.

Being eco-friendly minimalists, we choose to repurpose as much as possible to save money and minimize the amount of waste going to the landfills. It is very likely that you already have most of the items your child will need. No need to rush out and buy everything brand new!

This post will go through some ways to organize potential school supplies and where to find second-hand quality items before shopping new. We will also share a handful of eco-friendly swaps for some common school supplies. At the end, we will go over some recycling programs you can utilize at the end of each school year!


First, organize and take inventory of all the clothes, shoes, backpacks, lunch storage, and school supplies you already have. One category at a time, pull everything out to sort and create three piles; “donation”, “gift to a friend/family member”, and “repurpose”.

PRO-TIP: Keep a cardboard box ready to go for donations! This way, all you need to do is close it up, pack it in the car, and take it straight to your nearest donation station. Otherwise, who knows how long it will just sit in a corner or closet in your home.

For clothes and shoes, do not feel the need to go out and buy everything brand new. A recent poll found more than half of parents felt pressured to overspend on their children during “back to school” shopping. Perhaps maybe one or two new outfits will help make your child feel special. An entire brand new wardrobe is likely unnecessary. We choose to shop by seasons and keep a capsule wardrobe for both our boys. We invest in high-quality basics like jeans, shorts, dress shirts, tees, and shoes, and rotate them to create different looks. For more info about capsule wardrobes and other tips for minimalist parenting, check out our post from a few weeks ago.

If you are going through previous school/ office supplies, have the school’s supply list readily available. If you are unable to repurpose a supply for the next year, consider repurposing at home, or offering them to the teacher. We all know that teachers spend hundreds of their hard-earned dollars on extra supplies for the class. I am sure they would appreciate any crayons, markers, partially-used notebooks, etc. you might have. Other supplies like binders, dividers, and folders typically can be used by your child over several years. 

SIDE NOTE: I just heard this tip from a parent who has older children than we do. They recommended not getting all the school supplies from the list handed out by the school, and to wait until “Meet the Teacher” night to see if your child’s teacher has any specific requests. This is our first year with our oldest son attending public school, so I am not sure how accurate that tip would be, but something to consider.

Now that you have organized through the old essentials, make a list of items you actually need to purchase.

The next thing we do is hit up our favorite thrift/ second-hand stores. You would be surprised at the number of high-quality items I find; brand new (with tags) clothing items and shoes, various office and school supplies still in their packaging, you name it! Second-hand is great for finding gently used (and sometimes brand new) clothing, backpacks, and even school supplies. By doing this first, you are giving these items a second chance at a fraction of the price (total win!).


By the time you have gone through your repurposed items and hit up a thrift store, you should only need to purchase a handful of brand new items. When shopping for back to school items, be sure to focus on reusable and eco-friendly items. Quality over quantity. While reusable products will cost a bit more expensive up front, in the end, you will save a bunch of money. 


Some other eco-friendly items we love:
  1. Guided Products three-ring binders
  2. “Decomposition” books
  3. Guided Products divider inserts
  4. Onyx + Green scissors
  5. Sprout eco-friendly pencils
  6. Onyx + Green colored pencils
  7. Onyx + Green glue sticks


At the end of the school year, go through all the leftover supplies to see what can be recycled or repurposed for next year. Many schools have a donation box, sometimes in the classrooms, that will be able to collect old supplies that can be used by the teachers or other students. Any old homework papers or school flyers can also be recycled right there at the school! Ask the front office if they have a recycled paper dumpster somewhere on campus.

One company we came across was TerraCycle, an international upcycling company that partners with many brands to help consumers easily recycle products. While some of their recycling programs cost money, there are several that do not cost anything at all! Together with the PTA, your neighborhood, or even your coworkers, you can begin collecting hard to recycle packaging and ship it to their brand partners to be properly recycled. Check out their website to browse the different collection programs they have available (the free ones are here).

The Crayola ColorCycle program launched a few years ago and aims to collect and recycle as many markers as possible. It is so simple to participate. You can set up a collection at the school and any and all markers can be recycled; doesn’t have to be Crayola brand. Then, visit their site, print a label, and call FedEx to schedule a pick-up. 

While sorting through old supplies and choosing which to recycle or repurpose, do not forget to include your children during this task. Teaching them early will help to instill a responsibility they also have for minimizing waste and helping the environment. 

We hope this post serves as a sense of peace while you prepare for the upcoming school year. “Back to School” does not have to be overwhelming and expensive. Instead, focus on what is important, the learning and growth of your children.

What eco-friendly “Back to School” tips do you have?

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Urban Oreganics Owners

About Us

Hi! We’re Cory & Emily, husband and wife, parents, and co-owners of Urban Oreganics. Over the years, we’ve developed a passion for creating an eco-friendly, minimalist lifestyle for our family. We’re always discovering new sources of inspiration and are excited to share those with you through our blog.

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