Updated: Feb 18
It’s that time of year again! Time to pack up the dear children and send them back to school. When I was a kid, that always meant a trip to the mall for back to school clothes, shoes, and sometimes even a new backpack or lunchbox. Then we’d head to Staples for all new school supplies. All that shopping was bad for the Earth, our local shops, and my parents’ wallets. But back to school doesn’t have to be that way!
Clothes and Shoes
For my kids, “shopping” means opening up the hand-me-down bins and seeing what we have for their sizes and tastes. They are always so excited to see what they have and – this is key – who they got it from. Honestly, it’s like these older children have given them gifts they get to open each time they grow a size (“look, this one’s from Colin!”). We have some hand-me-down shoes too (mostly Keens and Bogs because they hold up the best), but my oldest child usually ends up getting a “new” pair on Kidizen or Thred Up. You can find great back-to-school clothing deals on these sites too. Or, better yet, head to your local thrift or second-hand shop to support local businesses and allow your kids to try things on.
A friend helped me organize all our hand-me-downs into categories (Winter 5T, Summer 2T, etc) so I could easily find what I needed. Clearly I haven’t organized the shoes yet. 🙂 And don’t worry, I didn’t go out and buy a bunch of plastic tubs… these are all from a relative’s house who passed away. And the bags are from hand-me-downs given to us.
Thred Up has a great backpack selection, if you need one this year. You can also “shop” your neighborhood or community by putting out an “ISO” (in search of) message on Facebook Marketplace or the neighborhood barbecue. Thrift stores are also great places to find back packs. If you are buying a new back pack, remember, those cartoon character ones are cheap and won’t last, plus your kids will grow out of them quickly – opt for high quality backpack in a solid color or pattern that they will enjoy for years.
Lunch Boxes and Snack Containers
My kids already have high quality backpacks, which they received as gifts (I like to ask relatives for useful gifts for my kids at holidays and birthdays), but my youngest needed a lunch box this year. For me this was an easy decision. My two older children have Planet Box lunch boxes, which have been great. They are made of easily-cleaned stainless steel and divided like a Bento box to keep food separated without plastic bags or packaging. I love how creative these boxes make me around food (I try to fill each section with a different food group) and I love how easy they are to clean and store. I never need to wrap anything in Beeswrap because food is kept neat and tidy in its section. Totally worth the investment!
For snack containers, I use the stainless steel containers sold by Planet Box and the fabric snack bags I make myself. And of course I send my kids with their water bottles instead of packaged drinks or bottled water.
As a kid, I used to love going to Staples to buy a whole new set of markers, crayons, pencils, etc every year, but because of this yearly shopping trip, my parents still have hundreds and hundreds of writing and drawing supplies from my own childhood! And think of all the packaging we tossed in the trash each time.
Instead of buying new supplies for my kids, I just shop at my parents’ house or in my own drawers. Sharpen all the pencils (add an erasure if necessary), clean off the scissors and glue sticks, make sure the crayon box has all the colors, and put them in a high quality pencil case. Rip the used pages from notebooks and have your kids collage the front, if they want a design on on their notebooks. Really, it’s all about the presentation. Things just need to look new and special; they don’t need to be new.
If your kids aren’t convinced about this new back to school strategy, let them choose ONE or TWO new things and make them extra special. I would suggest a backpack, lunch box, or shoes for older kids and maybe markers or a pencil case for younger kids. Clothes and office supplies are just too easy to find used (or new, sitting in your drawer) to buy new.
I hope this helps!