the kind life

3 Budget-Friendly Back-to-School Shopping Tips That Make It More Sustainable

eco backpacks

Summer is such a magical time for all the obvious reasons. But now our babies are ready to go back to school.

Even if your kid has very limited screen time like mine (well at my house at least), they’re inevitably being marketed to. In fact, a lot of the content they can be watching is nothing more than marketing disguised as entertainment. 

Do you hear something like this? “Mom, Mom, Mom (or Dad, Dad, Dad!) I really need this new….” fill in the blank. If it’s not something they saw on their device, it’s perhaps something a friend has. Or, maybe you’re shopping with your child and you happen to find yourself right smack in front of a giant display of “the thing.”

It’s so easy to be at the store and in that moment just grab whatever it is the kid tells you they need. But do they really need it? 

Of course, back-to-school time can bring some necessities. And now that Bear’s in middle school, he has suddenly taken an interest in school supplies. 

There’s nothing wrong with these things on the surface. But in our stuff-filled world, well, there are some problems. From the new resource-intensive materials to the plastic (so much plastic!)  to all the waste year after year after year.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I want to share a sweet, thoughtful conversation Bear and I recently had on the subject that went really well.

He said he needed supplies for school, but he also understood that we don’t want to be wasteful, we want to be kind to the earth.

I was proud that he also recognized that these companies are marketing to us, seducing us.

It’s normal and natural to be seduced into thinking we need more things than we need in actuality.  And I want him to feel safe knowing that he will have whatever he needs. 

And so I offered him a plan and asked him if it worked for him:

We will start by getting a list of recommended and required items from the school.

(I asked his teacher, and it turns out they don’t actually need anything! lol.)

Then, we go through our art supplies and other school supplies, and see what we already have—how many piles of pencils are there in the house? We have pencils for sure.

 Do we have sharpeners and erasers? How about the correct notebook?   I asked Bear if his backpack is still good.

Anything else we need we will get sustainably made. 

He liked this plan. And it seemed to satisfy all his needs.

So, we decided it would be fun to set aside some time to get ready and focus on this project—it’s a  sort of back-to-school spring cleaning where we suss out what exactly it is we need. Plus, we’re not just looking for what we need, but what we don’t need, too. What doesn’t fit goes to donation—older clothes, books, supplies, et cetera.

Bear is so excited to go back to school. I hope your kiddos are too!

Here are some suggestions that may be helpful for you, too.

Decomposition notebooks
Courtesy Decomposition Notebooks

1. Take inventory

From undies and socks to pants and sweaters—what do we need?

We are minimalists around here. So Bear usually has about seven to nine pairs of any item. That way, I don’t have to do laundry too often. And the t-shirt drawer gets pretty full. So we look at what he actually wants to wear versus what Mommy thinks is so cute and wishes he would wear, and then I let go and send it off to donation. (This is a great exercise in mindfulness, and as a parent, it’s an excellent reminder that kids have their own lives to live and their personal style is part of that!)

We look at the supplies, too. 

Do we have enough water bottles? 

kids in costumes
Courtesy Hanna Anderson

2. Shop sustainably

You’ve got your list of what you absolutely need—if anything!  Now, it’s time to shop. Luckily, there are so many incredible options for reducing your back-to-school footprint. 

For clothing, secondhand shopping is such a great way to reduce your impact. Kids grow out of clothes so fast that there are lots of resale shops just for kids. You can find some really great stuff, too! Just like your kid may have clothes they never wear other people have the same. Secondhand shopping keeps these items out of landfills and reduces the amount of new stuff being made every year.

There are also parent groups on social media where you can find gently used items. You can even host a clothing swap for kids and grown-ups as a fun get-together with a purpose.

You won’t likely find everything you need secondhand, and some things you’ll just want new, like undies. For that, you can shop sustainable, healthy brands. (We’ve got a list of them below.) This goes for school supplies, too.

kids clothes
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

3. Offset your purchases

Sometimes, you just can’t find what you need in your own closet or from a sustainable alternative. If you’ve run out of options, go ahead and buy the thing your child needs—be it a pair of shoes (but there are lots of eco shoes out there! and great used ones, too)  a new eco lunch box, whatever. 

You can offset the impact of your Amazon shipping or the plastic in the product in a number of ways. Hopefully, you’re already donating your child’s old items—that counts! Perhaps you can plant a tree or two, or do a beach or river clean-up with your child. 

Be sure to involve your child in the process so that they understand why this is an important part of being a consumer in today’s world. 

Here are some brands making sustainable kids’ clothes and school supplies. There are lots of brands out there with great options if this list doesn’t have what you’re looking for. 


Conscious Step
Firebird Kids
Hanna Andersson
Mon Coeur
Mini Mate


Onyx + Green bamboo pencil sharpener
Sprout pencils
Recycled newspaper pencils
Decomposition notebooks
Recycled binder
Cork laptop sleeve
Eco lunch box
One Movement water bottles
Eco backpack
Terra Thread backpacks

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