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Be Resourceful's back-to-school series offers helpful ideas

Going back to school is a time that includes more stuff, more hassle and more stress. However, this time also creates an opportunity to rethink how you and your family prepare for school – from the day-to-day schedule and how you get to and from school, to the clothes, food and supplies they need every day. 


Below are ideas for things you can do that will help save time, money and resources.

Rethink how to get school supplies

  1. “Shop” at home, then make your list.

While the school year is already underway, there may still be items your child needs. It’s a good idea to sort through your old materials, reuse what you can from last year's supplies and know what’s around the house if a need arises. Make a list before you shop for school supplies because it will help you remember what you wanted to purchase and limit impulse buying.

2. Consider the whole product.

Buy products with more recycled content – paper with a higher percentage of post-consumer materials, for example – and less or no packaging. If the product comes with packaging, ensure the wrapping or container includes recycled content and can be recycled.

3. Buy reused school and craft supplies.

Visit SCRAP to help create DIY one-of-a-kind items for school, like pencil bags from fabric, zippers and found objects, or to customize last year’s backpacks by adding sew-on patches or letters. SCRAP offers paper of all colors and sizes, markers, pens, colored pencils, plus so much more.

For books and computers, consider used or refurbished ones. Many schools offer used text books to save money and reduce waste, or share your used books with friends, relatives or younger schoolchildren.

  • The library’s Title Wave Used Book Store offers a wide selection of books and other materials at deep discounts.
  • Free Geek is a great place to donate old computers and buy replacements, plus find other electronic equipment.

Swap and share clothes and gear

Host a clothing swap with friends and neighbors to share kids’ clothes, toys and books, and donate anything that’s left. Don’t forget about sports gear and equipment – items for school and recreation leagues can add to your budget. 

A clothing swap involves getting a bunch of people together to exchange clothes and other items you no longer wear, and offering them free of charge to others by swapping them instead. You can organize your own clothing swap with friends, or attend a larger event hosted by a school or other community organization. 

Two Portland examples are the Sunnyside Environmental School that hosts a Back-to-School Exchange and the Mt Tabor Soccer Gear Swap. These are clothing and gear swaps happening with the guidance of parents, neighbors and friends. These events are about reusing materials to extend their life, and also about building connections or meeting new people in your community. 

You may also choose to join one of the five “swap and play” spaces around Portland. Swap and plays offer an opportunity to swap outgrown clothing, toys and gear, share community play space and also connect with other parents and kids in your neighborhood. Portland swap and plays are membership organizations and vary in hours, activities, events and ways to get involved. All the spaces work together to provide a citywide membership option for families as well. They are Eastside Swap & Play, Harrison Hill Swap ‘n’ Play, Southside Swap & Play, St John’s Swapnplay Community Sharing and Woodlawn Swap n Play

Pack waste-free lunches

Choosing reusable containers, utensils and cloth napkins helps reduce waste while also promoting healthy eating habits.

  • Pack lunch in reusable containers or a lunch box.
  • Wash and reuse containers for sandwiches and snacks.
  • Choose durable bottles for drinks and fill them with tap water.
  • Bring your own metal forks and spoons and cloth napkins.


Change your routine

Options is the name of the game as you shift back into the school routine. How you get to and from school, after-school activities, sporting events and play dates are all times to consider alternatives and, as a bonus, offer ways to spend more time with family and friends.


Connect with other parents on a carpool for the kids to reduce pollution and trafficGre congestion while saving time and money. Use this free online tool to find carpool companions. Or talk to friends and neighbors to share in the day-to-day schedule and make the most of your time.

Walk or bike

Promote exercise (and get some yourself) and get quality time with your kids by walking or biking with them to school. Find maps to school, information and events through Safe Routes to School, or sign up for their newsletter.

Bike shops all over Portland offer repair services and classes, and help outfit you for the weather. Or come to a Repair Café (hosted by Repair PDX) to learn how to get minor things repaired for free.

There are many Portland-area resources to consider when getting kids ready to go back to school. Find these and more ideas to outfit your kids for school while saving money, time and resources in the Resourceful PDX blog.

In whatever ways your family chooses to get back to school, incorporating thoughtful actions that are good for you and the community help provide lasting effects as the seasons change and the new school year becomes routine again.