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Frugal Organization for Your School Supply Stockpile

Guest post by Danielle Bradbury

It’s that time of year again — back-to-school sales have started! The two questions I used to struggle with the most during this time were, “How much of what do I need to restock?” and “How am I going to keep it organized?”

The first question is obviously going to differ according to your family size and your method of schooling. However, my solution to keeping my school supply stockpile organized also helps me determine how much of each item I need to restock!

Think “Inside” the Box

My biggest organization “helper” is also extremely affordable — the $1 plastic shoeboxes from Walmart! I have a cheap bookcase that we bought over six years ago filled with those shoeboxes. I write a one- to two-word descriptions of what will be in each box on index cards (pens, pencils, highlighters, paint brushes, etc.) and tape it to the inside of the box’s small end. Then I stack them all up on the bookcase in alphabetical order.

I reserve the top shelf for computer paper, construction paper, file folders, envelopes, and my children’s individual crayon boxes. The second shelf holds Play-Dough and various homeschool games. Since the boxes don’t fill the entire width of the bookcase shelf, coloring books and notebooks can be slide upright into the extra space.

Not only does it keep almost all of our school supplies together, organized, and put away from little hands, it’s also very easy to take an inventory with this system!

An Inventory Checklist Prevents Overbuying and Underbuying

To start, I print out an Inventory Checklist that I created in Word. Then, I simply open each box, take note of how much of the specific supply I have left, how much I would like to stock up on, and what my “max capacity” is for that item. I also take inventory of my various paper supplies and make notes for them as well.

During back-to-school season I keep that Inventory Checklist in my purse. That way if I just happen upon a great deal, I know how much I can safely buy for my family’s personal stockpile, and how much I would need to buy in order to fill boxes for Operation Christmas Child. It eliminates the guesswork as well as the chance of overbuying or underbuying!

When I first started setting up this system, I only purchased two boxes each week (my husband is paid weekly). Eventually I was able to get rid of all the plastic bags my supplies were hidden in, and store them in a much more organized way.

This System is Frugal and Flexible

The best part of this system isn’t just the frugality, it’s also the flexibility. If you don’t have an available bookcase, perhaps you could clear part of your closet shelf, a pantry shelf, shelves above your laundry area, or maybe even space in a basement or attic! Also, if you need more of a supply then what one box can hold, you simply add in more boxes with the same title.

How do you organize your supplies?

Danielle Bradbury lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, son and two daughters. She and her husband are working hard to rebuild their life after bankruptcy. They are also looking forward to starting homeschool with their son this fall.

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  1. Michele K says

    Awesome idea!!! I have a smaller bookcase that is sitting in storage that I now know what I can use it for. . .thanks!!!

  2. Beth says

    Thanks for sharing this idea! I loved how you shared that you only bought two boxes per payday! I’m that perfectionist type that wants to go get everything to make it happen now. Thanks for sharing that option!

    • Danielle B says

      Thank you!
      I know exactly what you mean! I hate being in the middle of various projects, but there’s just no way we could have done it all at once financially. I have a list in my homemaking binder of organizational things that I’d like to get, and as we have a few extra dollars I just purchase them one at a time. My dad always says, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It’s a silly saying, but helps me to stay focused! :-)

  3. says

    This is a great idea! I love that you can see the contents as well as have the label. Great to get a quick assessment of how much is left! Are these boxes wide enough to store computer paper/notebook paper without bending the paper? That would be great.

    Thanks for sharing this great organizational system! Love it!

    • says

      I believe she’s using the shoe box size boxes, so no your paper would bend.

      However, you can easily make a magazine type box to store packs of notebook paper. I’ve used a couple Priority Mail boxes that we had lying around and they work great. You can also cover them with pretty paper if you want them to look nicer.

    • Danielle B says

      Hi Maggie! Allyson is right, these are shoeboxes, so papers will bend.

      What I’m working on this year is to purchase one or two of the 3-level organizers that you can find in the office supply area. That way I can seperate computer paper, construction paper, lined writing paper, etc. and still see how much of a supply I have left. It will go on the top shelf where I’m keeping extra paper currently. I might have to move things around a bit, but I’ll make it work! ;-D

      I hope that helps!

  4. Karen says

    I tried to do this, but it made it hard for a quick put away. So now we use a clear over-the-door clear plastic shoe organizer. Every pocket has stuff that goes in it, like “glue” pocket or “pens” pocket. The crayon and marker ones we put a small tin can so we can take it out then plop it back in its home when we are done. It takes a while to find what works for you. Thanks for your suggestions-I’m sure this will work great for lots of moms!

    • Jessica says

      Karen — great idea, thanks! I have shoe pockets all over the house for various things, but I never thought about storing school/office supplies in them. I love it!

    • Caroline says

      I think this system is more for the stockpile rather than the daily use items. I found a pantry post once mentioning that “an open item” doesn’t count in your inventory. For most items you will buy on a regular basis that is true. So the tape in your inventory is stored in the tape box, the one or ones you are using is stored in the desk, school box, craft area, etc. Achieving that balance between organized enough to use it easily and put it away and not so over organised you can’t maintain it is the whole trick.

  5. says

    This is a great idea! My daughter is 2 so I have started purchasing school supplies this year since she is at an age we can start doing fun projects. I’m going to have to implement a system like this in our family room, thanks for the info!

    • Danielle B says

      I would love to share my list, I’m just not sure how to do it, since I don’t have a blog or Facebook of my own. Maybe if you just email me I can send it to you as an attachment?


      Crystal, do you have a suggestion of a better way to do this? I probably should have just included it as an attachment in the original post. I’m sorry for not thinking about that!

    • Danielle B says

      Hi Robin!
      We’ll just be starting on our homeschooling journey this fall too! :-)

      Here’s the link that will take you straight to the Inventory Checklist.

      1.) This is just a really basic list. Honestly, there’s not much to it at all! Once you download it I think you can change it up- so make it work for you. There are some categories that I don’t have boxes for yet, since I’ll be adding those over the next few months. You may have completely different categories since we all use different things.

      2.) I deleted my “max capacity” numbers from the lists, simply because it all depends on what type of product you might personally like. I like big calculators, so I might only fit 6 calculators in my box. Someone else might like the smaller ones, so they may be able to fit 8 or 10. Again, just customize it to whatever works for you!

      I hope it helps!

  6. says

    Thanks for that great post! I am planning on homeschooling my daughter soon (she is almost 3) and I will definitely be implementing this system for us. Thanks!

  7. says

    great idea! we use those same cheap bookcases (2 of them are now 10 years old and still in great shape!) to store our school and craft supplies. we cyber school and the school supplies just about everything we need, and more. this year #2 will be starting k4 and i’m dreading how much organizing it’s going to take to make our small school space usable. i’ll be starting with cleaning out and i hope to implement something like you have here, using all the SAME size containers! i have all sorts of things mixed up and it’s visually overwhelming, and hard for the kids to keep up with it when they have the supplies out for crafting on their own. the hardest part for me is the total lack of space, being afraid to get rid of things we *might* want later, and not knowing how much stuff is going to come in the mail at the beginning of the school year. thanks for the ideas!

  8. says

    I love this idea! I used to teach in a public school, and my colleagues would laugh at all of my tidy and organized bins in my closet. I always knew what was in my classroom and would help others out who had closets from the Bermuda triangle.

    Now as a SAHM with 2 little ones, I’ve been struggling to get our office supplies & craft supplies organized, and never even thought to use the same system at home that I did in my classroom, even though this is how I currently organize a lot of our toiletries in our cellar.

    I guess the new item for my to do list is cleaning out the bookcases in our office which are chock full of random stuff, and start getting organized for the coming school year. Thank you for sharing this!

  9. Amy says

    I am loving this idea! My “craft” area is a complete disaster! Thanks for the inspiration, and for reminding me that now is a great time to buy for Operation Christmas Child. AWESOME idea!!!

  10. Sue says

    Wonderful ideas and organizational system! However, I never needed near that many supplies when I was a public school teacher or at any point during the fifteen years that I homeschooled my four children. One of my daughters is an elementary school art teacher. I will recommend your system to her!

    • says

      Wow! I could TOTALLY do this if I could get them at clearance price of 33 cents each. I SO need to organize a whole bunch of stuff – not much room in the house so storage is key.

      Do you happen to remember approximately when (and what store) you found these clearanced for 33 cents each?

  11. Ana says

    When I was in college, even $1 was a lot of money for me. I just used regular shoe boxes to store my supplies, many shoe stores were more than happy to get rid of them. I had a dorm room full of expensive shoe boxes :).
    Plastic boxes are great to use in a closet but in our living room I use photo boxes bought on clearance.

    • Danielle B says

      Oooo! I love the idea of photo boxes- organized and pretty! :-)
      Right now we’re living in a very small townhouse so the only space for the bookcase is upstairs. But, when we move, if I’m able to put the bookcase where it’s more visable I just might think about “converting” to photo boxes. Great idea!

    • Danielle B says

      Great idea! I’ve actually just started doing that for organizing my stockpile of personal care items. They’re great for all those little freebie samples, floss, travel size items, etc.!

    • Lana says

      I use my baby wipe boxes as a recycling bin for my sons crayons. It’s a cute way to reuse your baby wipe boxes especially the colorful fun ones Huggies has and a excellent place to keep all of those crayons together in one place.

  12. says

    I love this idea. If you have non reading children you can add photos of the contents to the label so that the little ones can help keep things organized. It will also help them with word recognition. I love this idea thank you for sharing it

  13. Patti says

    We have a similiar set up here, but I also put a photo of what is in the box so that even the youngest knows what is in the box and doesn’t feel the need to go through each one! (although I think she does it because she like opening every single one!)

  14. Traela says

    Thank you for reminding us that now is a great time to stock up for Operation Christmas Child! Love that idea!!!

  15. Melissia Dillmuth says

    As far as supplies go, one thing I love to do is ask for art supplies for my daughter’s birthday – including crayons, markers, paper, scissors, and other fun craft stuff. This really helps us with our school and home art projects and it cuts cost down for us.

    • Danielle B says

      Amen!!! :-)

      We have a strict “no one is allowed in Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom” rule. When we were first training our little ones to that rule, “time outs” took up a big part of my day! They learned though…..eventually. :-)

  16. Angie Wilson says

    Good post! A good way to get those boxes for a little less is to use the $5/25 coupons that Dollar General puts out about once a month. They’ve been offering these coupons at least one Saturday each month for a while now, and they do have those boxes. So get a few things you need, like milk or whatever, and throw in some boxes too. Or buy 25 boxes and get them for 80 cents each.

  17. Julie says

    Cheaper and uses less space, though not as pretty and easy to read…I separate the items into plastic grocery sacks (not necessarily one item per bag – all adhesives, glue, tape, etc. together, or all pens and pencils together, all crayons, markers, and colored pencils), then label the sack with a sharpie if you have many sacks, and hang them on one sturdy hanger in a storage closet.

  18. Heather says

    “put away from little hands”

    This intrigues me. How precisely? I know my two year old (and his three older sisters) would be so excited to see all of those lovely boxes in easy reach . . . .

  19. Rachelle says

    This is what we do! This time of year is perfect for getting good prices on these storage items as well as all the goodies to fit inside with the back-to-college sales (and the best time of year for all sorts of household goodies!). The 5-shelf bookcases are $20 or so right now, and the 3-shelfers are even less! I keep track of the lowest price the supply items sold for at B2S season last year, so I know how much I should pay for the items and how much to budget for our overall school supply stockpile.

    For people with questions about open items, we use a deeper bin with no lid for in-use school items: glue, scissors, tape, etc. I keep things tidy in those bins (locker bins from the Dollar Tree this time of year) by using cups or jars to hold scissors, pencils, etc. Then just grab the bin for school and/or crafting time! The lid-free bins have higher sides and also house our construction paper, coloring books, page protectors, etc. I restock my in-use bins with stockpiled items contained in the clear shoeboxes. I also use these shelves and shoeboxes for educational items, toys, puzzles, and games on lower levels so that my kids can SEE what they would like to do instead of the rummaging and dumping.

  20. kartingmom says

    GREAT idea! I am blessed with a wonderful storage closet off of my office but the stuff is piles haphazardly on the shelves. I have to go to walmart to return some shoes and will definantly pick up some of these boxes. It will make the closet much neater and eliminate all the yelling for “MOM!” I’ll just tell them to read! :o)

  21. Shelley says

    I know I have to make sure new markers and glue sticks in my inventory haven’t dried out before I decide how many more I need to buy.

  22. karen says

    I use my ‘overflow’ school supplies as birthday gifts–just pair with a new coloring book, construction paper, etc–to make an ‘creativity box’

    My DD school starts running out of supplies in March/April–it’s great to be able to grab a few things from my stash to help out hardworking teachers.

  23. Lisa says

    Moms, save the diaper wipe tubs! I have organized my crafts with labels “pens” “pencils” “glue” “sticky letters” etc, save the $1 from buying the shoebox tubs and thes wipes tubs are perfect for crafts and other small sorting. Also, if you are sorting beads or say every letter of the alphabet of your sticky letters, get a tackle box sorter which runs maybe $3 depending on the size.

  24. Laura says

    I use 1/3 of my pantry for storing school supplies. In our previous house, I cleared out a skinny linen closet and used it to store supplies. Having everything behind a door helps keep us organized. BTW, if you drink Crystal Light, the clear plastic cases make fantastic pencil holders.

  25. Becky B says

    Would you be willing to put your spreadsheet on the site? I’m going to start homeschooling, so I am pretty new to this and would love to have a supply sheet so that I don’t buy too much or too little. I would greatly appreciate it!

  26. Dayna says

    As the sister to the author, I love it! I’m tickled with her brilliance…and I can’t believe I have never thought to use this strategy in my classroom! I have one tote I use for excess pens/pencils — why not for everything else?

    PS…I have tons of those 3-shelve organizers laying around. I’ll get some to you ASAP

  27. says

    I use the shoebox idea for organizing my tiny bathroom closet. We are a family of 6 (soon to be 7), in a 3-bedroom home with one bathroom! One thing I don’t like in a bathroom is seeing everyone’s toothbrushes and personal items on the bathroom counter–too much clutter. So at Christmas, each of my kids got a shoebox with their name on it, and inside they had their own new toothbrush, tooth paste, floss, fingernail clippers, and hairbrush. Now they have their own little space in the bathroom to be responsible for, and when they have finished their own personal grooming, it goes back in the closet. I have other boxes in there as well, where I keep my soap, shampoo, and dental care stockpiles, as well as a box for first aid/pain relief and another for cold medicine (kept out of their reach, and out of my “medicine cabinet”).

  28. Andrea Q says

    For those wondering how much to stockpile, all of our extra school supplies, except paper, fit in a grocery bag that I keep in my closet. We have a craft cupboard in the kitchen for things that are being actively used. Reams of paper and a few extra notebooks go in a desk drawer near the printer. I have four creative children (all school aged, three are homeschooled), but we don’t use enough supplies to really stockpile anything other than paper.

    I don’t buy much extra, because I feel that I’ll be able to get most office/school for cheap later. Scotch tape will be on sale again around Christmas and on clearance after the holidays. Big box stores typically have notebooks for less than $1 and often on clearance. It takes a long time to use up 20 pens or pencils, 1000 staples or a set of colored pencils. Unless the kids break them, crayons last forever. Staples offers free paper (through Easy Rebates) several times a year. In a pinch, I use ECBs or RR to pick up something we need.

  29. Maegan H says

    Another little tid-bit is that you can use these things that you find on sale or on clearance and use them to make a wonderful Christmas gift for your child’s teacher! By mid-year, many teachers are running lower on their supplies so fill a cute gift box with new school supplies (that you got super cheap) and top with a beautiful bow and you have an inexpensive gift that can really be used by them!! :) Last year, with budget cuts, our teachers made a wish list and I was able to fill many of the teachers wishes with some of my great pre-school deals!

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