The ultimate back to school shopping guide

by Grace Sousa, Opinions writer
photo by Julie Wang

One of the most common mistakes I have seen people make when back-to-school shopping is overdoing it. School work is already stressful enough; there is no need to add to the chaos by lugging around an over-filled, 20-pound backpack. 

Don’t get me wrong — I have fallen victim to overdoing it when it comes to school supplies. But if you want to avoid shoulder pain from a heavy backpack and a messy binder filled with papers from every class, this is the perfect guide to back-to-school shopping.

Let’s start off with the basics: pencils, pens and markers. Make the most of the space in your backpack and purchase a small pencil case. I promise you, having 20 markers for aesthetic note-taking is not worth it. Stick to fewer than five different colored markers for your notes and highlighting. My favorite marker brand is Mildliner. Their soft-edged tips make the fewest number of annoying, squeaky noises. 

When it comes to pens, Paper Mate’s InkJoy gel line has never failed me. You can never go wrong with a pack of three smudge-free, black gel pens. Pencils are a completely different story — you could buy a pack of 50 pencils and somehow end up with zero after the first two months of school. 

There is no perfect way to avoid pencils going AWOL, but my preferred strategy is to bring five pencils with me to school at a time. Once my five pencils get lost or are stolen by friends who “borrow” them, I make sure to replenish my barren pencil case.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s organize your papers. If you bring more than one binder or folder to school, you are doing it wrong! Let’s be real, teachers do not give out paper assignments as much as they used to. All you need is a two-inch binder and binder dividers for each class. Trust me, with this method, I never lose any papers. 

The best organization tool is the Five Star Flex binder. Hardcover binders take up too much precious room in your bag, and you’ll want to save as much space as possible for your lunch box. Try to find binders with side pockets in case you can’t hole-punch your papers. 

To make sure that your binder doesn’t overfill, stop hoarding your papers! Clean out your binder every term and keep your old papers safe at home so that you can use them for studying before the dreaded finals.

One thing that you can’t prepare for is notebooks. I have found that every teacher has a different suggestion. One of my teachers kept our notebooks in school, another suggested that we have one notebook for each class and some did not have a preference. So, that decision is up to you (my advice is to just be practical)!

An underrated back to school item is the water bottle. Hydration improves focus, so if drinking water will help my attention span during history, staying hydrated will be a top priority this school year! Before purchasing a reusable water bottle, double-check the products’ ratings and reviews. As long as your water bottle is reusable and spill proof, you are good to go. 

We have talked a lot about saving space and efficiency, so let’s move on to the fun stuff — the personal back-to-school items. I never leave the house without what I call a “necessities kit,” which includes items for mini-emergencies, like deodorant, perfume, nail clippers, hair ties, floss, lip balm, tweezers, the list can go on. 

Accidents are bound to happen so be prepared. Go to the travel section in your nearest supermarket and pick out miniature products for your very own personalized necessities kit. 

Your necessities kit will not be complete without blue-light glasses. After a long night of studying (or procrastinating), your tired eyes won’t survive a long day of staring at computer screens. Blue-light glasses have saved me countless times. 

Another holy grail is headphones — whether it’s while walking through the halls, studying or watching Netflix during free blocks, headphones always come in handy. 

If one of your goals this year is to stay organized and well-prepared for your classes, take these tips into consideration while back-to-school shopping. If all else fails, just ask yourself three questions: is this practical, sufficient and reliable? If you answer yes to all, then you can’t go wrong! And make it fun!  

If you personalize everything you buy, those cute school supplies will be worth it — some much-needed brightness into a dreary, test-filled week.

Good luck, and shop smart!