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I could not wait for the summer to be over. After trying to keep the little guy busy and out of the scorching heat; nagging the middle one to complete her third-grade reading assignment; and hearing the big one sigh, "I'm bored," for the ump-teenth time -- I was done. Right now, that song -- meant for a different season but perfect here -- starts spinning 'round my head like a sugar rush: "It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Yippee! Back to school time! When the entire household gets some much-needed structure, it is a beautiful thing. But then I think school supplies and the happy surge starts to fade. Sure, it's a wonderful time for retailers. Next to the Christmas holidays, this is the biggest shopping period of the year. According to BIGresearch the average family will drop $606.40 on clothes and school supplies this year -- up from $548.72 in 2009. I don't know about you, but that's a lot of Benjamins to spend on the JLPs (Jobless Little People) in the household. When you think about it, there's a lot of built-in waste. Granted, growing kids need clothes. But it's a different story when you walk into any drugstore or office supply chain and there it is: an avalanche of folders; notebooks; pens, pencils; markers -- an orgy of excess. And everything is, of course, on sale. If the price is low enough, most consumers can feel virtuous buying reams of wide-ruled, loose-leaf paper. Not surprisingly, paper is one of the biggest sources of preventable waste in school supplies, notes the Center for American Progress. They cite that on average, schools throw out nearly 40 million tons of paper annually -- enough to save 646 trees if recycled. Pens? Americans ditch 1.6 billion disposables each year. Don't get me wrong. There's no holier-than-thou halo over my head. I used to be one of those moms. I bought NEW stuff religiously every September. My kids got back packs, lunch boxes, and binders each school year -- whether they really needed them or not. Seriously. I never even bothered to check -- just went out to score the latest colors, cartoon character, or pop star slapped on hot kids' gear. It was a ritual, I guess. No more. I had a serious talk with the JLP's about how waste impacts the planet. And now my kids are not only sticking with the oldies but goodies from years past, they're actually enjoying it. Last night I nearly fell off my seat when our resident fashionista, who hit seventh grade this year, pulled out a flowery vinyl binder, circa 2004. She was waxing nostalgic over her first-grade doodles -- "Aw. I was so cute!" she squealed. We hit the arts/crafts cupboard and pulled out dozens of markers, colored pencils, and glue sticks. Only about half were not dried out. But, hey, at least some will be put to good use. I've discovered that teachers request one-subject notebooks, mostly to help keep kids organized. Call me a genius or a slacker, but the last-day-of-school stuff that came home with my kids in June was still sitting in the mudroom in early September. When I went through those notebooks many of them had plenty of unused sheets. If you're like me, saving the planet is a joy. Saving money is nearly orgasmic. My back-to-school outlay this year rang up to a whopping $61 for three kids. Most of that went toward a backpack for the middle one. Was her last year's sack torn or in disrepair? No. She just really, really wanted the "cool" one in the mall. I couldn't say, "No." Well, I guess I could've. But she hardly asks for anything. And in one of those non-sequitur connections mothers tend to make, I'm thinking that if she's inclined toward a spiffy backpack, maybe this is the year she will be more amenable to brushing her hair without my prompting. So it wasn't really an unnecessary purchase. In a way, it could turn out to be very resourceful. photo: Avolore