Getting Back-to-School Organized

Author: Alecia Pirulis

School Bus

It never fails. The beginning of the new school year always catches me off-guard. From the last-second store-to-store-to-store hunt for the dregs of school supplies left on nearly-empty shelves to the crazed chaos that is involved in dragging two adamantly-opposed boys to a plethora of clothing stores trying to find a pair of jeans that actually fit, I’m exhausted. But, finally, the big day arrives …

So why is it that, every year, I am amazed and overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that inevitably finds its way into my home during the first few weeks of school? School forms, clinic cards, papers to sign, informational packets, fundraiser information, volunteer forms, picture order sheets, and in the case of my kids – a euphonium case, a saxophone case, and a trumpet case. (Yes, I could start a jazz club in my basement.)

So, along with the school supplies I thought they might need but didn’t, the new clothes mixed in with the old clothes so they can’t find Anything-to-Wear, and the sheet music, syllabuses, and papers currently choking my dining room table, I’m surrounded by clutter — again.

How can a parent prepare and organize for back-to-school — especially when living in a small apartment, where any amount of clutter is too much?

First – don’t wait until the last minute to do your back-to-school shopping. Go as soon as the list posts to your school’s Web site or finds its way into the handy-dandy kiosk at the front of your local discount store. That way, you can avoid the crowds, find what you need at one (or two) stores, and keep your stress-level low.

If you haven’t done so, clear a closet shelf or a bookcase in your child’s room for extra school supplies. During the first week of school, my son announced at 9:30 pm that he needed index cards for a report he was presenting in class the next day. If I had bought them beforehand and had them on the shelf, I wouldn’t have found myself driving around at 10 pm looking for a store that still had index cards in stock after the back-to-school rush. Clear a space and store rolls of poster board, extra glue sticks, crayons, markers, index cards, construction paper, etc.

Next – go into your child’s room armed with empty bags. Take everything out of the closet and out of the dresser and evaluate it: Is it in good shape? Does he/she wear it? Throw out everything that is worn out and donate everything that your child has outgrown. Toss last year’s leftover school items (pencil boxes, old crayons, report cards, backpack). If there are papers, report cards, or drawings you can’t part with, scan them into your computer. Then you can save it to a folder or copy it to a CD.

Once your child’s room is purged, set up a study area with a small desk, a lamp, a color-coded bookcase with baskets, extra pencils in a cup, notebook paper, and whatever else he will need to complete homework. An organized study area will keep your child focused and you’ll see better grades because of it. Really!

Shop for clothes … this is a task I dread every year. I have one child that is so thin, even slim sizes fall to the floor on him. My other son is very picky … he won’t wear anything but athletic shorts and football jerseys. If your school has a dress code – consider yourself lucky. If not, try to mix and match, so even if you only buy three pairs of pants and three shirts, your child will have several combinations. Don’t forget that even though it is hot now (still above 90 degrees in Atlanta), it will be cooling off very soon, so save yourself the extra trip in October and purchase some warmer clothes now.

Hang a sweater holder or shoe organizer in your child’s closet and set five outfits in the cubbies, one for each day of the week (including socks and underwear). Do this on Sunday afternoon and avoid the Monday-morning meltdown of “I-don’t-know-what-to-wear!”

A family binder is a great idea. Get dividers with pockets and label each tab for each child, and then keep all papers, permission slips, volunteer requests, phone lists, etc. in the binder.

Try a family calendar – you can use a Web calendar or post a dry-erase calendar near the door or in the kitchen. Keep track of sports events, music lessons, band practice, birthday parties, doctor’s appointments, and the various activities you’ve volunteered for on the calendar.

Install decorative hooks low on the wall near the front door or in your child’s room so they can hang book bags and jackets when they come home. If everything has a place, you’ll spend less time dashing around looking for lost items your child can’t leave home without.

Finally, don’t drown in a sea of papers! Go through them every day and sort them – keep, toss, return. Put the “keep” items in your family binder or scan them, throw away the “toss” items immediately, and sign the return papers and put them right back in your child’s backpack. Your apartment will stay clutter-free and the school year will be that much smoother.