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With the arrival of a new school year comes a never-ending to-do list — from organizing materials and planning activities to being prepared to tackle the next nine months of assignments. “Back-to-school month is the season of the Mother Olympics,” notes author Gretchen Rubin in her book Happier at Home.
So where do you start? Memphis Parent sought the help of professional organizer Amy Tuggle, who runs Stay Organized With Us with her mom, Fran Cutshall.
Tuggle’s advice is simple: “Start with a transition time and focus on the three S’s: Stuff, Schedule, and System.”
Make sure all stuff has a home. Clutter happens when an item doesn’t have an assigned space or is too hard to put away.
Clothes • August is the ideal time to go through children’s clothes, shoes, and outerwear. Check to see what no longer fits or get rid of those items your child doesn’t like. Save them for hand-me downs, donation to Goodwill, or take to a consignment store. Places like Once Upon a Child or Plato’s Closet are good for resale. To store clothing, consider using Ziploc Flexible Totes, Big Bags or Space Bags, and clear plastic containers. Label each container so you know clothing sizes and seasons.
Meals • As you plan your weekly menu, also plan for lunches and snacks. Have labeled bins for lunch items in the pantry or cabinet and refrigerator. A caddy or tote in the fridge with lunch prep items is a quick way to grab one container and return it when finished. A good place to look for these items is the Dollar Tree and The Container Store.
Paper • A pile of paper is a pile of decisions. Basically all paperwork in your home falls into one of two categories: action or reference. Have a command center with labeled files for “to do,” “to file,” and “to pay.”
Plan a Schedule
Weekly family meetings are great way to keep everyone informed and on the same page. Choose a set day/time and discuss the next week’s activities.
What’s the best way to avoid morning madness? Plan ahead, do ahead, and allow extra time. Do those tasks that can done the night before (you’ll thank yourself). Check the weather forecast (allowing for extra time if rainy), lay out clothes, take a shower or bath, pack backpacks and work bags, lay out breakfast items (bowl, cup, silverware), or have a grab-and-go container of quick breakfast foods. If you find you’re running tight on time, set your alarm 10 minutes earlier. Give count-down reminders: We’re leaving in 15 minutes, five minutes. Use a Time Timer for a visual representation and understanding of time.
A dry-erase wall calendar in a central location like the kitchen or entry hall makes it easy to know who goes where. Commitments can be color-coded by family member. Remember to add items to the calendar as soon as you know about them. Clipboards on hooks or Post-it Pockets are great for holding schedules, phone lists, or paperwork for parents to complete.
When it comes to after-school activities, be careful not to over-schedule your kids. Remember that each activity comes with extra commitments (paperwork, practice, and preparation). You want activities to be enriching, enjoyable, and fun rather than a burden that requires rushing from one event to the next.
Develop a System
It takes 21 days to form a habit. The more routine a task becomes, the easier it is to practice. Create new routines or systems for the school year.
Have your child unpack his backpack when he arrives home. Learn of homework assignments and any paperwork or project needs.
Create a homework hub where you keep scissors, pencils, erasers, sharpener, markers, glue stick, calculator, and anything else needed for completing homework. Some students enjoy doing homework at the kitchen table or at their bedroom desk – just make sure the space is free of distractions.
Have a bag for each afterschool activity. All items for each sport or activity stay together in one bag, so there’s no hunt for a ball glove or dance shoes as you’re trying to leave.
Have everyone help pick up clutter before bedtime; assign weekly chores or tasks for each family member.
Does One Approach Work For All?
“Basic organizing and time management principles should work for all families,” concludes Tuggle. “With that said, find the structure and system that works best for your family dynamics and learning style, such as visual cues, auditory or kinesthetic or a combination. Organizing habits will become second nature and serve your child as they grow.” • For more tips, visit stayorganizedwithus.com or call 651-0432.
Get Your Stuff Together!
- Absolutely Organized – A Mom’s Guide to a No-Stress Schedule and Clutter-Free Home by Debbie Lillard
- Where’s My Stuff? – The Ultimate Teen Organizing Guide by Samantha Moss with Professional Teen Organizer Lesley Schwartz
Calendar • Cozi & Hub Family Calendar OrganizerHomework • myHomework & Evernote
Time Timer • timetimer.com