Let’s face it: Whether your children are starting preschool or high school, it would be a lot easier to just wait a decade or two to organize the nest — after it’s empty.
But if you can’t stand to hold out that long, productivity consultant Jan Jasper will come to your rescue. Getting organized can do even more for your mind than it does for your closets, says Jasper, author of Take Back Your Time (St. Martin’s Press).
“When your home is organized, it becomes an effective base of operations and a relaxing refuge,” she adds. “When it’s not, it’s an obstacle course.” Amen.
Check out these back-to-school cleaning-and-organizing tips from Jasper and Georgene Lockwood, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Organizing Your Life (Macmillan).
PLAN AHEAD FOR SUCCESS
• Set up “School Central.” Using brightly-colored folders or containers, organize a simple filing system for school papers, artwork, etc. Make the area kid-friendly. If adding “Cat in The Hat” stickers to folders makes your kids want to file their stuff, why not? And rather than saving this year’s artwork, let your child choose his or her favorites. Then send the rest to family or use it for gift wrap.
• Set up “Operations Central,” too. Every family needs a place for processing mail and paying bills, says Jasper. And it shouldn’t be the kitchen table. Select an uncluttered space and stock with a calendar, scissors, pencils, pens, highlighter, tape, stapler, etc. Your workspace must be near the phone, since many papers can be eliminated with a phone call. You’ll also need a filing cabinet (perhaps on rollers) and a wastebasket.
• Make organizing fun. Buy colorful baskets or plastic boxes for storing kids’ toys. Label the boxes for older kids and use pictures for tots, so all can see where things goes. (At one point, we had at least 1,957 Erector Set pieces at our house. Without those boxes, who knows what we might have tripped over on the way to the bathroom.)
• Make closets accessible. Get a jump-start on hectic mornings by positioning closet rods low enough so kids can reach – and hang — their own clothes.
• Cut bathroom clutter. Give each child a different-colored plastic bin to hold personal-care items, and arrange bins on the bathroom shelf. (Another advantage: We won’t get into the whole head-lice issue, but suffice it to say, if kid #1 comes home from school with an itchy scalp, you’ll be glad kid #2 has a separate box for brushes and hair goodies.)
CREATE ROUTINES THAT WORK
• Get the kids involved. Have a weekly chore list, posted on the fridge, and assign everyone tasks. (Rotate jobs so one person isn’t always stuck cleaning out the cat box.) Even preschoolers can help by picking up clothes and toys, or clearing the table.
• Use rewards — and consequences. Post a list of choices for a weekly family reward for a job well done: family video night, pizza night — whatever lights a fire under your cleaning crew. If your helpers don’t follow through, don’t do the job for them, says Lockwood. “The deal I made with the girls was ‘No TV until the chores are done,’” she says. “Sometimes, there was no TV.”
• Minimize morning madness. Fold and store entire outfits together in your kid’s drawer. In the morning, just grab an outfit. Or re-pack backpacks at night and place them by the front door to cut down on late-for-school craziness.
AIM FOR FUN, NOT PERFECTION
Pile on the praise and try to keep your sense of humor, say our experts. Both go a long way toward making kids want to help. Notice the little things your family does, Lockwood suggests and celebrate them. “Put up a banner. Or go for a picnic or special day trip.”
Most important: Hang up that Supermom cape right now. “Being less of a perfectionist about keeping a perfect home will give you more time to enjoy life,” says Jasper.