Back to School Blues

Ask The Organizer

The summer flew by and I already find myself preparing for the craziness of getting the kids prepared for school.  I want to start out with the right system this year. Do you have suggestions for managing the school papers and bags that seem to accumulate?

Janice, Middletown, CT

It is hard to believe the summer is almost over and the start of school is just around the corner.  I commend you for thinking ahead to make the transition easier for you and your family.  It is important to build routines that everyone can follow.  Let’s focus on two specific areas: Schedules and paperwork.

The backbone of staying organized during the school year is having a consistent calendar that you use to record important dates and schedules.  The majority of the items coming home from school are papers or e-mails indicating events.  Choosing the right calendar for your family is the first major decision.  Some families prefer a large wall calendar that hangs in a central office or kitchen location.  This is a great option if you like events to be visible to all family members at all times.  I often suggest assigning a different color marker to visually separate events for each family member.  I also suggest writing all repeating events, such as weekly practices, afterschool programs etc.  This calendar can be hidden on the inside of a cabinet door, behind a kitchen door or out in the open on the refridgerator.  The important thing is that everyone knows how to access it and it is updated frequently.  

The downside to using the paper wall calendar method is it often causes inefficiencies because it requires you to double enter appointments in a portable personal schedule.  It also makes it hard to check your availability if you are not in front of it when you are scheduling.  The last draw back is you have to manually enter repeating dates which can be tedious and time consuming to keep an accurate calendar.  That’s why if your family is a little more tech savvy I recommend using an electronic calendar that you can share with your spouse and even your kids.  More and more families are taking advantage of these features offered by their e-mail programs such as Outlook and G-mail accounts.  The upside to moving to an electronic calendar is that you can set appointments to repeat weekly, monthly etc. to avoid double entering the data.  You can also easily share the calendars or e-mail appointments to family members to allow them to add it to their own personal digital calendar.  Color-coding is much easier and the bonus is you can still print out a clean version of the calendar to post on the fridge every time you have made significant updates.  As a professional organizer, I find myself working more and more with clients on how to take full advantage of the e-mail programs they are already using on their computer to manage a digital calendar. 

Now let’s talk about how to manage the paper.  If you have a good calendar system be consistent about adding upcoming events from flyers and sports schedules immediately to the calendar and toss the paper.  Posting too many papers on a bulletin board or all over your counter to create visual reminders typically becomes counter-productive because the visual clutter blocks the actual information.  By committing to the appointment and using your calendar as the reminder, you will eliminate a large bulk of the papers flooding your home during the school year.  

Another paper system to think about is where you are going to place the urgent papers such as permission slips, school forms and medical forms that may need to be filled out and acted upon quickly.  Try to make a system of requesting this paperwork from the kids as soon as they come home or going through their backpack daily.  You can create a binder for each child to insert paperwork or a simple file folder that all the take action items can be placed in.  Work to act on the forms as soon as they come into the house.  If you can’t deal with it immediately write the deadline on your calendar and schedule a time to act on it.  By using your calendar as a task reminder tool, you may be more likely to act on it in a timely manner and be less likely to miss deadlines.

Lastly, pick and choose the school papers and projects that you save as memorabilia.  While every picture may seem like a cute memory of your child’s school year, they add up quickly.  I suggest creating a memorabilia bin for each child.  Choose the best pictures and graded papers out of the bunch and pack them away throughout the year.  At the end of the year you should review the items again with your child and ensure they are really projects that mean something to you and your child before saving them indefinitely.  Also, for the temporary display of their works of art consider buying inexpensive poster frames and rotating artwork throughout the year on your wall.  You may also consider using a clothesline in a playroom with clothes bins to display pictures throughout the year.  

Kristin Mastromarino is a professional organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing and The Organized Lifestyle retail store in Guilford, CT.  (  You can e-mail her your questions at

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