By Nicole Gabai
Published in Cape Cod Parent and Child
August •  September 2006

Just when you thought summer would last forever – suddenly you’re shaking the sand out of your shoes and gearing up the whole family for school again. Do you know where the notebooks are? How about the #2 pencils?

Luckily, you still have a little time before the school year begins in order to get everyone organized. Read on and you’ll find some great tips and ideas for creating a strong foundation of organizational systems as well as good habits for you and your family to use throughout the school year and beyond.

Organizing is not something taught in school but luckily it’s something that can be learned. It’s a skill much like any other. No matter how old they are, it’s never too early or too late to start instilling good organizing habits in your children. Since kids of all ages and stages of development have different needs here are some ideas for young children and teenagers, too.

Never Too Young

Young kids change and grow so quickly and in the process, accumulate lots of stuff. So for them, you need to do an annual sort and purge. If it didn’t happen at the end of the last school year, then now is the perfect time. As they go off to school, the key element here is to start instilling the simplest organizational habit of all – putting things away where they belong. And that means creating a home for everything. For example, when they come home from school, get your kids in the habit of taking things out of their pockets and backpacks.

Your kids should give school information and schedules to you. One way to keep general information sorted and organized is to maintain a bulletin board in a common area on which to affix handy items such as invitations, theatre tickets and important phone numbers. Remember to find something you think is attractive. A great resource is Ballard Designs or PB Kids. You’ll be much more inclined to use the things you love.
To keep tabs on kids’ schedules, you can print out each timetable, ie: soccer practice, swim meets, ballet class, etc. and slip each one into clear plastic sleeves and attach them with a metal ring and hang them on the bulletin board so you can easily flip through them.

When organizing a child’s room, think in terms of zones and establish only 3-4 zones in one room and store items at the point of use. For example, zones could include a reading/desk area, a play area, a clothing area, and the sleeping area. Keep all related items in each zone. The reading and desk area are all about books, school supplies, awards and yes, even files starting at around age 7. If your children have a desk with a file drawer, now is the time to set it up. If not, you can buy handy file boxes at Staples or PB Teen and have hanging files for each school subject clearly labeled and file folders inside with the title printed again, ie: spelling, reading, science, math, social studies, etc. File all current papers here. This way when they take out the files, the hanging folder acts as a place holder for easy filing later.

For a quick at-a-glance view of “homework due” try a dry erase calendar board and list all “current projects” and due dates for assignments. Kids are far more likely to keep tabs on what projects need attention if they can see the due dates, and you can better guide them when you can see those dates too. Children’s desks should also be well stocked for supplies so they are not constantly running over to your desk for the tape or scissors.
A good basic supply list looks like this:

PENS (that work, toss out the duds)
PENCILS (sharpened)

Make sure you have a place for their “creations” – create a memento box where all the best-of projects can be stored. Choose the ones that truly represent each child. Try or Gaylord archival supplies for affordable archival-quality boxes and albums. If the art project is too big or 3-D, consider taking photos of the best ones and creating a photo album to archive memories.

If you would rather display the work than store it, dedicate one wall in your house (not the refrigerator) to your child’s work, so they can hang their special artwork during the year on a rotating basis. Another option is to affix metal strips on the wall and use magnets to hang the work. This avoids messy tape spots on the wall or push pin holes.

Have shelves for books and open containers for toys, all within their reach, so they learn to put their own things away.

Teenagers need a proper place to work such as a good desk with room for a computer and space to spread out papers, shelves for books and a filing cabinet. Before the school year starts, be sure they have the tools they need. At the beginning of the school year, start the year off right and sort through last years school work, and only save and file the papers they got an “A” on.

The best of schoolwork and artwork can be saved in a single banker’s box (cardboard box with a lid available at Staples). This box can have a folder for each school year. During the year, all your child’s potential treasures can go in a plastic crate on the closet floor and then in June spend a couple of hours sorting through the crate, picking only as many highlights as will fit in that folder. By the end of high school, you’ll have a hand-picked history of your child’s school experience.

Family Computing

For the family use of the computer – make sure to assign a drawer or section of a drawer for each person using the space. The use of a “step file” on the desk for commonly used files will help everyone locate their paperwork quickly. Keep on-hand adequate supplies mentioned above.

Make sure you have a bulletin board just for your notes and reminders and tickets to family events. Each child would benefit from having a bulletin board in their rooms for their own mementos.

Creating an effective home management system is the first step in getting everyone else at home organized. You’ll need a few filing drawers, at least. Your goal is to create an intuitive and logical filing system for easy retrieval, (what would you think of if you were looking for this particular piece of paper?) The best way to achieve this is to have a filing system that goes from A-Z. Everything in between will fall into categories, ie: Insurance (your main category) can have several sub-files within this, like: life, auto, health, home owners.

Use lots of file folders, as many as necessary. Don’t skimp here since they cost only about $5 for a box of 100. Be very specific on your categories and sub-files. Also, I suggest investing in a label maker…you can find a very basic one for under $50 at Staples. The more beautiful and neat your system is, the more likely you are to use it.

Another handy tool in your home-management system is a mail sorter box. Don’t try to retrain yourself to do what you don’t normally do. Organize and put containers where you naturally place your mail and other items. Depending on the volume in your household, you may want to have 2 of these side by side. It should stand upright and have several compartments. One section for incoming catalogues (magazines should have a home either in the bathroom and/or in an attractive container in the living area.) Other sections can be used for “bills to be paid” or “correspondence.” You always want to file, store or keep papers vertically. Avoid horizontal filing as much as possible (ie: piles of papers) since it’s impossible to see what is in a pile.

When your system is in place, remember to re-evaluate your categories and file names and adjust them as needed. Also, reserve about 15 minutes daily for filing and maintenance. And remember to assign a home for everything in your space. A happy home is an organized home. Those final days of summer can mean a whole new opportunity to be organized, offering you and your family increased joy and serenity in your home. Happy organizing!