With the school year well underway, many parents have begun to realize that the fresh start to the new year that they had planned has turned into chaos, with homework pages flying about the kitchen, shoes piled next to the front door and uneaten peanut butter sandwiches languishing overnight in backpacks. Along with a few tips from professional organizers and experts, we have everything you'll need to control the back-to-school clutter and get organized again in no time.
Customize your closets
When it's time to swap the summer clothes from your closet in favor of sweaters, jackets and sweatshirts, keep daily outfits, accessories, sports uniforms and dance clothes neatly organized, clean and in one place. Not only will it save you time and relieve stress in the morning over what to wear and where to find your daughter's favorite dress du jour, it will help you keep your whole family organized (so that you can drink your morning coffee in peace). Created by a mother-daughter team, Organizables are made of durable, lightweight, non-toxic fabric and feature kid-friendly colors and designs (Organizables, $30).
How to handle homework
If your kitchen counters are overrun with last week's math homework, set up a specific location for each child to hang up their bookbag when they get home from school. "Wall hooks work well but just be sure they are placed at a convenient height for each child," says Kristi Meyer, certified professional organizer and family manager coach. "Ideally, this bookbag hanging area should be right by the area you check book bags each day, to make sure you're catching notes from the teacher, report cards, graded work for middle schoolers to keep until the report card comes out, newsletters and the homework for the day." Important papers should be promptly filed.
Near the bookbag hooks, set up a holding bin for each of your children. "Put everything else from the bookbag in the holding bin. This will include things like graded papers for younger kids, artwork, 3-D projects. When the holding bin is full, go through the bin and select a couple of items to keep in a forever box. Throw the rest out."
Today, it isn't just parents who have cell phones, iPods and e-readers. When it's time to recharge your teens' and tweens' gadgets and appliances, the PowerSlice from fuse is a great way for parents to keep their families' gadgets in one place and always charged for use. It helps keep countertops, nightstands and tables clean for homework time or school projects to be completed. For college-age kids, it's a great way to keep limited outlet and surface space clean and organized in dorm rooms (FusePlusYou.com, $45).
Streamline your routines
If you have a structured routine for sending your kids off to school in the mornings, the day will begin seamlessly. "A great start to the next school morning begins the moment the kids get home from school the day before," says Meyer. "Before dinner, make sure homework is completed, and after dinner, have each of your kids pick out what they are going to wear the next day, down to the socks, undies, shoes and pony-tail holders. If possible, have your kids set these items out."
As your kids get older, it's important to encourage independent routines, but realize that it takes time to develop new habits. If you're trying to become more organized as a family, be sure to explain and practice all new routines before you expect kids to do it on their own. "Even for adults, changing habits is a difficult task, often not without setbacks," says Meyer.