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Method For: Back To School

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The last days of summer are upon us. I tend to spend way too much time worrying that summer is almost over instead of enjoying the time that is left. This year my Back-To-School ramp up will feel especially weird because the only ones left in our house will be me, Jay and the dog and the only one ramping up will be Jay (who is a teacher.) It will be the first year without a First Day picture The first year without school supply shopping, backpacks leaking paper, or cleats shedding turf turds on the mudroom floor. All of the rituals that I honed over the years are now obsolete in my house, but that doesn’t mean I can’t pass them on to those in the trenches of the Back-To-School season! Getting a few key hot spots organized will set you and the kiddos up for school-year success; we all know it’s no joke to contain the clutter that comes and goes daily for nine months.

There are many ways to get organized for Back-To-School: a family calendar, carpool schedule, school supply shopping, etc. In terms of getting your house in order I recommend 3 systems, housed in a mudroom or drop zone, that represent an organizational foundation for the school year. These systems utilize two of the most effective methods for creating habits: make it obvious and make it easy.

backpack system

Backpacks, a blessing and a curse

Backpacks can be the bane of a tidy home. They are cast around constantly, overflow with paper and tend to collect crumbs and other old foodstuffs in their various cavities. Working with the kiddos to implement a backpack system is worth the bit of time investment up front; the key is to make it easy and intuitive for them.

  1. Define a Landing Zone for the backpacks, the best location would be near the entrance the kids use when they arrive home. This could be a mudroom, kitchen vestibule or front hall. Hooks are great and ideally there is also a place for them to sit down.

  2. Unload Upon Arrival. The first thing that should happen when your child arrives home (with or without you) is the emptying of the backpack. They can sort the contents into piles (homework, things to be signed by parents, food that didn’t get eaten, things to put away in my room, etc.) They can take action of whatever piles are relevant to them – now or later – the key is that they are now visible and ready to be handled.

  3. Backpack Travels. The now-clean backpack doesn’t need to stay in the Landing Zone, it can travel to wherever its owner is doing homework (their room? kitchen table? family room?) They likely need supplies kept in the backpack to complete their assignments, best to keep everything together.

  4. End of Evening Re-Load. Homework is finished, permission slips are signed – they can make their way back into the backpack before it heads to the Landing Zone for the night.

Easy Landing Zone, Immediate Unload, Travel for Work, Re-Load: it’s a rhythm that will take some practice & reminding to perfect but since you are using intuitive patterns the habits should be relatively easy to adopt. And the best part is there is no scramble in the morning to locate the backpack, handle parent-related paperwork or discover old snacks that should have been tossed weeks ago.

library book bin

I love Library Books! Give them a separate home for optimal returning experience

If you have smaller children Library Books, from school and the public library are likely part of their lives. Books tend to migrate around the house and are likely candidates to cause friction when it’s time to return them and they can’t be found. Lots of families experience this problem, it’s very common. My recommendation is a Library Book Bin that is kept near the most common entry/exit (same place as the Backpack Landing Zone!) Whenever you come across a Library Book in your travels around the house, pick it up and throw it in the bin. Or periodically send your kids on a round up of Library Books to throw in the bin. If they aren’t due for awhile, so what? They can always be taken out of the bin at any point they are wanted. I’m a big fan of scooping things up and putting them in their place whenever I come across them, that way they are easily found when needed. Simple thing, a Library Book Bin, but can make a big difference in your ability to get to school on time and avoid late fees!

orderly sports

I don’t have a solution for turf turds but having a system for your sports gear is important for school-year happiness

If your kids play sports it can be challenging to keep the gear contained in-season. It is yet another category that is best housed near an entry/exit (mudroom!) and unlike the backpack sports-related gear should never travel further into the home. In many cases there is an associated bag (backpack, duffle, etc.) that comes along with your kids’ gear. If that isn’t true in your case then I recommend purchasing one. In it go the cleats, water bottles, mouth guards, goggles, sticks, balls, etc. – whatever goes along with your kid’s sport of choice. Uniforms sometimes live in these bags but because they can get dirty from the gear, or smelly from getting lost/forgotten in the bottom of the bag I like to keep them separate wherever possible. Anything that needs laundering should occupy its own bag or at the very least a separate compartment in the main bag; and in the off-season pull out the uniform and store it in your kid’s room. That way it will stay clean and fresh until next year when you can assess whether it still fits.

As you can tell I am a big fan of well-designed mudrooms, even if they are small they are hugely helpful in keeping everything that comes with Back-To-School contained and accessible when you need it, and out of sight when you don’t! If you don’t have a mudroom then define the area in your home that will serve as one, it will save you a lot of late mornings and frazzled nerves. Happy Back-To-School, I wish you happiness as the Most Wonderful Time of the Year approaches!

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