Save yourself a load of headaches during the next school year by getting organized now.

By Ellen Sturm Niz
I Heart Organizing

As kids across the country get ready to head back to class, parents are feeling the back-to-school crunch. Already stressed out about getting back into the swing of packing lunches, doing homework, and getting out the door on time? Check out what organizing expert and mom-of-three-boys Jennifer Jones at I Heart Organizing does to make the school year a breeze, with other handy tips from the editors of Parents.

1. Develop an easy system for making breakfasts and packing lunches.

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Jones streamlined the process of making breakfasts and packing lunches by creating stations just for those purposes, so develop similar spaces in your own kitchen. By reorganizing her fridge, Jones made room for a bin just to keep breakfast items like cinnamon rolls, butter, and more in one easy-to-access place. Containers of yogurt, a Jones family breakfast staple, are stacked in the adjacent bin. She likes to use bins marked with adhesive bookplate label holders and labels in her fridge, but depending on your appliance size, you can scout out baskets, tubs, or whatever containers work best for your family.

Meanwhile, a lunch bin in the fridge keeps all the sammy-making supplies together, as well as holds packages of fresh fruit and veggies with dips and spreads to tuck into lunch boxes. One shelf in the fridge should have a row of drink pouches and fruit snack pouches for easy lunch prep access—choose a brand with flavor variety to please each of your children. Mott’s Applesauce Pouches are clear so it makes it even easier for a tired parent to know whether they're grabbing mixed berry or granny smith. Also, consider claiming a cabinet to consolidate the “dry portion” of the lunch packing and making. Jones uses hers to store sandwich cutters, apple slicers, breads, snacks, and lunch boxes.

Extra tip: Download make-ahead breakfast and easy lunch ideas now so you’re ready!

2. Get kids’ closets ready for new back-to-school clothes or uniforms.

I Heart Organizing

Jones likes to do a yearly clothing inventory for each of her kids before they head back to school so she knows exactly what to shop for—and doesn't spending money on unnecessary pieces. She evaluates clothing items for size as well as tears and stains, tosses rejects into the donation bin, counts every last item for each of her sons, and makes a list of any pieces that need to be purchased.

Then, Jones organizes the boys’ closets with DIY day-labeled rod dividers that make getting dressed on school mornings a breeze. Every Sunday night they plan out an outfit for every day of the week so there’s one less thing to do each night before bed.

Extra tip: Tuck your clothing shopping list in your wallet so whenever you spot a sale you know what items to pick up.

3. Print out and post morning and bedtime routines.

I Heart Organizing

It’s so hard to get back into regular routines after a summer of late bedtimes and lazy mornings, but Jones reestablishes the schedule for her three sons by posting them a few weeks before school starts back up. The cute printable charts she created prepare them for what is ahead so it’s a bit less of a shock—and eliminates those daily questions or arguments about what is expected. Jones offers free downloads of the bedtime and morning routine charts she uses, or you can create your own.

Extra tip: Read up on how much sleep your child needs to make sure he’s getting the right amount of zzz’s to stay focused during a long day at school.

4. Create study boxes full of the supplies each child will need to do his or her homework.

I Heart Organizing

Is there anything more annoying than a kid who complains she can’t do her homework because she can’t find a pencil, when you know you bought a jumbo box of them just last week? To make sure her sons have all the supplies they need to complete any assignment, Jones created a Superstar Study Box for each one so, so every boy can grab his and get to work. The document box holds folders for papers, sharpened pencils, an eraser, markers, crayons, and a notebook for scrap paper.

Extra tip: Buy extra school supplies now while they’re on sale, so you can easily replenish the box throughout the year.

5. Organize your entryway so each kid has a “school zone.”

I Heart Organizing

With multiple kids and parents heading in and out every day with backpacks and totes full of all the things they need, your entryway can start to look more like an airport baggage claim than a welcoming space. Use the last remaining days before school starts when the traffic pattern is less intense to organize the entryway like Jones did. Use a closet or free-standing furniture piece to house a “school zone” for each child where he can dump his backpack, school shoes (a waterproof bin works well), and any other necessities. You can also store each kid’s Superstar Study Box here, so Junior won’t lose it in his room. Hang a clipboard for each child in this area as well to post notes and papers that need attention.

Extra tip: Check out last year’s backpack and lunch box ASAP. Is it time for a new one?

6. Tackle the piles of school paperwork before they even start.

I Heart Organizing

Despite this digital age, there is still So. Much. Paperwork. Especially from school! Jones has experimented with a variety of systems to tackle the piles; she’s currently using the combination of a bin for daily papers and a file box with grade-labeled folders for those “milestone” items like important tests. To save artwork without creating another pile, Jones loves the Artkive iPhone app for her sons’ masterpieces. Figure out a system that will work best for your family before the school bell rings on first day of class so you aren’t struggling to dig out from the paper avalanche over the rest of the year.

7. Set up your family on Cozi to streamline schedules

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Jones loves using paper calendars to organize her family's schedule, but there are also apps that do everything for you. Parents editors recommend Cozi, a free app that lets you keep track of everyone's itineraries with a shared calendar. You can also make grocery lists and to-do lists, create a database of recipes, and manage a family journal. Cozi works with computers (PC or Mac) and mobile devices (iPhone/iPad, Android phone/tablet), allowing your entire family to stay on top of things. \

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