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.
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 for easy lunch prep access—choose a brand with flavor variety, like Tropicana Kids juice drink, which comes in watermelon, mixed berry, or fruit punch, to please each of your children. These drink pouches are clear so it makes it even easier for a tired parent to know which flavor they're grabbing. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Tired of reminding your significant other about after-school extracurriculars or PTA meetings? There’s an app for that. Jones loves using paper calendars, but she asked her contributor Anneke from This, That & Life to share how using Google’s calendar and apps to sync up her family changed her life. Whatever parent or caregiver gets the daily papers can enter in school trips, holidays, project deadlines, and school events where the other parent can see. Kids can check it out, too.
Extra tip: Check out your school district’s calendar online and write down all the holidays and important dates for the entire next year, and ask your kid’s future teacher to let you know of any already planned class projects, science fairs, and field trips so you can make a note of them now.