It's a fall tradition: School supplies line the aisles of retailers, attracting parents and children who will meticulously pack every glue stick and pencil into a well-organized back-to-school bag.
But while sending those packs of loose-leaf paper and boxes of tissues to school that first day may temporarily clear your home of clutter, for most families the back-to-school season also means a return to hectic mornings of searching for an errant permission slip or living with loads of lunchbox drama.
Families can cut the chaos and embark on smooth-sailing mornings, however, by entering back-to-school season with their own school supplies: a kit of organizational ideas for those manic mornings.
A Fan of the Plan
When 7-year-old Abbi Kious heads back to school this fall, her mother, Kimberly, is prepared to get her daughter out the door without a hitch.
"I use a combination of rules, organization and 'gestapo Mom' tactics, really," Kious, of Grants Pass, Ore., says. "Abbi has a checklist she has to complete each morning. If she strays and I catch her sitting and staring into space or something, I say, 'Honey, is that on your checklist?'"
Kimberly's checklist, however, isn't exactly back-to-school boot camp material. It's a visual reminder of harmonious habits she wants Abbi to cultivate to ease the morning malaise that can distract even the most motivated scholar.
To create your own checklist, look at your regular morning tasks, says Karin Vibe-Rheymer-Stewart, a professional organizer who specializes in helping mothers streamline their overscheduled lives. Stewart says asking yourself questions about your routine can be a good way to figure out what you need to put on the list. "What does your morning routine look like? How could you make it faster, more efficient?" she asks, adding that once you identify the answers, you can begin to identify your most time-consuming activities and schedule accordingly.
Turn Back the Clock
Simple changes can make a big difference in getting out the door in the morning, and one timesaver is right at your fingertips. "Set all the clocks in your house 10 minutes ahead," says professional organizer Alicia Rockmore. "It may sound silly, but it really works."
Professional organizer Elaine Bloom says underestimating the time it takes to do something is one of the most common mistakes families make in the mornings. "They may think that it will take 10 minutes to get ready and get out the door when it will actually take 20 minutes."
With two little girls and a business to run, professional organizer Amanda Le Blanc says if she didn't have a handle on her kids' clothing, they'd head out the door to the playground wearing their Sunday best.
"We pick out all their clothes on the weekend, and they have five hooks in their closet, one for each day of the week," Amanda says.
True fashionistas whose outfits are not complete without the perfect accessories can be real time trouble in the mornings, says professional organizer Jill Graham. Jill says containers or hanging organizers for jewelry and shoes are the best option for kids who aspire to be runway-ready every day.
Jill also recommends color coding."By sorting all the clothes by like item and then having them arranged in rainbow color order in the closet, children can quickly match tops to bottoms."
Getting lunches prepared is one of the top problems parents face in that crazy morning rush, but one bright back-to-school idea parents can feast on is professional organizer Janine Adams' suggestion of getting "cold organized."
"Take clear, shoebox-sized containers and create spaces in the refrigerator for kids' lunchbox supplies," Janine says. "Do the same in the pantry. That way, when it's time to pack kids' lunches, everything will be in one place. And by putting things like cereal or chips in clear containers, you'll know when you're running low, rather than discovering in the morning when you're rushed."
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Back-to-school time also means back to field trips, sports and school programs — and the paper piles and permission slips that come with them.
Joyce Dorny, editor-in-chief of Organize Magazine and mother of six, says her paper pile prevention plan begins with a relatively hands-off approach, "I have a philosophy that I touch the papers once." She signs and returns papers that need to head back to school with the children, and records key info on a large calendar that hangs on the side of her family's refrigerator.
"I write all the important information on the calendar, and that way I can take the paper, recycle it and not have a huge stack to rifle through to get the information I need," she says.
Overcoming Back-to-School Fears
When faced with everything that comes with the back-to-school rush, it's easy to feel like you don't have time to organize. But Joyce says, "Just take a few minutes. Get one little part of your world under control. Don't take on a whole closet if you're not ready for it — maybe just a drawer."
Amanda agrees: "When you carve out the little bits of time to start getting organized, you'll find more time to do the other things."