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Tackling the School-Year Clutter

So you didn’t get organized in time for the school year to start. It’s not too late! We’ve got achievable tips and tools to make it all easier.

From that one friend of yours whose house is a spotless, orderly masterpiece to the glittering and clever “control centers” you see plastered across Pinterest, there is plenty of fire out there to fuel your desire for an organized life. But if you’re snowed under by the school-year avalanche of paper, backpacks, shoes, and sweatshirts, you’ll need more than hope. Success takes some basic organizational skills, time, and commitment.


“In summer, everyone is busy and would rather be outside in nice weather instead of cleaning up their closets,” said Debra Serota, owner of Sort It Out Philly in Philadelphia. “It’s important to make time, whether it’s 30 minutes a night or one day a month, to go through your stuff and do the work.”


Before you spend hundreds of dollars on cute bins, STOP.


“You need a strategy first. Take inventory of what you have before you buy supplies,” said Janet Bernstein, owner of The Organizing Professionals in Wayne. “Never buy organizing supplies before you know what you need.”


We asked the pros for their must-do strategies so you can get started today.

Tame the Paper Frenzy

You got behind on day one, didn’t you? It’s easy to catch up. Deal with the piles (and piles) of paperwork with color-coded plastic file folders for each child. That makes it easy for you and your partner to keep track of important papers. As paperwork comes in, distribute the sheets to the appropriate file folder. Check them daily, from the first day to the last one, said Carrie Kauffman, owner of Carrie’s Essential Services in Bryn Mawr.

Decluttering Bedrooms

Once or twice a month, spend 30 minutes to an hour going through dressers and removing clothes that are too small, out of season, or just worn out. Go through sock and underwear drawers. Throw out unmatched socks, stained items, or pieces they simply don’t like anymore. If you want to save hand-me-downs, store them in the attic or basement in labeled clothing bins. (Group them by size, so you’re not digging through the bins later. Trust us, it’s worth the time on the front end.)

Backpack Station

“If you build it, they will come,” Kauffman said. Kids are creatures of habit, so make it as easy as possible for them to store coats, backpacks, and shoes by creating a “drop zone” close to your home’s main entry. Keep it simple by having coat hooks at a child’s eye level for easy access, and shelves or cubbies for sports gear, shoes, cleats, and boots. Personalize the space with a photo and their name above each designated area, so it’s clear where things go. And think ahead: winter, and its assortment of jackets, hats, mittens, and boots, is coming. Make sure your station is big enough to handle it.

Homework Station

The age of your child will influence what you need in a homework station. “A lot of younger kids do homework in the kitchen or dining room because they need help,” said Anna Sicalides, founder of Your Organizing Consultants in Berwyn.


Reserve a kitchen cabinet, or use a basket or utensil caddy — something kids can easily retrieve at homework time, but that you can move during dinner or when visitors come over. Use clear, stackable cases for supplies (pencils, crayons, sharpeners, glue sticks, etc.). Teach your children they are responsible for returning items to their place.


“It’s critical to keep as much as possible stored in the same area. It helps keep things consistently organized,” Serota said.

Organizing Artwork

Remember the first piece of school art? It was precious, and you kept it close. But that was years ago, and now you could wallpaper your house with what comes home in a single semester.


If your kids are involved in activities, expect the flow to increase, Sicalides said. Children in daycare, preschool, and kindergarten will bring home the most — finger paintings and crayon scribbles that are adorable at the moment but lose cachet as their numbers grow. The flow of artwork will slow down as they get older. Meanwhile, be deliberate in choosing what you want to keep. “If it doesn’t speak to you, toss it,” she said.

Try one of these neat ways to manage creativity:

Scan it. Undecided about what to do with artwork? Snap a photo with your phone. Create a keepsake book of photos online (try My Storybook or Artkive) to give grandparents at the end of the year, Sicalides said.


Display it. For boosting self-esteem and confidence, display the pieces in your own art museum. Create a space using frames or tacky tape, or string a clothesline across a child’s room or the family room, hanging artwork with clothespins.


“Update it regularly as better stuff comes in,” Sicalides said. Visitors will delight in this special gallery — and you’ll be proud of your organizing creativity.


Find a Folio. For artwork that doesn’t fit neatly in a letter-size file folder, Bernstein directs parents to Michael’s or any art shop for an artist’s portfolio. It’s like a giant envelope. Buy one for each budding Degas, decorate it if you want, and be choosy about the portfolio’s art.


File it. For regular papers, like permissions slips, after-school flyers, and fundraising information, Serota keeps a file folder for reference. She tosses the contents at the end of the school year. For older students, try designating a clean space on the kitchen counter, or in a home office, as the place your child can put forms for your review and signature.

Who, What, When, Where Organizers

Most school programs and activities send out a calendar with a schedule. Store important events, parent meetings, and doctor’s appointments coordinated in your phone calendar, Serota said, or use a family calendar app like Cozi. She also suggests designating one parent to manage kids’ calendars, because it reduces scheduling mix-ups. Tape activity calendars to the inside of kitchen cupboards for easy reference when on the phone or for other caregivers. Avoid chalkboards or whiteboards, as they require a bigger time commitment, since they must be updated to be helpful.


Now go get started — and be sure to show off once you’re beautifully organized. Tag your Instagram photos with #phillyfamily so we can all admire your hard work!


Photographs via iStock.