Masks or no masks? Bus or no bus? Digital or paper? What’s the plan for school this year?!?
When faced with back-to-school confusion, what does a professional organizer do? Make a plan!
Taking control of the things that are within your control will help you and your family feel calmer and more confident about the start of school. Here are my top tips for a smooth transition.
Your Back to School Plan
1. Start going to bed and getting up earlier—not just the kids, but you too! It’s time to admit that vacation is coming to an end. Use the extra AM time to work your way into a good routine. You’ll all be less stressed after banking some good sleep.
2. Establish your school-year screen time and device rules now. Get the kids’ buy-in by explaining to them the need for rules, then asking for their input and having a conversation. Just remember that the parents have the final say! ...
It was a crisp fall day in 1989. Students were going in and out of the dorms like ants carrying trunks, suitcases, and tote bags. Befuddled parents were standing outside, trying to be helpful but mostly chatting with other parents and taking in the scene. This would be their beloved, newly-adult child’s home for the next year and they wanted to memorize it all.
State-of-the-art ‘80s dorm must haves were an answering machine, a boombox with a CD player, and a word processor (or, if you were lucky, a DOS-based computer or Macintosh SE). Throw in a wall tapestry and a Klimt poster and you’ve got a pretty fine room!
Now that my oldest daughter is heading off to college this fall, I figured I probably shouldn’t rely just on my own experience to help figure out what she needs. So I polled my mom friends with kids currently in college to find their best move-in tips. Now I get to share them with you!
“How do I get my kids to clean up their toys?”
“How do I get my family to stop leaving things all over the counters?”
“My kids have too much stuff!”
“How can I declutter when my spouse won’t get rid of anything?”
I hear these laments all the time. Have you ever said them yourself? I’m sure I have! Are you ready to hear my magic words for solving this problem?
STAY IN YOUR LANE!
Or, if you prefer, “Eat off your own plate!” or “Take the plank out of your own eye!” In other words, before you point the finger at others in your household, deal with your own clutter.
Did you know that 80-95% of college students procrastinate? Maybe you’re rolling your eyes and saying, “Duh, who doesn’t know that college students procrastinate?” And maybe you were one of those students.
But when you’re trapped in a procrastination cycle, it can feel as if everyone around you has it all together and you’re the only one who has, once again, gotten yourself into trouble with the doom of an approaching deadline.
In her new book, How to Do It Now Because It's Not Going Away: An Expert Guide to Getting Stuff Done, Leslie Josel tackles the sticky problem of procrastination.
It’s August, so that means time to get ready to go back to school. Sorry, I mean remote learning. No, wait, hybrid. Or maybe a pod?
Wow! And I thought annual school-supply shopping was hard (Why are the supply lists so long?!). Now, we have to contend with shifting school start dates and 11th-hour plan changes.
This year, every decision we have to make around getting our children back to school seems fraught with frightening complications.
What’s a parent to do? Get organized!
Are you ready for summer fun? Get organized, and you will be prepared to take off on an adventure whenever the opportunity strikes!
Do you ever feel that you want to take advantage of the excellent summer weather, but there’s simply too much in your way to make it happen? Maybe your house is disorganized, and you feel like you wouldn’t be able to catch up on the housework when you get back?
Perhaps you can’t find the things you need, so you waste time searching—Where did we store the picnic blanket?—or buying things over and over again—I can’t find the sunblock, so we’ll just stop by the store and buy more.
By the end of the summer, when kids are headed back to school, and the warm weather is waning, will you look back wistfully and wish you’d had more fun? This year, say yes to adventure with the confidence that you are organized enough to make it happen.
Grab the Essentials
My friend Rachel is a beachgoer extraordinaire and is also a very organized person. I asked her for her best tips and learned that having the right bag packed with the essentials is the key to easy beach (or pool, or lake) excursions.
The best bag is a roomy tote equipped with outer pockets, so you don’t have to dig around in the main compartment to find what you need. Store larger items such as towels in the main compartment and fill the pockets with easy-to-grab items such as sunblock (reapply frequently!), flip-flops, and sunglasses. Bonus points if the bag has a zip-top to keep contents free of sand or dirt.
Here are some fabulous bags you might enjoy! The mesh versions are particularly good for the beach because the sand will fall right through instead of collecting at the bottom.
Zip-Top Utility Tote by Thirty-One
Shop mesh bags at Target
Dejaroo Mesh Bag from Amazon
NOTE: I don’t get a kickback from any of these products. They are bags my family personally enjoys!
Store the essentials in the bag at all times, so it becomes a ready-stocked kit you can grab on your way out the door. Rachel’s essentials include:
● Bug spray
● Aloe or soothing lotion
● Ear drying drops to prevent swimmer’s ear. (Buy premade drops or mix-up
Rachel’s recipe of equal parts rubbing alcohol & white vinegar into a dropper
One clever trick Rachel has for banishing sticky sand (and keeping it out of your car) is to stash a bottle of baby powder in your beach bag. When you get to the car, sprinkle the powder on sandy feet and legs, then rub with a towel and the sand will come right off
Aside from your main tote bag, I recommend that each family member have a smaller tote or string backpack filled with their personal essentials: bathing suit, flip-flops, coverup, sunglasses, goggles, and a beach read. This way, you don’t have to try to cram everyone’s things into one family bag.
Store all of these bags near the door, in your mudroom, or even in the garage, so they are easy to find when you’re on your way to the car. If you park in the garage and your car doesn’t get too hot, you could even store them in the trunk.
.Tackling the Big Stuff
Now that we have the smaller items organized, create some space for the larger summer adventure gear. Move the snow blower and shovels to the back of your garage or shed, or create an easy-access space in your mudroom, porch, or even basement.
Gather all your outdoor gear (beach chairs, umbrella, cooler, boogie boards, outdoor toys, wheeled cart, etc.) and arrange it in the space. Whenever possible, try not to stack more than two things or to put things in front of others because your goal is to make everything easy to remove and put back. Make use of vertical space by securing utility hooks to the wall for storing folding chairs, boogie boards, or mesh bags of toys.
Sometimes it’s not the gear that’s getting in the way of our being able to say “yes” to a spontaneous adventure, but it’s the lack of organization in our home. You want to say yes, but then how will you make dinner without resorting to a junky fast food meal. You want to say yes, but you already have a mountain of laundry to tackle and the thought of adding dirty, wet towels to the pile makes you want to cry.
If keeping up with laundry is a problem for you, read my “Get Your Laundry Organized” blog to find a strategy that will work for you. For summer adventuring, it’s most important to make sure that your washer is empty before you leave so when you get home you can shake everything out in the driveway, then dump it straight into the washer and run it..
I like to put swimsuits in mesh delicates bags, so they don’t accidentally go into the dryer and ruin the elastic. Now your beach clothes will be washed and ready for tomorrow’s excursion!
For meal prep tips, check out my blog, “Use Your Freezer to Speed Up Your Day.” My top summertime meal tip is to stop sweating at a hot stove or oven and instead, use the slow cooker or Instant Pot for healthy meals that are mostly hands-off. Search “slow cooker/instant pot summer recipes” for dinner ideas featuring lighter, fresher flavors than your winter comfort food staples.
What if your fridge is nearly empty and you have no time to go grocery shopping? Skip the store and fill your cart while you’re at the beach by using an online delivery service such as Peapod or Whole Foods. How easy is that?!
My final organizing tip for summer adventures is to keep an “emergency excursions” kit consisting of a picnic blanket, sunblock, and bug spray in your car. When you see a picturesque meadow, hiking trail, or pond, you’ll be ready to pull over and make some memories.
Eggs are one of the great products that come to us already nestled into perfectly organized, sturdy-yet-gentle, recyclable, reusable containers.*
So why do refrigerator companies and stores that sell organizing supplies try to convince us that we need to buy rigid plastic (non-recyclable) "egg organizer" containers into which we must transfer our already-contained eggs?
So, you get home from the grocery store and then have to transfer each little egg into a hard plastic container (careful not to break it!) just to put them into your fridge? What if you still had a few eggs left so the new dozen doesn't completely fit? Do you have to buy a second plastic egg bin?
If you do happen to crack an egg, now you have to take all the eggs out and wash the container instead of just leaving it and tossing it into the recycling bin when you're done with the other eggs.
And what about the sell-by date from the original carton? When you transfer the eggs into the fancy bin, you have no idea which eggs are the freshest and when they'll go bad. So maybe you have to take out a pencil and individually mark each egg with its freshness date.
What a waste of time!
One rule of thumb I have for organizing anything is: make it easy to maintain. Organizing should be simple and should follow your natural habits so it'll be easier for you to keep up with it.
Ok, so are we all in agreement that we don't need to transfer eggs from their cardboard supermarket containers into fancy plastic ones?
Now what do you do with that fancy egg bin you bought or that came with your refrigerator? Here are a few ideas:
Even if you didn't succumb to the shopping pressure and buy a fancy egg bin, you can repurpose a plain plastic or cardboard egg carton for any of these uses.
When my children were little, I had them paint a different color in each well of a cardboard egg carton. We took the carton with us when we went for walks and hunted for little treasures along the way to match the colors they had painted. Every young child seems to go through a phase of interrupting walks by stopping to examine every single blade of grass or pebble, so this collecting activity made the walk more purposeful and enjoyable for grown-ups and children alike.
The moral of this story? Release yourself from the make-work of over-organizing things that area already perfectly well organized!
*To be fair, eggs can come in a variety of containers, not all of which are great: cardboard, styrofoam, or light plastic containers. Styrofoam is the worst as it's not recyclable and it cushions the eggs but isn't rigid enough to withstand being stacked, so you'll often find broken or cracked eggs. Light plastic is OK, but these usually have double lids (one domed to nestle the eggs, one flat to form the top) which are a pain to open. Plain old cardboard containers are my favorite for ease of recycling and ease of use.
It's nearly back-to-school time, so be sure to check out some of my previous posts about that (like this one, this one, and this one).
In the meantime, don't forget to enjoy the last gasp of summer with fun tips like this one!
Here’s a quick and organized way to serve lunch to your kids.
When my kids were little (and occasionally even now that they’re bigger), they loved the surprise of a muffin-tin lunch. The novelty of having several different foods in separate little compartments got them to try new things and to eat a more balanced meal.
After all, who doesn't like cute, tiny food and meals that give you a taste of everything? We grownups just call it tapas!
You can put all kinds of things in the tins, but it works best for two kids (or as a snack for 3-4, dividing the holes by row) with each child getting 6 muffin holes-worth of food.
Pictured here is a lunch of salami, tortilla chips and salsa, Kalamata olives, cheddar cheese, and watermelon spears. Other cute ideas are mini-salads, trail mix, crackers and cheese, nuts, beans, dried fruit, baby pickles, sandwich bites, whatever will fit. Even small servings of soup, pudding, or mac & cheese will work.
Let your creative juices flow and see how excited your kids will be to eat lunch!
Do you, your children, or your coworkers have trouble staying on time with tasks?
Try using a Time Timer, an innovative timer design that shows a visual representation of time elapsing that's easy to see at a glance.
Use a Time Timer for:
Best of all, there's a Time Timer for everyone because they come in lots of sizes, several colors, an app, and a desktop version.
[Full disclosure: I'm using a Time Timer on my computer desktop right now so I don't dawdle the night away fine-tuning the details of this blog post!]
.August is right around the corner and, for parents of school-age kids, that means back-to-school time.
Get your family ready with this handy, printable checklist from Smead. If you prefer not to print it to cut down on paper clutter, just save the PDF file on your computer or phone. It's a pretty thorough list, so you won't forget any pesky little tasks.
The checklist breaks down the tasks by when they should be completed, so you can simply glance at the chart to see what you need to do this week or this month.
[NOTE: One thing I disagree with on the timeline is buying supplies 2 weeks before the start of school. Most parents know that stores begin featuring back-to-school supplies in July, so if you wait until mid-August, stocks will have been pretty depleted. Why not get that task out of the way as soon as possible?]
Using a checklist like this will make it easier to get ready for school while still holding onto the summer fun.