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!]
For most children in the U.S., school is about to start up again. It can be a tricky transition for the whole family, but here are some things to keep in mind to smooth the process.
1. Start going to bed and getting up earlier – not just the kids, but you too! Everyone will be less stressed after banking some good sleep.
2. Have a screen time and device plan in place. If you’re like most families I know, summer rules about screen time and use of electronic devices can get kind of lax. Now is the time to remind your kids about the school-year rules so you don’t argue about it later. Not sure what rules to set? Start with some basics such as no TV/video games on school nights (Sunday through Thursday), devices must be garaged on the first floor at night (the kitchen or entry area are good places), and no social media or texting in the morning (unless necessary to communicate homework or carpool plans).
3. Organize the entryway and homework areas. Getting these ready in advance – and having the kids help set them up – will help everyone remember that these things have a designated home in your house and don’t belong scattered all over the place. Don’t yet have designated homes for these things? Have the kids help to choose places to put their backpacks (This “buy-in” will help them maintain the organization.) and work with them to set up a homework station stocked with pencils, pens, erasers, highlighters, paper, a ruler, index cards, etc. Your homework station can even be stored in a box or bin so that it’s portable. (Something like this Really Useful Box would work well.)
4. Review school-day logistics with your children: what time they need to wake up, what time the bus or carpool picks up, where the bus stop is, what their after school activities are (and when they start), who picks them up and drops them off, what their lunch plans are (buy or bring), and anything else you can think of that will help your children remember how the school day works.
Now you're ready to get those kids off to school. Don't forget to take a first-day-of-school photo for your memory book!
(Click here to read last September's blog about how to organize those kinds of things.)
.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.
Way back in the fall (October 17th, to be exact), I wrote about how to set up a system to deal with all those pesky papers that come home from school.
The basic weekly system is this:
1. Immediately deal with any notifications (add to calendar, write a check, sign a form).
2. Recycle anything not worth saving (worksheets, scribbles, spelling tests, coloring pages).
3. Display this week’s artwork and accomplishments in your temporary display space (fridge, frame, bulletin board, clothesline strung across a window).
4. Stash last week’s displayed work in an art portfolio or other bin.*
*This is the time to weed out anything that, after one week’s display, can be recycled. Try to save only the best items, such as the unusually detailed drawing, the very clever essay, or the spelling/math test that was a true victory.
Now that you’ve been diligently checking the backpack every week and keeping up with all the papers, what do you do with the stash that has accumulated in the portfolio?
That’s what we’ll tackle today!
As soon as school is over for the year (Don’t delay or the time will get away from you!), make some space on a table or floor and dump out that stash.
Side note: It’s up to you whether you want your child involved in this sorting process or whether it will go more smoothly if you do it yourself. Just remember, you are really saving this stuff for you, not for your child. When kids are adults, they almost always say, “Why did you save all this stuff? I don’t even remember that!” It’s the rare adult child who wants any of it. You are saving these memories for you, so keep what is meaningful to you.
Ready...set...start sorting! Make one pile for recycling and one for the (possible) keepers. Try to go through it as quickly as possible. Right now, you are just eliminating the obvious non-keepers.
Shove that pile of non-keepers into the recycling bin immediately! Don’t look back!
Now for the hard part: finding the treasures.
During that first sorting process, you only identified the possible keepers, now you have to cull the collection even more, leaving only the true gems: the few pieces of art that show your child’s progress over the year, the story your child wrote about your family vacation, the test that was such a struggle but ended in triumph, the piece that completely sums up who your child is at this age.
In order to help you figure out exactly how much you can save and how much you’ll have to cut, you need a long-term storage solution.
I suggest either a pre-made school years scrapbook or a keepsake portfolio. The key is that it shouldn’t be too big (not a box, because you don’t want to end up with a dozen of those – one for every grade!). It should have pockets big enough to hold construction paper (even if you have to fold some) but not so big that you can avoid deciding what to keep and just shove everything in it. You also don’t need something with slots for every grade, Pre-K through 12, because after 5th grade the paper trail drops off considerably. Phew!
Click here for an example of a school years scrapbook.
Click here and here for examples of keepsake portfolios.
The scrapbook has the advantage of being something you can keep on a bookshelf and of having space for children to contribute thoughts about the past year (favorite subject, friends, school photos, etc.). Kids also enjoy looking through scrapbooks of their past school years.
The portfolio has the advantage of being able to hold larger (and more) papers and of being easier to fill because you just slip the papers in the large slot and don’t have pages to fill out.
Are you worried because your child is already in second grade and you don’t know what to do with the giant backlog of papers from past years that you have thrown into large bins to avoid sorting? Have no fear! Make a date with yourself (schedule it on your calendar) to go through the stuff, enjoy reminiscing about your child’s early years, populate your new school scrapbook or portfolio, and reclaim the space in those bins!
Happy Halloween, fellow parents of trick-or-treaters!
Although technically candy is consumable, the size of the haul your kids bring home on Halloween can put it into the category of clutter.
How do you deal with it all?
Well, you could just not deal with it and let the kids keep and eat as much as they want. My main problem with this strategy is that having so much candy in the house is way too tempting for my husband and me! (The kids won’t notice anything missing, right?)
OK, so assuming you’d like to tame the candy beast a bit, here are some strategies that work for me:
1. The Halloween Store
We've used this strategy since my oldest was very little. The day after Halloween, I set up the Halloween Store: a tray of items that my kids can buy from me using their candy as currency. Depending on the size of candy haul, items range in price from 1 piece of candy to 10. My kids love the Halloween Store!
I make sure the stuff isn’t totally clutter-y junk. Some ideas include: sugar-free gum or mints, fuzzy Christmas socks (so they can wear them before Christmas), hair accessories, pens/markers, notepads (this year: 11” post-its that I found on clearance), stickers, and small toys.
2. All-you-can-eat for One Week (or two weeks if you're a softie like me)
This way, you don’t have to police the kids’ eating habits (Relax, it’s only one week – just make sure they floss and brush.) and the candy doesn’t stick around for too long.
3. Get the leftover candy out of the house
My husband often brings it to his college students, but if you don't have that outlet, I suggest bringing it to a Halloween Candy Buy Back location. They take your leftover candy, you get either some cash or products, and they send the candy to our troops through Soldiers’ Angels.
Click Halloween Candy Buy Back to find a location near you or contact me and I'd be happy to collect your candy and bring it back for you.
The kids have been back in school for about a month and a half now and, especially if you have preschool or elementary-school-age children, the papers they bring home are starting to accumulate.
If you want to get a handle on this influx, you’ll have to be systematic and ruthless!
Your set-up should include two things:
Now you're ready to tackle the influx!
Check back here in June for ideas about how to process the portfolios at the end of the year.
If you’ve been good all year about weeding out the unnecessary stuff, this will be a quick, simple, and fun (yes, really) process.