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Written by:  Wendy Helfenbaum
Date: August 1, 2009

Three little words, one big headache: Back to school. Instead of embracing the chaos, why not adopt new habits? Maintaining an organized home saves time and money while also reducing anxiety and aggravation. The best time to start? Right now.

Gayle Fransham, a mother of four and professional organizer, has survived many back-to-school rituals with her children, ages 6 to 18. She's learned that anyone can become more organized.

"Outside of our homes, we do not have a lot of control as to what goes on in the world, but most of us bring the craziness of the world into our own homes when we really don't have to," she explains.

One suggestion? A serious reality check.

Rather than striving for perfection, set small goals that are achievable, suggests Colette Robicheau, president of Organize Anything. "Don't set yourself up for failure; set yourself up for success. Turn the music on and say to your kids, ‘Let's run around the house for five minutes and return everything to its place.'"

Take advantage of the urge to purge

Spend a couple of end-of-summer days getting kids' clothes and rooms ready for the fall, purging everything they don't wear, use or play with, Fransham says.

"Kids know what they want to wear," she notes. "I'll say to my daughter, ‘OK, are you going to fight with me about wearing any of these? Because if you are, let's get rid of them right now.'"

And while you're sorting and purging, teach your children about passing things on to give them a new life, Fransham suggests. "Say, ‘Johnny down the street doesn't have many toys; how about we go through your toys and give him the ones that you don't play with anymore?'"

Get back on track

Ready for the next step? It's time to leave behind that lazy, hazy, crazy summer state of mind, Robicheau says.

"Levels of stress and frustration go up quickly, so it's important to get back into regular routines towards the end of the summer," she notes. "Take a look at this year's schedule of activities. Who will be doing the driving? Will you need additional child care? All of these things have to get tidied up a couple of weeks before the kids return to school."

One way to ease the pressure to get everything organized now is to involve the entire family. Both Fransham and Robicheau agree that even toddlers can pitch in to help keep a household in order. But first, parents should make it easier for them to do so.

"We ask a lot of our kids. If you got down on your knees and tried to open those heavy drawers to put things back, you couldn't do it," Robicheau observes. "Cubbies are easier to get to. Lids are totally unnecessary for kids. You can tuck them underneath for later, but just let them get the things in. Set up some bins for them: this is school wear, this is playwear, this one's for sporting equipment."

Duplicate school supplies for home and school

Remember that three-page list of school supplies your child brought home? Fransham warns first-timers (and procrastinators) that stores run out of stock quickly; purchase school supplies well ahead of time.

And keep another set of school supplies at home, she advises. "I prefer to avoid the 'Oh, I left it at school' scenario by having a dictionary and thesaurus, stapler, tape, scissors, markers, crayons and paper all available at home," she says.

Prepare the household headquarters

Get ready, too, for the onslaught of potential clutter headed your way: school notices, permission slips and artwork. Creating a command post for incoming and outgoing paperwork is essential, Robicheau insists.

"Find a filing system that fits your family," she says, such as an accordion file box or multi-level in/out shelves. "Make your kids aware that everything gets dropped in here for you to take a look at, and try signing permission slips or homework right away as they come in."

Make sure your command post doesn't become a disaster zone, Fransham suggests, by immediately getting rid of what you don't need. For example, read that school notice, but recycle it after jotting down the information on a calendar.

"In my house, our biggest challenge is keeping up with everybody," says Fransham, who recommends using a tool such as the More Time Moms Family Organizer.

Organize for after-school activities

Let's not forget after-school activities. Robicheau offers this time-saving tip: "Instead of turning your son's soccer bag into your daughter's dance bag, have a few bags for different activities, and keep lists of what's needed for each activity. Put those lists in a binder and refer to them," she says.

Robicheau concludes that while getting organized takes time, the payoff is enormous. "It will increase your family time, your recreational time, and even improve your children's grades, because you've found time for them to eat breakfast, and created an environment for study that will serve them well. Learning these organizing skills will carry children into adulthood. It's a win-win situation."

Wendy Helfenbaum is a writer, television producer and recovering "piler" whose various attempts at setting up a family control center are still sitting on her kitchen counter.



Tips for an orderly start

More suggestions from Joanne Lalonde-Hayes, creator of the best-selling More Time Moms Family Organizer.

- Double check transportation schedules to avoid missing the school bus on the first day of school.

- Establish morning and evening routines with your children.

- Plan to take the morning of the first day of school off from work to ensure things go smoothly.

- Assign age-appropriate responsibilities to your kids, such as making lunches or laying out school clothes the night before.

- Log family appointments, school events and activities throughout the year onto an organizer. Having everyone's agenda in one place helps you make time for yourself and for your family.



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