Back to School -- Organizing Your Kids' Stuff

No matter how chaotic it is, most parents have a system for keeping track of their kids' things -- although it often involves digging through a large pile of papers for a softball schedule or listening to an evening of "Who moved my algebra book?" from an annoyed 14-year-old. Controlling your own belongings is difficult enough. So how do you begin organizing the cards, projects, books, flyers and sports equipment your children bring through the house on a daily basis?

The key to keeping paper under control: "Immediately eliminate what you don't need," says Regina Leeds, professional organizer and author of Sharing a Place without Losing Your Space. "Notices may need to be read, but you don't have to keep the paper. Jot the information on your family calendar and then toss the flyer."

Tossing is only the first secret. "Inevitably, you're going to have to set up some sort of area, folder or file where the keepers are going to live," says Leeds. Find a small file, a basket or even a three-pronged clip holder where you can place invites and anything that needs to be signed each month. Creating a filing system that you can easily follow on a regular basis is the second step. For instance, do you need a file for each of your child's science, math and English papers? No, according to Leeds, who believes one simple folder works best for each child.

Swearing that she wasn't born organized, Laura Tucker, a Baltimore-based lawyer and mother of three, creates a yearly binder filled with 8-by-11-inch clear plastic inserts for each of her children. She stuffs them with keepsakes ranging from medical eye charts to endearing cards from their grandmother. Tucker then files the binders by age and school year and stores them on a shelf in the family room. "That way," she says, "my eight-year-old daughter Molly can pull out her 'Molly Kindergarten' binder and see a letter from a teacher or a piece of artwork she made. Actually, my kids pull out their binders all the time and look at them. This working archive then becomes more than just a way to organize their stuff -- it becomes a working archive of their life."

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