Avoid paper overload: 8 ways to organize the stuff that comes home in your kid’s backpack

Within a week of school starting, it begins. You can almost hear the groaning noises from tables and counter tops as paper after paper gets piled up. The computer in-box swells as e-mails fly in daily. Homework, class reminders, past due assignments, team schedules. Face it: Kids generate a lot of paperwork.

But by figuring out a good system that works, you’ll save yourself not only time and energy but also a lot of headaches.

  • Implement a basic filing system. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Find a convenient spot (many prefer the kitchen) to keep a simple file system. Even a basic file box on the counter works just fine. Each school should have a file and each child who goes to that school gets a folder within that file. All relevant school information for that child-extra classes, teacher information, field trips-gets tossed in that folder.

    Many parents give each activity its own folder to help them quickly find the soccer team roster, the dates for Sunday school or the rehearsal times for The Nutcracker.

    “My filing box keeps me sane,” says busy mom Laura Rehling. “It’s my go-to spot for anything important. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

    Just remember to act on any paper first. Sign it, detach it and enter it on the calendar. Then, and only then, file it away.

  • Expand your file system as you go. Even if you need another file cabinet, make files for medical records and prescription receipts. Make another file for items you may need to reference again, such as old report cards, state testing results and even past activities that you still need information on: what level swim lessons they completed last year or old team rosters with phone numbers that may come in handy.

  • Maintain a family calendar (not just your PDA). It may seem old fashioned with all the new technology out there but a good wall calendar can change your life. School calendars, deadlines and the kids’ extracurricular activities can all be seen at a quick glance by everyone. You may know that your son has karate every Wednesday at 5 p.m., but someone else, such as your spouse or one of the kids, may be making plans and not remember who does what when. Some people find it helpful to assign a pen color to each family member.

    “My kids are so conditioned, they often ask to look at my calendar before they make plans, and my daughter especially will mark things done and highlight them in purple,” says mom of three Julie Leary.

    As soon as the school/district calendar comes out, integrate those dates into your family calendar. This ensures that half-days don’t sneak up on you or you don’t plan a weekend trip the same time as the school carnival.

  • Avoid e-mail overload. With more schools going paperless, you’ll need to find a reliable way to juggle all the e-mail updates and reminders. Keep your calendar by the computer so you can instantly transfer important due dates.

    Create a special folder in your mailbox to hold e-mails you need to follow up on. If you subscribe to the “out of sight, out of mind” theory, try keeping a notebook at the computer to remind yourself of items to check back on, such as what time you can volunteer for the ice cream social or what size school sweatshirt your daughter needs. A notebook can save on paper and ink by eliminating the need to print out every e-mail.

  • Designate a hot spot. Keep a “hot spot” for papers that need a quick turnaround-permission slips, class photos, book orders, etc. You may have one spot on the computer and another for actual papers.

    For paper, you can develop a system such as individual cubbies or hanging file racks or simply keep a pile on the counter-as long as you can see at a glance what needs to go out. Sometimes it’s helpful to keep this stack in order of due date to make it less likely that something will fall through the cracks. Just remember to get papers out of this pile/file as soon as possible. Answer it, sign it, mark it on the calendar, then toss or file it.

  • Deal with the past. Art projects, experiments and papers pile up quickly. Sweet memories, but it’s unrealistic to keep them all. Save the best or those that show growth or insight.

    Aby Garvey, a professional organizer and co-owner of www.simplify101.com, recommends a cooling off period before filing kids’ work.

    “Simply set up a bin or box to collect papers that you are on the fence about. Once a period of time has passed, sort through the papers. It will be much easier to pull the treasures from the stack (and put the rest in the recycle bin).”

  • Program phone numbers and e-mails. Program-ming school phone numbers and doctor numbers into your cell phone allows you to make a quick call when you’re at work or away from home. Add teacher and coach e-mails to your contact list so you can drop them a line. Make it as easy as possible to communicate. Save yourself the trouble of searching.

  • Mark websites and passwords. Many textbooks are now online and some teachers have their own website. Keep a small notebook near your computer to jot down those websites and passwords. When your child is in the throes of homework anxiety, you’ll want to know how to easily access them and other recommended sites.

Now you can concentrate on other challenges of raising kids …

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