I had a couple of kids. Sometimes it was all I could do to “appear” to stay on top of it. Would I remember that it’s school photo day in time to supply my kids with clean clothes and hair, or would I frantically discover it that same morning? Would I send the permission slip back to school on time, or would I start pulling polite reminders with friendly smiley faces out of my daughter’s backpack? (How did teachers keep it all straight, anyway?)
Managing kid paperwork is anything but simple. I will share a few systems that worked (most of the time) for me. Once again, there is no one right way to simplify. The trick is to choose a system that fits you and your family—or you won’t stick with it anyway! Here are my thoughts on school paperwork, family calendars, and artwork created by the kids.
If your house is anything like mine, the kitchen is central station, so it really makes sense to keep some of the children’s paperwork there because that’s where it lands. Create two folders in the kitchen for each child. One is for school and activities information and the second one is for art and awesomely completed homework. It almost goes without saying that it is helpful to choose different color folders for each child and to put their names on the folders. Put the folders in with the cookbooks, on a shelf, or in a kitchen drawer. Put them wherever it works best for you.
File the events you plan to attend, the “maybes,” and anything else that comes home for each child. Make the information folder the one and only spot where this stuff goes! You will rarely have to hunt for school phone numbers, old newsletters, book sale information, fundraiser materials, or anything else again.
Immediately record any upcoming school events on the family calendar. If I had written photo day down, I could have sent my daughter to school with clean hair that day! If you make it a habit to jot stuff down, important dates won’t slip by. Even if you aren’t sure you want to participate, pencil them on the calendar. Once or twice a year (when the informational folders get too fat to fit on the shelf), I purge the dated materials. It only takes a few minutes at the kitchen table.
Do you think that might work? Maybe you have a system similar to what I described. But, what about all the artwork? What about the science projects? The crafts? How do you dispose of or preserve all that stuff? Here is my version of my friend Barbara’s three-step system.
Step 1: Display their creations! They are proud and you are proud for them. Use a corkboard, the front or side of the refrigerator, the back of the front or back door, or any other prominent place in your home to show off their efforts (Be careful not to scratch the surfaces of your home with whatever means you choose to attach them!). The display will boost your kids’ self-esteem and yours too!
Step: 2 Kitchen folder: When the pictures sag down the side of the refrigerator or fly onto the floor every time someone opens the back door, it is time for the second step. Use the kitchen folder created for each child’s art. Weed out some of the refrigerator art at this point, and file the best of it in the kitchen folders.
Put name, approximate date, and age of the artist on the back of each piece to save. File them in the art folder for each child. Depending on how much art your kids generate and how many kids you have, you may have to “weed” the front of the refrigerator every one or two weeks. Please keep the art folders in the kitchen. You won’t want to have to regularly run out of the kitchen to another area of your home to save this stuff.
Keep one or two of the fifteen rainbows your preschooler drew last month. Toss the rest while they are asleep. Do not leave this extra art visibly languishing at the top of the kitchen wastebasket (yes, I made this mistake—once. When your child discovers it the next morning, you may be forced to apologize and possibly even retrieve it. This is the sad voice of my experience.
Step 3: Storage: Finally, after months, maybe even the entire school year, the kitchen art folders get full. In my case, I know I am ready for the third step when I can’t close that kitchen drawer anymore. Now I am ready to do a second purge. I am going to keep the best rainbow, and discard the three or four others I wasn’t ready to give up a few months ago.
Once I have thinned down the folder, I will put it in a memorabilia box I keep for each child. This box is up high on a bedroom shelf and I don’t want to have to get it down more than once or twice per year. That saves me some time and energy, and now you can simplify this process too!
Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs.
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