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Back to school: unclutter space for an uncluttered mind

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With Jacey entering her senior year at Las Lomas, and Haley finishing up this year at Walnut Creek Intermediate, my family is ready for back to school. We’ve got the routine down. Class schedules, new shoes, and school supplies are all part of getting a fresh start in the fall by going back to school.

Disorganization causes stress and can be a distraction to learning. Here are some tips to make the school year go better for you and your family:

Corral last school year’s papers
Not long ago, I worked with “Katie”, a mother in Danville. After discussing the various hot spots in her home, she decided she wanted help sorting and purging a few years’ worth of school papers. Maybe you have many years or several kids’ worth, of papers floating about and begging to be reigned in. Do it now! If you’ve saved everything, you’re in for a treat as you watch your child’s growth through her school papers. Shoot for reducing what you’ve saved by half, and then go for a final sweep, unloading another 10 to 20%. As Katie remarked, “I’m saving this for her, right?” So save enough to represent her progress and finest work, but not so much that she’ll be overwhelmed with childhood papers.

Make a study haven
A tidy work area enhances concentration, so keep surfaces clutter free. Many children prefer to study where the family is. So if your children take over the dining room table and kitchen counter with homework (as mine do), keep study aids close at hand. Stock a cupboard or wheeled storage container with the basics: paper, pens, pencils, highlighters, markers, glue, stapler, scissors, post it notes and tabs (for marking pages or sections), a thesaurus and a dictionary.

Deliberate placement
If your child uses a desk, check out the surface. For best focus, she should be able to see at least 50% of the desktop. Move collections and knick-knacks off the desk to get better study results.

Also pay attention to the placement of the desk within the room. According to feng shui experts, the most beneficial arrangement is with the desk facing the entryway of the room and a solid wall to your child’s back. This also applies to adults’ desks.

Color crayons
Colors are known for attracting different kinds of energy. Yellow, for example, promotes discipline and creativity, and orange stimulates group collaboration. Red has an invigorating effect, while green-blue tones can soothe and inspire. In addition, using color for different folders or binders is highly practical. Studies have shown that the amount of time searching for papers can decrease as much as 50% when color files are used.

Your child’s backpack (or other carry-around) is all about transporting her stuff between home and school. Avoid overstuffing the backpack by allocating “zones” for (1) school materials, (2) fuel, i.e. lunch and water, (3) personal supplies, and (4) after school gear. To elude dead weight and stay on top of homework assignments, help your child get in the habit of weeding out his backpack at the end of every day.

Study helps
Remember learning to read with a strip of paper under the line you were reading? Teachers today instruct children to use a strip of paper above the line they are reading. It tends to improve comprehension and concentration. A neat list about preparing to study can be found at According to a report by the Mayo Clinic, when we are dehydrated, it’s harder to concentrate and we may feel tired. Sending water bottles to school with your child is one way to encourage water drinking.

Kid clutter
It can take over a space like wildfire if not kept in check. Why do you think teachers rely on the kindergarten classroom model? Otherwise, they might go crazy and not much learning would happen! If you haven’t visited an elementary classroom in a few years, take a look at Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morganstern. “Zones” are designated for certain activities, making it easy for the child to focus on one activity at a time, supplies and tools have “homes” and are stored at their point of use in appropriate containers with labels. Lastly, each item is returned to its home when kids finish using it.

At home, when your child receives something new, decide together where it will be stored. To instill non-reliance on “things”, help him make decisions about toys and clothes he’s outgrown. Teach clutter–consciousness now so he doesn’t have a future full of clutter challenges.

Do you know where your clutter is?
If you find that you’re becoming more of a nag than seems healthy, step back for a minute. Don’t assume that your children know what to do; teach and explain it again. Remember to model the kind of behavior you’d like to see in your children by dealing with your clutter issues.