It’s blizzard season—and we’re not talking snow. We’re talking the back-to-school paper craziness that is about to ensue as the school year starts, particularly if your child is in Pre-K or elementary school.
Kids’ school papers come in all forms as the school year starts: permission slips, classroom rules, forms for school pictures, art projects, field trip schedules, requests for school supplies, immunization forms, and school work. Feeling overwhelmed? Yes, us, too.
Because while they’re all important documents, still, there’s no denying they become paper clutter by the end of the year if you don’t get a handle on them from the beginning.
Don’t worry: We’re here to help. We’ve rounded up tips from parents like you on how to organize kids’ artwork, school paperwork and the rest of the memorabilia so you can find it again when you need it.
Create a Storage System
First, find a filing system that works for you. The choices are virtually endless, but here are some popular options you can order on Amazon or find at an office supply store:
- Accordion file or file box, labeled by month
- Three-ring binder, with dividers for each child’s school papers
- Trays labeled “in” and “out”
- Cubbies for each kid or activity
- Hanging folders or pockets
- Any DIY school paper organization system that works for you
Whatever system for school papers you decide works for you, make a choice and stick to it. One other tip? “Make sure the organization type is something you love looking at, which will help you actually use it,” says parent Emily Mahr.
Keep Up With Signatures
Signing all the forms and paying all the field trip money isn’t going to get you a gold star if the special papers never make it to the correct place.
Emily Morrison, a high school English teacher of 18 years and a mother of three, recommends organizing school papers in file folders within your child’s backpack to make sure important papers don’t go missing.
Have a folder that you routinely check to see what school papers are coming home, and then after you attend to them, put them back in the backpack to go to school the next day. It makes organizing school papers a snap.
Toss Anything and Everything You Can
Just because the form came home doesn’t mean you need it, Bowman says. If you drive your child to school, you don’t need the bus schedule. If you pack your child’s lunch, you don’t need the hot lunch menu.
You can probably avoid keeping these “important” papers, even though there is a chance you might need occasionally. Chances are good that you can access that information on the website if you do need it, if for example, you forget to stock your child’s fave and they are going to eat at school one day.
“Surviving the paper blizzard is all about holding onto what’s useful in the same place and letting the rest go, go, go,” Morrison said.
Go Paperless As Much as Possible
Another savvy way to manage the paper pileup is to go digital, advises Dr. Melissa Gratias, a parent and productivity specialist.
Get a scanning app that allows you to save things to Dropbox so you can access your important papers from anywhere.
“Make sure to name the PDF something that will allow you to remember it if you need to find it later,” Gratias says.
Another option for organizing school papers is to take a photo of special papers and save it on your phone.
If a lot of school work or artwork is coming home, you also can keep an online file of that memorabilia with the same strategies. Then—and this is the key to eliminating paper clutter—don’t keep the hard copies once you’ve scanned them, or else you will totally defeat the purpose.
Don’t Get Buried
The first day of the school year might be the worst…your child is going to come home with a million school papers and important documents. Rip off the bandage, recommends Morrison.
“Sit down that night and take care of them. There’s no need for school papers to hang out on your counter waiting to get spilled on or used as a napkin,” she says.
Once your initial pass through of kids’ paperwork is complete, get on a little less rigid schedule. Mahr recommends a weekly clean-out of paper clutter.
“Set up a family date to have everyone tackle their own at the same time, which will show your kids the importance of keeping track of things,” Mahr says.
That’s also a good time to review school work or artwork and decide what is “fridge-worthy” and what can be recycled.
“I recommend hanging on to passion projects, whether that’s spelling, math or art, that each child loves from that school year to show how much they’ve learned since last year,” Mahr says.
Designate a special file folder for each child and place any keepsake work they think they’d like to keep in that organizer.
Think Long Term
Continue saving items throughout the school year, and then when you have a little more time during the following summer, have your kids can go through the paper again to see what’s still save-worthy. When looking at a year’s worth of keepsakes, it can be easier to let go of certain ones that might have lost their luster or that duplicate something else that was worked on.
Then let them explore their inner artist by making a school memory book or scrapbook of kids’ school work, photos, report cards, hand prints and anything else they’d like to save from each grade as a keepsake, suggests Mahr.
Of course, sometimes kids have a hard time divesting of any papers and often you might find the fight just isn’t worth it. In that case, it’s wise to get the papers offsite into a storage area where you can put some literal “distance” between them. What looks important today might be a clear recycling candidate two years from now, and sometimes the best way to keep the peace is to just endure the paper clutter—out of sight can be out of mind.