How to Get (and Stay) Organized for Back-to-School

August 2, 2021

The days are getting shorter and that means that summer is winding down ... and THAT means a new school year is on its way.

In addition to shiny new backpacks, freshly sharpened pencils or freshly charged tablets (!), there’s also the morning chaos that’s about to return.

The scramble to get everyone fed, dressed, and out the door (or down the hall) on time—along with the adjustment to a new sleeping routine after the late nights and lazy mornings of summer—can be managed with some planning … really.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re homeschooling, virtual schooling, or schoolhouse schooling—back-to-school involves an adjustment period. If you remember that, instead of being surprised by it, you’ll be in the right headspace to set yourself and your students for success.

And that’s true whether it’s your kid’s first day of kindergarten or YOUR first day back at college after summer break.

And while the transition this year is sure to be bumpy, what with all the pandemic-related ups and downs, YOU don’t have to be bumpy. Sloppy or conflicting communication doesn’t have to wreck your day or your week if you set the bar low enough so that you’re not expecting better from anyone other than you and your kids.

You don’t have to let the school district off the hook for being wobbly … you just don’t have to be surprised if/when they are.

It feels like so much is outside our control these days that it’s helpful to take a step back and focus on what we CAN control. 

To help you adjust as gracefully as possible and set a good example for your kids in the process—because, if you’re a hot mess going into the new year, how organized can you expect your kids to be?—here are my top back-to-school tips to keep you and your kids organized, balanced, and ready to learn.


Back to school feels a lot like the beginning of a new calendar year: a clean slate, the chance for a fresh start, and an opportunity to be “more perfect” than we were last time around.

That’s all nonsense, of course—and putting too much pressure on the school year ahead does more harm than good. (More on that below.)

Here are the best ways I’ve found to prepare for the school year ahead without putting undue pressure on your kids (or yourself):

  • Prioritize: What’s important to you—and/or your student—this year? Make a list of 3-5 top priorities. You won’t know what’s important to you unless you decide ahead of time, and you can set your goals accordingly.

    So, if time is limited and you’ve decided as a family that together time and extracurriculars are your top priorities this year, then items on your to-do list like “buy new sneakers” before day 1 may seem less urgent, and perhaps be eliminated altogether.

    The important thing is to put your energy and time behind the things that really matter to you.

  • Talk it out: All kinds of feelings surface before a new school year starts: nerves, excitement, anxiety … These can all make an already stressful time feel even more harried.

    Whatever those feelings are, allow them space and expression. Talk openly about them with your kids—or your partner, if you’re the one in school.

    You don’t have to make anything a bigger deal than it is, if you’re prone to intense responses, but neither should you minimize right-sized feelings. And jjust checking in will free up energy and bring more ease to the process. 

  • Keep it positive: If last year wasn’t a social or academic highlight for your child—more on other stressors in a second—don’t focus on what went wrong. This will only increase any anxiety. 2020 was an anomaly for EVERYONE. 

    Do your best to start the year with a clean slate. 

  • Don’t stress: Well … as much as possible. The fact is that the last 18 months have been incredibly stressful, whether you’re a parent, a student, or both. Especially if you’re both. You know that without anyone telling you, but here’s the point:

    Meet yourself where you are, and work from there. This is not the year to strive for perfection, whatever that means for you or your kids. Work from where you are, and try not to sweat the small stuff.

    You kept everyone clothed and fed during a pandemic, so if you can handle that, you can handle this. The important tasks will all get done.


Of course, back-to-school involves some tactical adjustments that go beyond mindset. Here are the best tips I’ve learned from parenting experts and clients, not to mention my own student years:

  • When it comes to school supplies, shop smarter—not harder:

    One of the biggest back-to-school challenges is shopping. From new clothes to school supplies to dorm furniture, it might feel like you need to spend money at every store in town (and probably more than once).

    To avoid overwhelm, sit down and make a list of the things you truly need. Then, pick out what you can reuse from last year. Your kid probably doesn’t need an entirely new wardrobe or the “season’s hottest” backpack every year.

    Focus on what’s required first, and work from there. You don’t need to blow hours—or your budget—to make the new school year a success. It is about academics first, right? 

  • Make meal prep a part of your routine:

    Everyone dreads the morning scramble to get mouths fed and bodies out the door on time. Plan meals for the week ahead of time so you know exactly what to buy at the grocery store. After dinner, get as much breakfast/lunch prep done as you can.
    Use this guide to get your kitchen in order so it makes daily life easier, not harder.

    Yes, it’s an extra step at the end of the day, but taking some of the pressure off your mornings helps everyone start the day more effectively.

  • Pick homes for everything, and set an example:

    Wish your kids (or you) were more organized? Start with the
    organizational triangle. It’s simple and easy enough to start right now.

    Your child can help pick out a “home” for their jacket, backpack, shoes, etc., where it lives when it’s not in use.

    Also, lids are barriers to kids of all ages, so aim for hooks and lidless bins. Out of sight = out of mind, so clear bins are helpful. It should be easy for your kids to remember where their stuff lives AND easy to get stuff back into its homes.

    Oh, and this doesn’t just apply to the kids’ stuff. Leading by example is the best way to teach your children organizational skills that will serve them for life.

  • Set a regular time and process for all the paperwork:

    After the school supply lists, there will be an onslaught of letters from teachers, reading material, school calendars, activity schedules, announcements, homework and art projects from your younger ones … Back-to-school means lots of paperwork.

    Identify a place/receptacle to park it all as it comes in, whether it’s physical or electronic. Then have a regular nightly routine to sit down, read and process it. Transfer important dates to your calendar, decide what you’ll recycle, etc., similar to other
    paper and mail hacks I recommend. 

    You can start practicing with all that paperwork that comes before the school year even starts. That way, you’re clear on all the requirements and deadlines that matter most—especially in light of the priorities you selected in step 1. 

  • Aim for Bs:

    The whole point of heading back-to-school more organized is to help your student (and yourself) perform and feel better. WIth that in mind,
    studies show that putting undue pressure on academic achievement actually makes students perform worse.

    Middle school, high school, and college are already high-pressure environments, and many students fear disappointing their parents, too. So keep expectations flexible and realistic.

    This isn’t to say that anything goes when it comes to grades—but aiming for Bs might actually help your kids get more As, and it will undoubtedly reduce any added stress at home.


The new school year doesn’t have to mean chaos OR perfection. You can make this school year your most organized ever by adopting a few simple habits.

Spend time getting your head in the right place before school starts. Don’t wait until the day of, or you’ll find yourself scrambling … just like last year.

Establish a few simple habits two weeks ahead of school, and involve your kids in the process. Of course this doesn’t mean you suddenly let them call all the shots—but by putting some of the decisions in their hands, you’ll empower them, teach them to monitor the consequences of their choices AND increase their buy-in since they now have skin in the game.

And remember—wherever you let yourself off the hook is as far as most kids will be willing to exert themselves. Don’t fool yourself into thinking they are NOT evaluating your every move—they are. So it’s only the outlier children who will exceed your efforts. Most kids will not be any more organized than you are, so the better you are at integrated these best practices yourself, the more likely they are to follow suit.

Want even more tips on how to create a stress-free school year? Join our 5-Day De-Stress Your Mess Challenge, starting on August 16!

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!