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Austin American-Statesman: Study Up to Cut the Stress of Going Back to School

August 03, 2008


By Sarah Lindner, LifeGuide columnist,

Right now, your house probably is still in vacation-summer-camp-sleeping-in mode. But back-to-school time is coming up fast: Most area schools resume classes on Aug. 25 or 26. To ease the transition between lolling and learning, Austin-based Certified Professional Organizer Lorie Marrero has come up with a three-week countdown. Marrero is founder of the Clutter Diet (, an online organizing service. Her countdown will help you gather all the supplies you need to get the kids back to school and create routines that will cut down on stress.

3 weeks before school starts

Make sure you have a family calendar. Back-to-school time means lots of meetings and appointments, and you’ll need a central place to keep track of them all. This can be a planner that you carry with you, an online calendar that you and your spouse can both add to from work or a big wall calendar at home — whatever works best for you. (If you use a wall calendar, though, make it a paper calendar instead of a wipe-off one, Marrero says. That way, you’ll have a record of things like when the kids had their last dental appointments.)

Go through your kids’ clothes. “It’s time to clean out their closets and their drawers and make sure you know what is needed before you go to back-to-school sales,” Marrero says.

Start planning what back-to-school sales you want to hit. Don’t forget that Texas’ sales tax holiday on clothing is Aug. 15-17 and that many merchants will plan sales to coincide with the tax-free weekend. See for a list of items on the tax exemption list for the weekend.

If they’re available, get lists of supplies your kids will need for school. Some stores even have lists on hand for different schools.

Create a family binder. As school starts, you’ll be deluged with papers — course requirements, rules, bus information, lunch menus. Keep all of these papers in your binder so that everyone in your family knows where to to find them.

Make a plan for handling papers that don’t belong in the binder — things like class assignments that you might not be sure how long to keep. Marrero recommends the use of “limiting containers”: Get some baskets or trays that you like and assign one to each child. A container can serve as a “waiting area” for papers. But when it’s full, it’s time to go through the papers and decide what to discard. Pick out whatever containers suit your taste, Marrero says, but keep them on the small side so that you’re not dealing with unmanageable amounts of paper.

“This is also a good time to think about an emergency plan,” Marrero says. Who are your emergency contacts? Who could pick up the kids if you can’t?

2 weeks before school starts

Shop for supplies and clothes if you haven’t already.

Start thinking about kids’ bedtimes and rising times. If they’re staying up late and sleeping in, start easing them back to their school-year sleep schedule.

“Make sure your child care arrangements are confirmed,” Marrero says. Firm up details on carpooling and pickup plans.

Craft your morning, after-school and evening routines (see section on routines below).

If your kids bring their lunch from home, set up a lunch-packing station in the kitchen. Stock the area with all the supplies you’ll need for packing lunches, such as lunch sacks or plastic containers. Also think about what lunch foods you’ll want to buy.

Set up an “education station” — the place where your kids will do homework — and make sure that supplies such as pens, paper and reference materials are easily accessible. Many kids gravitate to the kitchen table for homework. If that’s the case in your house, make sure you have a system for clearing off the table quickly so that it isn’t constantly overtaken by school supplies, Marrero says. Try keeping homework materials in bins or baskets.

1 week before school starts

Plan out your dinner menu for the next couple of weeks and buy groceries. Consider setting up a rotating menu of breakfasts — for example, pancakes every Friday. The first week of school is stressful, and this menu planning can help make things easier.

Another step that will help with first week stress: Wash all the school clothes now.

Start talking with your kids about school. Remind them about the rules you’ve set up on homework and screen time, and discuss any fears and concerns they might have.

Do some dry runs. Take a test drive to the kids’ new school, or a test walk to the bus stop. This helps kids feel better and helps you get your timing down.

Finish any remaining shopping.

Make sure everyone is following school-year bed times and rising times.

On the day before school starts, practice the evening routine you’ve set up.

Daily steps lighten the load

Morning, afternoon and evening routines are a key part of Marrero’s organization strategy. Take some time two weeks before school starts to create them. Get your kids involved, too, Marrero suggests.


Marrero calls this routine the to-DEW list:

Dishes. Empty the dishwasher from the night before.

Eating. Get set for the rest of the day’s meals. For example, move your entrée from the freezer to the fridge so that it will be thawed in time for dinner.

Wash. Start a wash cycle, or do the next step in one, such as folding the clothes in the dryer.


Your after-school routines will depend a lot on the ages of your kids. But in general you’ll be setting rules on snacks (What’s allowed? How late can kids snack before dinner?), screen time (How much is OK?) and homework.


Think of this routine as the three S’s, Marrero says:

Start the dishwasher so that you’ll be ready to empty it in the morning.

Straighten up. Everyone goes on ‘clutter patrol’ to do a quick pickup.

Set for tomorrow. Think about what you’ll need for the next day and put everything where you’ll remember to take it it with you.

Need help getting organized? Here are 3 ways we can help:

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