It’s a new school year…do you know where your papers are?


Liz Jenkins

school supplies with boy

Now that a new school year is upon us, I get calls from parents panicking over dealing with the massive influx of papers coming home from school. What to keep, where to keep it, and how to manage it all so it doesn’t become overwhelming. Being both a parent and a Professional Organizer, have I got some tips for you!

A school paper management system doesn’t have to be complicated but it does need to be consistent and purposeful. This system works not only for school papers but also other activities kids are involved with. So don’t panic!

First, choose a specific spot where the kids need to drop papers they’ve brought home. Yes, I said “the kids”. Assuming they are older than 5 or 6, they should be perfectly capable of taking papers out of their backpack or

folder and setting them where they need to be. It’ll take reminders when they are younger but as they get older and realize that if those papers don’t get where they belong, they don’t get done. Once is usually all it takes in my experience. Placing the papers where they belong, daily, should be part of the regular after school routine just like homework and snacks. This goes for parents as well – if you bring a paper home for an after school activity or get a medical form to be filled out – you better be dropping your papers there too!

In our house, that spot is on my desk next to my laptop. This is where I keep my current action item and if my daughter wants action on her papers, they better be in that spot.

For many people, it may be a basket on the the kitchen counter or on a side table in a dining room, a countertop in the mud room, a desk in an office, a wall pocket in the ‘family management’ area. Whatever works. It is best if this drop zone is near where other papers are managed so necessary items like writing utensils will be handy.

Next, gather materials for that designated space and  ‘process’ those papers just like you would any other papers. This means…

  • immediately shred or recycle any unnecessary papers (which for us is 80% of them). Have shred and recycle bins right near this space for this purpose.
  • fill out, sign, initial, etc. any papers that require this. Have a pen and some empty envelopes handy in the space in case money needs to be sent or it is confidential and you want to seal it up.
  • recycle or shred any residual papers.
  • file or store any papers you want to keep. I often set a 2nd bin nearby as my ‘to file’ bin so if I don’t have time right away, then at least the papers are corralled in one spot. Stacking letter trays can be used here.
  • give papers back to child to go back in the folder or backpack to be returned to school.

So the process is IN, SORT, ACT, FILE/TOSS/RETURN.

But where do I keep all those important papers, you ask? Well, in my opinion, there are two types of papers you’d want to keep from school and other activities.

One group consists of things you want to keep because they are precious, creative, or amazing. The “A” papers, the completion certificates, the awards, the finished products. Stuff you want to keep but don’t need it in your face all the time.

The other group consists of those papers that you may need to reference such as school directories, the schedule of events for a sport or other activity, IEP’s, state test results, shot records, info on after school activities, etc. These are the papers you’d like to have handy.

So group one (the keepers but not action) needs its own bin. One per kid. Labeled. In a spot where you can easily access but isn’t cluttering up your counter space or desk.

A hall closet or a lower kitchen cabinet often works well for this. This can either be simply a bin where you drop items, or it can be set up with hanging files grouping by date or by class or activity. These papers can be sorted through at the end of each school year when it is easier to decide what to keep or not. You can continue with the same bin if there is room after purging, or label it by the year & the kid and get a new one.

Group two, though, needs to be right where the papers are.  Generally I use a portable file bin for this group. A file system must have these qualities:

  • easily accessible (right on the counter or desktop)
  • easy to file papers and retrieve them
  • attractive for the space it is in (purely aesthetic but you are more likely to use something if you like looking at it)
  • big enough to hold everything where it won’t become over crowded too quickly
  • broken out into categories based on each child’s needs
  • color coded for each child

For example, if you have 3 kids who are all in school, each does 2 after school activities, one has asthma and one has ADD, you would have 3 portable file bins in one color per child, three of the same bins with different folder colors for each child, or one really large bin with 3 different colored files.  Hanging file folders could be labeled:

  • School Info (this would be handbook, directories, etc)
  • Classroom Info (specific info from the teacher)
  • Activity A (soccer, dance, baseball, theatre, whatever)
  • Activity B
  • Medical (shot records, etc.)
  • Activity Ideas (summer camps, upcoming events, etc.)

Have a file folder inside the Medical folder labeled for the special medical issue of each child if needed – for example – the child with asthma would have a folder labeled as such inside the Medical hanging folder.

This is a very flexible system and can be made to suit your needs.

If you have a child with a disability or special needs, having a separate portable file bin for those records can be very handy as you can simply take it with you when you have a meeting with a therapist or teacher. I would recommend that this sort of bin have a lid as it would potentially be leaving the house for meetings or appointment.

And you can name the files whatever you want – just so you can find what you need when you need it.

The key points are: have designated spots for everything, deal with it daily, and be ruthless about what you choose to keep! More will arrive….count on it!