By William Hageman
There are certain truths that become evident at back-to-school time for most of us: The kids still haven't stopped growing and we need to update their comically ill-fitting wardrobes. The school supply list is longer, and the prices higher, than last year. The family is woefully disorganized.
Thank goodness for people such as Ellen Delap, a certified professional organizer in Kingwood, Texas, with a smart blog (professional-organizer.com/WordPress). She also works as a family manager coach. Her expertise can make that transition into the new school year, and the months ahead, smoother. Here are some tips from Delap.
Three-part process: Organizing for the school year goes beyond slapping a planner on the wall (though that's not a bad idea). Delap says there are three areas that need to be well-regulated: your house, your schedule and your finances. The house and schedule are obvious (more on them later). Financial organizing is sometimes overlooked. There are a lot of checks that need to go out in the fall – extracurricular fees, ballet lessons and the like. Relegate them to one spot and keep on top of them. Bills, like scheduling, can be overwhelming when they start pouring in.
Command center: Set up a command center, one spot where all planning is done. It should have a desk-top sorter, a wall area with dry erase calendars, and wall pockets for papers (incoming mail, permission slips, school papers that need to be signed, tax receipts, etc.). Yes, we live in a growing electronic society, but we still have to deal with paperwork. Triage it, sorting the urgent from the merely important and the trash.
Family calendar: Whether digital or that calendar stuck to the wall or fridge, the calendar lists what's going on in individuals' lives, where they need to be and when. Potential conflicts can be headed off. "These are critical," Delap says.
Weekly meeting: A weekly family meeting is a great way to ensure everyone is in the game. "Families live in the moment so much, even something like a vacation, you won't talk about until the last minute," Delap says. A weekly meeting reminds everyone what is coming up. Attendance is mandatory. If one of the kids balks, well, have the meeting be the time allowances are handed out. The kids will attend.
Basic routines: Set specific times for regular tasks, based on family members' schedules. Is Saturday generally a slower day? Make that laundry day. Too much laundry for one day? Break the chore into two days. Make Friday grocery shopping night. "We always know the trash is collected a certain day," she says. "So find one or two family members to take the trash out the night before." Delap also suggests posting a chart listing the various jobs. "Then it's not like you're nagging."
'I hate this!' No one loves every task he or she is assigned. If little Rico grumbles about unloading the dishwasher, give him another job, one he will like better. It's all about getting the family to work as a team. "When you create these partnerships for responsibility, it's a lot more fun," Delap says. "No one wants to be left in the kitchen alone."
Dealing with emergencies: If you have a routine in place, family members can adjust to take up the slack for a missing member. That also serves to strengthen the family and engender a feeling of accomplishment.
Materials needed: Dry erase board, desktop sorter, supplies to organize papers and forms, calendar
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