It’s the most wonderful time of the year — time to send the kids back to school and reclaim your household. After a summer of camps and goofing around inside, your house may need a little tough love to get back into shape for the fall. Research shows that the average American home has 300,000 items in it, and back-to-school is the perfect time to get rid of the ones that you don’t need anymore.
As the kids head back to school and you take the steps to get your house back and order, I’m sharing 10 of my favorite tips and tricks to declutter and organize your home this fall:
1. Pull out all the homework and artwork from the previous school year.
Before the onslaught of this school year’s homework and artwork, make sure you have decluttered last year’s. We all know Little Timmy is smart as a whip, but you don’t need to keep every piece of homework he brings. Homework has one purpose and one purpose only: to help kids learn. It’s not to be immortalized in boxes in the garage that you’ll never look it. Empty backpacks, desk drawers and those piles you’ve been meaning to tackle and pick the best of the best. Save the things that are substantial and remind you who they were at this time in their lives. As for artwork, how many turkey hands does one family need? Pare down to a small but great representation of their masterpieces and let the rest go. Take photos if you just can’t bear to let them go. You might want to also consider making art books out of the artwork. A crayon self portrait looks so much better in a book for the long run than in a box in your garage. You can make them yourself with any number of apps, but if you need a little help, I love Souvenartebooks!
2. Donate (or toss if they are broken) toys that didn’t get used this summer.
After a summer of “I’m bored,” you’ll have a great idea of what toys your kids really play with. And don’t forget the holidays (AKA more stuff) are just around the corner. Just 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally. The new school year will jump them to the next developmental level, so really be honest about what’s going to get played with. If letting go of toys is difficult for your kid, try the halfway there approach. Sort the toys into four piles: keep, donate, trash and not quite yet. Box up the “not quite yet toys” and put in a closet or garage. Tell your kids if they really miss the toy and want to play with it, it’s right there. But chances are, out of sight, out of mind, especially with all the homework coming their way.
3. Did summer reading lists create a glut of books in your home?
Time to do a purge of the books that won’t get read again or won’t ever be read. Of course there are classics and favorites that will be kept, but ask your kids if they really are going to read Captain Underpants for the fourth time. Most libraries are facing deep budget cuts so lots of them have turned to book sales to keep their doors open a little later and on weekends. Check with your local library to see if they are accepting books and while you are there, return those overdue library books!
4. Running around in bathing suits and sprouting up like weeds means your kids have outgrown a lot of last year’s clothes.
Time to do a deep dive on their clothes and donate the clothes they don’t wear or can’t fit into any more. This is a great process to involve kids in as it gets them used to the idea of letting go of stuff they don’t use or wear any more. First, do a pass when they are at school and make a pile of the clothes you think are too small or are worn out. Then when they are home, ask them what they are okay letting go of. Have them try it on to make sure it really fits. If there are younger siblings or cousins, put them the hand-me-down box. Also, consider doing a clothes swap with other families. Peace Love Swap can help you organize one. And don’t forget back-to-school school shopping is on the agenda, so make some room!
5. Donate old backpacks.
Most kids get new backpacks for each school year. If last year’s pack is still in good shape, think about donating it to a local nonprofit that works with foster kids. Use this as an opportunity to declutter backpacks, duffle bags and suitcases. Foster kids are in dire need of suitcases, duffle bags and backpacks. Because they are moving around so much and don’t have a permanent home, they often move from foster home to foster home with their belongings in a trash bag. Finding a local organization that provides these donations to local foster kids is a great way to teach your kids about giving back.
6. Donate old sports equipment.
Has the team gotten a new logo, making the old uniforms out-of-date? A client called me up to say that her daughter’s school team got a new logo and they had so many uniforms that were in great shape but they didn’t know what to do with them. I happened to be going to Kenya at that time to work with a girl’s school there, so I volunteered to bring the uniforms to Nyamasare Girl’s School and Orphanage for their football team. They were so excited about the new uniforms, they changed their mascot to the tiger to match the shirts. Talk to the coach about doing a team cleat drive. Everybody wins!
7. Donate old towels to local animal rescue groups.
Pool, river, lake, or ocean have all wreaked havoc on your towels. Once everyone is settled into their new schedules, pull all the towels out and see which ones can go. This is an easy one because a tired towel is a tired towel. Keep a couple on hand for spills and floods, but donate the rest to a local animal rescue group. I even had a family recently that took piles and piles of old towels to the SPCA and came home with a new dog!
8. Tackle your garage.
Twenty-five percent of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them, and after a summer of everyone home, the garage has become the dumping ground. Tackle this before winter comes because this is one of the biggest jobs on the list but may be the most satisfying! Take a little time to come up with a plan to attack the garage. First, start with the purging. Then determine if some shelving would help keep you organized moving into the school year. Remember an organized garage is like staying thin — you have to be vigilant about the amount of calories/things that come in or else the weight/clutter will pile on!
9. Return order to the kitchen.
Constant summertime snacking has probably turned the kitchen upside down. The kitchen is a great place to start with a purge! Kitchens are magnets for clutter and you have to be brutal with the purge, otherwise you are drowning in coffee cups you never use. The first place to start is with food storage containers. Bring them all out on the kitchen counter and match tops with bottoms. If there’s no top (or bottom) — out they go! Check your plates — if they are chipped and broken, it’s time to let go. Is there a drawer of old plastic Disney plates that the kids aren’t using anymore? Time to donate them.
Next, take a look at your pantry. I feel really strongly about the food waste problem in this country. Forty percent of the food in the United States is never eaten, but at the same time, one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food on the table. That being said, we all have lots of food in our cupboards that our families won’t ever eat. So when doing your pantry purge, call your local food bank and see if they take slightly “expired” food. Most do! This is also a great time to take stock of what foods the family really eats. I like to make a master grocery list that lives on the computer or can be printed out. That way, before you go to the store, you can check the pantry to make sure you don’t buy staples you already have. And to stay ahead of the clutter in the school year, never go to the grocery without a list; that’s a surefire way to overbuy.
10. Next year think about doing this decluttering while the kids are away at camp!
Once back-to-school season hits, everyone is running at top speed. Many of my clients book me for one of the weeks that the kids are away at camp, and then save the second week for a kid-free staycation!
— By Tracy McCubbin, founder of dClutterfly, which has been named “Best in Nest” by DailyCandy and has received the Super Service Award from Angie’s List for five years. Tracy and her company have been featured in Real Simple, Women’s Day and ShopSmart. When she is not dCluttering, Tracy is the co-executive director of OneKid OneWorld, a non-profit building strong educational foundations for children in impoverished communities throughout Kenya and Central America.