You know the lazy days of summer are nearing a close when the back-to-school commercials start up. Somehow those Target ads always manage to spark my childhood enthusiasm: bright colors, catchy tunes, smiling faces, fresh supplies, brand new school shoes and a packed backpack ready for a smooth school year full of promise. I loved school so much as a child that I decided to become a teacher!

I’m the intended audience of those ads. Imagine my surprise when my oldest son started full-time school and our mornings were exactly the opposite of those cheerful back-to-school commercials. It doesn’t take long for reality to kick in and I now understand that “back-to-school” is simply a synonym for chaos!

If parenting has taught me anything, it is that preparedness and organization usually helps minimize the chaos. Setting the stage for success this school year could be as easy as putting a few tried and true tips into practice!

We’ve all seen a tip shared by a friend or a “life hack” pop up on social media and we think to ourselves, “What a great idea! I really need to do that!” How often do we actually follow through to try out that great idea though? I’ll tell you when we don’t have time to try it — in the midst of a busy school year! Summertime is the best time to set up systems in your home to help ease the chaos of the busy-ness during the school year.

I’m in the unique situation of working at my son’s school, so in the mornings during the school year, we are a team. By team, I mean I’m scrambling to throw a protein, a fruit and a veggie into his lunch box while he asks if he can bring his entire collection of Spider(men) to school today. It works well; we are clearly both pulling our own weight. At least one day a week I give up on packing the lunch, telling him to order it instead, and he arrives at school with one too many toys, winning me the award of parent of the year!

A kitchen drawer serves as the designated lunch packing area in Megan Eggemeier’s home. (Photo submitted)

Having a lunch station set up and well stocked would not only save time and money, but it would definitely help me arrive at my job a little less stressed most days. The first step is designating an area for lunch boxes, baggies, reusable containers, water bottles, and any other materials that will be used on a daily basis. As your child comes home, make sure they bring their lunch box in and empty it and put things back in the designated area.

That sounds simple enough, right? For some reason, it is really a chore for me to bring everything into the house from the car at the end of a work day. I usually come in with everything I can carry in one trip and many days my son’s backpack and lunch box are left overnight in the car (minivan if we are getting specific — full-on mommobile). Those are the days followed by the chaotic morning where I frantically search for the lunch box at 7:45 a.m. holding on to hope that we will still somehow make it to school by 7:55 a.m. (this is where my boss laughs out loud)! The power of habits can shine in this moment. Simply making it a habit to bring everything, every last thing, into the house and putting it where it goes can make a world of difference in the hustle and bustle of trying to get out the door in the morning.

The designated lunch packing area can be as simple as a certain shelf in the cabinet or pantry. If cabinet space is sparse, a small cart with drawers or shelves can be used for this purpose. Storing food choices for lunches low where kids can reach allows them to pack their own lunch. The real key here is simply having a spot where everything goes and building the habit of putting everything back where it goes at the end of the day.

Lunch boxes and backpacks aren’t the only school related items that need a designated space. Oh, how I love seeing my children’s work that they bring home from school! Those first few items get hung on the fridge and displayed proudly. Then before you know it, there is a tall pile on the counter-top and I’m asking myself which pieces can go into the trashcan unnoticed. Please tell me I’m not the only mother who has that thought! In reality, that counter-top pile usually gets moved to the top of my dresser where it stays indefinitely apparently. At this very moment, there is a Thanksgiving turkey on my dresser!

For the upcoming school year, I am going to borrow some great ideas I’ve seen on social media to prevent our childrens’ precious school work from becoming clutter piles. Our two youngest children have an amazing babysitter who does art projects with them almost daily. She surprised us at the end of the year with a binder full of their work from the entire year!

I would love to make binders or “keepsake books” for all the work and art that comes home, but I know I need a simple place to store all of the work throughout the year. It needs to be easily accessible and large enough for the big art projects too. A large storage bin with a file folder box inside is a simple way to store everything in one place in an organized way. Folders labeled by month can hold the majority of the work and the large storage bin has room for the big projects. At the end of the year, find a two-inch three-ring binder and an abundance of page protectors. Place all the work or just your favorites in the binder in chronological order. Take pictures of the big projects to display.

A keepsake book houses Carson Eggemeier’s artwork from the school year. (Photo submitted)

Now, to turn the focus onto the little stars of the show, who are making the artwork and needing the packed lunches. They need to get ready in the morning for this whole shebang to work! A meltdown over which shirt to wear is truly one of the least efficient ways to achieve a smooth morning.

Elizabeth Schepens is a working mother of two young boys and she utilizes Sunday nights to prepare for the upcoming week, asking herself, “What can I do tonight that will help future me?” That is such a wise question, which can be applied in many facets of life.

Her number one tip for getting out the door in the morning has to do with getting her boys dressed. She uses a hanging organizer in the kids’ closets labeled with the days of the week. Not only does it hold clothes for each day, but it also has room for anything special they may need. If Friday is “bring your stuffed animal to school day,” they go ahead and put the stuffed animal in the Friday bin. As a bonus, if either parent has to leave for work earlier than the boys are up for the day, they leave special notes in that day’s bin for them, which can ease the stress of missing mom or dad in the morning!

A smooth morning can set the tone for the whole day. Each of these tips requires a small amount of effort to set up, but the magic is in the habitual use of them. These are little habits that add up to equal less frantic lunch-packing, more enjoyment of our children’s work and fewer battles over outfits in the morning. As a result, there is more time for enjoying a leisurely breakfast conversation with the kids and relaxation at home after a busy day. Let’s make this back-to-school season the least chaotic yet!

Luke Schepens, 5, stands by the clothes organizer in his closet. (Photo submitted)
A keepsake book houses Carson Eggemeier’s artwork from the school year. (Photo submitted)
A kitchen drawer serves as the designated lunch packing area in Megan Eggemeier’s home. (Photo submitted)