Within a week of school starting, it begins. You can almost hear your tables and countertops groan as paper after paper gets piled up.
Homework, class reminders, past assignments, team schedules — face it, kids generate a lot of paperwork. But by figuring out a good paperwork system, you will save yourself not only time and energy but also headaches. These seven tips will help you get started.
Create a filing system. This key component doesn’t have to be complicated. Find a convenient spot (many people prefer the kitchen) to keep a simple set of files. Even a basic file box on the counter works just fine. For each of your children and their schools, create a file. All relevant school information for that child, such as teacher information, activities and field trips, gets tossed in that folder.
Many parents give each activity its own folder to help them quickly find the soccer team roster, the dates for Sunday school, or the rehearsal times for The Nutcracker. “My filing box keeps me sane,” explains busy mom Laura Rehling. “It’s my go-to spot for anything important. I don’t know what I’d do without that box.”
Just remember to act on any paper first. That is, sign and detach return forms, enter events on your calendar, follow up as needed. Then, and only then, file it away.
Expand your system as you go. You can expand your basic school-year file system, even into another file cabinet. Make files for medical records and prescription receipts. Find a spot for items you might need to reference again, such as old report cards and testing results. Items from past activities — a completed swimming level or old team rosters with phone numbers — could also come in handy.
Maintain a family calendar. Be sure to note each child’s activity, even if it’s something that occurs regularly. You might know that your son has karate every Wednesday at 5pm but your spouse or one of the kids could be making plans and not remember who does what when.
Some people find it helpful to assign a pen color to each family member. As soon as your school district calendar comes out, integrate key dates into your family calendar. This ensures that half-days don’t sneak up on you or you don’t plan a weekend trip during the school carnival.
Have a hot spot. Designate a “hot spot” for things that need a quick turnaround, such as permission slips, class photos and book orders. Some people use creative systems such as individual cubbies or hanging file racks. Others simply keep a hot pile on the counter. What’s important is that you can see at a glance what paperwork needs to go out.
Sometimes it’s helpful to keep this stack in order of due date to make it less likely that something will get shuffled under. Just remember to act on papers in this pile as soon as possible. Answer it, sign it, mark it on the calendar, then toss or file it!
De-clutter. Art projects, experiments and papers pile up quickly. They are sweet memories but it’s unrealistic to keep them all. Save the best ones or the ones that show growth or insight.
Aby Garvey, a professional organizer and co-owner of www.simplify101.com, recommends a cooling off period before filing kids’ work. “Simply set up a bin or box to collect papers that you are on the fence about. Once a period of time has passed, sort through the papers. It will be much easier to pull the treasures from the stack — and put the rest in the recycle bin!”
Use digital address books. Programming school and doctor phone numbers into your cell phone allows you to make a quick call when you’re away from home. Add teachers’ and coaches’ addresses to your e-mail contact list so you can easily drop them a line. You’ll want to make it as easy as possible to communicate. Save yourself the trouble of searching through paperwork for those numbers or addresses.
Write down websites and passwords. Many textbooks are now online and some teachers even have their own website. Although it’s useful to put these sites in your browser’s favorites, computers do crash. So keep a small notebook near your computer to jot down websites and passwords and you’ll never have to hunt for them.
Whew! Now you can concentrate on the challenges of raising kids!
Laura Amann is a freelance writer