Wednesday, September 20, 2017

4 School Paperwork Organization & Printables!

School has been back in session for a few days, weeks, even a month or two for some, and it is always a bittersweet thing. It is a sign that warm summer days are numbered but daily routines are back and welcomed.

My boys have all been attending school full time for quite a few years now; my oldest is a junior (I can't even) and my youngest just started fifth grade. We have done the back-to-school organizing thing enough now that it has become easier and smoother and we all stress less and less. So instead of throwing everything at you in a single post, I thought that over the next few weeks I would focus on a few different "organizing with kids" tricks, and cover what has worked and what we are still working on.

To get started, I am revisiting one of my very first posts which is also the most popular in all of my eight years of blogging. Organizing school paperwork!

That's right! As of today, the original post has been pinned over 697,000 times! Clearly, school paperwork is a topic that so many of us have to deal with on a daily basis, and any help we can get is always appreciated.

However, since I originally created the printables and wrote the post, a couple of things have changed. Our process has been streamlined, I have learned better labeling methods and my printable style has evolved. In fact, those oldie printables didn't even print correctly for all of my readers (which is the worst) and the labels were designed for address labels instead of file folder labels (what was I thinking!?).

So I finally did something about it for you all! New printables and a few new tips to go with them.

Our school district has been making a lot of progress in their attempts to go paperless. Over the years I have noticed fewer papers coming home and more communications happening via online newsletters and websites. So good! And since my original post, I have also discovered document scanners, so there is that.

But we still need to have a process and flow for the papers and homework that do make it home.

T I P   O N E

Create a workflow for the paper, and keep it as easy as you possibly can. When the boys bring home something that requires my attention, I ask they create a pile for me right on the kitchen table. This ensures I will see it and that I will touch it before serving dinner. If I don't give the papers back directly to the boys right away, I have gotten myself into the habit of leaving forms at their breakfast spot so they see them first thing in the morning.

Think about your routine and how you can be sure to always see the papers and return the papers. I stopped using an inbox for immediate action items because I found they would instantly get lost in a stack. If they are sitting out where we need to eat, I am sure to touch them and take action at some point before the kids go back to school the following day (and because I don't like any table/counter clutter I know the pile will be taken care of quickly). If a form comes home with important dates, I either stick the form into my planner or write down the details and recycle/file it away.

T I P   T W O

Create a spot for charts and study guides. Each of our boys has a personal workspace with a bulletin board or wall pocket. This is where they store their weekly reading logs and study guides because this is where they do their homework. When a new form comes home, they know to either turn in or recycle the previous documents.

T I P   T H R E E

Assign a holding zone. Each boy has a slot in a cabinet in our dining area, and it holds everything that needs to be referenced or dealt with until a certain time frame expires or until I have the time to deal with it for good. Examples may be forms with sports details or hard copies of long-term activity notes and schedules or those extra special assignments and works of art that I just can't let myself part with. Anything that requires some thought or that may need to be referenced again at a later date.

(We have a similar method for our bills/personal paperwork. When the mail comes in, it is promptly sorted into two piles; to-do/to-pay and recycle. We have an inbox that any actionable items go into and then we manage those items once per week).

T I P   F O U R

File away the memories.

Let me preface this tip with the understanding that what you decide is important to keep is most likely different than what I find important. I am a sentimentalist, and I have learned that time is short, milestones are valued and my memory isn't the best. I love to look back at things my kids wrote at certain ages or documents showing their test results and grades for certain periods of their lives. This is important to me, but I understand it isn't important to everyone. There is no right or wrong answer as to what you should keep and what you should toss. My general rules for the items I chose to keep and store are:

  • A reflection of a milestone (handwriting, new math skill, growth, etc...)
  • A story or piece of writing that wows me/takes me by surprise
  • Important tests/test results
  • Report cards
  • Awards/certificates
  • Letters home from teachers/staff (both the good and the bad)
  • Pieces of art that took time and effort

When it comes to art, only the very best/favorites are kept in their original form. Most are displayed on our walls, sitting on shelves or stored away inside of art boxes. Everything is photographed and stored virtually with the Artkive app. I love this app because it allows me to photograph the art, assign it to a specific kid, and stores the photo and the details (child, date, grade, etc...) to my account. I have been doing this for years now and I can still pull up art from when my boys were in Kindergarten. The best part is that it isn't taking up any extra space in our home. Artkive also has an online store that allows you to turn the artwork into memory books or canvases or calendars... This has been my chosen way to manage artwork, but there may be a variety of new and different apps available on the market that function in similar ways.

The rest of those documents are filed away into file folders by year.

And that is where the printables come in handy!

First, I created new templates for file folder labels that can be accessed and downloaded for anyone on a Windows machine or a Mac! They were designed to be downloaded and opened with Adobe Reader and printed on Avery File Folder Labels (8366).




You can also label the file folders with any standard label maker, I have been using this one and I really love the variety of options that it offers.

As you can see above, I created a few different color schemes for the labels to offer some added variety.

Once all of the file folders are labeled, I like to add a coversheet to each folder with a place for the child's school portrait and details about each year.



The coversheets simply tuck inside the front of each folder.

Quick Tip: I originally filed all of these folders inside of three very large document boxes, but quickly found they were too bulky and heavy to easily access and maintain. I recommend sticking to a standard desktop file box size or even a space-saving expandable 13-pocket folder.

The new coversheets were designed to fit a 5x7 portrait size or smaller.

S T E P   F I V E 

Backup everything digitally. The entire reason I fell in love with the idea of doing this for myself and my kids is that my parents held onto things from my childhood, as did my husband's parents from his. During many visits, these papers come out and we laugh, cry and share stories from our childhoods. I love looking back at my highs and lows and revisiting both the great accomplishments and not-so-proud moments that made me who I am today. And I have learned so much about Bryan as a kid, and especially enjoy finding similarities between him and our boys.

The thought of all of those memories and milestones and documents being lost or destroyed makes my heart crumble. And we all know that it can happen all too fast and completely unexpectedly. A number of years ago we added a document scanner to our office and it has made scanning in a stack of papers a breeze. The PDF's are then uploaded and stored online. We are big Dropbox users but Google Drive and Amazon Prime (free storage for Prime members) are also great options.

Once the systems are initially set up, they are pretty easy to maintain (and update) year after year. And I am so happy that someday my boys will have the opportunity to come back home with their families and look back at their folders and share their stories.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

14 Client Kitchen Cabinet & Drawer Overhaul: The Steps & Tips

Hello, my darling friends! I hope that you all had a wonderful long weekend doing things you love with people you love.

This blog has always been about all things home; specifically DIY, home organization, cleaning and simplifying. That said, it can feel conflicting to just keep blogging about those things because they seem a bit trivial at the moment. I have so much sadness for those who have endured the recent storms and destruction and am also keeping the folks located in the Carribean and Florida in my thoughts as they brace for the major storm heading their way. We have a lot of friends and family located in both Texas and Florida, and I have been keeping my eyes and ears peeled for appropriate ways to help from here. Although the hurricane has been absolutely horrific, it has been really heartwarming to see our small town put together fundraisers and donations, and watching so many people across the nation come together to help those whose lives will forever be impacted. If you are looking for reputable charities and donation resources, I encourage you to check out this list here. Also, keep your eyes on social media where new ways to join together and help and donate are shared daily. And as much as I always encourage individuals to use their recently purged items for good, it is important to be aware of how too many items and belongings can negatively impact the affected areas.

Over the past couple of months, I have shared a few glimpses of a bigger project I recently worked on (check out the pantry here and the lined dish cabinet here). It was honestly one of the most incredible, fun and rewarding organizing projects I have ever been a part of. And I have SO much to share.

To quickly refresh your memory, I was asked by a dear friend to help her put some order into her kitchen for their family of five. Not only did I want to help because I absolutely adore this family, but their kitchen was like so many I have seen over the years. This family spends a lot of their time in this space, and they do a lot of cooking at home, so it was important to me to set it up in a way that makes their daily lives easier, saves them money and even brings them joy.

We all have spaces in our homes that could use some TLC and they get to that point for a variety of reasons; we get busy, the space wasn't initially setup with the proper tools, we go through something personal, it isn't easy for our family members to understand or maintain, once it reaches a certain point it becomes overwhelming, etc... And if even one cabinet becomes too full, then it can quickly snowball to another and another. If this is you, you are normal! This happens to all of us, even those of us who organize around the clock.

Being that this was such a real and relatable situation, I thought I would break down all of the steps that we took and the key things we learned as we tackled this kitchen one cabinet and drawer at a time.

S T E P  O N E

Commit! My friend finally decided enough was enough and asked for my help. We scheduled dates on our calendars and made sure to cross tasks off of the list together. Working with someone is a great idea for holding each other accountable and staying on track. Trying to take on large spaces on your own can quickly become overwhelming and cause you to shut down, so grab a pal whenever you can. Regardless, it is important to schedule time and be willing to give the project your attention. Don't forget that organizing is a huge return on your investment both financially and in terms of time. You will get back out what you put in.

S T E P  T W O

Remove everything! Whether you are just working on a single drawer, cabinet or closet, or taking on an entire room, start with a blank slate. This ensures that you touch everything, that you are thinking through where things go and why, and also encourages some deep cleaning in easily forgotten areas.

S T E P  T H R E E

Sort and purge! As you are removing items from cabinets, drawers, shelves, etc... discard obvious items right away. Things that are old and expired, broken or that you no longer love. Bye bye!

Next, create general categories and begin grouping items accordingly. In this kitchen, for example, we created categories for pots/pans, utensils, food storage containers, dry foods, baking supplies, cleaning, small appliances... We also added a "keep" bin for anything that didn't quite fit a category or that we were on the fence of keeping or discarding.

Purge again, and this time be really ruthless. Now that you can see how much you have and things are broken down by category, it is time to rid yourself of any duplicate pieces. How often do you use those really specific kitchen gadgets, and could other gadgets and knives create the same outcome? How many potholders and dishtowels do you use/need? Sure, your quesadilla maker might make a mean lunch, but could you achieve a fairly similar result in a pan? Just things to ask yourself as you go, really question every single item you touch.

It can be really hard to let go of items. We work hard to pay for these things, and getting rid of them might make us acknowledge we made a purchasing error. Or that something didn't work out as we had hoped. We think about that one specific time we needed it or who gave it to us and how they might feel if we didn't keep it. But it is also really important to think of how that item might be slowing you down and frustrating you the other 364 days of the year you don't use it. That stuff is just stuff, and that less is more. That donating your belongings to those less fortunate is a really great feeling. And that true friends and family will understand your quest to simplify (or may never even know that you didn't keep aunt Ruth's old table runner).

For this project, we were able to remove three full bins of expired food, old cookbooks, mismatched dishes, broken utensils, duplicate items, etc... This one very important step made all of the difference in the world.

S T E P  F O U R

Clean! With all of your drawers and cabinets empty, take a vacuum to rid the surfaces of crumbs and dust. Follow up with cleaner and a rag to remove smudges, sticky residue, fingerprints, and spills. This is a great time to get at nooks and crannies that are rarely accessible and require a good cleaning from time to time.

S T E P  F I V E

Put items back where they make the most sense. For this step, think really hard about how you use the space each and every day. From sun up to sun down, consider the activities that take place and the motions of the individuals that come and go. Where do you make your coffee and are the filters and mugs nearby? Where do you unload the dishwasher and are the dish cabinet and silverware drawer easily accessible? Where do you store your leftovers and are those containers easy to find near the fridge? What if you want to bake, are the cookie cutters near the flour?

Play through your day in your head, then categorize and set up the space accordingly. Put things back loosely and use temporary storage bins and containers if necessary. DO NOT PURCHASE ANY STORAGE YET.

S T E P  S I X

Now it is time to just live and enjoy the new space. Play around with the new changes and adjust if necessary. Ask your family to weigh in and give their feedback. What is working? What could use some tweaking? You most likely won't get everything right the first time, and if you do, consider yourself a rare genius.

Spend a good amount of time in this phase. Do you miss any of the items you discarded? Are there even more belongings that you don't use as often as you thought you would? How have your days changed?

A few things my friend said at this point in the project:

"I feel like I can breathe again!"

"My family was in shock, and they were able to find things so much faster in the morning and after school!"

"I am constantly categorizing everything now, and I love it! It has become second nature to group like-items when putting them away."

All of those feelings and still not a penny spent.

I know that you will want to just be done, believe me, I get it. I am ridiculously impatient and I also thrive when everything is in order and tidy and another box is checked off of my list. But rushing to purchase storage can be costly and problematic down the road. And we found that as close as we were with this kitchen to getting most things right, as they continued to use it, a few things wiggled and shifted and new ideas were born.

S T E P  S E V E N

As you live with the changes, begin making a list of the types of storage that would take things to the next level. What would make the new setup even easier? Stacking open face containers? Filing bins? Lid organizers and drawer dividers? There are some cabinets and drawers that we didn't add any new storage to because the simple act of cleaning things up and categorizing was enough. But sometimes storage can be crucial in protecting your items (think a knife block for sharp blades), and make your life easier (think a food storage container lid organizer for preventing jumbled messes). Clear canisters are a great way to give yourself visual inventory and may even be space saving and provide longer shelf life for your ingredients. Simple baskets corral smaller items and prevent them from falling off of shelves or out of the cabinet when the door is opened.

As you are taking note of the specific items that you would like to source, also take a plethora of measurements. We measured every single cabinet and drawer in this space, and referenced those notes multiple times over the course of the project. Remember to consider any obstructions such as hinges and drawer handle hardware screws, even the smallest things can impact final dimensions and fit.

Lastly, shop around! We found the majority of the items we wanted at The Container Store, but there were times when we found a better fit or price at HomeGoods, IKEA, Target, Amazon, etc... We even made some of our own dividers when we couldn't track down any with the exact measurements we needed. Don't settle until you find exactly what it is you are looking for. The best part is that most stores provide very specific measurements right online, which can reduce errand running and error making.

S T E P  E I G H T

Line and dine. Yeah, baby.

Are lined cabinets and drawers an absolute must? No. But, a good shelf liner really does make a difference in protecting your cabinet and drawer surfaces. It is easy to clean and also adds some motivation to keep your drawers tidy enough to see it. We added a thick, striped vinyl liner to all of the drawers and cabinets, and we also lined the backs of all of the upper cabinets with black poster board from the dollar store. That was purely cosmetic, but it added a little wow and blended her newly organized cabinets in with the remainder of the gray, black and white kitchen. A couple of the drawers had some loose items that we wanted to stay put, and we found a grip/no slip liner to be ideal for holding glass food storage containers and a couple of loose filing bins in place when the drawers are opened and closed.

S T E P  N I N E

Fall in love with labels! You know I am already in love with labels, but now it's time to make them work some final magic in your newly organized space. No need to label your dog or kitchen sink scrubber, but labeling does have a lot of added benefits. Most importantly, it allows you to differentiate specific food types (gluten-free flour from regular flour). It also keeps your entire clan on the same page. It's easy to understand how things fall apart quickly when no one understands the new system or knows where things should be put back.

For this project, I tried out a new mobile friendly label maker. It allowed me to create labels through an app on my phone and Bluetooth print them for areas around the kitchen. I kept everything simple and basic, but I am excited to explore more of the functions of my new labeling tool and then share it with you. And yes to clear label tape! Such a clean look!

S T E P  T E N

Enjoy! Kick back and celebrate the space with a glass of wine, or have a party with your favorite friends and family. You earned it!

A few final tips for tackling a space of this magnitude:

Work with a friend or a partner. You don't have to do these projects alone (unless you want to). Working with someone makes the overwhelming seem doable and even fun. We listened to music, laughed, sang, celebrated, shopped and bonded over this project. There are parts of organizing that can feel mundane and monotonous, but when you have someone to chat with and sing with, it doesn't feel like such a chore.

Be gentle on yourself. Organizing is a process. It takes time. It is ongoing and evolves. There is no right or wrong way to get there. And trial and error is the key! Be open to learning and just know that even the pros don't always get it right the first time. And never feel bad about your "befores" or how you got there, just be proud that you are doing something about it.

Find your motivation, whether it be Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, magazines, catalogs, store displays, etc... Look for ideas that inspire you and excite you to create systems that make your heart pitter patter.

Use your sorting, lining and labeling time to catch up on movies, podcasts, and audible books.

Get your family on board with your goals. If they understand the process, provide input and feedback, and even lend a hand with the sorting, purging, and installation, they will be more invested in wanting to maintain it with you.

Take before and progress photos on your phone and store them in a project folder. This is a great quick reference of where you were, what you still want to achieve, and is extremely helpful as you begin sourcing product.

Play a lot of Tetris as a kid. It really does come in handy someday.

In the words of Sinéad O'Connor, Nothing Compares. You and your space are unique. What works for me may not work for you, and that is OK. Don't forget that everyone has a different set of circumstances, resources, available space, budgets, time, etc...

The end goal should always be to simplify. You want to make your life easier and less stressful and your systems should also be simple enough to match that goal. Set up solutions that work for you and your clan, don't over think things, don't overly decant and label and stack and store. But do pick storage that is helpful and provides you a service.

If you are looking for a great project planner to take notes and schedule your time, you can download one that I created for free here.


This kitchen received a lot of love over the course of a couple of months. We purged, cleaned, planned, shopped, planned some more, lined, labeled, painted, built, and overhauled almost every single cabinet, drawer, and closet. Everything about this space made me happy and excited and I loved helping someone else create some harmony in the heart of their home. This was so rewarding in every way, but it especially fills me with joy to visit and watch their family navigate the space so naturally, and seeing how easy it has been for them all to maintain.

This post is already bursting at the seams with information, but I still have all of those before and afters and more specific details about how each cabinet and drawer evolved, as well as the products we found to be our workhorses. You can find all of that in this post here.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...