August 25, 2013

Organizing a Backpack

Students from preschool to college love to use backpacks. They come in a multitude of sizes, colors and price points and can hold a ton of books and supplies. My guest blogger, Amber Kostelny of Amber's Organizing knows that a backpack has the potential to be a black hole or bottomless pit so she's offering some of her best tips for organizing a backpack. Read on...

LL Bean Turbo Transit Backpack
Organizing a backpack and keeping it neat and tidy is not much different from organizing something else in your home or office. Similar principles apply. Here are my top tips! (and if you’ve got some to share- please comment! We’d love to hear them.) 

Use pouches that are colored and clear. This may sound confusing, so let me explain. Seeing through a container or pouch makes finding pencils, pens, and erasers a lot easier. If they are tinted a color, that’s even better. Over time, your child will for example associate blue for pencils and red for note cards. This makes it easier to grab a pouch out of the bag. Avoid loose crayons, highlighters and erasers. Everything should be in a pouch or small bag.

Assign each pocket in the backpack its’ own function or use. For example, maybe the front small pocket will always contain the pencil case and the first large pocket- folders and paper, where as the second large compartment or pocket will house the books. Again, over time your student will instinctively associate certain pockets with certain contents. They’ll never have to guess where something is if everything “has a home”.

Clean it out regularly. This step is the most important. I recommend each and every night, clean out and tidy up the backpack. This may not be realistic for your child but if you can get into this habit, it will really help. Otherwise, shoot for once a week. That will help keep the mess at bay.

Label everything. Cases, pouches, books, folders and just about anything else you can think of- label it! Although kids like to write the label or title out themselves, encourage them to use your label maker. It will make it easier for everyone if the labels are clearly typed out.

Color code folders, binders, and notepads. Choose one color to represent one subject. Perhaps your child’s math book has a book cover. Then stick to a blue folder or notebook to match it. All of these little changes can sometimes make a huge difference if you child identifies with colors to stay organized.

Amber has been serving the Chicago area as a professional organizer since January 2004. She is a Certified Professional Organizer® and specializes in residential and small business organizing. She especially enjoys working one on one with clients to customize the organizing solutions and systems to add efficiency to their space or business. Helping people problem solve difficult spaces and creating productive work spaces is very rewarding to her. Amber is a Golden Circle member of the National Association of Professional Organizers as well as local member of the Chicago chapter.


August 18, 2013

Cool Product - Artkive

I know it's summer, and no one likes to mention the word 'school' during the summer, but I want to prepare you for what is coming. I bring up the topic of 'school' because just like kids, parents need to start the school year with tools to make their lives easier.

I've started using an app for de-cluttering my house and I wanted to share it with you so you're ready for the day your child brings home this:

and this:

And enough three-dimesional pieces of art to fill an exhibition space at the MOMA.

The app is called Artkive...

Their tag line is: 'The clutter free way to save and enjoy your child's artwork'

I read about it in an article on apps for Moms about a year ago and decided to give it a try. I'm so glad I did--I LOVE IT!

True Confessions: Despite the fact I'm a Professional Organizer, I still have to deal with the influx of my children's artwork just like you do. What I've done in the past was display some of my son's artwork, have him sort and purge all of it with me at the end of the year, photograph him with some of it, keep his best pieces and toss the rest. We still take pics of his artwork if he no longer wants to keep it but Artkive has made the process a much easier and organized one.

Now, artwork comes home from TWO children and as it comes out of their backpacks, I 'Artkive' the work of art and place them in each child's room either for display or storage.

If you'd like to see the top of your horizontal surfaces this school year, read on--you can thank me later...

How to start...
• Download the Artkive app (for iPhone and Android).
• Set up an account with the name(s) of your child(ren) and their grade in school.
• Take a picture of your kid's artwork or upload from your camera roll.
• Tag the photo with your child's name, grade, date and title of artwork.
• Share with family and friend or turn into a book (coming soon: other products).

It's just that simple. I haven't created a book of my kids' artwork yet, but it's something I would definitely try out in the future. Currently, there are two options: 8"x8" or 8"x11." The cost is $25 for the first 20 pages--$1.00 for each additional page. Before holiday time, Artkive plans to expand to gifts like mugs, calendars and the like.

Why I love Artkive...
• It's EASY to use.
• I can quickly email artwork to my husband or parents without having to first download the pictures to my computer and emailing them from there.
• All artwork is backed up in the 'cloud.'
• It helps eliminate artwork clutter.
• It's free. Go download it and set it up before the first day of school.

You're welcome.

After you've used it for a while, come back and let me know what you think about Artkive!

August 11, 2013

Morning Routine Secret Weapon: How I Get Two Kids Out of the House on Time

"I want to watch TV!"

"I want to play with my toys!"

"I'll brush my teeth later!"

Have you heard these cries from your kids in the morning? They are direct quotes from my two children. And on occasion, I have been guilty of giving in to them. What did it get me? Some prodding, pleading and yelling, a mad dash out the door, and no one starting out their day in a good mood.

I like to start my day in a good mood--I want the same for my kids. It's important to start the day off with a smile--especially at back-to-school time.

How did I turn our morning routine around?

My secret weapon: 
The 'Business Before 'Pleasure' Method for Morning Routines

What does the 'Business Before Pleasure' Method involve? Its basic philosophy is that all morning 'business' must be taken care of before 'pleasure' (playing or watching TV). Morning business includes (in no particular order):

• Using the bathroom and washing face/brushing teeth
• Selecting clothes (if it wasn't done the night before)
• Getting dressed
• Eating breakfast
• Cleaning up after breakfast
• Putting on shoes
• Checking school bag for everything needed for the day

My kids are 7 and 3. My big guy can do most of the 'morning business' himself by now but still needs a bit of prodding. My little one can be a bit of a 'wild card.' You never know what he's going to do. For these reasons and more, it was important to create a set of 'rules' to dictate what needs to happen before they could play/watch TV and so I can get them to school on time.

What makes the 'Business Before Pleasure' Method an easier way of getting ready in the morning?
• Lunches and school bags are prepared the night before
• The weather report is checked and clothes are picked out for the next day before bedtime
• The kids know what they are responsible for accomplishing in the morning
• They are learning how to manage their time
• Their desire to have that extra 'pleasure' time in the morning motivates them and ensures me a little extra time in case of an emergency or glitch (ex. full diaper/last-minute requests/faulty coat zipper)

Thanks to the 'Business Before Pleasure' Method, our mornings are more smooth and less hectic now. And, yes--most mornings my guys get to play and watch a little TV  before leaving the house.

By the way, just saying the phrase 'Business Before Pleasure' drives my 7 year old crazy. But, better it drive him crazy for a fleeting moment than have Mommy crazy the whole morning!

August 5, 2013

Back-to-School: Tips on Creating a First-Aid Kit for College

We remember to pack sheets, electronics, and posters for the wall when kids go to college but what about medicine? Yes, there's usually a medical center on campus but my guest blogger, Professional Organizer Heather Ahern of The FUNctional Home believes that preparing college students for minor medical issues is equally as important as preparing them for academics (I agree!).

When packing a student to live away at college, don’t forget to assemble a comprehensive first aid kit.  

Think beyond ibuprofen and Band-Aids when creating this kit for a dorm room. On campus the Health Services are often not available 24 hours a day and some things can be handled easily if the right supplies are on hand. Students need more than the typical pre-packed first aid kit that contains only one or two doses of medications and a few bandages. Also when stocking your own first aid kit, you can ensure the medications are your preferred brands and have a longer shelf life by checking the expiration dates.

A typical first aid kit should include the basic tools and equipment needed for cuts, bumps and bruises: 
Adhesive bandages in all shapes and sizes
antiseptic wipe packets
antibiotic ointment
sterile gauze pads
adhesive tape
hydrocortisone ointment
eye wash
instant cold compresses
hot packs
elastic (Ace) bandage

This kit will also be an extension of your medicine cabinet at home so it needs to include: 
Acetaminophen for aches and pains,
Ibuprofen for pain caused by inflammation and swelling
anti-diarrhea pills
antacids in case of indigestion
Benadryl for allergic reactions
seasonal allergy medicine
some basic medications for cold and flu season.
Athlete's foot medicine may come in handy as well.

A conversation on how to use all these new purchases will be helpful for many students living away from home for the first time. 

Before my son left for his freshman year at college we took an unhurried trip to the drugstore. We walked up and down each isle collecting what he needed, discussing why he may need it, with an explanation on how to use it. Being in a new situation, having an altered schedule and eating different foods can bring on a variety of issues in the first few months that many students may have never dealt with before. Take some time to clarify why you included Imodium or Dulcolax for example and the difference between them. You may want to cover when the “kit” is appropriate and in what circumstances the Campus Health Services would be a better choice.

Purchase a durable box to contain all these supplies after you have amassed all the items to insure everything will fit.  

Remove some items like bandages from their original boxes and use plastic zip-top storage bags to save space. Be sure to include a copy of their insurance card, the campus health center’s phone number, the phone number for your child's physician and a list of any known allergies to medication.

Remember all first aid kits need to be restocked occasionally. Check expiration dates and replace any used or out-of-date contents each year before heading back to school. This is a good time to do an inventory of your own supplies at home too.

Heather Ahern is a Professional Organizer living in Bridgewater MA
helping families and seniors “Make Sense of their Stuff and Create
Peace in their Home”.

For more information, tips and inspiration
visit  or follow Heather on Facebook at