One of the biggest organizational challenges for moms of kids in school is the amount of papers that have to be organized/looked at/signed/returned.
When I was a 4th grade teacher, I had 20+ kids coming into school every day with multiple papers. This can get out of control very quickly if you don’t have a system in place that works.
The system I used to organize papers that came in every day was two simple letter trays on a table near my desk. One was for notices/signed forms/notes from parents, and the other was for assignments the kids had done that I wanted to collect.
Each morning the kids would come into the room and one of the first things I had them do was file any papers they had for me in the correct tray.
It was a very easy way to keep things organized and to have the kids take responsibility for giving me the papers I needed from them rather than me hunting papers down from them, and this system worked really well for me.
I wanted to use this same kind of system at home when the kids all started school, but I have a couple issues in my house.
The first is that table/counter space is limited.
The second is that my family tends to just pile stuff up on counters — okay, and so do I — so I was looking for a different solution.
About nine years ago I saw these letter bins from Pottery Barn.
I liked the idea of something hanging on a wall because so often we do not utilize vertical space, and it’s really such usable real estate in your home.
And this would prevent the kids from just piling stuff on top of trays I had on a counter and reduce clutter.
I also wanted wherever the paper collection area was to be very close to where everyone entered the house, to cut down on how far the kids had to travel to file things in the correct spot.
We have the perfect spot in our mudroom, which is where everyone exits and enters the house.
Here is what you see when you enter through our mudroom door. (this area of the house takes a serious beating, so don’t look too closely at anything 😉 )
We are not a digital family. Writing things down the old fashioned way works best for us. So I have a big desk calendar hung up on the wall, a couple cork board squares above that, and then the hanging letter bins underneath the calendar.
The squares on the calendar are big enough that I can fit in multiple activities/reminders.
I write all the important stuff on the calendar so my husband can easily see it. Also, my parents help me out with a lot of the driving to swim practice and other stuff, plus they go watch most of the kids’ games and meets, so they can also just look at the calendar to see what is going on that day/week/month when they are at the house.
Before all the kids were school-age, when it was just Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 in school, they each had their own folder.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize I needed a system that was more efficient, especially once we had six kids in school at the same time but only four folders hanging on the wall.
Instead of each kid having their own folder, I labeled each one for the kinds of papers we had coming into the house. I used plain old stick on mailing labels.
The first was papers that needed to be signed or filled out and returned.
Things like picture day order forms and field trip permission slips and that kind of stuff.
Then next is what the kids decided to call “special notes.”
These are papers that have important info on them about stuff going on at school.
The third category is “finished work” — corrected homework, classwork, worksheets, etc.
I usually look at the finished work, and then I recycle it. I don’t hold onto too many school papers.
And then the last one is for “blue notes.”
Blue notes are the forms the schools like you to use when you are going to pick a kid up early or they are taking another bus or whatever. They used to be printed on blue paper and were known as blue notes, but now everyone just photocopies them onto white paper.
So now they are mostly white, but everyone still calls them blue notes. (You can really use just a plain piece of paper and write a note, but these make sure you have all the necessary info on them, and they are handy to just grab and fill out).
I often have to pick kids up early for swim meets and other things that come up, and I would almost always find myself printing out a stupid blue note from the computer five minutes before the bus was coming. I finally got smart and photocopied a whole bunch of them, and now I know exactly where they are, and I just have to grab one (or five, depending on how many kids I need to pick up early) and fill it out.
I spend the first couple weeks of school guiding the kids to file their papers in the correct folders when they got home from school.
Training them to use the system is very important to the system actually working.
Now they are pretty good about doing this on their own, but they still need some reminders and direction, especially after weekends and vacations.
My job with these folders is to make sure I go through the papers in them on a daily basis so that they don’t get out-of-control.
When we all do our jobs, the papers are easily manageable.
If you want to try a similar system in your home, I’ve included some Amazon affiliate links so you can conquer the paper situation in your house, too!