So you homeschool – that is great! Homeschooling is wonderful, we have been enjoying it ourselves for a number of years and we love it. The big question – I have all this great stuff – where do I put it? How do I organize the papers, and pencils and pens and those little tiny bears and don’t even get me started on the books, oh my the books. I have the stuff, now I need to know how to organize it all.
First – take a deep breathe and know that you are not alone, either in your homeschooling journey or in your quest to manage the madness and learn how to organize.
The Steps to Organization (a.k.a. How to Organize) are fairly straight forward. Imagine you are putting together a puzzle. What do you do first? (Well, first you open the box, but I am figuring we got past that part.) So what do you second? Depending on the kind of person you are, you start by sorting the pieces. The pieces with the straight edges go into one pile and the pieces without the straight edges go back into the bottom of the box. So our first step in learning how to organize is:
HOW TO ORGANIZE STEP 1 — SORTING (woo hoo, yeah, think trumpets and fanfare — this is exciting, we know where to start learning how to organize)
After you are done sorting your pieces, we move on to step two. (I know, I know – I didn’t tell you how to sort or what to sort or how to organize anything yet – that comes later in the article. Just hang in there.)
So what is the next thing that you do when building a puzzle? Do we sort it out and then just walk away? Do we put all the middle pieces (i.e. pieces without the straight edge) together first? No, first we build a border for our pieces. So step two is:
HOW TO ORGANIZE STEP 2 — BUILDING A BORDER (more fanfare, sounds of cheering)
The border is now built, but we are not done yet. If you left the puzzle with just a border you never get to enjoy the beauty of it. The same goes for learning how to organize. Building a border is great, but now you have to use it. How do you use a border? I am glad that you asked (OK, I am glad that I asked, but if you were here I am sure you would have asked.) We use a puzzle border to give us information about the puzzle. The border tells us how big the final product will be. It helps us to determine where the interior pieces should go and it also lets us see a light at the end of the tunnel. (I went from puzzles to trains, and soon I will go back again. It’s a mixed metaphor, but I digress.) So step three of how to organize is:
HOW TO ORGANIZE STEP 3 — FILLING IN THE PIECES
This makes sense when you are thinking about a puzzle, after all you have this pile of non-straight-edge pieces just sitting there and waiting. How does this work with organizing? Do you recall way back in how to organize – step one where we were sorting? Those are our missing pieces, so filling in the pieces means that you are now putting stuff away. (Yes, another light at the end of the tunnel) So that’s it we are done, right? After all, we sorted the pieces, we built the border, we filled in the pieces, our puzzle is done. Right? Wrong! Sorry, but there is one more step before you are organized. (Actually, I am not sorry, but it sounds nicer to say it that way rather than – tough luck bucko, quit being a whiner.) So then what is the last step? Take a minute and think about it – when you are done with a puzzle what do you do? Do you leave it where you built it? Do you take it all apart so you can do it again another time? Do you smear goo on it so that is will become a work of art for you to hang on the wall? For the purposes of our analogy (i.e. comparing building a puzzle with learning how to organize) We are going to so no, no, yes. No, we don’t just leave it where it is – that just adds to the clutter. No, we don’t take it apart (What? Are you crazy? We just did all this work getting organized, for goodness sake, don’t take it apart.) Yes, we smear goo on it so it is a work of art. Now, before you go get actual goo and really make a mess of things remember – this is an analogy. The goo is basically the stuff that holds the puzzle together and keeps it looking nice. That is what we need – we want our newly organized area to look nice. So the final step is:
HOW TO ORGANIZE STEP 4 — THE FINAL STEP – KEEP IT ORGANIZED (I forgot the fanfare for step three so let’s just add it in here – fanfare, fireworks and a laser light show, and a skywriter writing out “you just learned the basic steps of how to organize”.)
Now that we have climbed the “Steps of Organization” (aka how to organize) together, let’s look at an example.
Note: if you have only short periods of time to work on your organizing project then still work your way through the steps, however organize in small sections. For example, organize the floor first, then organize shelves (one at a time), etc.)
Step 1: Sorting
This is the hard part, but if you want to learn how to organize and stay organized, it really is necessary. Let’s head off to your homeschool room / area / closet and bring some boxes with you. Begin by labeling your boxes in the following way – trash, donate / sell, doesn’t belong in this area – depending on the amount of stuff that you have you may need multiple boxes. Once you have gone through your initial sort, take the trash away, and move the donate / sell boxes to another place (preferably out of your house). Now we get down to the nitty gritty of learning how to organize – in the next step we will start building our border so that we are able to put things back in an organized way. Keep a box or two around so that any items you decide you no longer need can be placed in the box. If you have a lot of items you no longer need, consider selling them at a local convention or online homeschool books site.
If you are limited on space in your school area, take a look around your home to see if you have storage spaces anywhere. To keep the number of school items to a minimum you can choose to keep out only what you will be using immediately (within the week, month, semester or year). For the items you are storing organize them on a shelf (if possible) or in labeled boxes. Label your boxes with the contents so when you need to retrieve items they will be easier to find. An idea for how to organize the storage boxes are to label them with the approximate year (i.e. first grade, middle school, etc), the subject (math, science) and the date of when you put the box into storage. If you find that you have one or more boxes that you do not use for a while, consider if you need to keep the items in the box, or if you can sell or donate the items.
Step 2: Building a Border
Since I have yet to see two homeschool rooms that look alike I am going to go over some of the basics of how to organize your homeschool items, from there, you should have a pretty good handle on things and can continue on. If not, send me an email through our contact us page and let me know your question on how to organize your homeschool (or any other area) and I will try to be of some assistance.
Living books, textbooks, workbooks, lab books, notebooks, chapter books, first reader books, picture books, puzzle books, teacher books, student books, books about homeschooling, books, books, books – if you homeschool, you have books. The question is how to organize all of those books?
One option, depending on space, is a bookshelf. We have used kit built shelves as well as have custom bookshelves built into a closet by using shelf brackets and wood from our local hardware store. Homemade shelves are fairly simple to make and if you don’t have the equipment to cut the wood at home, most hardware stores will cut pieces for you (for a small fee), just make sure you measure before you go. (Measure twice, cut once – otherwise it is measure once, cut once, buy some more…)
If you want other shelf organizer options, you can look at the cubbyhole shelf options, or a wall mounted book shelf. There are a number of options available so take your time and look around to determine the best idea on how to organize your books. (after all, you have to live with it, I don’t)
Supplies tend to multiply, you start with a few pens, then they somehow grow into dozens of pens. Deciding how to organize these supplies will vary from homeschool to homeschool. Below you will find a variety of drawer suggestions and other ways to organize various supplies. Use these items as a spring board to style your own border. Be sure to read through step 3 for information on using a label maker to help you learn how to organize your bins, boxes, and drawers in an easy to use way.
Wide drawers will organize paper, pens, even workbooks. I discovered these drawers when I was trying to decide how to organize lab supplies. One of my drawers is for live experiments, this doesn’t mean that I keep frogs or bugs in there, instead I use it for organizing food for fish and frogs, seeds for plants and other supplies. Another drawer is our Explorer Gear drawer, that one contains binoculars, small nets, a small bug habitat as well as other supplies. Wide drawers are can be found in the plastic storage section or the craft section. These are generally 12 x 12 so they are great for books and papers.
Mini drawers are great for organizing pens, pencils, paper clips, rubber bands and all of those little office supplies. When looking at drawers be sure to check the information on the drawer sizes before buying online. For example, on some websites the mini drawers look larger than the wide drawers, this is however, not the case in real life. Check your space allotment by measuring, then find drawers that will fit. (Great homeschool project – make the kids measure then figure out the area of the space and which drawers will fit best)
Shoe boxes may not seem to have a space in your homeschool space, but they are wonderful for organizing. When you want to discover how to organize math manipulatives, various games and science equipment think shoe boxes. Items can be easily organized and as the boxes have lids they can also be stacked. When looking for storage boxes, be sure to look for clear boxes for ease of identification of the items within, if you constantly have to take the tops off of boxes to find out what is in the box you will soon give up on your organizational system. You also want boxes that have lids. While having baskets may look prettier, they do not stack and if something is taken off of the shelf incorrectly it make a big mess. Another reason to have boxes with lids is that you are learning how to organize, and it is very easy in the beginning of the learn how to organize process to fall back into old habits. A box without a lid becomes a dumping ground for little things.
A decorative way to organize includes the use of baskets (I know I just said don’t use baskets, but after you have learned how to organize, you can begin to look at other options, like baskets. Just be sure they are used for very specific things. We have three baskets under a long table by the front door, these are our library baskets. Only library books and the check out slips are placed in the baskets. You can also utilize door space, by using something like a 15-Pocket Over Door Organizer or a file folder holder. We have also used the Kids’ Toy Organizer and Storage Bin, but not in the schoolroom. It started in the schoolroom, but then I have found this doesn’t work as well since there are no lids. In the kids rooms, toy organizers work fairly well to keep toys organized, but it all depends on the ages of your kids and the variety of your supplies. Teaching your kids how to organize their own things now will save you time later.
Step 3: Filling in the Pieces
Now is when you start putting things back. An item that I have found to be a great organizing tool is a label maker. Some examples of label makers are the DYMO Personal Label Maker or the Brother P-touch Electronic Labeling System. You can even use printable Avery Mailing Labels. The whole point is you need a way to label. What are you going to label? The short answer is: everything. All of the boxes, drawers, and pockets should get a label. This way if you find an empty box, you know what was supposed to be in it. Also, when you look into your storage area you can see at a glance what you have. Where else can you use these labels? 3 Ring Binders! If you want to know how to organize multiple binders in the same space (I usually buy them as a multi-pack so they all look alike) without getting having to open each binder to determine its content, put a label on the spine and eliminate this issue.
Step 4: The Final Step – How to Organize to that You Can Stay Organized
Once you have learned how to organize you need to learn how to keep it organized. A simple organizational system will make it easier for you to keep organized. One of the ways I do this is by labeling my boxes on both ends, that way when the kids put them back onto the shelf (see – teaching kids how to organize) backwards it doesn’t matter, because the boxes are labeled on both ends. Another way I keep organized is by having a Mommy section and a kids section. In the kids section there are the items that the kids can use and learn with on their own, in the mommy section are the things that I think they need help with. This will vary based on the age of your kids. Remember unless you live alone (and if you homeschool then you don’t live alone) you are not the only one who needs to know how to organize. If everyone knows how to organize then your life will be a lot easier.
The bottom line – have fun turning your school area into an organized place to be, that way you will all enjoy spending time there. Organizing doesn’t have to be hard – take time to look through your things. Keep what you want, get rid of what you don’t and organize what is left so that you can find everything when you need to.