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Back-to-School Organization Basics

B: Bring Order
girl in closet
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Edmund Barr

Ideas for mudroom, pantry and other key spots.

Every home needs a dumping ground. Whether it's a mudroom, entryway or hall closet, the essential components are the same—enough hooks to hold coats and backpacks, racks or trays for shoes, and a bin for each family member to store smaller items, such as iPods, sunglasses and gloves. Professional organizer Ann Sullivan, author of Organizing for Life: The Kids Room (Create Space), likes to assign a different-colored bin to each family member. Or, for a more uniform look, she suggests matching containers labeled with kids' names. Lillard also recommends creating "activity bags" for each extracurricular so kids can grab their stuff and go. If there's space, keep the bags in an entry area—otherwise, put in children's bedrooms.

Keep kids' clothes hampers in a user-friendly spot like a corner of their room or the bathroom. To save time on gathering and sorting, install large hampers (try Honey-Can-Do pop-up mesh hamper,, $15) in the laundry room. On wash days, get family members to empty clothes from their individual hampers into the bins.

Streamline the morning bathroom routine by hanging a see-through over-the-door shoe rack to create space for kids' hair tools, lotions and whatever else clutters counters.

Carve out a place for kids to do homework, keeping in mind their study-habit likes and dislikes. A desk next to the bed can provide extra storage as well as double as a nightstand. But if your daughter prefers working on the bed, consider giving her a lap model. For kids who'd rather sit at the kitchen or dining room table, Sullivan suggests a rolling cart with drawers for materials. When you want to neaten up, it's easy to move it into a corner or closet.

Simplify lunch packing by compiling sandwich ingredients—cold cuts, condiments—and juice boxes in a container that you can quickly pull out of the fridge, says Sullivan. Use another bin for bread and snacks. If you buy, say, pretzels in bulk, empty them into smaller, see-through containers. Once you're ready, take everything out and set up an assembly line. Insulated to-go food containers and reusable sandwich bags streamline the packing routine.

Keep kids from trashing the kitchen by setting up an after-school snack station. Leave a tray on the counter with everything they'll need for a quick bite, such as granola bars and fruit. "This also helps late risers, like my daughter, who eat on the go in the morning," says Lillard.

Store snacks at eye level in cupboards or the fridge so kids can find what they want without rummaging.

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