Get an A+ in Organizing School Papers

Crumpled Ball of PaperSchool is starting, and that means paperwork is starting to come home each evening with the backpacks and lunchboxes. Homework, notices, forms… yikes! School papers can be categorized into four basic types: Action, Archive, Artwork and my favorite, Ambiguous. Here’s how to make the grade managing these before the stacks build up.

ACTION:  These papers require you to do something with them, and they need immediate handling. Examples are forms to fill out, permission slips to sign, or checks that you might need to write and send back to school.  All of those things can be handled usually in less than two minutes and put into the backpacks right away for the next day.

ARCHIVE: These papers are simply reference information that require no action, but you might need to look at them later. I recommend using what we call a “family binder,” which is a simple three-ring binder that is perfect for all of those papers that come home from the school nurse about sick day policies, school bell schedules, school bus schedules, your child’s own class schedule or soccer team information, for example. Anything that is needed for quick reference for your family can be very accessible here.

ARTWORK: Adorable macaroni art and finger paintings and little scribbles are headed your way, especially if your kids are younger. What you want to do is have a dedicated gallery in your home for displaying your little Picasso’s work. Of course, everyone thinks first of the refrigerator; that’s a nice place to put a few things, but it might be better to have a larger area. You can use a simple ribbon with clothespins to pin several different pieces of art across a wall at one time. And when you’re ready to enjoy new artwork, have your child choose his or her favorite pieces and take photos of them before discarding. You may even want to scan them in and make a book out of them each year, which is easy to do with online book and memorabilia services like Blurb and Snapfish.

AMBIGUOUS: You can also call this category the “I don’t know” papers…you have no idea what they really are! They might be already-graded homework or some notes that your child took that he’s already had a test on, and you don’t quite know yet what the teacher’s policy is about keeping papers. The solution is having a tray for each child, following what we call the “limiting container principle.” The idea is that the quantity that fits into the tray is the limit, and when it is full, the rule is that you have to clean it out. The container itself provides the rule, and by the time it’s full, you typically do know what to do with the papers because they are so old. The tray provides a place for these ambiguous items that you’re uncertain about, giving them a home and getting them out of the way.

You can watch more of my tips and strategies on our YouTube channel at, where I have this Back-to-School tips video and over 100 others, each proudly featuring clothing I have purchased at Goodwill®. Enjoy, and good luck with the school papers!