5-Day Back to School Challenge

School is around the corner (or it may have already started for you). While you’re enjoying these last few weeks of summer, take some time each day to get your home ready to support your students on their way to and from school each day. We’re hoping that by taking the time now to get organized, that you will have the smoothest school year yet!

Prep work:

  1. Read through the challenge and order or shop for anything you think you might need so you’re and ready to go.
  2. Based on when school starts for you, your schedule, and when your supplies will arrive, take a minute to schedule these mini-projects in your planner or on your calendar.  


Back to School Challenge


Day One

The Drop Zone.

The school day starts and ends in the drop zone. If it’s not here, it’s likely forgotten when we’re headed out the door. I like to consolidate as much as I can in this area, from homework that needs to get done, to forms that need to go back to school, to school work and art they’d like to keep. This makes it easier for kids to put away their items after school. And, believe me, easier is always better when it comes to kids and organization!  

I’ve got an entire blog on this topic (with a lot of great links) that you can read here, but have included abbreviated steps below. 



Task one. Identify a space in your home where backpacks, shoes, and sports equipment can go. If you have a dedicated entry closet or mudroom, perfect. If not, see if you can carve out space in the living room or garage. If you live in a smaller space, it may make more sense for this area to be in the kids’ room(s). 

Task two. Within the space you chose, set it up so that everyone has at least a hook and a bin. Even if you don’t have a dedicated space for a drop zone, these two items can create one on any blank wall. The hook is for coats and backpacks, and the bin is for shoes and extracurricular items (like instruments and sports equipment). Measure and choose the largest bin or basket that will fit your space. In my own drop zone, I also included (above the hook) a cork board and white board for reminders and visual schedules, and a wall file for storing paperwork. Be sure to label each bin and wall file if you have more than one child, so they can keep everything separate. It will help YOU find things when you need to. 

Task three. Prep backpacks. Take this time to ensure that backpacks are good to go for the year. Put your supplies inside along with any other first-day necessities (forms, teacher gifts, etc.) and don’t forget to label the backpack and any other items that will routinely be going back and forth from home to school. 

Quick Tips:

  • Store socks near shoes. They’re always forgotten, and this saves you the time of having to run back to each person’s room to grab them.
  • Use open bins. Bins with lids make it less likely that kids will use them. Open front bins also make it easier to see the contents if you’re looking for something in a hurry. 
  • Have a routine for all the steps your kids need to complete when they get home. Shoes go here. Homework goes here. Papers parents need to see go here, etc. And practice with them until they have it down. 


Day Two

The Homework Station.

In 2019, I upgraded the homework station in my house because my kids had aged out of the small table and chairs set they used before. Now they each have a desk stocked with supplies. It’s a beautiful set up and has worked well for us this past year, but homework stations can be as simple or decked-out as you’d like. 



Task one. Find the right space for your needs. At a minimum, you’ll need an area with a table top, a chair, an outlet and room for storing supplies. This can be a stand-alone desk or simply at the kitchen counter. Also consider how your child works best. Do they need the quiet solitude of their room to get work done, or do they need more supervision that a different area of the home would provide? 

Task two. Think through the supplies you’ll need and how you will store them. Depending on the space you’re working with, you may be able to store items in desk drawers. Alternatively, you could consolidate supplies into a stand-alone system (like an Elfa drawer system or three-tier rolling cart) or even a caddy or divided lazy susan if you have fewer supplies. The caddy is a great option if you need to tuck supplies away the rest of the day. The key is to have a place for each item, and label it so that kids can put everything away when homework is complete. 

Task three. Remove distractions. Work to relocate any potential attention grabbers from the homework space. Keep counters and table tops clear. Have an area for toys and electronics to be stored if homework is being done in bedrooms. You might even consider a phone dock in a central location for older kids. They can park them after school and get them back when homework is complete. (This can just be a simple basket.)

Quick tip: Use parental controls to schedule tablets and other devices to turn off during homework time.



Day Three

The closet. 

Getting dressed can be a big time suck in the morning for kids. By making decisions easier and clothes more accessible, you can cut a lot of dressing time out of your routine.



Task one. Make things accessible. If clothes are too high, consider lowering the bar or adding a stool. For younger kiddos, create a spot for outfits. Use a drop down closet organizer with five slots (cut down to 5 if you can’t find one) and label Monday to Friday. On Sundays, during your Weekly Reset, plan outfits and place them in the slots. 

Task two. Save yourself some time and laundry! Add a “hang up later” basket to the space, so when they inevitably change their mind about what to wear one morning, they can quickly throw it in the basket and grab something new. It won’t get tossed in with the dirty stuff, and they can carve out time each Sunday to rehang these items (with help, if younger) instead of taking the time to rehang before school. 



Task three. Set up a “too small” bin. Kids grow like weeds! If they try on an outfit and it’s too small, have them toss it in the bin. It will help you keep donations (or hand-me-downs) together, and let you see what you need to replace in their wardrobe. 

Quick tips:

  • Other bins I like to include in kids closets are ones for items that are too big, sentimental items, and off-season accessories and sports equipment. 
  • Have a plan for accessories. If you are raising a little fashionista, they may spend a lot of time accessorizing each morning. Cut down on this by picking outfits (down to the headband and necklace) the night or weekend before. 
  • Be sure to measure before purchasing any bins for a closet! 


Day Four

School Lunches.

If you send your child to school with lunch, you have to have a system. I break mine into two parts. The first is completed on Sunday and the second part each morning. All that Sunday prep pays off!  



Task one. Stock up on food prep and school lunch essentials. I’ve updated my Amazon shop to include my favorites and yours. (Thanks for your suggestions on Instagram!)

The basics: a great water bottle, a thermos, food prep containers for the fridge, snack bags, an insulated lunch box, sandwich bags, bento box

  • I loved this post from Home & Kind on the best water bottles for kids! I’ve included her recommendations in my shop.
  • Remember to shop sustainably and local when you can. If you’re in Annapolis, head to Whimsicality for lunch boxes and shop Nina’s Flying Needle for amazing, handmade sustainable products. 

Task two. Schedule time on Sundays to prep for lunches. This is a game changer! Never start from scratch whipping up a lunch first thing in the morning. Have an assembly line process on Sunday afternoons to get entrees and sides prepped, cooked, and assembled. Then all you have to do in the mornings is toss them into the lunch box and go! For us, this includes restocking snack bins with healthy options, washing and cutting up fruits and veggies, making salads and sandwiches.

Task three. Get your kids involved. Take today to walk them through how to make their own lunches in the morning, and have them help with prep on Sundays. Kids as young as five can help with this process. Make sure snacks are kept in the lower drawers/shelves of your fridge and pantry for easy access.

Quick tip:

Must read! Get all the details on how I do school lunches in the blog post linked below. It includes free printables for your kiddos to use as they prep for and pack their lunches. 



Day Five

School Papers.

There are so many, and it can get overwhelming fast without a system. 



Task one. If you never got around to it at the end of last year, now is the time to clear out any paper or artwork lying around. Recycle anything you don’t want to keep and sort the rest.

Task two. Set up a School Memory Box if you don’t already have one. You’ll need a plastic file box and hanging folders for each grade. Make a cute label for the front and label each file folder by grade. You’ll find everything you need in my Amazon shop.

Task three. Have a plan to keep up with daily papers and art. One option I mentioned above, is to set up a wall file in your drop zone. You can put three folders inside to hold homework, paperwork, and “keepers,” or you can set up two trays near your command center. Each day when your child gets home, go through their backpack and sort into the trays. One is keep and one is toss. Your kiddo doesn’t need to know which is which if it is hard for them to let go of their work. When they’re full, empty the keep tray into the appropriate folder of the school memory box. For forms that need to be returned, fill them out right away and put them back in their backpack in the drop zone. (If it takes more than two minutes, add it to your to-do list and put it in your action pile or folder.)  

Quick tips: 

  • Revisit my organizing school papers blog at the link below. You can download the guide and watch a video where I walk you through how to use it.
  • A Family File Box is also a great command center staple. In it you will have a place for action items (like forms you need to return to school). Learn how to build one in my Reset workshop series.


As you work your way through each space, I hope you’ll share with me. Tag me on Instagram or Facebook by using the handle @systemsbysusie. I’d love to see your progress and cheer you on! 

Happy Organizing!




Each of my career choices-wedding coordinator, event planner, and teacher — gave me the creative freedom to organize everyone and everything. I have always thrived on to-do lists, planners, and systems! Now, I lead a team of organizers to help me on my mission. Read more…

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