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Overwhelmed By Paper? An Organization Idea for Teens And Parents

Piles on the kitchen counter. A to-do stack on the desk. Unopened mail near the front door. Papers spilling out of kids’ backpacks. Now, quick—where is that permission slip/bill/medical form/invitation? The amount of paper coming home with your kids can be overwhelming. Have you ever thought you desperately need some organization ideas for teens just to deal with all that paper?

Even relatively organized households can struggle with paper—because it just keeps coming. And at the beginning of the school year or the start of a new calendar year or a new semester, with flyers and forms coming home in bushels from school, it can be even worse.

Lisa Woodruff, a professional organizer and founder of the website and podcast Organize 365, says the answer is not to scramble to manage every piece of paper as it comes into the house. “Everything is not an emergency,” is how she puts it. Instead, she recommends creating what she calls the “Sunday Basket”—a container into which you put every action-requiring piece of paper as you get it: mail, forms, bills, receipts that need filing, prescriptions to fill.

Come Sunday, you empty the basket and deal: recycle junk mail, pay bills, file documents, update calendars, fill out forms, and write checks.

“This is not a filing system,” Woodruff cautions. “These are all actionable to-do items. You have to touch every piece of paper in there each week.”

As your kids get older, they should each have their own Sunday Basket, which they’ll empty when you do yours: completed school papers, applications, forms to fill out, work and after school schedules to add to your family calendars, library books to return, mail from colleges, and long-term project assignments to plan for.

“Every minute you spend in planning saves 15 minutes in execution,” Woodruff says. “You’re teaching your kids to be proactive instead of reactive. The average American spends 55 minutes a day looking for things.”

Now, if it’s a paper you or your teen are looking for, you’ll finally know where to look: the Sunday Basket.

Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of five books, including the new release How to Be a Person: 65 Hugely Useful, Super-Important Life Skills to Learn Before You’re Grown Up. She edits the non-profit kids’ cooking magazine ChopChop and writes the etiquette column for Real Simple magazine. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her family.

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