Organizing by Style

So, it's almost time to start back-to-school shopping, at least according to the store circulars. Has your child emptied his backpack from last year?

If not, no worries. How a child uses a backpack (and all its nooks and crannies) provides a great deal of insight into his or her styles. If your child's backpack has been collecting dust in a corner all summer, now's a great time to empty it and assess those styles before you shell out money for supplies for the new school year. Understanding your child's styles before the new school year begins will help to ensure a positive start for your child and less wasted money for you.

Adults without children are welcome to join in the fun, too. Select a bag you use for work or leisure and follow the backpack steps below. For the sake of simplicity, I'm using male pronouns throughout the remainder of this post, but rest assured I'm fully aware that organization is as much of a struggle for girls (women) as it is for boys (men).

Before we begin, let me suggest some guidelines for those of you working with children:

  • Before tackling the backpack itself, have your child take the styles quiz to get a sense of his personal and organizational styles. This way, both you and your child can focus on how his styles and his backpack habits intersect. This doesn't need to be done immediately before the backpack session. In fact, for small children and/or those who struggle to focus, doing both the quiz and the backpack project in the same block of time can be overwhelming.
  • As you tackle the backpack itself, be prepared to let your child run the show, as you work hard to keep quiet and even bite your tongue. Your job is to watch, listen and learn. (This will be particularly difficult for Type A organizers).
  • Consider how much time you think you'll need to empty and, if the backpack is in good shape, restock the backpack, following the ground rules above. Double it.

spiral notebooks.resized.alvimann.morguefile Photo: Alvimann via Morguefile

So, here goes.

  1. Begin by having your child take everything out of his backpack. Pay attention to how he does this. Does he dump everything on the floor? Grab handfuls of things and yank them out? Carefully remove each item and tell you a story about it? Watch and learn (or reinforce your previous observations), keeping the styles in mind.
  2. Once everything is out of the backpack, assess its condition. If it's in good enough shape to reuse for the next school year, wipe the inside sections with a damp cloth. Help your child sharpen pencils, replace school supplies that are broken or missing and check to make sure that everything going back into the backpack is in good working order.
  3. As your child (not you!) does this, talk with him about where he thinks things should go; have him explain to you where each item belongs and what he likes about that spot. Because this is his backpack, he should do most of the talking and deciding. If you need to keep your hands busy and out of the process, try grabbing a pen and jotting down his answers. Not only will this make him feel as though his answers matter, it will also make it clear that he's the boss of the organization process. If a child is old enough to carry the backpack to school, he’s old enough to have a say in how it’s organized.
  4. Once your child has assigned a home to everything that goes into the backpack, help him decide how he will remember where everything belongs. You may want to consider labeling the places outside the main section. This works especially well for I need to see it kids, but can be beneficial for I know I put it somewhere kids, too. (Drop and run kids may default to the largest available opening, but colorful labels might help them stick to the plan as well). You can use masking tape (use a permanent marker to write on the tape, then stick it on the item’s home) or Post-it notes, or you can go all out and use a label maker. Writing directly on the backpack with a permanent marker or fabric marker will also work, but will make it harder to re-label the space if he changes his mind later on.
  5. Throughout this process, make sure your child understands what he's doing right. If your child is a cram and jammer, for example, focus less on the state of the items inside the backpack and more on the importance of successfully getting everything from school to home and back again. Help him downsize and eliminate unnecessary items, feeding his need for stuff (if he has one) with cool school supplies that serve a purpose but also qualify as stuff he loves.

Exhausted? I'll bet. It's a lot harder letting them figure it out for themselves than it is simply telling them how it ought to be done. When you finish, take a few minutes to jot down (with your child) what you've learned and, if you're going backpack shopping in the near future, a list of requirements for a backpack that works with his styles. Then make sure to celebrate by doing something fun. You've both earned it.

Next week, we'll look at backpacks through the lens of the styles.

See all our Back to School with STYLE posts.

Copyright 2015 Lisa Hess
Logo background image: "Unageek color" by Unageek (2013) via Morguefile. Text added in Canva.