Organizing by Style

Have you ever watched a left-handed person try to take notes in a traditional spiral notebook? It's almost painful. The angle is wrong, the spiral's in the wrong place, and even the best handwriting approaches atrocity as tiredness and frustration take over.

That's how it feels to be a non-traditional organizer using traditional school supplies. While everyone around you slides papers neatly onto binder rings or into the pockets of folders, you just never manage to make things work as neatly and effortlessly.

So...why buy those supplies?

If you've got a kiddo (or two) at your house whose notebooks and folders look like they've been through a natural disaster somewhere between school and home, help them adapt their supplies to their styles.

Ways to adapt a binder:

Photo: Xandert via Morguefile Photo: Xandert via Morguefile

  • Buy a portable three-hole punch to put in the front of the notebook.
  • Load the binder with page protectors so unpunched papers make it into the notebook. Or, if that's not gonna happen with your cram and jammer or drop and run organizer, try folder pockets (hole-punched inserts that look like a pocket folder opened up and folded back) or a three-ring acetate envelope with a snap or Velcro fastener.
  • Add a clip to the front so the day's papers get clipped inside the cover and can be added to the notebook at home.
  • Ditch the three-ring binder for one with a spring-loaded clamp. Kids who don't take the time to put stuff into the rings sometimes enjoy putting papers away when they have an excuse to play with the clamp.
  • Replace the binder with an accordion folder. Choose one that's divided into sections, or one with just one wide, yawning opening, depending on your child's style.

What to use instead of a standard-issue, paper pocket folder:

  • A file folder. Like pocket folders, these come in a variety of colors, and can be color-coded by subject.
  • Transparent folders that allow kids to personalize them (photos show through the opening) or see what's inside. These also come in a variety of colors.
  • A folder that has top and side access and a tab closure at the top. Multi-colored (again). Never underestimate the value of playing with an organizational tool. The more fun it is to put something away, the more likely it is it'll get there.
  • Clear acetate envelopes with string-tie and button closures. Sold at office supply stores, these often come in multi-packs that make them less expensive per item.

Admittedly, these choices are often more expensive and harder to come by, but in many cases, the time and heartache saved makes it worth the extra cash and detective work -- and sometimes, you actually luck out and find cool tools at the dollar store. When I taught lessons in elementary-school classrooms, I brought a variety of supplies in for kids to play with and had them trouble-shoot potential issues. They were amazingly astute when it came to figuring out what they would and would not use, and they often loved things I'd found at the dollar store (colorful report folders with hinged closures were a big hit) as much as the more expensive office supply items.

As you discuss your back-to-school shopping with your child, use this summary sheet to talk about options and highlight his or her choices. Having him (or her) talk through the choices is an important part of getting your child to understand his or her styles, and eventually, to advocate for them.

You may also need to intervene on your child's behalf with his or her teacher...and that may or may not go over well. Together with your child, decide if it's better to work within the requirements (buy the required binder, but adapt its insides so your child can use it successfully) or seek the teacher's stamp of approval for an alternative system. Because traditional tools work well for Type A organizers, these folks can sometimes be inflexible when it comes to trying different systems. Because they equate traditional tools with the concept of organization, they often believe that practice with those tools makes perfect. That said, most teachers are happy to see their students attempt organization, no matter what the tools, and your child might just find an ally who helps to tweak and perfect the plan at school.

Happy shopping!

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.