So, how's your back-to-school shopping going? If your kids have already started school, have they actually used all those things they had to have?

I'm not going to second-guess a supply list issued by your child's school (let alone your child's teacher), but I am suspicious of the general, one size fits all lists created by stores. Then again, I'm suspicious of one size fits all anything. And when it comes to kids choosing their back-to-school supplies, I believe they're more likely to choose based on the look of the item than its function.

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Long after the pile of desirables has been discarded, these three tools will remain necessities for an organized school year.

A home for papers that need to be referenced. For many kids, this is a three-ring binder. It can also be an accordion folder (or one for each subject, for older kids), a skinny binder with a clamp closure (or one for each subject, for older kids), or a collection of folders color coded by subject. Whatever it is, it needs to be durable and expandable so that it can house everything from a single sheet of paper to several fat packets that cover entire units of study. These should live in the desk at school unless they're explicitly coming home so your child can study for a test.

A home for papers that need to be dealt with (homework, need signatures). For younger children, these are the papers that go in the "take home" pocket of a two-pocket folder. If for older students have demonstrated success with this system in years past, there's no need to come up with something new. If pocket folders don't work, try file folders, top-loading "backpack" folders, or an accordion file divided either by subject or by whether the paper stays home or goes back to school. Whatever you child chooses, it should be big enough to hold a stack of papers, but not so big that a single sheet of paper gets swallowed up, and it should be durable, as it will spend a lot of time traveling back and forth between home and school in your child's backpack. Many teachers have a required system for this, so before your child gets too excited, make sure his or her system will be acceptable to the teacher.

Image via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain Image via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

A container to hold pencils, erasers and all the other little things that invariably end up in the desk. Possibilities here will vary widely based on your child's age, taste and styles, along with the teachers' requirements; some teachers specify not only the case, but what must go inside as well.Younger kids tend to gravitate to pencil boxes (and a pencil box may even be on the required supply list) or fancy pencil pouches. Size is the key feature here; what must be kept inside? Is more than one container allowed? Are kids allowed to keep a small basket of supplies on their desks, rather than hiding them away inside?

Older kids who travel between classrooms often like flat pencil holders designed to fit inside three-ring binders. They're typically carrying fewer supplies than younger kids and portability is more important than capacity.

Regardless of your child's age, make sure to take attributes like size, visibility (clear containers help I know I put it somewhere and I need to see it kids remember what's where), ease of use and durability. Again, this container will get a workout.

Finally, as you're making your purchases, consider how the three key container attributes (form, function and style) of the chosen supply interact with your child's personal and organizational styles. The closer the fit (and the more excited your child is about using the item), the more likely it will be used beyond the first month of school.

One last suggestion: If your child's school doesn't supply some sort of planner or assignment notebook, that should be at the top of your list as well. Your child may choose to integrate it into his or her home for papers that need to be dealt with, or carry it separately, depending up the tool he or she decides on for the papers that travel between home and school. When schools provide online assignments, many kids need a hard copy back up as well; actually transferring the assignment from the computer screen onto the page serves as a memory tool for some kids.

It's possible to spend endless hours (and nearly endless dollars) in the school supply section. As always, start with successes (what worked last year? what didn't?) and build from there, to make sure this school year starts and ends with STYLE.

Copyright 2016 Lisa Hess