Get ready to streamline the back-to-school paper flood
The first day of school is promising. Your children are coiffed and coutured in their cleanest and newest. They are nervous, excited, maybe a little anxious, while you probably feel elated by the possibility of a little time for yourself.
Surely there are a few tears to wipe away, maybe a couple of family members to call or email with the reports of "how big" and "so brave." Emotions and expectations are running high, and then, guess what comes home along with the report about how the first day went?
A deluge of paper, that's what. And this is only the beginning. Piles form, coming via backpacks or extended in the clutches of paint-and-glitter-covered hands. Stacks quickly start to teeter with appeals for donations, requests for volunteer time, yearbook payments and extra-curricular enrichment, and calls to rally school spirit.
If you have multiple kids, you'd better act fast before a torrent of paper takes over an entire room in your home. It's only a matter of time before papers come reminding you of their predecessors, which you forgot to sign and return. Or maybe you just lost track of them in the flood.
What happened to the paper-free plan? Remember how technology was going to relieve us of all of this paper madness?
Maybe we'll get there some day. In the meantime, a steady stream of paperwork is heading your way, and you need to learn how to manage it. After seven years of dividing and conquering a volley of school communications, I've got my paper-flow systems down pat.
Here's what I've learned:
Recycle Most Of It. Initially, you will look at what your kids hand you and think, "Oh my gosh, my baby made this." But, trust me, the thrill quickly chills. Ask yourself instead, "Will I die, will my child suffer, or will we experience serious social disgrace or bumble a critical parent-teacher communication if I throw this away?"
If the answer is, "no," toss it-quickly. You won't miss it. I promise. When you are unsure, invest in some inexpensive cloth wall pockets to temporarily store the papers you can't bear to part with yet, like school directories or instructions for future events you plan to participate in.
Pick & Choose. Your first year through the "paper mill," you'll need to learn what to participate in and what to pass over. So think of year one as your paper prioritizing initiation. PTA? Yes. Fun Run? Okay. Basketball fundraiser? Maybe not this year. Scholastic book purchases every month? It's up to you. Select what you can manage and don't worry about doing more. Whatever you can handle; let it be enough.
Respond Immediately. By the third round of requests for payments for the annual yearbook, you won't even hesitate to toss that sucker in the trash. Why? Because you always respond immediately to anything you want to participate in and you chuck the rest. Don't confuse matters by waiting until later. If "immediately" doesn't work for you, take care of multiple-step responses on Fridays or Mondays or whatever day works best. Then, the next time the teacher is hollering through her paper megaphone that this is the tenth reminder to send in field trip money, you will smile smugly and recycle it. Because you always take care of those requests the first time around.
But It's Art! You can keep it but have some display cycles you put your kids' artwork through for maximum enjoyment before the works go to the big craft heaven in the sky (or the big plastic tub in the basement or the attic or under the bed). In the meantime, hang up a "clothesline" in the kitchen, put up kid's artwork frames around the house, and hang strips magnetized or cork strips in their rooms for the parade of self-expression to come. If you put art up and out for a while, and take photos of it, you might be willing to let go of it sooner.
Preserve The Standouts. Your child does not want to remember that she was the last one in class to memorize her addition and subtraction tables, so throw the evidence away. But she may wish to remember the awesome story she wrote when she could barely spell about how she and her best friend stared down a millipede on the playground during recess. Set aside one large plastic tub for each child's artwork and ephemera. The best time for shaking down the clutter that is bound to accumulate in tubs is each summer, once you've regained some detachment.
My, That's Bulky. More power to teachers who can make lessons three-dimensional wonders of elbow noodles, glue, and glitter. Have your child pose with the masterpiece. Get several shots. Make sure you get a good one. Then "store" the masterpiece in the basement or garage on a special shelf or rack set aside for amazing artwork. When the shelf is full, take some shots of the whole range of work, from many angles. Then discretely dispose of the whole lot at the beginning of each new school year, leaving room for more.
Share The Wealth. At some point, you will have your paper trail tamed but there is virtually nothing you can (or should) do to hamper your child's insatiable desire to create. Encourage your little Picasso instead. Keep manila envelopes addressed and ready-to-mail relatives in one of your cloth wall pockets so you can easily capture and share some of the seasonal artwork overflow for relatives. You've got a lot of paper joy floating around your home so you might as well share the wealth.