How can you avoid annual back-to-school clutter and make everyone less depressed and stressed?

Andrew Mellen, author of Unstuff Your Life!, offers his organizational holy trinity:

  • Designate a home for everything. Every backpack, skirt, homework assignment must have its own place. Get the kids in the habit of placing everything where it belongs.
  • Place like with like. All pencils go in one bin; permission slips in one clear envelope; coats on the same row of hooks.
  • Something in; something out. When you buy something new, you get rid of something old. No exceptions!

Here are more ways to escape back-to-school clutter.

1. Make a list. Impulse buying is deadly when shopping for school clothes, supplies, field trips, and sports stuff. Take an inventory, make a list of must-haves, and follow it exactly. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t come into the house.

2. Unpack immediately. Don’t pile up shopping bags full of supplies. Unpack and organize as soon as you bring the bags into the house. That way, you’ll avoid day-before-school chaos.

3. Create a Mommy/Daddy binder. Geralin Thomas, a pro organizer featured on A&E’s show “Hoarders,” says parents should make for themselves a three-ring binder that contains kids’ immunization records, lists of active medications, pediatrician telephone numbers — the information they refer to and write on forms frequently during the school year.

4. Establish a homework zone. Kids’ rooms, dining room table, kitchen counter — just pick a place. Stock the spot with bins, jars, or rolling caddies with school supplies — pens, papers, glue sticks — so kids don’t have to hunt for what they need.

5. Color-code your kids. Assign each child a color: Billy’s blue, Mary’s red. Buy basics — binders, towels, toothbrushes, slippers — in those colors for easy sorting and cleanup.

6. Pick a staging spot. This is where kids put their ready-to-go backpacks each night before bed. In the morning, they just grab and go.

7. Give each child a sports bin. A place in the mudroom or entryway where each kid can put their kneepads, helmets, ballet shoes — all the equipment they need for lessons, practices, and games. Also, tape a checklist for each sport above each bin; i.e., Baseball: cleats, mitt, bat, hat. That way, kids won’t forget what they need.

8. Update the family calendar. Update your trusty wall calendar daily. Make sure your schedule is on the calendar too, so kids know when you’re available for conferences and carpools.

9. Digitize the family calendar. Your computer calendar has all kinds of digital features that will help keep everyone on schedule. Sync your computer calendar with cell phones so everyone knows where they need to be.

10. Sign and return permission slips immediately. If slips hang around, they become clutter and disappear. Get in the habit of signing and returning the next day.