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Back-to-school upgrades to make life easier

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | September 22, 2014

School is back in full swing, and you know what that means -- homework all over the kitchen table, backpacks in the foyer, and general chaos all around. How can you get things neat and organized when you are in the midst of a back-to-school tornado? You might be surprised what these easy upgrades can do for your home (and your sanity).

Give them a place for all their stuff

When your kids come home, they probably rush in the door and head to the kitchen for a snack. Their backpacks, coats, shoes, and everything else often ends up in a heap at the door, and an hour later you are yelling at them to move their stuff. Eliminate the clutter and the stress with cubbies, hooks, and nooks that are designed to keep everything corralled.

If your entryway has a closet, use it to stash all the things that come along with back-to-school. Add shelves to one side of the closet to hold books, and keep the other side available for hanging up coats. A simple shoe rack on the bottom of the closet gives a place for sneakers and boots. If you don't have a closet, don't sweat -- just put big hooks on the wall just inside the door, and invest in a space-saving shoe bench that will catch all the other things kids bring home with them.

Set up a homework nook

Picture this: It's almost dinnertime, and you have several dishes to set on the table. But the entire surface is covered with textbooks, notebooks, calculators, and all the other trappings of kids working hard on their homework. While it can be great to have them with you in the kitchen while you cook, when dinner rolls around it's time for a different mindset. A homework nook is the answer.

Choose an area of the kitchen that you can "give up" for a few hours each day. A breakfast bar is an excellent place for this. Set a small box of necessities nearby -- pens and pencils, highlighters, paperclips, etc. Then tell your kids to keep their homework right there, in that space. No room in the kitchen? Invest in a space-saving desk that fits into a nook or cranny somewhere near the kitchen action. A fold-down desk is a perfect option for those short on space -- and you can enjoy the extra surface yourself while the kids are at school.

Make snacktime easy

Your kids burst into the house, acting as though they haven't eaten anything in days. They head straight to the kitchen, where they proceed to practically empty the cabinets and make a mess of your counters. By the time you're ready to start dinner, the idea of cleanup exhausts you. Nip all that chaos in the bud with a pantry and fridge overhaul that makes snacking easier.

Choose one shelf in the pantry and one shelf in the fridge that are reserved for the kids. On these shelves, put single-serving goodies. Granola bars, small bags of trail mix, cups of instant oatmeal and boxes of juice are good options for the pantry. In the fridge, offer up string cheese, fresh veggies like celery and carrots, and small containers of yogurt and milk. With easy-to-grab foods, your kids can hop into the kitchen, get their snack, and then hop right back out.

Some peace and quiet for everyone

As your kids get older, the homework gets harder. It can be so tough, in fact, that there might be nights filled with studying and nothing else. To make life easier on everyone in the house, consider a built-in desk in the bedroom that allows them the quiet privacy they need to study.

In some rooms, you can simply put a desk against the wall and you're in business. But a built-in desk can allow for much more room, because it makes use of part of the wall that was going to waste anyway. Best of all, some built-in desks can fold into the wall like a Murphy bed, meaning that you never sacrifice space. Get in touch with a reputable contractor to figure out the options.

Not enough space in the bedroom for one more thing? Look to places in your house that aren't used that often, such as the nook underneath the stairs. That could be the perfect place to create a study area for the kids, one that is hidden away and provides privacy but keeps them close to the family at the same time. A space like this gives you much more flexibility as to the size of the desk and the odds-and-ends you might put in there, such as table lamps or hanging files.

You can make these changes on a variety of budgets; the amount you spend is entirely up to you! But there is no doubt that even the simplest changes can result in corralling the chaos. So get started right now -- quick, before the kids get home!

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist who has spent over twenty years writing about home improvement, education, relationships and medical and health topics.