At a glance
Being disorganized can make school tough to manage.
Trying strategies at home can help teens build organization skills.
Simple tools like planners and timers can make a huge difference.
When teens are disorganized, they can get overwhelmed by school. Multiple classes, deadlines, and projects in middle and high school can be tough to manage. Learning organization strategies can help teens be more efficient. It can also be a confidence-booster.
Try these solutions and tools to help your teen get organized and stay organized.
Use a planner.
As your teen’s academic and social schedule gets busier, a planner can help keep things organized. A planner is basically a calendar combined with an assignment notebook. A good planner usually has a weekly view, a column for each day, and a list of classes on the side.
Having a planner with a monthly view gives kids a broader look at events and assignments. This is especially helpful when planning how to break down longer projects and goals. You can even put up a big wall calendar at home, to make it easier to see the whole month.
Some teens may prefer digital planners and calendars. In that case, encourage your child to focus on the bigger picture — the full week or month — and not just on the daily view or to-do list.
Teens can also try organization apps like Google Keep, Remember the Milk, and Evernote. These can help your child remember tasks and deadlines.
Use a multi-compartment backpack.
A sturdy backpack can help teens keep school supplies in order. Try to find a multi-compartment backpack with two to three large pockets — one for books, one for notebooks, and one for personal items. The zippered pockets can hold smaller school supplies.
It’s also helpful to use a backpack checklist to keep track of what’s inside.
Try a watch or timer.
Watches and timers are simple but powerful organization tools. Teens can use them not just to keep track of time in general, but to keep track of how much time they have to do a specific task. Timing activities helps them learn how much time to budget the next time around. Teens can use a timer app on a smartphone. Or if you want to go low-tech, try an egg timer.
Color-coding can help teens stay organized, especially at school. Assigning a color to each class or subject is a quick way to organize things visually. Have your child choose different colors for each class. (Try matching the color of the textbook covers, if possible.)
You can also use color-coding to get organized at home. For example, if your teen has a sibling and they get their belongings mixed up, assign a color to each child. Then stick to one color for each child’s everyday items like toothbrushes, laundry bags, and towels. You can also use color-coded bags to store different gear, like a yellow bag for basketball and a red one for dance.
You can even color-code labels and bins. Read how one mom made a docking station to help her son keep track of winter gear.
Declutter messy rooms with office supplies.
Show your teen how basic supplies can help keep stuff organized and easy to find. Here are some ideas:
- Use accordion files to store and transport mail, electronics chargers, and other small household items.
- Rely on binder clips or folders to keep stacks of papers together, like homework materials or recent birthday cards.
- Take advantage of pencil boxes to store the pens, pencils, and highlighters kids need for taking notes.
Use a locker organization system.
For many teens, school lockers are a mess of crumpled papers and piled-up folders. Avoid this by working with your teen on a locker organization system.
Help teens figure out when they’ll visit their locker during the day. Have a map of where things go in the locker — you can even use shelves. It’s also important to schedule regular locker cleanup days.
Watch this short video on locker organization for more ideas. (You can use these same systems at home to organize your child’s dresser drawers.)
While working on locker organization, don’t forget to show your child how to use a combination lock. This cheat sheet can help your child remember the combination.
There are lots of ways to set up your teen to get more organized. Start small, then branch out as you get more comfortable. Remember that it can take time for teens to learn organization skills. Getting and staying organized can be a real challenge for some kids. Find out why some kids struggle so much with organization.
Try organization strategies little by little. You don’t have to do everything at once.
Teens might prefer digital planners and calendars over paper ones.
Teens can use simple tools to declutter their locker and bedroom.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Cindy Goldrich, EdM is a mental health counselor and a board-certified ADHD coach, educating and supporting families and professionals.