Back-to-School Tips, Part 2: Organizing School Papers

Are all those school papers driving you crazy? It’s only one month into the school year and you may already be drowning in paper!

A rite of passage for every parent is figuring out how to organize the endless flow of paper that comes home every day with your child.  It is amazing how much paper can be generated between your child’s earliest scribbles and finger paintings to your older student’s worksheets, tests, essays, graphs, science projects and art masterpieces.

All of that paper is either the joy or bane (some would say pain!) of many a parent’s existence: some try to save it all, while others throw up their hands and toss it all. Where do you fall between those extremes? The good news is that there is a middle ground and a method to the madness. Please read on for tips on how to stem the tide, manage the piles and make sense of it all. Let’s dive in!



What kind of paper is it: a keeper or a tosser?

As paper (and your child) arrive at your doorstep, you get to play the role of bouncer at the velvet rope and decide if it (and your child) can come in.  Is it a keeper or a tosser? Your child, of course, gets a VIP pass so let’s just focus on the paper:

Keeper Papers
You can divide papers to keep into 3 general categories:

  • Action
  • Reference
  • Archive

What needs action?

  • Homework in progress
  • Tests to sign
  • Permission slips to sign

What is kept for reference?

Note: this category can be kept either as a hard copy or in online/digital form in a cloud-sharing tool such as Evernote. While it’s more efficient to go paperless, sometimes a physical, easy-to- grab, user-friendly object called paper works best when you’re rushing, need to find a phone number quickly, etc.

  • School calendars
  • Class schedules
  • Sports team practice & game schedules
  • Class/team rosters
  • Contact numbers/emails for school, teacher, room parent
  • Lunch calendars
  • Log-in Instructions for school/educational websites
  • PTA meeting schedule

What to archive?

  • Artwork
  • Writing (poems, stories, essays)
  • Exemplary test scores
  • Report cards
  • Certificates
  • Programs from performances

Easy, you say, but how to whittle down this growing volume of paper? My suggestion is that you choose the work that best illustrates your little genius in development. Select your favorites as they come into your home, but be discerning. In the end, you want to be able to marvel at the real “diamonds” among all the pebbles your child brings home each day. Also, don’t worry about being too selective as this will be your “first sort.” You will do a second sort at the end of the year to pick the best of the best for long-term archiving.

Tosser Papers

What to toss?

  • Anything that doesn’t pertain to you or your child
  • Promotional flyers
  • Uninspiring, uncreative artwork (e.g. coloring pages)
  • Homework worksheets

This is a hard one for some; as a preschool or kindergarten parent, you may be inclined to save every drawing, practice worksheet, test or scrawl. By the time your child is in 3rd grade, you’ll be over it – and plus, the paper tide will have ebbed by then. Also ask yourself: will your child want all of that paper when he/she is older? A few representative pieces are all you need to illustrate your child’s progress and brilliance – so put those in the archive section and toss the rest.


How do I deal with it?

When your child comes home, have them open their backpack and empty it of all papers. You can start sorting right away into paper that is a keeper vs. tosser.

Keeper Paper

As for paper to keep, there are a variety of ways to store it, from binders with plastic insert pages to a dedicated portion of a kitchen file drawer to more visible options:

Accordion File Folder

organize homework papers with an accordian file

how to organize homework papers

File Box





Paper Sorter





Wall Pocket


Since I only have one child, I keep mine in this handy tabletop file sorter. He gets all his homework at the beginning of the week, so instead of having an archive section, I dedicated one section to homework. All paper to archive is already put in my son’s memorabilia box. (More on that in next post!)


If you have more than one child, the other paper sorting solutions will be better for you. And there should only be one Action section (that’s for you to take action on). The other sections can be duplicated/triplicated and dedicated to each child: e.g. Reference – Kate, Reference – Sam.

As for archive paper, keep the best as it comes in, and periodically move that paper into a separate memorabilia box for longer-term keeping. At the end of the school year, you will review the archive pile again and exercise the “edit button” more stringently. Also, by waiting until the end of the school year to make these decisions, you will have a much better perspective of what’s worth saving, and will be left holding the shining examples of your child’s work for that school year.

Tosser Paper

Please throw away, recycle or shred all your tosser paper – and then do a happy dance for having less paper!


How do you store your school papers? Any successful systems you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them!

2 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *