If back-to-school time has you feeling overwhelmed, a professional organizer might be just what you need to get back on track and into your post-summer routine. Paying for the services of an organizer can undo the mess your kids may have caused while home on summer vacation and, in the process, get them prepared to properly take on the new school year.
"In the summer, everything goes," said Krystal Cooper, owner of We Organize! in Kansas City, Mo. "You need to get ready to pack lunches again, get the kids ready for soccer and football practice and get back to that routine."
Professional home organizers work closely with customers to determine what areas of a home can benefit the most from being reviewed and organized, whether it's a kitchen, bedroom or garage. They can also advise you about what to do with all those school supplies, homework and books so they don't get lost or misplaced.
"Organizing saves you a lot of time looking for things," Cooper said. "You won't spend 15 minutes each day looking for your keys. It's also more comfortable for the children. Everything goes smoother when everything has a place."
With school supplies, experts recommend:
• Going through backpacks, pencil boxes, cabinets, closets and drawers before shopping for new supplies.
• Not holding on to too many old papers and projects from previous school years, which can make staying organized difficult.
• Giving each kid a bin, so their work doesn't get mixed up.
Ruth Phillips, owner of Household Organizer in Alpharetta, Ga., said some parents prefer to call an organizer after their kids start school. The reason? "The house is finally empty and you can get someone to come over," she said.
One area of a home where many items end up out of place is the kitchen. Kitchen cupboards tend to get unorganized when kids and their friends are home all summer, digging for snacks. An organizer will show ways to maximize space, throw away older items and will even rearrange your refrigerator.
"It's where the heart is," Cooper said of the kitchen. "People spend a lot of time there, so they tend to get pretty messy after a while."
Children's bedrooms — especially their closets — can also be a magnet for messiness. An organizer could recommend using storage containers under the bed or placing a hamper next to where that pile of dirty clothes tends to form.
Phillips said it's important to start in one room and work slowly — "2 feet by 2 feet," she said, adding that it's a good idea to start in the youngest child's room first so it will already be organized when you start bringing the older kids' hand-me-downs into it.
"I tell them to only leave out everything that is in-season," Phillips said. "Put the stuff that is out of season in the basement."
Garages can also get messy after a long summer because more items see more use in the summer. Also, Cooper said, garages often serve as a "catch all" spot for many households.
Unlike some service providers who get called in for a repair and work alone until the job is done, most home organizers prefer work closely with customers, Cooper said.
"We go in and see the areas that need to be organized," Cooper said. "We'll purge things that need to be thrown out, get rid of broken toys or donate clothes that have become too small."
Cooper charges customers $160 for a four-hour organizational session. According to Angie's List research, the price for a home organizer ranges from $30 to $80 an hour.
Because organizers don't need to be licensed, it's important to know which companies have a good track record. Organizers are not only going to be in your home, but they're going to be in your children's rooms and will handle personal belongings, so you want someone you can trust. Ask for references and take the time to talk to them.
"Look and see if they have a website," Cooper said. "Look at some of their before and after pictures. What have they done before?"
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, a resource for local consumer reviews (www.angieslist.com).