Tips for Taming the Backpack Clutter

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If you’ve got kids going back and forth to school this year, chances are you’ve got a fair amount of “stuff” to manage, including the little bits and pieces that come home in the backpack. Troubleshoot your kids’ backpack clutter with these ideas provided by Life as MOM contributor, Jessie Leigh.

photo source: Corsi Photo

Oh, about a year and a half ago now, we talked about ways to manage that mountain of paperwork that goes along with school. It can be overwhelming, to be sure, and it’s easy to get in over your head. Still, it is fairly predictable and most parents understand going into the year that there will be lots of pieces of paper coming home from the school.

What you might not anticipate are all the other little clutter-y doo-dads that make their way home in your children’s backpacks. It’s not just worksheets, artwork, and school correspondance that threatens to overtake your home… there are other treasures that seem to multiply from week-to-week, too!

Here are some suggestions for how to manage the seemingly inevitable pieces of junk, er, I mean treasures that come home with our beloved children.


Oh, the stickers! I never thought stickers would bother me at all. Truth be told, they’re one of my favorite tricks for entertaining tiny ones during church.

I’m really not “anti-sticker.” What I am, however, is anti-“stickers going through the laundry.” Because that? Makes a big ol’ mess.

If you are super observant about laundry or have very responsible children who can be trusted to remove all stickers from clothing, you should be all good. For the rest of us, here are two tricks for preventing the sticker laundry disasters:

  1. Coach your children to only put stickers on their skin. This might not work for those with really sensitive or delicate skin but, for many, slapping the sticker on the back of a hand helps ensure it gets removed within an appropriate time frame and doesn’t ruin anything.
  2. Purchase a cheap small notebook for your child. Have him keep it in his backpack and, any time he earns a sticker in school, it can get added to the book. Not only does this avoid any adhesive nightmares, it also lets the sentimental child hold on to the memories.

(If you happen to have stickers go through the laundry despite your vigilant efforts, a little bit of goo-gone should do the trick for getting rid of the residue.)

Photo source: Evelyn Giggles

Cheap toys

You know all those cheap-y little things that kids get from doctors’ offices or in birthday party goodie bags? Well, believe it or not, they may also get this sort of treasure at school. My children get them from therapists and sometimes from the “treasure chest” in the classroom after XXX number of days of great behavior.

Though I should perhaps be thrilled that my kiddos’ behavior merits rewards, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the plastic-y playthings. While you can always request that your children not receive such items, I have found that the following methods are the most effective and painless for dealing with it:

  1. Set a timeline. Sometimes, I just lay it on the line like this, “You can play with it for a week or until it breaks, whichever comes first.” After that, I just get rid of it. To be honest, nobody ever seems to miss it at that point.
  2. Set a limit in amount. I’ve had great success with providing each child with a small pouch or container and saying, “You can keep your five favorite little prizes in there.” They know that if they have more than five, they have to pare down. That works well, too.
  3. Finally, my very favorite way of coping is a combination of one of the above PLUS the following: I like to check in the teachers and therapists to see if they might be able to re-use these little prizes, provided they’re not broken in any way. After the time or number limit has been reached in our home, I gather and save the little toys to give back to someone who can use them. This is a win-win.

Treasures from friends

One of the sweetest things that my kids cart home would be the little notes and drawings their friends give to them. These little scraps and scrawls are precious to them, and I understand that. It can be hard to let go! Still, these things can become clutter if not reined in.

My school-aged son and daughter each have a special place– a small bulletin board and the side of a bookshelf, respectively– where they can tack or tape these treasured bit of correspondence. When the space is full? They have to cull out what really matters. Is that hard? Sometimes. But it’s also a good lesson.

There’s no doubt about it. While there are lots of fun and interesting things that come home in our children’s backpacks, the clutter can spiral out of control if we don’t have specific plans in place to cope with it. Still, with a few tricks up your sleeve, you can keep can keep it all in check without causing any tears to be shed.

What are your best tricks for reining in the clutter?

— A mother of three, including a 24 week preemie, JessieLeigh is a determined advocate for even the tiniest of babies. She can be found celebrating life’s (sometimes unexpected) miracles and blessings at Parenting Miracles.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. My children suddenly stopped wanting the stickers on their hands and put them everywhere. After 2 days of that I bought those 12 x 12 magnetic boards for the kitchen or office. Each boy has one by his headboard where he can put all his stickers. They peel off relatively well to make room for newer, more treasured stickers. It’s working out pretty well. NO more stickers in the laundry or on the furniture, although I did recently discover one on the ceiling of the van.

    • That sounds like a great solution, Heather! My kids don’t mind the stickers on their hands, but some of them can be sort of irritating to their pale skin. Having an alternative spot to put them is definitely a good way to go. 🙂

  2. Great tips. My daughter has all the treasures from friends while my son earns cheap plastic stuff from treasure boxes. I’ll have to try these tips. I usually just secretly throw away stuff after a while, but your tips will help them deal with the clutter, not me. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’ve been known to toss some things “on the sly” too, Christa. 🙂 But I do think it’s valuable to teach them how to pare down on their own… it’s a skill we wind up needing all of our lives.

  3. Jenny Knox says

    Oh, the stickers! My youngest loves his stickers, and I spent part of an afternoon last week wandering through the house peeling stickers. The refrigerator, entry way, car windows, bathroom wall, my shirt (after washing). These are great ideas. A white board especially for him and his stickers is on my list

    • Oh, car windows can be miserable! When we went to sell our last vehicle, my husband had to spend eons peeling stickers off the inside of the rear windows. Children sure do like to decorate, don’t they? 😉

  4. Art projects are the biggie here! My friend made us a “hanger” for displaying artwork. It is just a painted board, with three cld on it. It holds three things. That’s all. And we only keep artwork that is currently hung up.

    • Sounds like a great method, Bethany! Readers shared some other great tips for dealing with all the artwork in that “mountain of paperwork” post linked at the beginning of this one. 🙂

  5. Great solutions! Each of my kids have a container for their “treasures.” When we travel, I’ll often go in there and grab a handful to pack in their toy bag – because it’s a limited selection, we aren’t at home with all their other toys and they probably haven’t played with them often, they get a lot of play time during the trip. Great way to feel like the toys aren’t just junk!

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