My oldest son is starting high school, not college, but he will be away from home for his first year. He’s only been gone a few weeks and I’m already distraught. In order to cope I began a massive reorganization and sterilization of his room (he’s a teenage boy so yes sterilization was involved). I went to such extremes that my husband threatened to have me institutionalized, so now I just sit in his-now immaculate-room and cry each night. When I left home at 18 I felt so happy to be out on my own; I now realize how completely devastated my mother must have been and what all mothers of college-bound children are feeling this month.
Keeping busy is an important mothering skill. It helps you avoid dealing with difficult issues and can also provide a sense of purpose. While busily organizing my son’s room I could pretend, albeit briefly, that he would be returning at any moment. We all have different coping skills, but no one ever went to rehab for over-organizing, so go ahead and follow my lead.
Here are my organizing tips for a college-bound child:
1. Create a binder with important contacts, medical information, important birthdays, etc. You can even include numbers and addresses of family friends. They’ll likely call you several times over the coming years for the number or address of some distant relative who has suddenly become important for a professional introduction.
2. Invest in decorative storage. First year dorm, second year apartment, summer internship…their life is in transition. Collapsible storage will be there when they need it and fit neatly under the bed when they don’t.
3. Help them create an organizational plan. Where will they store graded homework? I suggest a file box with hanging files. Once they receive their correct grades, they should clean it out for the next year. Keep only what is really necessary.
4. Get a copy of their schedule and create labels for each class. They will have labels for the hanging files in their file box or for notebooks, etc.
5. Suggest a color for each class. Finance is green, science is red, history is blue…doesn’t really matter the point is if you color code everything it makes it easier to quickly grab it as you head out the door for class.
6. Invest in a sticky chalk or white boards, one for each class. Make sure they won’t damage the wall as many dorms and apartments have strict rules about this. Every Sunday night they should write down important reminders on the board(s). If they are visually minded this is a grade-saving tip.
7. Suggest a paper organizer for your written class notes. I’m all about computers and electronics, but some teachers don’t allow them in class. A paper organizer allows you to prioritize easily by being able to group class tasks and projects in each pocketed page.
8. Help them create (and stick to) a weekly schedule for tasks like cleaning, laundry, shopping, and studying on an accessible desktop writing pad. Routine will keep them from becoming overwhelmed, a precursor to disorganization.
9. Elaborate organizational plans are a recipe for disaster. Help them understand their abilities and style so that they have plans that will work for them.
10. Don’t over buy. They will need binder clips, but not a gallon of 5000. Most college kids are space-challenged whether they live on campus or not, so keep your buying in check.
When you're feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty getting started, it helps to make a list. Get all that stuff in your mind down on paper. Limit yourself to one line per item, if you have a due date include that next to the item. Don't worry about priority or additional detail at this time, just get it on paper. Once you've finished, group items into categories by priority, then type, for example errands, calls, urgent, etc. Relief will come as you work through the list and cross things off. To read past Quick Tips click here