by: Vern Uyetake, Nyco Herzog at The Container Store in Bridgeport Village demonstrates how an adjustable locker shelf works.

The school year has begun. Kids run every direction, spouses are bus drivers, relaxation time includes paying bills and grocery shopping and the To-Do list stretches from the top to the bottom of the fridge.

But there's hope for this September madness, in the form of three words: The Container Store.

Whether it's a shared area at home - den, study room, kids' desk - or a school locker, with the right tools, life can become much easier. The key is to communicate with one another and divide spaces for productivity.

'Right now it's all about, 'how am I going to coordinate my life around what the kids have to do?' Choose one place and get started, then begin to branch out to areas touched by what the kids have to do,' said Nyco Herzog, sales trainer at The Container Store at Bridgeport Village.

Communication is key

For families, the school year can be an exciting time - new projects, new friends, new activities and hopefully a new way to keep track of it all. Herzog suggested creating a centralized location for communication - such as near the fridge, in the den or mudroom near the garage, a place family members can see the information. This is an area that could contain paper, pens and a calendar.

Magnetic calendars for $19.95, and in several different colors, can be helpful when organizing activities. Because the boards are magnetic, reminder notes can also be stuck to the board easily.

'Use different colors for different people's items - the son in blue, mom in green. And just write in what it is, like, 'soccer.' It's a communication center,' Herzog said. 'You could even put a chore chart on here. Use color.'

Small dry erase boards that cost $9.99 are also great for on the outside of kids' doors, for roommates and college students in dorms.

'You might be like two ships passing in the night. It's all about communicating. Write notes. Keep each other in the loop,' Herzog said.

Places to store files and paper are also helpful.

'It's important to build good habits in grade school and high school so when (students) get to college they're organized. We talk a lot about how vertical file systems are great because they create a flexible space so you can sort things with tabs on them. They're even good for parents or caregivers so if you're looking over someone's homework, you just drop it in the box when you're done,' Herzog said.

In a variety of colors and patterns, the tall boxes with lids to hide clutter can be used for years and for a variety of different items.

It's attractive because you can cover it up and you can label it,' Herzog said of the $16.99 product.

Clear cases are also an alternative if seeing items makes finding them easier, Herzog said.

To-Do pads, available for $14.99, divide up daily tasks by subject.

If all else fails, The Container Store has an 'office in a box,' featuring a place for pencils, box for storage, file shelves and folder holders in both pink and black. For $19.99 the stiff cardboard organizers can be a quick, inexpensive alternative to picking and choosing other items.

For a busy parent on the go, a soft-sided $34.99 market tote can act as a 'catch all.' Set it by the front door and when you leave the house, everything you need for the day will be there.

'Throw in your DVDs (to be returned), library books, mail, dry cleaning, whatever,' Herzog said. 'When you leave the house, grab the basket and you have everything with you to run errands.'

When everything has it's place it is easy to find; the same principal used when organizing a school locker.

Divide the space

School lockers work best when utilized efficiently. With five or so minutes between classes, students must be able to find things - and fast.

'It's so easy to cram stuff inside but we really encourage people to maximize the space inside (their locker). You can take two shelves and have one on top of the other. That way you have a place for textbooks and notebooks,' Herzog said. 'Maybe color-coordinate your folders, like, 'chemistry is the red folder.''

The Stack-A-Shelf system is $5.24 and breaks up the locker into a compartmentalized closet. The Adjust-A-Shelf system is $8.99 and works best for lightweight items since it is not held up on poles.

Magnetic items are easy to see and use.

School identification cards, car keys and other small items can be hung on clips inside the locker door. Three colored hooks are $4.49; four, silver clips at $9.99.

Magnetic penholders for $4.99 can also be used to hold calculators, hair accessories, make-up and anything else small. Vanity mirrors for $7.99 also stick to locker walls.

'It's great to do a little tooth check before class,' Herzog said.

Speaking of primping; it's helpful to have items to get students through the day, such as deodorant, soap, toothbrush, etc. A Hang-Up kit for $16.99 contains several pockets and a hook for hanging.

'For people who are involved with sports and need to get cleaned up and sort of put themselves back together before a class, this is great. You can even use it for school supplies because the pockets are big enough for pencils or note cards. We have variations of this item in our travel isle,' she said.

Paper also needs its place. Cascading letter files are small, light-weight and serve as a handheld file cabinet. These cost $14.99.

'When people walk out of here it's very exciting because you know they've got some power over their situation. Ever since the store opened 29 years ago, (we've) found that the people that come here (and ask questions) are people who need to organize the crazy parts of their lives,' Herzog said. 'We like to say that The Container Store has been doing back-to-school organization for 29 years.'

The Container Store is located at 7417 SW Bridgeport Road in Tigard, just off Boones Ferry Road.

Store hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 503-620-5700.

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