THE Secret to Organized School Backpacks All Year Long


“Back to school” means different things for different people, but there is always the same excitement in the air when kids begin to fill their backpacks with carefully organized, shiny, new school supplies each year. And for parents, the same dread…There is NO way that backpack is going to stay that shiny, clean, and organized for much longer. What’s a weary parent to do?

Backpacks becoming dirty and disorganized isn’t just a nuisance, it can be a real stumbling block for your kids and the family as a whole. In only a few days of use, those pristine bags of utility can turn into black holes for homework or sweltering Petri dishes of forgotten snacks and gym clothes fit only for incineration. Save yourself the stress of spelunking in a hazmat suit for those lost assignments and institute a weekly Backpack Purge to keep your kids’ gear fresh all year long!

A Backpack Purge is a regularly scheduled event where families clean out and organize their bags. We call it a purge because one of the most important parts of this cleaning routine is purging your kids’ bags of all the unnecessary items they don’t need to be hauling around. When done correctly, a regular Backpack Purge can help your family simplify, stay on top of schedules, remember school work, avoid last-minute disasters, and keep your home clean. 

Use these steps to implement a successful weekly Backpack Purge for your family:

🍎Set Expectations

This is the most important tip. Before implementing any changes into your family’s routine, make sure you have all hands on deck and everyone understands the change and what it will require from them. 

Make sure to clearly define your goal of what clean and organized school/club/work gear looks with the entire family. Everyone should be able to answer the following questions;

  • Where should all the bags be located by the end of the day? 
  • Where are bags not supposed to be by the end of the day? 
  • What day and time each week will the Backpack Purge be taking place?
  • Who will be checking the backpacks? 
  • What will an organized backpack or bag look like? 

Determine the answers to all of these questions together so that any concerns or roadblocks can be addressed and adapted to fit your family. Your kids may have very valid reasons for some of their strange habits, so make sure to give them an opportunity to voice their opinion!

🍎Create a Game Plan to STAY Organized

You may not believe it, but getting everyone on board and setting expectations was the easy part. So, how do you help your kids and yourself actually follow through and commit to cleaner backpacks for the rest of the year? 

Make a game plan! Take steps to ensure your success!

  • Choose one day a week to clean out everyone’s gear. We recommend Thursday evenings. This may be difficult since it’s in the middle of the week, but by cleaning on a Thursday, it is more likely that you will have the time you need to prepare for the following week without weekend interruptions. Thursday purges ensure homework isn’t more than a few days late. Notices, announcements, projects, and notes from teachers are found with time to still respond or plan. The best part is, if you organize your bags on Thursday it means heading into the weekend with fewer chores. Gym clothes will already have been washed, homework organized, and any upcoming projects or events will be planned for!
  • Set an alarm on your phone for the date and time you’ve decided to clean out all your family’s gear. Make sure it’s different from your normal alarms. Choose something obnoxious or funny, but make it so unique you and the rest of the family will always recognize it. 
  • Get in on the cleaning and organization yourself. If your kids don’t need to be supervised during the Backpack Purge, commit to cleaning and organizing a room in the time it takes them to clean out their packs. Or, if you have a bag you use often, clean it out with them! 
  • Create a reward system for the family. If everyone can go so many weeks without forgetting to clean out all their gear, plan a special activity or bring home a treat. Another reward option would be to hide a treat or token in their bags each week, before the appointed time for the Backpack Purge, making it a game to be more thorough!
  • Institute consequences for not staying on top of this goal. There are plenty of natural consequences to forgotten and neglected backpacks including smelly clothes, late homework, and moldy food. Leaning into these may help your kids learn to stay on top of it without your help. Move some of the responsibility to them by requiring them to do their own last-minute laundry, clean out the gross food containers, or by not rushing school work to them if it was forgotten. You know your kids and what kind of game plan will help them keep backpack organization and cleanliness top of mind.

🍎What to Remove and What Not to Remove

To keep the Backpack Purge simple, efficient, and quick, make a list with your family about things that don’t need to be routinely removed from their packs. Depending on the situation, it isn’t usually necessary to remove things like inhalers, glasses, pens, pencils, and calculators as long as they are neatly stored. 

Here are some things we do recommend removing from school bags and sorting weekly:

  • Loose paper. If it is scratch paper, it doesn’t need to be loose in their bags. If it’s a homework assignment, it should have a home before it gets crumpled, ripped, or lost. Also, is the homework done?
  • Clothes, shoes, and sporting gear for obvious reasons. Depending on your child’s classes or level of activity these should be getting washed at minimum once a week. 
  • Books. We mean all books. Textbooks, notebooks, library books, and binders all count. This is the perfect time to check due dates and to keep track of homework or notes that may have been absentmindedly stashed inside textbook pages. 
  • Electronics. Phones,  tablets, flash drives and laptops should all be removed from backpacks weekly to make sure they aren’t damaged and are being stored correctly. Inspect all the electronics; are they working properly and can your child access everything they need from them? 
  • Anything that has to do with food: lunch packs, containers, water bottles, thermoses, old disposable baggies, and used napkins should all be removed regularly. Cleaning out these items keeps your children’s school gear clean, pest-free, and bacteria-free. All food and drink containers need to be cleaned frequently and no snack should be left in a pack too long. Snacks like granola bars may be best by 2057, but if your kid isn’t eating it, an uninvited critter might!
  • Instruments: If your child plays an instrument that requires a case, it will need to be inspected weekly. Many instruments require regular maintenance and cleaning or they can begin to mold and fall apart. Instrument cases can also be great places to hide important announcements or homework, so make sure your child not only inspects their instrument consistently but also their instrument case for any forgotten items.
  • Miscellaneous Items: Things like chapstick and cosmetics need to be removed weekly to make sure they haven’t made a mess in your child’s backpack. We recommend keeping these items in a single bag. This way, the bag can be removed weekly and checked for any leaks eliminating the need to remove every item. All it takes is for one melty chapstick, one exploded lotion, or some leaky hand sanitizer to ruin Very Important notes. 
  • Check for any other random items in your kids’ school gear. Does a lego set or that really cool rock need to be heading to school every day? Are there other homes for those items instead of having your kids haul them to and from school? 
  • Trash. Don’t forget to throw away wrappers, stickers, or any other trash that winds up in bags. Residue from trash can ruin books, homework, and electronics. Not to mention, unnecessary loose papers and wrappers can make it difficult for your child to find the things they really do need!

🍎Eliminate Any Odors

Sometimes the sad truth is...Backpack Purges can’t eliminate persistent odors on their own. Cleaning out bags regularly will help catch anything that may end up smelling later, but if a bag has already been neglected over and over again, there isn’t much that can be done. 

Don’t despair and throw the bag out just yet! If a bag has started to take on an odor or if you'd like to make sure it never starts to smell, a well placed Odor Buster Bar can solve the problem easily. Place an Odor Buster Bar in an old (clean) sock and tie it at the top. Keep the Odor Buster Bar at the bottom of the bag to eliminate odors immediately. Be sure you don't accidentally throw it out during backpack purges and for 30 days at a time any bag with an Odor Buster Bar will stay fresh and odor-free!

🍎Organizing What Goes Back In

Remember all those shiny, new organizing supplies you bought your child for the start of school? This is where they get to use them!

Help your children organize all the things they took out of their backpacks neatly back into them. It’s the first rule of organizing, everything needs a place. By the time your children are done re-organizing their backpacks, they should be able to answer these questions:

  • Where is all my finished homework?
  • Where is all my ongoing homework?
  • Where are my notes for each subject?
  • Where are my textbooks for each subject?
  • Do my parents have any messages, updates, or reminders from my teachers or coaches?
  • Do I have all my gear ready to go for any extracurricular activities?
  • Where are my library books?
  • Is my backpack ready for me to walk out the door, right now?

If your kids can answer all of those questions confidently, they’ve successfully completed the Backpack Purge!

What other tricks does your family use to stay organized during the school year?