Are you a parent (or, do you know a parent) who is feeling stressed and uncertain about the upcoming school year? Back to school time under normal circumstances has always been a little chaotic, with all of the preparations, gathering school supplies, and getting kids back into a routine after a relaxing and fun summer.
But this year, in the midst of a global pandemic, back to school is unlike any other year before. For most families, it’s not exciting. It’s more than just a little chaotic. It’s stressful and a source of anxiety for many parents to make a choice between remote learning, or in-school learning, or a split schedule, or homeschooling.
On top of that, many working parents are still working remotely right now, either full-time or on a rotational schedule.
So, how exactly are we supposed to organize our home to make spaces for a home office (or two!), and for home learning for our kids?!
First and foremost: you are not alone in this. How to successfully work from home and learn from home is a topic that we all need to figure out together. It’s going to be a day by day, week by week situation.
The answer to creating a successful home office and remote learning experience is twofold: flex spaces and routines.
What is Flex Space?
Setting up flex spaces in your home is critical at this time. Flex space gives you the ability to work or learn from a couple of different designated areas in your home. Most people tend to create one workspace and one school space, but that can be difficult to manage when there is more than one working adult and more than one child to consider.
The key is to have designated spaces for privacy as well as communal spaces. Having private spaces are necessary for working parents who have meetings and Zoom calls, and for students to have a quiet space for deep focus. Room dividers are an option for creating separate spaces in larger rooms.
I don’t recommend working or learning from the bedroom. It’s just a little too comfy and casual. But if it’s your only spot for a private space, it’s OK — just try not to sit or lay in your bed with your laptop.
Communal spaces are helpful for work that requires you to spread out a little. They are also helpful for young students who may need a parent sitting or working nearby while they’re online. Some examples of good communal spaces are the dining room table or kitchen island.
The idea is to incorporate one or two flex spaces per person. Now, if you’re a family of five that doesn’t mean you have to have 10 separate flex spaces! Just make sure that you have enough options for private space and communal space for both working parents and students.
Here are my tips for creating flex spaces:
Declutter your counters, tables, and work surfaces. Keep your surfaces such as kitchen counters, dining room table, and desks clear so it’s easy to sit down and work. You should be able to spread out. Get into the habit of putting stuff away daily.
Bonus: Don’t forget about outdoor spaces! As long as there is access to a clear table and wifi, working and learning in nature can be stimulating and just make you feel good!
Have one designated spot for work supplies and school supplies. Kids have a locker or a cubby at school, so they have a defined spot for their school items. Create the same concept at home by defining one spot for each child’s school supplies, and one spot for your work supplies. You don’t have to keep the stuff right next to where you’re working. As I teach in Clutter Bootcamp, the goal is storing collections of items together.
Remember: Put all items away at the end of the school and workday in its designated spot. The buffet in the dining room is one idea for a great spot. Declutter the linens and dishes and make space for school supplies or work supplies. Or in a coat closet, hang fabric cubbies, or declutter a shelf to make the spot. The idea is to use one spot, and be consistent with putting your school and work stuff away every day.
Don’t set up school time in a playroom! It can be way too distracting for successful learning. Home learning should be set up in a flex space.
Routines for Successful Working from Home and Learning from Home
Routines are critically important to successful remote learning and working. One thing that will really help you is setting alarms. This can be a kitchen timer or an alarm on your phone. Think about the structure and routine of a school day. Schools function in set time blocks. Bells ring to signal the transition to the next time block. It’s easy to create these transitional signals at home by using alarms.
Bonus tip: check out this YouTube video from Jordan Page about time blocking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BKuSlstIBM
Here are my top tips for creating a routine for your family:
Have a morning routine. Start your day the same way every day, whether you’re leaving the house or staying home. Structured mornings will create consistency.
Wake up at the same time every day and get ready for the day. Set a 15-minute warning alarm prior to the start of school. This provides a physical reminder for your family that it’s almost time to switch from “home” to “school.” If you’re leaving the house, this may mean getting packed up and getting into the car or to the bus stop. If you’re learning remotely, it may mean taking out the school supplies from its designated area and setting up in a flex space for the day.
Have an evening routine. At the end of the day, it’s important to clean up and put away school and work supplies. Set a 15-minute warning alarm to signal to your family that it’s time to wrap up the last task. This is the signal to make the transition from work or school to home. Make sure you clear and declutter those flex space surfaces!
Pack lunches and snacks every day. Whether you’re leaving the house or not, plan and pack your food for the day. Use lunchboxes! This will help alleviate the “What do we have to eat?” questions and interruptions.
Make adjustments. Ask yourself what’s working? What’s not? Don’t be afraid to make adjustments as often as necessary. For example, when my kids were sent home from school at the beginning of quarantine in March, my older daughter got into the habit of doing online schoolwork in her bedroom. It wasn’t the best setup for us, so I’m making the adjustment to our routine by creating a flex space for her remote learning for the coming school year.
Manage your expectations. So much is out of our control right now. School and work look vastly different from anything we’ve ever known. And it’s OK!
My single goal for this school year is to reduce as much stress as possible for my family. I am honestly NOT very concerned with the education side. Learning will happen. Everyone will catch up.
Let’s not forget there’s inherent learning in this whole process — being home with family, how to manage schedules, how to live with people 24/7 while finding your own outlet — in fact, these are all very important life skills!
Control what you can control. YOU have control over your family’s routine and schedule. Trust that everything else will work itself out.
Find a bright side! There is ALWAYS a bright side! This is a crazy time, for sure. But what’s the bright side for you? Maybe it’s saving money by not commuting, or finally getting around to decluttering your home to create those flex spaces. Maybe it’s spending more time with your kids, and having fun dance parties to break up the day. If you can set up an outside space to work, that’s a fantastic bonus in all of this, right?!
If you focus on the bright side as much as possible, you’ll begin to see this time as a gift.
Creating an environment for successful learning from home and working from home, and establishing a routine keeps everyone, especially kids, less stressed. You are teaching your kids how to manage difficult times, and this is one of the greatest lessons of all.
And remember, you are NOT alone. It’s extremely important to find your community and have a safe place to turn to for support. One of our Prioritize Your Sanity members so eloquently said that our community “is a soft place to land in a hard world.”
If you’re looking for a supportive, non-judgmental community to help you with creating flex spaces in your home, I’d love to have you join Clutter Boot Camp and the Prioritize Your Sanity Facebook group!
Want more tips like this? Subscribe to my YouTube channel for my weekly podcast, “It’s All Clutter.”