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The 23 back-to-school items a professional organizer says every parent needs

It's more than just storage bins and notebooks ... but we've got those, too.
/ Source: TODAY

It's back-to-school time ... again! This year, the TODAY Parenting and Shop TODAY teams came together to make the transition from summer vacation to schoolwork mode as seamless and easy as possible. We're bringing you the best back-to-school supplies, tips and tricks — all in one place.

For parents, back-to-school shopping is often all about school supplies and new clothes. But in the quiet moments between choosing the perfect new lunchbox and figuring out what size sneakers your kid needs for gym class, it might be wise to change a home from a summertime relaxation spot to an organized, learning-focused space.

To learn how parents can get their homes ready for a brand new school year, TODAY contributor Elizabeth Mayhew stopped by with some tips for getting organized — including one of our favorite storage solutions.

Earlier this summer, we also chatted with TODAY Parenting Team contributor Rachel Rosenthal, a mom of twin girls in Washington, D.C. who owns an organizing firm, to get a jump on all things back to school.

So, we put all their tips together into the ultimate guide for back-to-school organizing!

Mimish Storage Pouf, $69, Amazon and Mimish Cozy Storage Lounger, $170, Amazon

Also available at Walmart and Mimish.

Rosenthal says when it comes to saving on space and containing items, double-duty storage pieces are a no brainer for parents looking to get organized.

"These storage beans bags and poufs are great because not only are they functional for seating or lounging while reading, but they're also easy to use — allowing your child to assist with the organization of their items," said Rosenthal. "From tucking away stuffed animals or containing toys and books, storage furniture keeps contents contained and out of sight, but still easily accessible."

Organize It All Multi-Device Charging Station, $38, Amazon

A phone charging station "keeps your devices looking neat on your kitchen counter or hall table," Mayhew said. "This one has four outlet holes to keep wires tangle-free and a pull-out drawer for extra accessories." And if you want to charge two devices at once, check out the Rabbit Charger. Keys also need their own spot at home base, and this oversized key ring is almost impossible to lose.

Vista Frame Company Yanoda Memo Board, $53, Amazon

Also available for $50 at Vista Frame.

"Get everyone in the family on the same page by hanging a memo board in your kitchen," said Rosenthal. "It’s the perfect spot to keep all of your calendar appointments and reminders in one place."

Rosenthal suggests taking advantage of the white board format, assigning a different color ink to each family member so kids can easily keep track of their schedules and know what is coming up.

Similar options include this refrigerator magnet white board set and this combination whiteboard and cork board, both available for $26 on Amazon.

Bohemian Diamonds Cork Board, $70, Minted

Mayhew's pick for a "family command center" is this fabric-adorned bulletin board from Minted. "There are plenty of high-styled options on the market," said Mayhew. "Hang them together in a grid or gallery style to complement your decor." She also likes this magnetic gold option from CB2.

Ogio Raven ID Backpack, $40, Balfour

"Kids are more likely to be interested and participate in being organized if they have a say in how things look," said Mayhew. These personalized backpacks are a great way to get kids involved in keeping their supplies in order.

Chalk of the Town Silver Heart Tote, $20, Amazon

Mayhew also loves these ready-to-paint totes. Wipe the slate clean with a damp cloth so your little one can decorate this tote over and over again.

Reusable Hinged Jar Zip Bags, $10, Uncommon Goods

Make mornings smoother by doing as much as possible the night before, like packing lunches. These reusable bags are an adorable option for packing snacks. Mayhew also loves this bento-style lunchbox with a vacuum-insulated bowl to keep entrees warm.

Peakeep Digital Clock, $10, Amazon

"Challenge your kids to get out the door quickly by making it a game," said Mayhew. "Set timers (your phone alarm works perfectly) or use the length of one of their favorite songs (think musical chairs) so that kids have a finite amount of time. When the alarm goes off or the song ends they need to be ready!"

LampyPets desk lamp, nightlight and pen holder, $62, Amazon

Also available for $60 at LampyPets

"When kids are excited about the look of product, they’re more likely to get excited about using it, too," said Rosenthal. "LampyPets are perfect for keeping on desks to store supplies, and provide extra light during homework time."

These dual-purposed additions to your kid's desk, homework space or nightstand are available in a variety of animal styles, from pink cats to cute elephants.

"Your child will have the essentials in one easy-to-access spot — whether they're working on their latest craft project or writing in their journal before bedtime."

For kids who want a more subtle storage option, we recommend this simple desk lamp with pen holder, available at Amazon for $19.

My Mighty Magnet magnetic display cable, $18 for 2, The Grommet

Also available at My Mighty Magnet

My Mighty Magnet is a magnetic cable that comes with magnetic holders to display everything from photos to artwork. It can be hung horizontally or vertically. Rosenthal says finding ways to store the many papers kids bring home from the classroom is critical.

"With back to school comes all of the physical stuff associated with this time of year," said Rosenthal. "Your kid is destined to bring in their latest art creations and graded assignments — so instead of shuffling them into a pile, hang them up for the family to enjoy. As more papers come home, rotate out what is displayed and transfer any long-term 'keepers' into a save box."

If your family prefers not to prominently display schoolwork, we recommend this over-the-door organizer, available on Amazon for $12, as a spot to store papers and school-related items that need to be sorted through at a later time.

CleverMade CleverCrates collapsible storage crates, $60 for 3, Amazon

"With their small collapsible frame, these crates are great to keep on hand in the back of the car to corral your shopping bags or sports equipment," suggested Rosenthal. "Instead of hauling your kids’ activity bags between the car and garage, keep them contained in a crate so you always have the supplies on hand without worrying about having them shift around in the trunk of your car."

Also available in a grated version for $15 at Bed Bath and Beyond.

ToteSavvy Mini bag organizer, starting at $46, Amazon

These mini bag organizers fit into a child's backpack to organize smaller items. Rosenthal says this makes navigating a child's backpack at the end of a school day much easier. (Sign us up!)

"School bags are great for storing bulky books, binders and notebooks, but more often than not they become a black hole of supplies," said Rosenthal. "By creating categories using the built-in pockets​ of the ToteSavvy Mini, kids can dedicate areas for their supplies — a spot for their pencil case, water bottle, tech and even their hats or jackets."

Rosenthal also noted that the insert can be transferred between bags, backpacks and totes, making it easier for kids to shuffle between school and bags for sports and other activities.

Also available for $75 at Buy Buy Baby.

Sharpie Color Burst ultra fine point markers, $15 for 24, Amazon

"Create colorful labels for your pantry and kids’ items so it’s easy to keep up with the organization in your home," said Rosenthal. "Have your kids use masking tape or a piece of paper to write something specific on the label — for example 'snacks' to stick on a shelf or bin with food options they're allowed to grab on their own after school."

"The same method works for the homework space," sha added. "Labeling in and out trays for homework and creating labels for bins or shelves to help to identify what's stored in that area."

Varieties also available for $15 at Target, and $18 at Walmart.

Post-it emoji-designed note pads, $2, Amazon

"Whether I need to remind my kids I’m picking them up early for a dentist appointment or want to give them an encouraging midday message, I love to include a colorful note in their lunchbox to get my point across," said Rosenthal. "The emoji Post-it notes are a favorite among my elementary-aged kids."

Also available for $2 at Targetand Office Depot.

Mead HeatSeal Pro Thermal 9.5 inch pouch laminator, $56, Amazon

Also available for $56 at Mead.

Rosenthal says it's good to create chore charts, morning and bedtime reminders and checklists to run through each day, since kids have a lot on their plates when back-to-school season arrives. And, a great way to preserve these helpful charts is to laminate them using a home laminator.

"This system is something they can get involved with from the get-go," said Rosenthal. "Have your kids write out their morning routine and add colors or drawings to add extra personality, then help them laminate the document to keep it secure."

"Take it one step further by using dry erase markers or stickers to mark things as complete and help them get the satisfaction of checking things off of their list," Rosenthal continued.

One helpful checklist Rosenthal recommends is for kids who make their own lunches. (Again, sign us up!)

"Laminate reminders for them to use as a reference, including a list of the items they need — water bottle, lunch box, ice pack — and each category they need to include, such as fruit, vegetables and protein. That way they make sure their bags are appropriately packed for the meals ahead."

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Sharpie twin-tip markers, $7 for 4, Amazon

Also available at Walmart or at Target.

Tired of collecting your kids' belongings from the school lost and found? (Us, too!)

"Add your kids’ name or family last name to the interior tags of their jackets, lunch boxes and bags, so it’s easy to identify who the item belongs to," said Rosenthal. "The classic twin-tip Sharpie markers are perfect for use on even the smallest tags."

Post-it printed weekly calendar, $8, Amazon

"This weekly planner is the perfect size to write down upcoming meal plans for the family or to keep on a desk to outline what homework assignments and to-dos are coming up throughout the week," said Rosenthal. "With plenty of room dedicated for each day, you’ll be able to keep your daily tasks organized in one spot and can easily recycle and start a new list each week."

The Neighborgoods notebook set, $12 for 2, Etsy

Also available for $12 at The Neighborgoods.

"For parents, taking time to write out a to-do list is a great strategy to help visualize what’s on deck for the coming day, week or month," said Rosenthal. "By keeping a notebook in your bag at all times or in a high traffic area of your home like the kitchen, you’ll always be ready to jot down tasks, grocery lists and reminders."

Rosenthal says these colorful notebooks from The Neighborhoods are also a playful way to inspire kids to get their lives in order.

"Kids can use these notebooks to write down helpful checklists like bedtime routines, chore lists, reminders and due dates for school assignments."

Circle With Disney Parental Device Control and Filter, $80, Amazon

Back to school season brings more scheduled routines and more responsibilities, leading kids to need a bit more parental guidance when it comes to screen time limits.

"This means more time spent getting homework done, less time in front of the TV or on devices and a more urgent need to get important tasks completed in a shorter period of time — especially when you throw in practices and after school commitments," said Rosenthal.

"With Circle, you don’t have to worry about hearing 'just 5 more minutes' when it's time to turn off the TV, or wonder if your kids are staying up past their bedtime scrolling through their devices," Rosenthal continued. "Circle also allows you to set rules that align with your kid’s routine, setting time and accessibility limitations to control the wifi in your home — but don’t worry, parents, you don’t have to play by the rules — you can select which devices the settings impact."

CleverMade SnapBasket laundry caddy, $23, Amazon

Also available for $15 at Target.

For parents sending kids away to college this year, Rosenthal recommends this collapsable hamper to help kids maximize space in their small living quarters.

"With their slim frame and collapsable capability, these hampers are great for hauling your clothes between the laundry room and dorm or for packing your weekend essentials for a trip home," said Rosenthal. "Plus, when they’re not in use they collapse down and can easily be slid under your bed until the next time they're needed."

KaiKai & Ash storage bins, $20, Amazon

"Having a dedicated spot for kids to drop their school items when they come in the door is key for controlling entryway clutter," said Rosenthal.

These storage bins from KaiKai & Ash come in travel-themed designs and a variety of others, and are so pretty, you won't mind having them right by your front door.

"Whether you use these bins as spot to toss shoes or a place to drop off backpacks and lunch boxes, they're an easy way for kids to know exactly where their stuff belongs," Rosenthal added. "Or, line the bottom of a console table or bookshelf with these bins and dedicate one for their most frequently accessed categories, like homework and craft supplies."

Varieties also available for $20 at Bed Bath and Beyond and Buy Buy Baby.

Canvas Floor Standing Catchall, $50, PBteen

Mayhew also loves the idea of creating a dedicated spot of all things clutter-creating. These catchall baskets are her pick for keeping shoes tucked away instead of strewn across the floor.

Emily & Merrit Animal Wall Hooks, $29, PBteen

Hooks like these are great for keeping coats in the same place so you don't have to go looking for them every morning. Mayhew also chose a mirrored set that's available for $119.

For more back-to-school organizing tips from Rachel Rosenthal, check out her post about her family's morning routines on the TODAY Parenting Team.