The Pre- Back to School Ritual that every Mom needs to know


While sandy suitcases and tattered beach towels may still be visible, there is one event that you will want to schedule before that much anticipated (or dreaded, whichever the case may be) first day of school arrives.  

My FaceBook feed is already filling with the reluctantly smiling faces of my Southern friends’ kids. Here in the north, we have a few more days. As vacations come to an end, the mosquito bites may still be fresh but our girls are itching from something much more important.  They need to go find that perfect back to school outfit. But before you head out on your shopping adventure:, 

Set a "Get our Room Ready" Date

Have you ever come back from a productive day of school shopping to find drawers full, closets stuffed, forgotten items that she was “growing into”?

I sure have! 

It’s really (really, really, I mean really) hard to not get mad when you have graciously purchased everything that she "absolutely" needs to have the best year ever, and her room is a disaster. Or worse yet, it looks decent on the surface (because you told her it had to be clean to take her shopping) only to find things jammed in the closet and little room for her to put her fabulous new wardrobe away?

I believe that there should be 4 ritual purges of our daughters’ rooms.

1. Before the beginning of the new school year

2. Before her birthday

3. Before Christmas (if you celebrate.)

4. At the end of the school year

Why? Because girls like stuff. Because girls hold on to stuff.

This activity will help teach them how to have a healthy relationship with their stuff.  You will be setting them up for more happiness down the road. And, as an added benefit, there is less frustration and confrontation between the two of you.

Now I am not talking about a dreaded closet cleaning. No! 

I'm talking, mock-tails, eating, planning, dreaming, cleaning, shopping-

Creating a Ritual to Make Life Easier Going Forward 

Here are the steps to turning something that sounds painful into a lifetime of memories and connection.

Imagine how much easier and faster it would be if you both had something to gain?

First, make a date.

A real date, on the calendar. And then plan the day.

The end reward needs to be more than just school shopping. She knows that you were going to do that anyway.

Schedule lunch or brunch for afterward at a “nicer than usual” restaurant that she loves.

Pick up a gift before the day begins.  My favorite— a beautifully wrapped journal with a handwritten note or some sweet earrings. Something special and maybe a little unexpected. Don’t give it to her until you’re all done cleaning (but before you head out shopping-- that’s important.)

If she gave you some attitude, she will start to see that this was ultimately for her.

What delicious bakery treats might you want to pick up ahead of time to get you pumped up for the productivity that follows?

Mix up a fabulously, fun Mock-tail that you will be serving in good glasses. Even garnish your drinks if that’s your thing.

(Here are some yummy ideas: (Number 14 was just made for this activity!!!)

While you eat and drink your yummy celebration treats, toast to the adventures ahead and then set your intentions for what you both would like to accomplish.  Now don’t be discouraged if she’s not as into this ritual as you. Go at with the gusto and the positivity as if she were. 

It is important to remember the biology of the mother-daughter relationship.  Our hormones function, fundamentally, like magnets do.  Think of the North and South poles with the energy to both attract and repel.  It is hard not to feel personally slighted or affected by our daughters' emotions.  Remind yourself that it's JUST CHEMISTRY! 

Her interactions with you are the foundational blocks for the healthy boundaries she will be able to create in the future with partners, authority figures, and friends.

Gather Your Supplies:

What you will need-

  • A good-sized bag or bin for donations if you do not have a permanent one in each closet already. (Great tip that I got from a professional organizer.)
  • A  GIANT (contractor-size) garbage bag. Even if you don’t fill it up, it makes the “when in doubt, throw it out” attitude much easier
  • A couple of shoeboxes or shoebox-size boxes
  • A Manila file folder or 2
  • A notepad and pen

 Begin in the Closet:

This is potentially the worst place but it's good to get it out of the way first while energy is still high.  You are likely to uncover some treasures here as well!

At the bottom. Make sure last year’s backpack isn’t crammed in there full of stuff. It could be scary (and explain that smell you have been smelling.) I was never a “buy a new backpack every year” mom. If it was in good condition, it was getting reused. But that is my own personal opinion. If a backpack is in good condition, giving it a good cleaning and adding it to the donation pile is a commendable action. Save the cleaning for when you're done, whether you’re donating or reusing. Just empty it and throw it in the bathroom sink and keep moving. Put any salvageable pencils, pens, crayons, etc. into one of the shoeboxes. But if the backpack smells and the zippers are broken, pitch the whole thing and be grateful that you splurged on contractor bags!!!

I found a petrified banana once.

[Helpful tip: The Branch Basics All-Purpose Cleaner is a great rescuer because it gets the pencil and most ink marks out and can make it look brand new.]

Now search for shoes with missing mates and other lost souls (I avoided the bad pun there) because they accumulate on the closet floor. Add any writing utensils to the shoebox. This box can to school for her teacher's classroom supplies.  Her teacher will appreciate it. It will result in less out-of-pocket costs for her teacher to ensure that her students have what they need to succeed. You already know that you want to buy new ones anyway. Separate out hair ties and have her put them away. (Now you can cross hair ties off the shopping list!)

If there are any papers or mementos that she (or you*) want to keep, add them to the folder and make a note of what you intend to do with them. (File them, frame them, make a collage, etc.)  Date the folder with the previous school year.

*Recognize any tendency that you may have to keep things that she may want to throw away.

Hanging Clothes:

Be realistic. No matter the emotional attachment she (or you) has to something, if it barely fits her now, it won’t fit in a couple of months.  If it is an item that she truly cherishes and isn't ready to let go of make a plan for it.

If she hasn’t hit puberty yet, she is in super growth mode. 

If she has, you are a little bit safer (but she is probably not expressing her joy of this Mom Date and appears to be enjoying this way less than you at this point!). And be fair. If the tags are still on something, use it as a bonding moment. This no time for lectures. Remind her that we have ALL bought things that we didn’t like nearly as much when we got them home. (And if it was a gift from “Great Aunt Mary” send Aunt Mary blessings and a silent word of gratitude for her good intentions and terrible taste in clothes.) And send it to the recycle bag/bin.

Shelves and Upper Areas:

Do a quick scan for games, toys, and DIY kits she has outgrown or never used to open up space.  Don't spend too much time here.  This is a better activity done before holidays and birthdays.  She may even enjoy doing this herself.

To the Dresser Drawers:

I always cut up beloved out-grown or stained T-shirts into dust rags. It adds a little nostalgic joy to dusting. Keep a couple of ratty underwear for “period underwear.” She will REALLY appreciate that advice down the road. As you go through, remind her that if she doesn’t love it, it should move on.

Take a swipe under the bed or any other large furniture, carefully. Again, this isn’t a time for lectures. It is a time to prepare for the exciting/anxious times ahead. You guys can start to have an honest conversation about how to improve the room’s functionality. And if she has ideas on how to better use her space: then LISTEN!!

Clean Out the Desk and Bookcase:

File any papers or pictures that she wants to hang on to. Donate books with no emotional value. Because this makes room for new goodness to come in. Important Note: Set aside an open space on the bookshelf for things she wants to read or learn or draw or write. Give the desk a thorough cleaning/dusting. Thank it for supporting her through the challenges and opportunities of the coming year.

As you go along, update the shopping list.

Add to your list any items or notes that either of you thinks would make her room serve her better. Avoid thoughts about what I refer to as“minuscule organizers,” like baskets, that we all know don’t get used down the road.

Think bigger.

Is the lighting adequate?

Does she need higher shelves to display things?

Does she need space to create?

If you drop off donations on the way to your celebratory lunch (or ice cream, or Starbucks- whatever your date included) it is a great way to bring your event full circle. It feels really productive and freeing for you both.

Especially if the plan is to head out shopping after lunch! Order your lunch. Give her the gift. Ask her if she has any goals or anxieties about the year. She may just shrug, but she will know that you are there when she is ready to talk.

Throughout the whole process, there should be music. There could be dancing (which comes with eye rolls). There is no formula. Tap into each of your unique personalities to create something magical.

Just give yourselves the opportunity to enjoy each other, doing something that neither of you had any desire to do.

Here's to a great school year, my friend!

***If you have a back to school ritual that kicks off the year that you guys look forward to, share it with us in the comments!  We would all love to hear about it*** 



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