“Hey, everyone: let’s organize the house!” That’s not exactly what kids want to hear at the end of their summer vacation. But an organized home is more than just a pretty space. According to a 25-year study published by the University of Michigan, kids from clean homes tend to pursue more education and earn higher incomes than kids from messy homes

That’s no surprise to Rosemary Chieppo, organizing guru and author of Clutter, Chaos & the Cure. “Getting organized is like buying time for your life. Teaching your kids how to be organized is like giving them a degree in life skills,” she says.

The approaching school year requires some organizational adjustments in the house. It also means putting away outdoor toys, tools and furniture for the season. Finally, with all the driving to school, sports practices and music rehearsals, you’ll want to make sure the car is ready for action, too.

Here are some simple steps you and your kids can take to organize the homestead before the school bell tolls.

The Yard

  1. Start with a plan. If you acquired a few extra things this summer, you’ll quickly find that garage and shed space is limited. Take a few minutes to think through the best arrangement. “The basic rule is to give everything a home,” Rosemary advises. “Keep like items with like items by creating specific zones, such as a gardening zone and a camping gear zone.” When you use containers for small items, label them clearly.
  2. Keep it clean. Pulling dirty, rusted or moldy items out of storage is miserable. Take the time to store things properly now. Clean the dirt and old weed shavings off yard tools and equipment. Be sure lawn furniture is dry and wiped down, and then stored properly. For furniture cushions, Rosemary recommends nylon bags or plastic bins to keep the dust away.
  3. Be creative with storage. Put tall gardening tools such as rakes and shovels in a sturdy trash barrel with wheels. Get a second barrel for sports equipment like baseball bats and hockey sticks. Use summer suitcases and the empty drawers in that old dresser for smaller and less rugged items. If it’s broken, unused, or outgrown (or will be by next summer), throw it away or donate it.

The Car

  1. Out with the old, in with the new. Look in the trunk and the back seat (and under the seats) for space-consuming summer items that can be removed, such as water toys, coolers and beach towels. Be sure to clean and dry all surfaces to keep dirt, sand and water off of school backpacks and lunch bags. Check interior storage areas such as the glove compartment for food wrappers and other trash. As a bonus, you might find a missing music CD or two.
  2. Catch up on maintenance. Oil changes, tire rotations, and wheel alignments can be endlessly postponed when every school week is as busy as the last one. Pick one morning in the next couple of weeks to get these tasks completed. If your car is due for service, schedule your appointment to occur before school starts.
  3. Make it routine. Plan regular times every week to wash the car and buy gas. If you post the family’s weekly schedule on the fridge, include these tasks. For example, it may be most convenient to stop for gas on the way home from your daughter’s Tuesday piano lesson. The kids can wash the car first thing Saturday morning. You can also teach them to kick the tires and check fluid levels while they’re at it. Hint: they may be more motivated to get up if you pay them.

The House

  1. Prepare their work stations. A well-defined space for studies helps kids focus. Be sure it’s well lit and away from noisy distractions such as TVs and telephones. Set up shelves and handy storage bins within easy reach for all their supplies, so they won’t waste time looking for things. Make sure your child has a notebook or calendar for listing requirements and due dates for all assignments, reports and projects. Include weekly activities and projects, such as sports practice and household chores.
  2. Get ready to go. This is critical for avoiding frantic searches and frustration in the morning, Rosemary says. Schedule a regular time each evening to prepare for the next day. Make a spot for each child, and have him set out backpacks, assignments, and musical instruments or sports items. Post a checklist near the door with everything he needs (like the lunch bag), for a final review before leaving. Finally, don’t forget a Parent’s Box, where kids can place field trip information and other papers that need a parent’s signature.
  3. Make laundry manageable. This least enjoyable task can be the most frustrating when it’s disorganized. Provide a hamper for each child, and place it in the bedroom. For older kids, this helps them be responsible for washing their own clothes. For bedding or clothing from several kids that gets washed together, use a permanent marker to make small dots on the labels. Here’s Rosemary’s trick that’s easy now and handy for hand-me-downs later: put a single dot on items for the oldest child, two dots for the second child, and so on. Children who aren’t yet able to read can use the dots to help sort clothes. When an item is ready to pass on to the next child, you can simply add one more dot.

Organizing never sounds like fun, but it does get easier. “Pretty soon, it just becomes part of your life, and you hardly have to think about it,” Rosemary points out. “The benefits are more time, less money wasted, and less stress overall.” Take advantage of these benefits by organizing your yard, car and home, and make this school year your smoothest and most successful one yet.