It’s a victory: your kid wants to scrap that ratty backpack, the one you’ve privately labeled “Creature,” because it nearly walks by itself. News like that can make you feel like Santa’s real after all.

Beware, though: for most kids, there’s a big distance between plans and action when it comes to organizing stuff. In part, this reflects a healthy drive for independence. But there’s also a genuine practical challenge: organizing strategies aren’t inborn. They need to be learned, and they need to be practiced, a lot. And often, they will need adjustment. When it comes to backpacks, for example, it’s an evolving question: when kids must go from home to school, from class to class and perhaps to afterschool activities as well, what is the best way to pack up?

While needs and styles may change over time, parents can still help, especially with shopping! Here are some expert New Backpack Shopping Tips to pass along (in a low-key, non-gloating way, of course):

  1. Make sure it holds enough. All too often, kids will grab something that looks good but just won’t do the job. Jessi Morgenstern-Colon, teen co-author of Organizing from the Inside Out for Teens, recommends going to the store with your old backpack fully loaded. “When you find a backpack you like,” she counsels, “actually take your stuff out of your old backpack and test” to see if it fits.

  2. Go for pockets and pouches. “Look for a backpack,”  Morgenstern-Colon says, “with a lot of compartments to create separate zones.” Make sure everything you regularly carry has a specific “home” that you can find easily. And while you’re at it, make sure the straps are comfortable. Don’t skimp—you want this backpack to work for you, not vice versa.

  3. Find a specific home for everything you’ll carry. Donna Goldberg, author of The Organized Student, insists that first, every backpack must have a pouch for drinks. Other common recommendations from the pros are: a clear zippered pencil pouch, well stocked; a good wallet with room for identification, bus cards, pocket money and other important personal items; a plastic pouch for comb, makeup and other personal effects; and, in this digital age, a pouch for cellphone chargers and laptop cords that would otherwise just tangle themselves in the depths of the pack.


Whatever backpack you buy, remember that it’s crucial that it feel like your kid’s choice, not yours. As long as a backpack is sturdy and well-sized, don’t worry if it’s garish neon hue. And be ready when the process of keeping it together doesn’t go completely smoothly at first. Keep your tone matter of fact, avoid shaming, but keep encouraging. Educators, professional organizers, and parents agree: the calm self-confidence of a well-organized kid is well worth some stress along the way.