Monday, April 21, 2014
Every spring, I reevaluate my organizational needs for soccer. Manufacturers recognize how important tidiness is for active families juggling kids with lots of activities. I’m always amazed and pleased to see what new products come available that can smooth out the chaos of getting ready for soccer and traveling to practices, games, and tournaments. Helping me out is the latest issue of Real Simple magazine, which is devoted entirely to organization. I discovered several great ideas that should help everyone out and then sprinkled in a few of the hints I’ve found that work for me or for my friends.
The best hint I got from Real Simple was a mom who used EnviroSax to keep her kids organized. You can certainly use any sack you want, but I personally own a dozen of these huge “sacs” that I have used for three years to carry groceries, clothing and firewood, along with scores of other usages and all I need to do is throw the bags in the washer and they come out good as new. This mom provides each of her children a bag for each of their activities. She attaches a luggage tag to the bag with the child’s name on one side with the activity (i.e. Billy - soccer) and on the other side she lists all the items necessary to participate in the activity (i.e. cleats, jersey, shorts, socks, shin guards etc.) That way she can look quickly at the list and the items in the bag, replenishing what needs to be added. It also makes it easy for babysitters, grandparents and neighbors to help out without her having to print out instructions. The idea is so simple I’m surprised I didn’t come across it sooner. But I think it’s a brilliant way to keep things all orderly and complete. EnviroSax sell for around $8 for one sack or $35 for five sacks. There’s even a Sesame Street set. They come in a small carry bag and roll up to just a tiny percentage of their full size. Luggage tags can be found on Zazzle.com with thousands of options in just about any price range.
A second wonderful suggestion from a mom is a product called Cocoon Grid It. This comes in a variety of sizes and is essentially a flat board covered in heavy-duty nylon. On one side there are dozens of interwoven elastic straps, which will hold all those items in your purse, backpack or soccer bag that fall down to the bottom and get lost. You can put things in it like charging cords for your phone, the phone, Chap Stick, headphones, pens, pencils, extra keys, shoelaces, sunscreen, any little things you carry with you. Once you get the items stuck into the straps, you can then slide the entire Cocoon into your purse, backpack, car seat pocket or bag. Then, just pull the entire board out to retrieve what you want when you want it. The prices range from 7x 9 inches for $15 to 8x10 inches for $18 to 9.5x15 inches for $25 from CocoonInnovations.com and come in a variety of colors. These boards seem to be a great, inexpensive solution to the tiny clutter we all accumulate when we travel and have kids. You could fill these with arts and crafts to slide into car seat pockets.
I recommend getting everything organized before the season starts into what I have termed “the soccer box.” You can get as big a box as you need, either a cardboard one or a specialty one to fit whatever you feel you will use at most soccer games. I suggest towels (to wipe down bleacher seats after rain or to dry off hair), blankets, toilet paper, paper towels, bug spray, sunscreen, extra gloves and hats, several bottles of water, extra t-shirts (light and dark) in case someone forgets their jersey, extra socks (there is nothing worse than playing several games in wet socks), flashlight, paper and pen, and I’ve even thrown a calculator in there, although now with smart phones you probably don’t need it. Just think about what you used or wish you had last season and throw that in the box. There’s a three compartment trunk organizer from Picnic at Ascot that holds tons of those soccer box needs like first aid kits, extra clothing, tire pumps and toilet paper (trust me this is a must to have along for the ride!). Amazon.com offers the organizer, which also includes a removable cooler, for $46.75. The entire product collapses if you want to create more trunk space, but in my experience once you fill it up, you’ll never empty it. Along that line you might want to get a car emergency kit that includes battery cables, aerosol tire refill, ice scraper, and shammy cloths. AAA has a great kit with flashlight, batteries, booster cables, first aid kit, poncho, duct tape, fuses and cloths for $25, which Amazon sells for $19.50.
My top suggestion is to keep a roll of large 33 gallon trash bags and 13 gallon kitchen bags to deal with all the clothing and shoes covered in mud, grass, turf chips and rain. Throw the large bags on the floor of your car to protect against those muddy cleats. Use the kitchen bags to hold rain and mud-soaked uniforms without letting out the stench and the stains on your upholstery. I’ve used them for over a decade and found them to be the best solution for protecting the car’s interior, not to mention the passengers’ sense of smell. I’ve hosed down the large trash bags and reused them. I know there are those WeatherTech liners, but they run about $100 and the garbage bags are less than $20. Not nearly as attractive, but you remove them when not needed.
The one thing that seems to get out of hand quickly in the truck are those soccer chairs. Once a game is over, few of us want to spend the time shoving the chair back in its travel bag, or we end up losing those. The stack of chairs tend to collapse and are hard to keep contained in a small area. A 30x50-inch military duffle bag will hold four or five chairs easily, keeping them tightly packed in one place. The bag is canvas, so very sturdy and only costs $25 at Militaryuniformsupply.com. There are smaller bags, but the large one leaves room to stuff in some blankets. The duffle bag has two shoulder straps to allow you to carry all your chairs at once to the fields. There is an option for $55, which has wheels should you feel so inclined, but is smaller, so less versatile.
Traveling to tournaments, especially if you are the team parent, can mean tons of paperwork that never seems to stay organized and the pages you need get shuffled around and lost. Obviously, a three-ring binder would help. Beyond that, I got a great hint from a friend. She prints the various paperwork on different colored paper, depending on the purpose. So, for example, the hotel confirmations are printed on pink, the rental car on green, the airline itinerary on yellow, etc. Although you could invest in tabs, you still have to sort through to find the right tab. The different colored paper is a quick visual cue that can be readily detected. If something gets out of order you’ll be able to see that immediately. I found this a wonderful way to keep things straight.
I don’t know if it happens to you, but my sons managed to see one cleat or one shin guard in their bags and assume both were in there, only to make the disturbing discovery that in fact there was only one when they arrived at the fields. I found that large office loose-leaf rings are a great way to keep items in pairs. You can thread the ring through cleat shoelace eyelets or through the shin guards. You can even use them to clip all the uniform pieces together by slipping the ring through the jersey and shorts. Chip bag clips can be used to hold the socks or goalkeeper gloves together. One friend uses her daughter’s hair clips for the same purpose. I don’t like putting things in zip bags because all too often one item is “used” and the moisture and smell just cultivate in the bags. However, there are small mesh laundry bags that breathe and can be used for gathering items together. Ikea sells these as bags to put delicates in the washer and come in packs of three for $9. The advantage of the bags is that you can put the soiled wet socks in one and the uniforms in another and then just throw them in the washer when you get home. They are also great for gently washing gloves, shin guards and knee pads.
Keeping the garage organized can be the final frontier in maintaining your soccer sanity. Kids love to shove their bags into any open space on the garage floor, leaving us to trip over them. There are three simple ways to get these organized. You can use the “J” hooks sold to hang bicycles as a place to hang the bags. You decide where to put them, tag them for each kid, and ask them to hoist their bags on the hooks once they have cleaned out what they need washed. There is also a bike hanging pole you can install that serves the same purpose but they usually run $65 to $100. However, if you have limited space, the pole will keep all the soccer bags in one corner of the garage without robbing lots of space. There are also sports equipment organizing racks for around $45, but in my experience they aren’t big enough to handle large soccer bags, especially more than one. I really advocate for the hooks which are inexpensive and easy to install. Our driveway is inclined and loose balls in the garage invariably roll into the courtyard across the street. Rubbermaid makes a vertical ball storage rack called The Fast Track that sells for $22 on Amazon. It’s a metal cage tube with two bungee bands in the front. You simply push the balls through the elastic into the wire cage which holds up to five balls. You can also invest in a portable basketball rack with three shelves that hold a total of 12 balls. It costs $74 from Martin Sports and takes up some floor space, whereas the Rubbermaid rack hangs on the wall. Any over-the-door shoe rack hung on the garage side of the back door can keep those soccer cleats off the floor, airing out, and readily accessible. The rack also encourages kids to remove the cleats before entering the house.
Anything we can do to minimize the disorder that comes with kids in multiple activities, each with its own set of equipment and clothing needs, means snatching extra sanity for our days. If you find you have a particular organizational dilemma, ask fellow parents how they handle it. Necessity is the mother of invention, and parents have lots of necessity to be inventive. Most solutions run under $25, so you can stay in budget while staying uncluttered. The more we get organized, the more we find our stress reduced. When we arrive at the fields relatively stress-free we can enjoy the game better and our kids will be happier. It’s all about finding the method to reduce the madness.