Avoiding the Landfill Locker: Making Tidy Lockers Work

By Carola Tiltmann

Perfect Locker Pit Stop?

The state of a student’s locker can literally make or break their school experience. A locker that is tidy with everything visible and within easy reach, means a hassle-free locker pit stop. It promotes calmly getting to class on time, with all of the right binders and books, ensuring that your child can start class in a ready frame of mind and open to new learning.

And however much parents love to envision this calm and confident stride to the classroom, the opposite is more likely for children with Learning Disabilities or ADHD where organization and time management are often a challenge. It is equally easy to imagine them rushing into class late because they couldn’t find their homework and then also forgot their textbook, which is stressful and embarrassing. In fact, they’re also likely to miss the next few minutes of instruction while their brain gets back online from an anxiety-driven adrenaline rush.

So, how can your child make the most of their locker pit stops? For those who find being organized in any space an effort, lockers present an extra challenge. They are very small, usually all attached in a row so there is little elbow room and generally only accessible during noisy class breaks when everyone would rather snatch a few minutes of conversation. It’s a highly distracting environment!


Getting started:

  • Call the school for locker dimensions or check the school’s website. Then, any organizational accessories you buy, like extra shelving, laptop cases or even binders, will be the right size.
  • Create more space with extra locker shelving and magnets. Hanging shelves are optimal as they take advantage of vertical space. Invest in some heavy duty magnetic hooks and magnetic folders or bins. However, buy the bins only after your child has decided what they will store otherwise the bins will add to locker clutter rather than reduce it.
  • If possible, do a dry run of organizing a ‘locker’ at home. Tape out the locker dimensions in a closet or similar space, and together with your child, figure out what works best. If the class schedule is only available on the same day that the locker at school gets assigned, leave the locker empty. Set aside time that same evening to organize the home ‘locker’, take a picture of it and then your child can reproduce it at school the next day.

It’s useful to remember that being organized is a high level executive functioning skill, something that takes longer to develop in children with ADHD or a LD. It requires the ability to prioritize, group items together, and remember the organizational plan. Prioritizing and grouping objects together for a locker plan can be done interchangeably, but remembering the plan is done last. Let’s break each one down into simple steps.



Whatever is the highest priority needs to be the most easily accessible. So, each student (and whoever is helping them) needs to figure out a priority system inside the locker that works best for the student.

  • Does the laptop need to be more accessible than the pencil case because it’s used for nearly every class? Hang the laptop case on a hook at the front instead of the coat.
  • Are some binders more important than others because those subjects occur more often during the week? Put them on a hanging shelf at eye level.
  • Do you live in a cold climate requiring a coat, mitts, toque, boots? Stuff the mitts and the toque into the coat and hang it at the back of the locker so it’s out of the way. Boots go on the bottom. Another reason to get binders off the bottom of the locker.


Group things together

Everything in the locker needs a designated space. When items don’t have a home, they end up everywhere creating clutter and are difficult to find. So, try grouping things together.

  • For example, all binders go in the hanging shelves. If only binders live there, then there is only one place to put them and one place to find them.

Then decide what will go on the fixed shelf at the top, on the hooks, etc. Move items around until a workable system is created.

  • Reserve the locker door for critical items such as:
    • a class schedule printed as large as will fit on the door and preferably in a plastic sleeve so it stays flat and easy to see.
    • an inspirational quote or picture to lighten the mood.
    • a reference picture of the tidy locker.
  • Have a ‘Loose Items’ or ‘Random’ section. This is for any item when it’s not immediately obvious where it needs to go. A magnetic metal file is great for this as it can also hold loose papers. Anything in this section should be taken care of at the end of every day or taken home every night.


Remember the Organizational Plan

  • Take a picture of the tidy school locker.


This creates a model of what to aim for when it’s time for a locker clean-up. You can even print it, have your child draw labels on it as reminders of where things go, and put it on the locker door. Aim for a locker clean up every Friday so that Monday is a fresh start.

Spending time on creating a workable organizational system for a locker is time well spent. Not only does it reinforce organizational skills, but it lays the foundation for an immeasurably better school experience both academically and socially!


Additional Tips

Binders tend to be the largest and most accessed group of items in a locker. However, some students don’t do well with trying to keep track of so many binders regardless of being colour-coded, labeled and organized. The solution may be to switch to just one binder. Watch this webinar by Susan Kruger M.Ed. for a single binder system.

Locks can be particularly frustrating. The most common locks require remembering three random numbers, dialed in a specific sequence in several directions. Students whose sequencing and directionality skills are less developed find remembering this type of combination overwhelming to the point where they sometimes don’t actually lock their lockers for fear of not being able to open them. Happily, there are many types of locks now available which require less effort but practice is still the key.

  • Look for locks with letters instead of numbers or which use colour combinations.
  • Look for locks where the combination can be set by the owner instead of coming with a pre-determined combination.
  • Make sure that if the lock is not a traditional one – some are now rectangular or larger than usual – that it will still fit into the locker mechanism.
  • Practice the locker combination: draw a clear diagram of the combination and take a picture of it for reference.
  • Make a game of practicing the combination – put the lock on the fridge door and before your child can open the fridge, have them open the lock. Make sure the lock diagram is on the fridge door too! This will reinforce the combination and help it get to long-term memory faster.

IPPs document strategies to help your child succeed at school. Though they often focus on classroom strategies and supports, if your teen struggles with organization, consider adding locker checks/clean-ups to the IPP. 

This video by Understood has additional tips demonstrated on a real locker.

This article by Understood discusses some more basic locker strategies.

Practice these locker strategies regularly to make those quick locker pit stops smoother and more efficient!

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