When the kids head back to school, the barometric pressure inside the house starts inching upward.

It's a slow rise you barely notice at first. But left unchecked, a family is headed for emotional explosions as the months go on. Missing assignments, kids late for class, important forms that never make it back to school, missed deadlines, lost uniforms, nothing but dirty shirts in the closet on photo day. The potential calamities are endless.

Just like diet and exercise can relieve high blood pressure, a little organization can be good preventative medicine for family meltdowns. The place to start is in a kid's own room.

Nicole Perullo of Petaluma is starting early with her three kids. She enlisted the help of professional designer Ginny Hautau of Petaluma's Urban Cowgirl Design, a mother of three herself, to help plan out their bedrooms for efficiency and fun.

"We want it to be clean and simple and have function. It's not good enough to decorate just to look pretty. It has to be usable," said Perullo, who moved from Corte Madera a year ago. She spent almost a year in the home before making major purchases and decisions, first observing how everyone used the space and thinking hard about their needs.

For the children's rooms, it was all about having designated spaces for different activities and to contain all the clothing, toys, artwork and paperwork. Kids are magnets for a maddening amount of stuff.

<strong>Not on the floor</strong>

For those little curios that children collect, like rocks and tiny toys, the Perullos purchased wooden cabinets with open cubbies from Restoration Hardware. Twins Wyatt and Nathan, 5, each have one above their beds.

This way, said Perullo, they can see their tiny treasures and enjoy them, but nobody is stepping on them. Many small items otherwise wind up in the bottom of too-deep boxes and bins, gone and forgotten.

One of the tricks to avoiding clutter is to not have a lot of flat surfaces that can collect things. Perullo and her husband made the end tables for the boys' room, inspired by sleek modern tables they had seen in Italy.

"We thought, 'We can do this,'" Perullo said. While shopping at the feed store (she has a flock of 19 chickens for fresh eggs), she saw some chicken nesting boxes ($10 each) and had an inspiration. The couple wound up turning them upside down and attaching legs they found at a home improvement store.

The top of the table is just big enough for a lamp and a book but no other clutter. The cabinet is open, to contain just a few more books. But not too much.

Schoolwork and artwork can become a challenge for families. Kids produce a lot of it. Hautau and Perullo came up with a fun and low-cost solution. They strung twine on the wall and attached it with old-fashioned nails. Artwork and special papers can be hung on the line with clothes pins.

Children's rooms are usually small, and you have to be creative and smart with space. Don't overlook vertical storage.

"Any of the major retailers, like Pottery Barn, will have home office sections and organizational systems that are wall-mounted. These are the way to go with kids," said Hautau, who found for Wyatt and Nathan floating shelves to display bigger treasures and things like trophies.

For all those toys and doodads that otherwise get strewn all over the floor, Hautau located for the Perullos a drawer on wheels.

"They can pull it out to play and then put it back at the end of the day. Everything can go into that tray and it can just fly under. It's also a usable play table that is not just sitting there as an eyesore," Hautau said.

<strong>Special place</strong>

Kids love to express themselves with art. Hautau turned an unused closet in the boys' room into their own special place. She painted the interior with chalk paint, then put in a large twig strung with fairy lights. The boys can go in there and draw on the walls to their hearts' content, then erase and start over.

Hautau recommends that special places be created within a kid's room for quiet reading and writing, or even homework. Little Eily Perullo, 3, has a small teepee in her room where she can retreat with picture books. But it could be a comfy chair or a beanbag, a window seat or even a fluffy rug.

Nicole Perullo contains the clothing clutter by frequently sifting through closets and removing old or unworn things. Fewer clothes mean less laundry and less clutter.

<i>You can reach staff writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.</i>