Is your classroom organization struggling like mine? Mr. Ninja once had to bring a giant rock on a 1400 km trip because there was a possibility it might come in handy for a science lesson. It’s lived in our garden for twelve years. Why do we do this to ourselves?
Let’s be honest. Teaching lands somewhere between collecting and hoarding. But don’t you fret! It’s time for some spring cleaning-classroom style. Classroom organization starts by cleaning out your space. Let’s clean the clutter. I promise it is hard work, but it will leave you and your students feeling refreshed!
Why did we start this classroom organization process?
Well, a big part of it is money. If teachers can get something for free, we’ll take it. We all know our classrooms are underfunded and so when interesting items come along (whether we actually need them or not) we tend to take them. What is wrong with us?
It’s time to challenge yourself to clean the clutter.
We made a little challenge to get rid of 1000 items from our classroom and homes. Some items were small like the three mismatched earrings and others were larger like the broken vacuum we were keeping for no particular reason other than forgetting it was in the basement. We threw out student examples of work from projects we haven’t done in five years and found all kinds of junk that needed to be tossed.
You can find our Classroom Organization tool in our free Resource Library. One thousand sounds like a lot of items to get rid of from your classroom and life, but it doesn’t take long once you start. You can colour code the items you release from your classroom or home with red (garbage or recycled), orange/yellow (donated) or green (sold cha-ching!). If you’re not already on our email list, we can send it directly to you when you sign up.
Why do you need this classroom organization challenge? Read on my friend.
Fifteen years ago a teacher retired and left me several boxes of very special teaching materials. It took me two years to go through it all and I basically couldn’t use any of it. It just didn’t match my teaching style. Some of the items were old photocopies of photocopies that I knew I was never going to use. And yet I felt obligated to take it-and move it from classroom to classroom and school to school. I carried those boxes around for ten years.
Then our school was being renovated over the summer and we couldn’t leave anything in our classrooms or a storage area. It all had to come home. I had 102 boxes of “very important lesson plans and materials” along with all the odd-shaped things like pocket charts, calendars, chairs, easels and other odds and ends I had to hide from Mr. Ninja. It took up almost the entire basement and that was the summer we had a minor flood.
Talk about an awakening.
Since then I’ve worked hard to clear the clutter. I spent that whole summer decluttering. I’ve had to move classrooms three times in the past three years. Even though I’m teaching the same grade, I didn’t unpack any of the first boxes I packed up. So, why do I need all this stuff? It’s time to clear it out. Bring on the spring cleaning (but it was summer)!
Start with your Top 10 Classroom Organization Garbage
- Toss anything published before 2000 that isn’t a classic. It’s not useful to anyone. This includes lesson plans.
- Photograph art projects, posters and large samples of student work. Organize them digitally so you still have the samples/exemplars but not all the space.
- Donate all the craft materials to a local school’s makerspace. We included a bag of bottle caps that we thought were so precious we kept them for nearly four years.
- Scan or photograph relevant (and current) lessons that might be useful. Organize them digitally. Recycle the paper and we back up the files on an external hard drive for safe-keeping.
- Pass borders, trimmers and bulletin board letters that are no longer wanted to new teachers. Recycle the rest.
- Let your students use your obscene collection of writing utensils. Who needs 548 Sharpies? Toss the ones that don’t work.
- Recycle all those professional development texts that are outdated. A circular saw can take the binding right off and you can toss the rest in the recycling bin. Who knew?!
- Clean good quality binders with a Magic Eraser and donate them to a local school supply drive. Dispose of the yucky or broken ones.
- Weed your classroom library. Place special ones somewhere out of the way. Organize the ones you’re keeping. Donate ones in good shape that you don’t want to other teachers or schools. Recycle the rest.
- Toss anything you haven’t looked at since you started teaching. Don’t even spend time sorting it out. If you don’t want it, neither does anyone else.
Get rid of these next ten to master your classroom organization!
- Get rid of your holiday decorations. Our students bring decorations for events that I just borrow from them each year. It’s more personal and you don’t have to store them.
- Send tools to a local Makerspace.
- Go through all of the classroom games and make sure they have all their pieces. Games that don’t can be dismantled for parts (sent to makerspaces) or recycled.
- Put student notes and cards in a dedicated scrapbook. If you can’t remember who gave it to you, recycle it. I kept one where I look really skinny as a confidence booster.
- Recycled the odd-shaped glass jars or give them to a science teacher. You can always have students bring in jars for projects later
- Round up all the cords that don’t seem to plug into anything in particular. Pawn them off on your school’s tech person to see if they have a purpose. For the ones that don’t, cut off the ends and keep some of them for an electricity unit (just what fits in a box). Recycle the rest.
- Count your baskets, bins and containers. Recycle broken or damaged ones. Save your favourites. Send an email with a picture asking if anyone wants them. Give them away.
- Find random science ingredients like: a bag of salt, a bag of cornstarch, a sponge, paper cups, straws and a bag of talc. Dispose of the extras and store the rest in sealed containers. Don’t keep food in your classroom unless you plan to eat it. It attracts small critters.
- Pillows seem like a good idea, but no. Toss anything that is falling apart. Since the Bean Bag Disaster of 2014 we have limited soft seating.
- Do you really need three boxes of paper clips in your desk? Just sayin’.
And there are still a few more things to toss…
- And while we’re on the topic of supplies that multiply: you do not need as many elastic bands as you think you do. When you really need one there will be a child in your classroom playing with one when they shouldn’t be.
- Get rid of other people’s stuff. Return it. If they’ve given it to you and you don’t want it, toss it.
A new, clean space feels so much more relaxing and the best part of the clutter binge is that when you have to change classrooms, there is so much less to move. During my classroom organization clutter cleanse, I was able to get my materials down to a box or two per subject area (and those pocket charts and weird-sized things still don’t fit). My classroom is much less cluttered and so is my basement!
Be very careful when passing things along to other teachers. If it was a burden for you to go through, it’ll just make work for them, too. Don’t stop at classroom items. My family and I went through the whole house with this same mentality. It was so freeing to get rid of things. We were able to get rid of one thousand items within a few months. Yes, 1000!
The more I started to clear things out, the easier it became. You can do it!
As we were cleaning I found an entire box labelled scrap paper. Yes, I was keeping paper nobody wanted that I had literally pulled out of the recycling bin at school. It made a great photo for this post, but it has long since been sent to the recycling depot.
Repeat after me: I do not need to keep all the things.
Looking for some other ways to save some time (because of the clutterlessness-that’s a word!)? Check out these posts: Save Your Time and 5 Things To Get Organized Before the School Year Starts.
Be honest. You’ve probably got a bird’s nest, wasp’s nest or stuffed muskrat hanging around because it’s loosely related to science, right?
We’d love to hear about the most ridiculous item you’re hanging onto. Why do you think you’re still keeping it? Leave us a comment below. Happy spring cleaning!
Are you looking for more tips on classroom organization?
- How to Get Your Classroom Set Up in One Day
- 5 Things to Get Organized Before the School Year Starts
- Get Your Emergency Sub Plans Ready
- How to Reduce Paper Clutter in Your Classroom
- Save Your Time And Be a Productive Teacher
- Avoid Device Disaster
- Prepare for Your Guided Reading Groups
That rock is still in the garden, but it’s only until we can return it to its natural habitat one day. Mr. Ninja will not be pleased and to be honest, I’m likely to find something else I might need one day.
What classroom organization tips do you have? Share them with us in the comments below.