July 8, 2021
Downsize to maximize. It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But it’s a truer statement than I ever realized myself, until I walked the walk. About 8 years ago, I started on a journey into minimalism because of how bad my allergies were, and because our family was bursting our great little house at the seams. While my family isn’t as eager as I am to be on this journey and I’ve made many changes for just myself, there are several things we did to our home and to our workplaces that really made us more efficient and made sure we were using what we had.
I recently heard a guiding question I want to share: “If the unthinkable happened and you lost everything, what would you need to replace and what would you never replace?”
This really opens our eyes to the intrinsic value of what we allow to take up space in our home, classrooms and minds.
So with summer upon us, how about dedicating some time to purge your classroom? I did this several years ago and cleared out so much, I was scared I wouldn’t be a good teacher. But the opposite happened. I knew what I had, where it was and used it all at some point during the year. So, let’s break it down into categories. You can focus on the areas you may need, or go through them all. Don’t try to do it all in one day, that can be too overwhelming, and not a good use of your summer or free time.
The trick to this being successful is putting hands on every single item in the category. Otherwise, you may overlook a box or bin, or procrastinate. Have a trash/recycling box and a donate bag/box right next to you and, as soon as it is filled, take it to it’s new home (for donations you can put them in your vehicle or a corner of the room to take all at once).
If you find it limiting to look at quantities, then set the boundaries of space and let storage be the deciding factor. This can really help if you tend to have little storage, have to move, or have to bring things home in the summer to store.
To get started, here’s what you need: trash bags, boxes and your camera to take before photos with. Once you’ve purged, you will need storage containers and labels of some sort, but I like to wait to get those until I’ve cleared out, unless you are limited on storage space and using that as your guide, then you will want those available now.
Decorations We all want our classrooms to have a look or theme, but for some children these days, too much can be, well, too much. Having only a few things of your theme then using color coordination can really help emphasize your theme without overwhelming students. If you rotate themes year to year or during the year with units or seasons, then do the same for each and then store them together.
Furniture This can be challenging, so be sure to think of how you use the space. Small groups? Pairs? Independent work? Free spaces? Floor, sitting, standing spaces? Choose versatile seating that can do all of these and have enough seating for the maximum number of students, plus a few extra for adults that may come through–parents visiting, administrators or guests observing. A basket of towels and blankets from the thrift store can be taken home and washed often and be great alternative seating for all ages. Be sure to talk to your administration about moving what you have or seeing if there is a district location where other items are stored that you can “shop” and have placed in your room. The year I found out about this, I swapped from desks to tables and it really decluttered my classroom space.
Books I know it’s hard, but this is the area you can really clear the most out of, especially if your school has a library! Librarians are amazing resources and can work with you to pull books for you to borrow on certain topics or genres, as needed. This is also a great place to donate your decluttered books to, then they haven’t gone far! Also, declutter those old textbooks. If you keep it around for one or two stories, make a copy or scan then get them gone. Be sure to check with your school on how to box and send them on since many follow certain protocols.
Supplies Bulletin boards, cleaning, crafts, projects, paper, pencils, crayons, glue, scissors–there’s a lot that is needed throughout the year. Most of us have more than we need. There are several ways to address this category. First, look at what you use daily/weekly. These you want to keep extra of. For those items that are for certain projects or units, you can keep enough for everyone to complete and store it in a box labeled for that unit so you can find it quickly. Bulletin board borders store well rolled up into icing containers and can be labeled by season/unit. For crayons, markers or color pencils, keep them all in one big box for each. As much as we like to keep them in small boxes and sorted, as soon as the frequent flyer color gets used, the whole box won’t be wasted, this just saves a step. Be sure to have a marker recycling bucket and one for old crayons–you can melt the wax and make new ones with candy molds or ice trays! As for your personal supplies like paper, pens and pencils–keep only what you use during the year.
Paper Files & Resources This is a tough category to purge since it is time consuming, but it is so worth it. Here’s some tips speed it up–if you have a digital copy, it goes. If you aren’t teaching that subject or grade, make a digital copy then let it go. If you are teaching that subject but haven’t used it in 2+ years, or have to alter it to use it, digitize and toss. I had 2 large 2-drawer file cabinets plus 4 boxes of old files and, using these guidelines, sent 4 large bags to recycling and everything else fit into a binder that was sorted by skill set.
Digital Files & Resources I think this is the hardest to declutter since it is out of sight and out of mind, but getting these purged and organized will help. Same rule as paper–if you aren’t teaching it, or haven’t used it, let it go, or put it on a flash drive and store that. If you have several variations of the same thing that you’ve changed for various units or change year to year, sort it and save it. Be sure to do 2 very important things with digital files. FIRST, give it a file name with words that you’d use to search like unit, skill, story title, etc. Some storage devices even let you add tags to help with these key words. SECOND, use folders to sort things. Since units can change, I have found that sorting by skill is most useful, unless it tied to a specific story unit I taught and used annually.
Finally, let’s get it organized and stored. Clear bins are always a bonus, and labeling items helps so much. The dollar discount stores can have some great deals, but be sure to check your big box stores and online places since sometimes you can buy in bulk and get a better deal with them–and some of your dollar discount stores don’t allow returns/refunds, so you don’t want to be stuck with extras!
Now, don’t you feel like you’ve accomplished so much? Don’t forget to take those after photos and share them with the hashtag #A2TClassroomPurge
Be sure to come back next week for Part 2 and check out how we can do the same thing at home (without making your family hate you) so you can be more efficient at home during the school year, too!
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