KonMari for the Classroom: The Short Version, Part 2

KMClassroomI wish I still had a classroom so I could have pictures to accompany this part, but you’ll just have to make do with your imagination. Remember, this is an abbreviated version so that you can get your classrooms going.  I will return to the full series and post it later so that if you want to do a full KonMari on your classrooms, you can. As I’ve said before, I love making order out of chaos – and I’m guessing your rooms are looking pretty chaotic about now. That’s okay; just keep referring to that vision to stay motivated. You’ll get there.

A Place for Everything

If you got rid of even one-fourth of what you started with, you should have freed up plenty of space in your storage closets and shelves.  When you start putting things away, you want it to make sense so that you’ll know exactly where to go to find things.  Kondo has two rules for storage, and I think they will work well for classrooms, too. She says, “Store all items of the same type in the same space, and don’t scatter storage space.”   I know that storage in classrooms can be limited, but if you think of each storage area as a zone which contains a particular type of item, I think you can make it work.  What follows are my personal recommendations; if you keep Kondo’s rules in mind and do what works for you, you will have storage space that functions well and keeps you organized.

Storage Closets

Since closets have doors, this is the perfect place to store the things that you do not need on a daily basis. Think of this as the “teacher only” zone. You don’t want to put in here things you want the kids to be able to access. You’ll group things that naturally go together (office supplies, art supplies, paper, etc.). Items you want easiest access to should be on the middle shelves, less necessary items on the top and bottom shelves. This is where you will store reserves of:

  • Office/desk Supplies
    • Pen, pencils, paper clips, staples, sticky-notes, etc. Shelf space in a closet is usually pretty tight, so I don’t recommend putting them into baskets or tubs, especially if they’re in boxes already.  File folders can go in this group also.  If they’re in a box, you can keep them there (unless the box is half empty or more). Store on their side so they take up less space.
  • Art Supplies (NOT paper)
    • Glue, paint, yarn, craft sticks, crayons, markers, scissors, etc.  Remember, these are only the spare/reserve items, not the ones you will use daily/weekly.  Anything that can stand on its own, should.  Anything not in a box (yarn, scissors, loose crayons, etc.) can go in shoe boxes or cheap baskets from a dollar store. This is a closet no one will see inside of – don’t spend a lot of money on cute storage.
  • Seasonal Items
    • Seasonal room decor (not posters or bulletin board items).  Again, anything that can stand on its own does not need to be in a storage container or basket.
  • Professional Books and Binders
    • Do you refer to these on a weekly basis?  If not, store them in the closet on an upper shelf since you won’t need them.
  • Paper
    • The only paper I recommend storing in the closet is paper that is in a package. Remember, this is excess paper that you won’t need regularly, so I would use the very bottom or very top shelves to store packages of extra construction, manila, notebook, and copy paper.
  • Everything Else
    • I’m not copping out here – I just can’t possibly  know what else you might be storing.  Just remember, this closet should only be for items you don’t need on a regular basis, and to which the students do not need access.  And stick with the  general rule that anything already in a box or with a flat bottom that can stand on its own does not need to be put inside another container. Save bins and baskets for loose items and those things that can’t stand on their own.

Open Shelving

I’ll be honest – I am not a fan of hanging curtains in front of this type of shelving. This is a fluid space – things are coming and going from here on a daily basis, so everything should be easily accessible, and curtains are a hindrance.  If you’ve been successful at the decluttering  you’ve done, you shouldn’t have anything to hide. Use the same standard for arranging items here – place in baskets and bins only those items that are loose or can’t stand up on their own.  Try not to overfill the shelves – a little bit of breathing room will also lend to a less cluttered feel.

  • Student Aids & Manipulatives (Hands-On Zone)
    • Choose a section of shelves to store all of the various teaching materials and manipulatives that the students use. If you teach math and/or science, you’ll likely have a variety of these items. I’ll call this the “hands-on” zone. These things need to be accessible for the students, so you don’t want them hidden in the closet.
  • Student Supplies (Supplies Zone)
    • This is where you will keep the extra paper, notebooks, folders, etc. to which the students will have access.
    • Use inexpensive stacking trays to store any letter-size paper
    • Paint coffee and soup cans to make cheap holders for pencils, rulers, markers, loose crayons. etc.
    • Construction/manila paper and other art supplies that are used frequently can also be kept here.
  • Books (Library Zone)
    • Any books that the students will use should be kept together.  Separate your classroom library – the books they’ll read for enjoyment –  from books that are related to their texts – ancillary items, consumables, etc.
    • More than likely, you are keeping all of your teacher editions on open shelves too.  That should be considered a “teacher zone”.  Keep the books that only you need apart from the books that the students need.

Continue with any other items you have that should be kept on open shelves. Follow the guideline for keeping like things together as much as possible.

Flatland

Some things won’t fit on a shelf, like posters and charts. Many classrooms have storage spaces specifically made to hold items like these.  If yours does not, you could purchase art portfolios or bulletin board storage boxes.  Want to go cheaper?  Use heavy-duty binder clips to keep posters or bulletin board display pieces together.  Hang from hooks on the inside of a closet door or in some other out of the way space in your room.  Still rolling up your bulletin board border?  Stop! It takes up too much space and is much harder to put up when it’s all curled.  Hang them from binder clips as well.

The Walls

Now that you are ready to start putting things on the walls, please remember this – less is more. Seriously. If you completely cover every inch of wall space, nothing stands out anymore.  A poster you hang for motivation or an anchor chart you display for student reference can be reduced to nothing more than visual clutter if there are too many of them. Start with the things you are required to have on display (a Word Wall, for example) and limit what else goes up to items that complement it.  Don’t mix your ELA posters and anchor charts with your math ones.

Personalize

Your vision for your classroom won’t be complete until you make it your own.  For me, this was always the most fun part – decorating and personalizing the classroom, and making it a place that the students would be happy to come to every day.  Make it bright and warm and inviting.  It should be a place that makes you happy, too.

Maintenance

Your classroom is going to be clutter-free and perfectly organized for about five minutes – then the students come in.  Maintaining all of your hard work will depend on the systems you put in place in your room, so be sure you have those procedures thought out before the students arrive.  Remember that vision you’ve been referring to?  Keep that handy.  If clutter and disorganization start to creep back, pull out that sheet and remind yourself of why you did all this hard work. Devote some time to getting things back on track.

Over 1,400 words and I still have a lot more to say on this topic!  But if you’ve stayed with me this long, you are off to a great start. Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to this blog and be among the first to know when I return to the full classroom series.  I’d love to see/hear some success stories, so please feel free to share.

Have a great school year!

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KonMari for the Classroom – The Short Version

KMClassroomCrickets. That’s what I heard after my first post on getting rid of paper clutter in the classroom.  I’m not surprised; it was a lot of information and probably, a little overwhelming.  So rather than turn everyone off, I’m going to give you a streamlined version so you can get it done and get on with the new school year. While I do believe it is possible to KonMari your classroom by category, I know that may be impractical right now as many items are stored in boxes and cabinets, and you can’t readily see all that you have. So we are going to depart from Kondo’s category approach and declutter by area.  This is presuming you are unpacking the same room you were in last year and got to keep most things in place. If you are moving into a new room and it is empty, the second part of this post will be the most beneficial; if someone else left their clutter behind, well, keep reading here.

*Note – Teachers spend A LOT of their own money; I know I did.  I am not in any way suggesting that you be wasteful with district-purchased supplies, nor that you get rid of things you purchased with your hard-earned money. Only you know for sure what items will likely be provided by your school so that you do not have to keep an overabundance of items in your limited space.  Keep those thoughts in mind as you go through this, and do what will be best for you.

Storage Closets and Cabinets

Out of sight, out of mind probably means that your cabinets are full of items that you don’t use regularly (or ever). So let’s pare down so you’re left with only those items you need and use.

  • Writing Implements
    • Pens, markers, and high-lighters that are more than a few years old may have dried up. Test the ones you know have been in there the longest and chuck any that do not work. Still have more boxes than you’ll use in year or two? Stop hoarding!  Put them out for the students to use.
    • Pencils never go bad.  If you are hoarding these too, sharpen those suckers and put them out for the students.  I know we want them to be responsible and take care of their own pencils, but is it worth it?  Choose your battles – put out the pencils and move on.
  • Paper
    • I’m sticking by this one – if you’ve got loose sheets that are creased, curled, or wrinkled, recycle them. Same with half-used or mostly-used notepads and sticky-notes (especially if you have brand-new ones in front of you.)
    • How much is too much?  Look at the number of stacks of construction/manila/notebook paper you have.  Do you have more than you could possible use this year? Next year?  Are the kids going to be bringing in any more of this thanks to the supply list?  If you answered “yes” to any of these, it’s time to purge. Reduce what you’ve got by at least half. Recycle what’s torn, creased, or loose, and give what’s left to someone who needs it.
    • Are you storing notebooks and folders?  Do you have a planned use for them?  If not, recycle the used ones.  Again, if you have more than what you would use over the next couple of school years, reduce it by half.
  • Miscellaneous Supplies
    • This is everything else – paper clips, thumb tacks, staples, binder clips – all those odds and ends.  If they are things that you use regularly, keep them.  But again, how many boxes of staples do you need?  If you have more than two, that’s probably too many.  Think of this year and the next – keep what you need to get your through that amount of time, and remove the rest.
  • Teaching Aids
    • I don’t want to repeat this unnecessarily, so click here and scroll down to Teaching Aids & Informational Display Items for my suggestions.
  • Room Decor
    • Many teachers have a theme for their room decoration each year.  Some use the same year after year, some change it.  If you are keeping the same theme, go through your items and trash any that are damaged and beyond repair.  Keep only what will look best.  If you are changing themes, ask yourself if you really need to keep all of the decorations from the previous theme(s).

Box up all of the items you’ve removed from your cabinets and pass them on to the new folks in your building who could probably use them.

Open Shelving

This is a tricky area because it holds everything!  Remember, our goal is to make your vision for your classroom a reality. I’ve seen some teachers hang curtains over their shelves and claim that it was because it looked nice when really it was just to hide the clutter. Hang the curtains if you must and if they fit your vision.  But behind curtains or not, it’s time to declutter those shelves.

  • Books
    • Classroom Library – It took me a long time to put together my classroom library. Many years of getting free items from Scholastic and Troll book clubs, and taking from the pickings of a weeded library. It’s hard to part with books, but sometimes it is for the best.
      • Any book that is torn up or has missing covers or pages should really be sent to recycling.  If it is a well-loved book, jot down the title so you can try to replace it later.
      • Non-fiction books that have out-dated information (think Pluto). These should probably be recycled as well.
    • Textbooks
      • Out-of-adoption or sample textbooks, and consumable workbooks – Are you really using these or are they still there because getting rid of books feels wrong?  If they are out of line with current teaching standards, let them go.
    • Professional Materials
      • Training/Workshop Binders – In 1989, I took a summer writing course.  All of my writing samples and the workshop materials were contained in a 3-inch binder. When I changed rooms, it went with me. When I changed positions, it went with me.  Did I ever open it again after the workshop? No. Did my district continue to use that writing program? No.  When did I finally part with it? When I was cleaning out for retirement – in 2015.  If the workshop information is more than five years old, isn’t part of a plan that your district is still following, and isn’t something you are likely to ever need again, toss it.  If it is something your school or district has paid for, check with someone in charge and see what the policy is for removing it from your classroom.
      • Professional Books – Is the information still relevant?  Is it something you refer to frequently and always want to have on hand?  Is it something that was provided by your school/district that you must keep? If not, buh-bye.
  • Everything Else
    • It would be impossible for me to name every other item that you probably have lurking on those shelves, but I’m guessing manipulatives, baskets and other storage containers, odds and ends that you don’t know where else to place are among them.  Go through each shelf and pull out anything you have not used in recent memory and know you will not use this year.  If it is a personal item, what you do with it is your call (trash, donate, send to long-term storage).  If it is school/district property, you may have to keep it. Check with someone who would know if it can be taken out of your room.

A Place for Everything, Everything in Its Place

I am hoping that when you look inside your newly decluttered cabinets and closets you are seeing lots of empty space.  The same should also be true of your shelves – surely you now have a few empty ones. In my next post I will share tips on how to organize this new-found space to keep your clutter from coming back and to make your classroom a welcoming place for students.

KonMari for the Classroom: Paper – Day One

KMClassroomPaperSo, you’ve created your vision and are ready to tackle your classroom clutter – good for you! I’m convinced that even if you get no further than discarding extraneous paper in your classroom, you will have made a huge dent. That’s because so much of what we have in our rooms falls into this category.  I’m not even going to address what is in your file cabinets in this post – that’s a whole other ball of wax -I’m just focused on the paper you can see. So for now when I say “paper”, this is what I am talking about:

Paper

  • notebook paper
  • notebooks
  • newsprint
  • construction/manila/fadeless paper
  • notepads and sticky-notes
  • blank copy paper
  • chart tablets and chart paper

Decorative and Informational

  • posters
  • anchor charts
  • bulletin board border
  • bulletin board displays

Books

  • old textbooks
  • testing practice aids
  • professional books
  • books in your classroom library
  • binders from various conferences, workshops, and training events

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it should get you started.

Plain Paper

Let’s start with plain old paper first.  Gather it up from all of its various locations – storage cabinets, shelves, your desk – wherever you have it stashed, and bring it all to one central spot in your classroom.  This will make it much easier to see how much paper you have amassed, and it will make it easier to sort into a manageable amount.

I’m going to suggest getting rid of all loose paper – if it’s in a package, great; if not, it’s out of here.  Unless you have trays to hold the loose paper, it gets torn, folded, and creased.  Send to the recycle bin. Now – if you have a neat stack of 200 sheets of notebook paper, I am not suggesting you get rid of it – that would be wasteful.  But random sheets, cheap construction paper that tears easily once out of the package, newsprint with torn edges – those are the things that should go. Keep clean notebooks that have never been used. Notepads and sticky-notes that have only a  few sheets left on them – recycle. You want to whittle this down until you are left with neat stacks of various papers, clean notebooks, usable notepads, and charts.

Look at what’s left – what do you have too much of?  Construction paper because it’s on the school supply list every year?  Sticky-notes because you can only order them in packages of 10?  Reduce those piles by at least half, more if you can honestly say you will not use up what’s left in the foreseeable future. Take your discards and set them by your classroom door so you remember that they are on their way out!

Teaching Aids and Informational Display Items

We typically find two different things on our classroom walls and bulletin boards – teaching aids and decorative items.  We’re going to tackle the educational ones first. Locate all of your informational display items (posters, anchor charts, etc.) and, just like with the plain paper, bring them all to one spot in your classroom.  Are there any that are out-of-date? (Solar system posters that include Pluto as a planet, for example.)  If the information on a teaching aid is no longer valid, it needs to go.  Are there any posters or charts that are not applicable to your current teaching assignment? Set those aside in a different pile.  Torn or faded? Corners so chewed up by years of stapling they won’t even hold a staple anymore?  If you can afford to replace them, then recycle the damaged ones.  If you can’t replace them, then make the best repairs you can (trim off the torn corners and laminate for added durability?), and place in your “keep” pile. If you have more than one poster or chart representing the same information, do you need to keep them both? Would you hang up both at the same time? If not, choose one to part with.

Continue this process until you are left with the best of the best of the teaching aids, anchor charts, and educational posters. These are the items that, even though you have to have them, fit the vision you created for your classroom.  All the items that are damaged beyond repair or out-of-date go to the recycle bin.  The duplicate items you just sorted through can be given to another teacher who might be able to use them, so set those by your classroom door since they are on their way out.  The items that are no longer useful for your current teaching assignment?  That’s a judgment call.  If you don’t want to get rid of them (a lot of money invested and you might end up back in that grade level), then it is fine to hang on to them.  If classroom storage is an issue, I would take them home.  But if you are okay parting with them permanently, then set them by the door as well.

On Their Way Out

If you are really committed to this, that pile by the door should be pretty sizable!  These are all items that are in perfectly good condition and could easily be used by someone else. What you do with those items may depend on your school building. At mine, we used to just set things we no longer wanted in our work room or lounge, or even in the hallway for others to take. You know what they say, one man’s trash… Whatever you do, it’s important that you get them out of your room so you are not tempted to keep any of it.

I’m going to stop here for brevity’s sake, and because I’m not sure you could get through more than this in one day anyway.  Next up will be books and the papers we use to make our classrooms pretty.