Mounds of photocopies. Stacks of file folders. Piles of PD handouts. Boxes and bins stuffed with project leftovers. You are so ready for vacation, but you are so surrounded and drowning in clutter. The secretary is waiting for your keys and the principal wants to check you off the list.

Make a mad leap for the door? Close your eyes and click your heels three times? Lock the door and throw away the key?

This is how I felt every time summer rolled around.

All year, every year I was just too busy planning and teaching meaningful lessons with little time for clean up. Instead? Pile up!

Trust me, I know about clutter. My daughter used to call me “The Pack Rat Queen!”

Well, you just never know I might need it! That was my motto. But with age comes wisdom. (not to mention lots and lots of stuff) I found out the hard way that all that clutter was not only a symptom, but a cause of avoidable stress. The reality check finally came last summer when I was faced with retirement and had to pack my office. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but my office had spilled over into three “auxiliary rooms” in which I had parked thirty years of accumulated treasures. Eeek!

I’m serious. So, you know, I had to get real and devise a plan. And here it is. I will share it with you in 4 easy steps and explain each step.

Linda’s 4 Easy Steps to Clear Classroom Clutter

1. Clear everything out of the cluttered spot.
2. Plan.
3. Return the essential must have items.
4. Sort and rid the rejects.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? How will it work? When you look at your cluttered room, are you overwhelmed and thinking, “Where do I begin? What do I clear first?” Well start simple, small, and centrally. Start with your desk. Here’s how the four steps work.

Step 1 Clear everything out of the cluttered spot.

Ok, make a space on a table top somewhere. (You might have to shove everything to the floor to clear a table top. It’s ok.) Move the table next to the area you will be clearing. Now you just empty everything out on to the table top, one drawer at a time. Some people like to sort as they go, others prefer the just dump it all out method. When all the drawers are empty, smile.

Step 2 Plan

By now you have a pretty clear idea of what kind of stuff you have to sort through and what kind of space in which you have to store it. So you sit and plan. Where will you put everything? Keep in mind how and where you will use the items you decide to keep. If you are devising a new organization plan, you may want to put post its or masking tape labels to mark the areas for sorting until you get used to the new plan. Hint for closets and desks: Leave an empty drawer or box to catch up all the stray and to-be-filed items. This is sort of like the junk drawer in the kitchen. Do this with the thought in mind that next year you will go through that catch-all container once a month or once a week and put things away! If you think this is an out of reach expectation for you, label the box “student helper” and assign a student to assist you with this task.

Step 3 Return the essential must haves.

Look through your pile and select the must have essential items. This is the hard part so here are three questions your item must pass to be salvaged.

• Did I use this item this year?
• Will I use this item next year?
• What will I use this item for? (If you can’t be specific, it doesn’t pass the question.)

Step 4 Sort and rid the rejects.

The first stage of sorting is easy. There will be many items that just stand straight out screaming, “Trash me!” Honor that request. Stage two then becomes sorting into give away piles. Some items will automatically call to mind a specific person who could really use it. Start their pile. Go item by item. You will find more trash directed items. Go for it! You can neatly display the rest of the giveaways in the hallway outside your doorway on a table or in boxes on the floor. Post a sign “FREE, Help Yourself.” Sometimes students will want to browse these piles and grab some take-home treasures. You can even give away many items as end of the year prizes. Other teachers will find you free items irresistible as well. After a given period of time, everything left must go. That means to the trash if nowhere else.

Remember, the idea is to rid yourself of these rejects.

If you follow this plan and clear your room one area at a time, you will soon have a room that is free of clutter. You will feel fantastic. You can take your vacation knowing that you will come back to a neat orderly room that is organized for a functional year of teaching and learning.

Thanks for reading this newsletter. I hope it helps you clear your classroom clutter. Please pass this on to your buddies who will find it helpful as well.

Stay tuned for the next weekly issue of Teaching Tips to Try.

I’ve got some clutter clearing of my own calling me!

Your Math Coach,
Linda Cordes

Linda Cordes is a math teacher and instructional coach with 30+ years of experience and passion for learning and teaching.

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