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Organize Your Classroom: Getting Rid of Stuff Feels Good

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A few months ago, I googled “spring cleaning closets” just to see what tips I might find. One link lead to another, and another, and eventually I stumbled across a concept known as “capsule closets” or “minimalist wardrobes.” The basic idea is that you pick out a very small number of clothing items to wear for the season, and you get rid of all the rest. That’s right. Get. rid. of. all the things you don’t actually wear.

In the most extreme version of capsule wardrobing, you are supposed to sell off and give away everything you don’t plan on wearing that season (with only a few exceptions, like your winter parka, or a gown you inherited, and that sort of thing). The concept is you only keep what you’ll actually use immediately, thus you’ll wear things more often. Your job is to select a more deliberate wardrobe, with most of your clothes coordinating, taking the guess work out of getting dressed in the morning. Instead of a closet full of things you never use, you’ll have small collection of things you wear over and over, wearing them out by the end of the season, so you can start all over again the next year.

I loved this concept, and I attacked my closet with vigor. My usual spring cleaning involves getting rid of a few bags of things I never wear — this year it was a car load. Jeans that I haven’t worn since the 2000’s, dresses I wore to long ago weddings, sweaters, shoes… you get the picture.

Here’s the thing. It was really hard to let go of these things. I worked hard for those clothes! A lot of of the clothes brought back old fun memories. I kept saying, “I might wear this again!” But I’ve been saying “I might wear this again!” for fifteen years on some of those dresses!

Now think about your classroom. What would it look like if you were to make your classroom a “minimalist classroom?” A classroom where you only kept the things you actually use, and you gave away the rest to someone else in need? No more hoarding construction paper and glue sticks for “just in case.” No more saving charts year after year after year.  Next year’s kids will need fresh charts that you make together–not some laminated things that you blow the dust off each year.

Last week I facilitated end of the year in-service at one of the schools where I work. We focused on classroom libraries: organizing, leveling, and making them attractive. What I had not anticipated was how eager everybody was to GET RID OF the old, broken apart materials that had been taking up room in their classroom closets. Hidden away in old crates and boxes, everybody had been saving books that were dusty and outdated. Books that no kid wanted to read–not when there were plenty of shiny, glossy new books right next to the old ones. I was asked, “Should I get rid of this?”  “What do I do with these?” “Where do these go in my library?” again and again.

At first it was difficult (even for me) to say, “Put it on the give away table.” But as the day wore on and it became clear that there were plenty of newer, non-falling-apart books for kids to read, it got easier and easier. With a little practice, “Give away!” and “Donate!” got a lot easier to say.

It’s rewarding to let go of material things that you don’t really need. It’s a nice reminder that having closets full of stuff isn’t really what teaching (or life) is about. It’s nice to think of others who might need the stuff you’ve been hoarding, and it feels good to give it away if you can.

There’s a song that my daughter’s preschool class sang often this year: Love is something, if you give it away, give it away, give it away. Love is something, if you give it away, you end up having more.

As you go through your own classrooms this year, if you find yourself saying, “But I might use this again!” Try asking yourself, “But couldn’t I get by without it? Couldn’t I give it away?”

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PS. If you can’t organize a book/materials swap or give away table at your own school, there are many local organizations that often welcome donations of books, art supplies, and office supplies. This one in California is specific to art supplies, or this one in Kansas helps teachers! If you have a recommendation for a great way to donate or repurpose classroom materials, leave a link in the comments section!

PPS. When you are finished giving away and letting go of all the stuff you really don’t need, you may want to organize what you DO need. Click here if (like me) you like labels, color coding, and that sort of thing.

BethMooreSchool View All

Literacy Coach, Consultant, Author, Graduate Course Instructor, and Mom. Passionate about fostering a love of reading and writing in learners of all ages.

23 thoughts on “Organize Your Classroom: Getting Rid of Stuff Feels Good Leave a comment

  1. I loved this post. It definitely struck a cord with me! Throughout this school year I have slowly chipped away at decluttering my classroom. I felt a huge difference as I went a long. Things were so easy to find. I felt less over whelmed with less stuff. It turns on that I am changing positions next school year. Packing was so easy since I had already gotten rid of the things that I wasn’t using.

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  2. I also relate to your post! A book that I find very helpful in decluttering at home is “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” it’s by a Japanese author, Marie Condo, who has a months-long waiting list of clients who want her services. I have done clothing so far; her method is to touch every article. If it sparks joy, keep it; otherwise, give it away. She also has great ways to organize what you keep. I think it would work in the classroom, too. http://tidyingup.com/

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  3. I raffled off all of our classroom charts on the last day of school. I took photos first of any I wanted to remember for next year. The students LOVED it. It was kind of awesome to hear them telling each other they were going to hang their “Find the Main Idea!” chart by their bed because “I’m still working on main ideas, so that will really help”! And it was also awesome to not have to find a place to store them all.
    Next up: my filing cabinet. There’s stuff in there that’s moved with me…several times.

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  4. I am moving this year, and did the best that I could to purge old materials. If I hadn’t used it in the last three years, I pitched it. This was really hard. I did not manage the same ruthless practice with glue sticks, clipboards or the classroom library. This is a great idea about what to do in August!

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  5. I need help cleaning out my basement, Beth. It still has so much JUNK from my days in the classroom. (NOTE: I left the classroom six years ago. I still have all of the old, used clipboards I bought. Pathetic, I know.)

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  6. Just wanted to share a brainstorm this post inspired as I clean my classroom. The students are with me until Thursday this week and I was trying to decide what to do with their Class Dojo dollars they earned. Class Dojo is a behavior reinforcement app that allows the teacher to give students points via phone or tablet (or desktop) for appropriate behavior. I tied mine into a classroom economy where students earned Dojo Dollars for each point they had and could cash their points in for things like 10 minutes on the computer or a visit to the prize box. I decided to do a Dojo Auction and have students bid on some of the “treasures” I am looking to purge like posters, duplicate copies of books, stuffed animals, etc. I think this will be a great way to celebrate the points they earned and let them decide what they want to bid on. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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  7. I am laughing at myself as I read this post. I performed a “classroom cleansing” at the end of the school year. What have I been thinking?Why did I keep old posters, old books, and YES even old glue sticks for far too many years.? The ONLY thing I didn’t remove was my unused post it notes!

    I’m using these gently used items to spear-head a garage sale that will go into my END ALZ Walk fund raising efforts. It feels good knowing that I will walk back into a fresh classroom that I will build with my brand new scholars.
    Thank you for your post

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  8. You have hit a nerve here. So hard to cull when you teach multiple grades. I always have the excuse that I may need it later. But moving my classroom at the end of the year made me well aware that I have too much! The hardest to get rid of were the sets of encyclopedias. I love the idea of a community give away table. I also donate to our local library that has a used book sale every year. The trick is to give away more than I buy.

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  9. This is a great reminder that sometimes less is more. It is so hard to let go of those things that we might use someday, but after five or ten years of somedays many of those things are still sitting on the shelf. I need to get rid of a bunch of things in order to give that space and mental energy to the students.

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  10. I too am in the process of cleaning out the closet in my classroom. I’m lucky to have the only classroom with a large 12×12 closet. I have eliminated lots of stuff including things that belonged to a teacher that retired when I started eight years ago. Don’t ask me why I kept it in the cabinet for so long, but it is gone now. Books are the main thing in my room and I have over 1000. What I did this year was to set out a table in the hallway with a book swap for students. Got the idea from another educators blog. The students would bring a book and take a book. It got lots of use this year and I will be setting it up again next year. I also like the idea of the little free library. You can check it out here. http://littlefreelibrary.org
    Also saw that idea on another blog post. I’m going to ask our principal if we can set that up for the fall if not earlier. Now, I could really make some money if I cleaned out the two closets with my clothes!

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  11. Changing roles two years in a row and helping other teachers cull the books in their classrooms gave me the opportunity to have a book swap at our building. The looks on the kids’ faces as they chose books to keep for their own libraries was priceless! The ones that were left over were sent to another school district where there is a great need for books. It felt good to spread the joy!

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  12. Thanks for posting this!
    This year I’ve decided to go at my library with gusto. I’ll give many books away to kids to read or share over the summer– But book donations have been tricky to deal with. I will look into that and post if I find any!

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  13. I am kind of a pack rat, not so far as hoarder, but someone with a lot of stuff. Books are the bulk of my classroom and when I made the switch to third from K, I did give a lot away but still have so many. One project I would love to get to would be cataloging all my books and truly organizing purposefully all those picture books! I am really curious how that wardrobe challenge worked for you! Also, love your Pinterest page and appreciate you sharing.

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  14. About every 3 years I have moved to a new school (long story) and this year I am staying at the same school, but moving to a new classroom. Because of this, I have gotten pretty good at throwing out stuff rather than saving it year to year, and I throw it out exactly when we are done with it! Books that are in rough shape stay in the same classroom library and I only take the ones that kids are currently reading regularly (sorry Willow Smith, your biography didn’t make the cut this time!) As my husband jokes, I’ve whittled my collection of teacher stuff down to 25 boxes! 🙂 This year I have a box of posters that is getting a serious cleaning out. I actually haven’t opened it this entire year, except to retrieve one poster. There’s a great book called “Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom!” by Kelly Dipucchio and Guy Francis that all teachers should read.

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  15. Elizabeth, the title of your post drew me in instantly. Who doesn’t want to get rid of stuff these days? I am going through this with my teacher partner next door at the moment. It helps to have a partner to pace with and be ruthless together. You are right…it feels so good with each thing you get rid of, such a sense of freedom and room for so many new ideas and resources.

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