Organize Your Classroom: Getting Rid of Stuff Feels Good


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?”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

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.