Clearing Physical and Emotional Clutter

Why the hype on shows like Tidying Up With Marie Kondo? Is there any solidity behind the idea that of getting rid of excess stuff? If you are feeling overwhelmed, or constantly searching for a way to streamline your classroom so that it feels more organized, this post is for you.

Our physical environment is a direct reflection of our mental state. This is true for our homes as well as for our classrooms. If your classroom looks anything like mine does at the end of the year, you are probably chuckling right now. One research study found that when there are multiple forms of stimuli (clutter) competing for neural representation (your focus), most humans were already doing a small form of multi-tasking by IGNORING THE JUNK.

As teachers, we already have a million different things to focus on… clutter vying for our attention should be the least of our worries. Yet the benefits of keeping an organized classroom go beyond aesthetic.

Having a clear space physically boosts your energy.

Have you ever came home to a crazy house with things all over the floor, dishes in the sink, laundry in a pile and disorder everywhere? How did you feel? Chances are, you felt low-energy and overwhelmed immediately.

Re-imagine walking into your home, things are in their correct place, the dishes have been scrubbed and put away, laundry is neatly placed in dresser drawers… how do you feel now? Refreshed? Ready to put your teacher things down and enjoy being home?

Exactly. Your physical space allows for you to have a fresh slate. Your energy is much higher when you come home and don’t subconsciously start pulling together a to-do list a mile high of chores that, quite frankly, will not get done when you’re already tired from teaching.

This same principle applies to your classroom. Students respond on a energetic-level to the organization of a room. If the room appears put together, then they subconsciously assess, “Mr. Teacher values order and organization. I will need to make things neater.” One less thing to try to teach! Another positive? Coming to work each day to an organized classroom will also lift YOUR energy!

Having a clear space provides clarity of thought.

Without a mental to-do list a mile long (grade those papers, drop off that form to the principal, fill out mentor worksheets, email librarian about books, etc), your brain is now free to create new thoughts. Ever felt bogged down with brain fog? One reason you may be experiencing this is because your brain is overloaded with things to THINK about, all reflected from your physical environment!

Student are also affected by clutter in a similar fashion. When THEY are organized, they do better on longer projects and in general. When they are in a CLASSROOM that is organized, their mind is more able to wonder deeply. The human brain appreciates order, especially when students are absorbed in a digital world that is so hectic for a large portion of their life!

Counter: Some kids thrive in clutter.

I know someone out there is thinking this – some kids thrive in clutter. They probably have a creative brain that processes information differently. Their brain can handle the madness. However, as adults, we cannot assume all students thrive in this environment. It is our job to provide a clean, orderly work space that all of our students can thrive in. Our clutter-resistant students will need to get their clutter-fix from their bedroom at home!

How Do I Clear My Classroom of Clutter?

  1. Get ruthless. Look at your classroom walls and, before you do anything else, take done the posters that are NOT aiding in your students’ learning. That one poster with tiny text? Take it down. That other poster with a TON of text? Take it down. The information on posters should be able to be consumed within a few second of glancing at the poster itself. You are not trying to teach students through a poster (I hope not, anyways). If it is a topic you value, make it into a mini-lesson that you give periodically throughout the year. Get rid of anything on your walls that is outdated, not colorful, boring, or just too busy.
  2. Clean Off Your Desk. Seriously. Take ten minutes and clean your desk. File away papers, throw away wrappers, dust off that inch of dirt from the school year. Once it is clean, sit down in your chair. Doesn’t it feel better?
  3. Air Out Your Cupboards. And by air out, I mean, completely go through each of the cupboards in your classroom and start tossing out materials from fifteen years ago that you are keeping “just in case you need it someday”. If you aren’t emotionally ready to throw away some things, keep a specific place for outdated materials. Then, next year, look through them again and see if you still want to hang on to them. Organize supplies in containers, papers in folders or binders, and make everything have a specific place. Make each shelf a certain grade level, or a certain subject area, and only put things there that belong. It is AMAZING how much easier the school year goes when you know where everything should be.
  4. Go through your units and determine what is working and what needs to meet the flame. My love of Game of Thrones came out in this one, mainly because I am SO bad at throwing out old units/worksheets that I used to love. I cling to them like a long-lost child, promising myself I’ll find time next year even though I haven’t found time in four years. This is the time of year I shake myself by the shoulders and get – it – together. My recycling bin is usually full by the time I’ve combed through each unit (you caught me, I don’t actually light my papers on fire).
  5. Toss old supplies. Then, make a list of supplies that you will need to replace for the following year. This is essential to having a hassle-free year, and will save you multiple headaches next year.
  6. Organize your Google Drive. Someone had to say it… get in there and tackle that unruly beast. My first four years of teaching I never once organized my Google Drive, and when I finally got around to it, OH MY GOSH WHAT A NIGHTMARE. Color code your folders, develop a system of organization (I create one folder for each grade level, then I create folders for each novel we read, then I create folders for each skill I teach during that novel.)

When you are done with de-cluttering your classroom, you should feel a sense of accomplishment but also relief. Cleaning your physical environment aides in also helping your emotional state as well. Anxiety and overwhelm are directly related to how much our brain is trying to tackle.

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have. If doing some organizing can sharpen that tool and allow us to utilize it to our best potential, then the time invested is entirely worth it.



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