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How to Get a Clutter-Free Classroom the KonMari Way

Clutter-Free Classroom

Use this popular tidying system to pare down and keep things in place throughout the school year.

Every teacher wants a clutter-free classroom, but it's just so hard! Books, papers, and other materials accumulate everywhere, and before you know it, you're a stack of ungraded assignments away from being on an episode of Hoarders. But there's help. Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, helped me clean and organize my house, and now I'm using the same techniques to ensure that I have a clutter-free classroom. Even if you consider yourself to be lazy or messy, with Kondo's tips, you'll be keeping things tidy in no time.

Rid Yourself of the Joyless

The first rule of Kondo's KonMari method is to discard. I have tests and work sheets for novels I haven't taught in 20 years. I have shelves stacked with books I haven't used in decades. Why am I saving them? I have mementos from former students whose children are now in my classes. They overrun my desk and spill out of file cabinets. It's time to put those papers in the recycling bin, and donate those books to the school library or give them to other teachers.

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Marie Kondo suggests that you take each item in hand and ask, "Does this spark joy?" If it does, keep it. If not, thank it for supporting you in your career and then dispose of it promptly. For example, I have an electric stapler that hasn't worked in a decade, but it was the first present I received from my students. They all chipped in and bought it for me as a gift at the end of the year, and I was reluctant to part with it. Thanks to Marie Kondo, I was able to say "thank you" to that present for its role in my life and then let it go.

Tackle Clutter by Category

The KonMari method requires you to sort your possessions by category, not by location. So, for example, tackle books first, then paperwork, then electronics. I pulled every book in my classroom off the shelves and tables, and I went through them one by one. I was able to decide whether to keep, donate, or discard, and my book collection was cut down by at least a third. Electronics were even easier. I'm embarrassed to say I still had little floppy discs in my drawers, and it wasn't difficult at all to toss them into the wastebasket. Paper work sheets were also simple. If I thought I might use a particular assignment, I'd scan it and save it on my computer—I'm sure Marie Kondo will eventually have another book for dealing with computer clutter—and everything else went into the recycle bin. I examined every receipt, warranty (most for items I no longer even owned), memo, and letter (some dating back to the 1990s), and got rid of anything I didn't need, which was almost all of it. I couldn't believe how many trash cans I filled!

Make Storage Magic

When using the KonMari method, you have to designate a spot for everything. After you use something, put it back in its designated spot. Since I teach a film class, for example, I have more than 50 DVDs. I assigned a drawer in a file cabinet for all of them, and they're alphabetized. After we watch a movie, I put it right back in its spot. No more picking up empty cases without discs inside or searching for a movie that might be on the TV stand, a bookshelf, or in a cabinet. Everything is exactly where it's supposed to be.

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Marie Kondo says to store items of the same type in the same place and not to scatter storage space. I have a special drawer for all my writing utensils, and those items are divided into small storage spaces within the drawer. It's so easy to find what I need because I know exactly where it is, and I'm always sure to return it to that designated storage space. I no longer search for a red pen or a no. 2 pencil, and no more picking up a Sharpie that's been dry for years. "Clutter is a failure to return things to where they belong," Kondo says, so no matter how busy I am, I'm going to try to remember how much easier my life will be when I know exactly where everything is.

I found that using the KonMari method and getting rid of all the clutter and chaos helps me focus on the important things I am supposed to be working on. It also gives me a strong sense of control. So take a few days before school starts and plan how you'll KonMari your workspace. When you come back in September to a clutter-free classroom, you'll be ready to tackle anything.