Nothing compares to the feeling of starting the school year off with a freshly cleaned, decorated, and organized classroom, am I right? But let’s have a moment of silence for all those classrooms that start that way only to become a disaster zone a few weeks into the school year. If your classroom clutters quickly and you want a better handle on keeping a clutter-free classroom all year long, read on to freshen up on basic classroom organization ideas that might be just what you need to be successful!
Step #1: Make a Plan: Imagine Your Ideal Classroom
Before you declutter and organize your classroom, make a plan for how you want your ideal classroom to flow. This will help you decide where you should store certain items. Consider student flow as well as your own flow.
- Where does it make sense to house student-accessed items like books, computers, pencils, sharpeners, extra copies, etc.? Can they get to them quickly?
- Where does it make sense to house teacher-accessed items like lesson plans, professional development books, binders, etc.? Can you get to them quickly when planning?
Don’t worry about what is already “living” in these locations right now. Think through how you would organize your classroom if it were a blank slate.
Once you have your arrangement in mind, put temporary labels on it! Small pieces of paper or post-it notes will work just fine.
Here is a quick checklist of what you might consider as you walk through your room:
- Professional Literature (Books, Binders, Folders, Papers)
- Teacher Resources: Curriculum, unit plans, lesson plans, copies, etc.
- Student Books
- Extra Materials (Pencils, Paper, etc.)
- Turn-In Bins
- Absent Student Work/Extra Copies
- Lost & Found
- Classroom Stored Materials for IEP students
Step #2: Declutter Your Classroom
It’s time to start decluttering. You’ll need a garbage can and either a couple of bins or plenty of table space. Your bins or tables will house your “to be relocated” items for the time being.
Pick one small and easy location to start with – like a bookshelf, cabinet, or drawer. Go through everything in it, and if you haven’t used it in over two years, if it’s outdated or in rough shape, throw it out. This part is SO hard for many teachers. But really – a quick Google search will likely help you locate it in the future should you miraculously need it again.
Place the items you are keeping into their groups (such as the ones listed above). But don’t put them away just yet!
Wipe down the decluttered shelf or drawer. Please don’t roll your eyes at me. I guarantee the custodian does not get this spot during their summer clean!
Once you have completed this with one section of your classroom, move on to the next! Ideally, work from easier to more difficult areas of your room.
Step #3: Organizing Your Space: Everything Has a Place, Everything is in its Place
Now it’s time to organize your spaces according to what you imagined in step one. Gather the bins, binders, Tupperware, etc. needed to complete this step. I like to use color-coded bins for certain things (like pencils, pens, highlighters, sticky notes, etc.), but you might also like to use labels. Decide on how you want it to look and function and build it from there.
I recommend starting with one section (curriculum, for example) and getting that space completely organized (quick win!) before moving on. Once you have that section done, move on to the next.
Try to arrange the items in a logical and aesthetically pleasing way. Big to small, like colors together, etc.
By designating spaces in your room for specific purposes, you reduce the chance that it will be cluttered a few weeks into the school year!
Step #4: Maintaining a Clutter-Free Classroom All Year Long
Once you have your room organized and arranged how you want it for the school year, spend time thinking through daily and weekly routines to help you maintain it. Here are some things you’ll want to plan for:
- Where will you store graded papers that need to be passed back?
- Once you’ve taught a lesson, where will you store extra copies/materials?
- How often will you go through your absent student/extra copy bin?
- How often will you go through the no-name pile or the lost and found?
Once you’ve committed to a maintenance plan, place reminders for these routines on your calendar or in your planner.
What worked well for me was a weekly cleanout routine – passing back papers on Friday, cleaning out no-names/lost and founds at the end of the month, and sorting through extra copies at the end of the quarter.
I also implemented a routine to make an extra copy for myself with each lesson. At the end of the week, I would punch holes and store the extra copies/materials for the unit in a designated binder. At the end of the unit, I would shelve the binder and move on to a new one.
Avoid creating a catch-all pile at all costs because it will put you right back at square one next year!
Why a Clutter-Free Classroom Matters
Having a clutter-free classroom speaks volumes about who you are as a teacher and a person. It sends the message that you are organized, efficient, productive, professional, and so much more. It also makes it easier for students to focus without feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed by their environment.