Challenges in Cleaning Up the Classroom

This week has been my most challenging in terms of getting organized. As I have been progressing through my clutter, I knew that one of the biggest hurdles would be the amount of paper I have in my classroom. I have three full-sized filing cabinets and they are overflowing with paper; moreover, much of it I never use. In KonMari, you are supposed to gather all of a type of item – in this case, paper – and tackle it all at once, so I decided to go in to my classroom on Veteran’s Day to take on this challenge.

A fly in my coffee: this is the reason cleaning ended up as my priority over de-cluttering.

It did not go according to plan.


I first got distracted by the filth in my room. Back in September, a student sprayed adhesive on a poster, and some of it overshot the paper; for the past three months, dirt has been adhering to it on the floor. Also, fly and flu season is underway; my windows are splattered with the remains of dead flies, and I am certain there are germs covering the desks. And so, prior to tackling the paperwork, I started cleaning. That took far longer than I had anticipated.

Also, our first major yearbook deadline is upon us, and we have a backlog of photos that needed to be sorted. I decided I would do some culling, adjusting, and exporting of photos and would sort paper while the photos uploaded to the YearbookAvenue website. Keep in mind, this is despite my full acknowledgment that it is better to focus strictly on one task at a time before moving on. However, this is not what I did. In the end, I know I lost work time as a result.

The files I sorted through Friday!

But I have made some headway. I sorted through one drawer of paper, chucking most of it into the garbage. If I had multiples of something, I only kept one and discarded the rest, knowing none of it was anything I would soon be using. When I finished sorting that drawer, I organized the papers by type: grammar, writing, reading (and those into genres), etc. Then I headed to the copy room with the things I kept – 47 different assignments, many of which were multiple pages long. There, I scanned them with the copier, creating PDFs of the assignments that were then emailed to my school Gmail account. Once I got back to the classroom, I (got distracted by yearbook photos again and then) added those files to Drive and organized them into the appropriate folders. In the future, I will be able to print from the file, queuing it up from the computer to the networked copier instead of from a hard-copy! Once I ascertained that all my copies were accounted for, I tossed ALL of the papers into the trash! I admit, I felt liberated…

To the left is what I had to scan. To the right is what got tossed — and notice an additional garbage can and two bags in the background! I am making progress, even if it isn’t as fast as I’d like!

…and exhausted! At that point, I had been at the school for eleven hours, and it was time to head home!

Saturday morning, I decided to check out some online resources. I started by searching for some YouTube videos about using KonMari in the classroom (though I am surprised at how few there were!). I really appreciated the insights offered by Martha Henry,  a 4th grade teacher who started the KonMari system with papers in her class, too. She made a few great points! One, it took her far longer than she had anticipated, which reassured me about my own progress, though I acknowledge poor decisions that have added to my process time. Two, she recommended bringing food and water to keep you energized – I completely had not done that on Friday and was dragging. I wish I would have watched her video before starting my process!

After spending more time looking for classroom organization videos, I decided to head over to TeachersPayTeachers to see if there was anything that called out to me. That was when I found The Uncluttered Teacher, a book by Tammy Duggan. I bought it and read it in less than an hour! In some ways, it reminds me of KonMari, as it has a very prescribed order of actions. However, there is a huge reason I love this book even more than KonMari: it is meant to be applied to a classroom environment, which means I don’t have to spend additional time trying to adapt the KonMari strategies to my context! I also love that she applies this system to all areas of teaching, from stuff to time and commitments; once you get the hang of the system, it is easy to apply throughout your practice. While I am a veteran teacher with almost 19 years of experience, I was still able to get some great insights into how to do some things better! One of her best tips is to toss anything you haven’t used in 5 years. This is going to be my #1 strategy when I walk in to my classroom Monday morning! I will update more once I have applied this technique, but I highly recommend the book and can see the rationale behind the method!

The drawers before. See how much better the after photo looks below?!

And so, equipped with these strategies, I headed into my classroom at a ridiculously early hour this morning, arriving to the school at 3AM! As I drove, I ran through my plan of action: photograph my current progress (after all, it is already better than it was!); add the organizational tools I chose this weekend; and work my way through organizing my desk drawers. I was able to organize the drawers and sort through two more drawers of the filing cabinet — but I didn’t have time to scan them to files this morning. That said, our custodian actually brought over a cart to pick up all of my garbage! I think he is fully in support of this venture, as the room is looking far more tidy and less chaotic, which makes it easier for him to focus on the areas that actually need cleaning.




Despite the progress being made, I wish there was a broader community available as resources. I feel like I have exhausted the resources I have in my immediate sphere: my coworkers and my friends on social media. They have been wonderful and have provided so many wonderful suggestions for the things that work for them. However, despite my attempts to reach out to others on blogs, YouTube, and Facebook – as well as to others who were suggested by those around me – literally, there has been no response.

Nonetheless, I am going to continue to reach out and attempt to make connections. (Like, literally, now:) Hey guys! Help me out! Please comment below on the organizational strategies that work for you in your personal or professional life. You don’t need to be a teacher – so many great techniques for de-cluttering are not specific to education! Seriously – PLEASE – help me out! I need some more direction on how to make my classroom a smooth flowing, neat and tidy, welcoming and energetic place of learning and engagement!

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