Teachers are hoarders.

You’ve got clutter.  Teachers: you’ve got to throw that $hi# out.  Now!  It’s life-changing.  It’s simple.

I get obsessed about decluttering from time to time.  I started decluttering at home a long time ago, but it never carried over to school.   I knew I’d be piled in the center of Mt. Trashmore if I didn’t improve.

Teachers don’t clutter because they’re messy.  They clutter because they’re afraid.

“What if I never get a roll of Scotch tape again?”

“I might need the forty-two boxes of paper clips I’ve collected over time!”  Teachers fear for their lives because it’s so impossible to get supplies.  Then they save every little scrap of paper that comes through their door.

“Put that in the scrap paper pile, we can use it if we ever make paper mache.”

I never made paper mache in my life.

Hoarding is ridiculous.  It’s a psychological illness–they have cable TV shows about this.  What they need is “Hoarders: Classroom Edition.”  Teachers never realize they’re e hoarding.  We simply think we’re being frugal.

Luckily, I have some OCD students to point this out.

“Miss, you got to do something about this!  It’s messy!” a girl said long ago.  She’d come in and straighten the piles of papers I had left over just in case I needed them.   She’d rearrange desks, take staples out of blackboards, change displays.

“I can’t look at this… I have OCD.”   She had real live OCD, the kind the shrink writes on the paperwork, not the “I’m a neat freak and hate that you’re not,” expression-only OCD.

At first, I felt guilty.  “I hate to use your OCD to my advantage,” I’d say.

“I don’t mind…I need to straighten this!”  I turn educational labels into assets, and here was an asset waving in my face.  I gave in.  Letting her declutter made her happy and it created amazing value for me.  It made me accountable for my clutter.

“You know people get paid for this–professional organizers.”  I paid her in coffee and hot chocolate.

I have a new organizer this year.  She’s much more of a drill sergeant than the last one.  She opened a desk drawer revealing years of sediment.

“Miss… you gotta throw that shit out!”   She’s right. When she walks in the room, I stand taller and try to straighten things before they catch her eye so I don’t get in trouble.

“Throw it all out!” she said.

I had a high school teacher who always had old food items in his desk–slices of cheese, fruit from a decade ago.  I don’t want kids remembering slices of cheese in my desk.  I look–no cheese, just unsorted supplies.  I can never find a paper clip when I need it, but there they are, swimming around in a sea of things I haven’t used in a decade.

I started getting rid things years ago–the year I stopped shopping for my classroom.  I’d accumulated quite a stockpile.

I didn’t need three cases of lined paper, a thousand nearly free pens, or all the other things I’d hoarded, so I started letting things go–gifting to anyone who needed supplies.  When it’s gone, it’s gone.

But I can do better.  I can get rid of more.

Perhaps you can, too?

Here are the things you need to get rid of today:


When was the last time you used an actual dictionary?  A real live dictionary.  I found three.  Out!

Toss the ancient curriculum books.  If you said,  “I might use this,” instead of “I use this every year and it brings value,” out it goes!  If your books are older than a decade and not primary source documents, time to update.   I have a Civics book where some of the Supreme Court justices have died.  I can do better than this with the internet and my brain.  I won’t replace this book!

Most everything in your desk

I almost never open my desk drawers.  They’re filled to the top with teacher sediment.

Except for the hygiene items and my secret Motrin and cough drop stash, it’s useless.  I’m getting rid of everything.

Gifts that no longer serve you

Some things are special.  I’ve kept a couple things that are useful.  I’ll photograph the rest passed them on to people who will love and use them.

Random clutter

Be aware of spots that always seems to be piled up with junk.  For me, it’s the table in the front of the room where I place my copies.  Put those areas on rotation to clear up once a week.

How do I declutter so it sticks?

Good question.

The box method:

Take a suspect area and box it up.  Close the box. If you don’t need anything in a month, out it goes, no opening the box!

The gift method:

Make a box or bin of things that are free to the first taker.  This is good for overstocks, extras, and things you thought you might use but didn’t and may be useful to someone else.  If no takers in a week or so, Salvation Army or trash.   I often gift decorations and cool things to kids.  I had a helicopter hanging from my ceiling that was a distraction, some dorm room decor, and other items that kids liked that I no longer needed.

The Everything Must Go method:

Throw it all out!  Now!  Show no mercy.  This method works for all those old copies you saved.  If the kids haven’t done the work by now, they’re not going to.  And no, don’t save it so you don’t have to copy next year. Review your lesson next year and if it’s still useful, copy it then.

I envy the teacher with a HGTV room.  I’m trying hard to improve, decluttering, area by area.  I’m zenning down my possessions until I have only the pencil in my hand.  I’m getting there–down from 3 cupboards and 3 filing cabinets to a couple folders of master copies and a few small boxes of supplies dwindling to nothing.

Soon, I’ll be free of the clutter that held me down, and I’ll be able to soar to the sky on the wings of my imagination alone.