Homeschooling is an open invitation to clutter. The minute we even consider homeschooling, clutter makes itself at home by way of picture books, paper, art supplies, science projects, costumes, curriculum, snacks, DVDs, mismatched socks, toys, and educational resources.
And yet, homeschooling is also an open invitation to beauty, truth, and goodness. These are the reasons we homeschool and also the reasons we acquire picture books, art supplies, and educational resources.
How do we make room for more of the good stuff while not losing our minds over the clutter?
The homeschooler who doesn’t mind clutter is #blessed. I, for one, don’t have that particular #blessing. Clutter stresses me out and distracts me from the joys of homeschooling. It storms in the face of beauty, truth, and goodness.
Do you experience this, too? You aren’t alone! An article in Psychology Today about the mental cost of clutter explains,
“Clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces, and ourselves. Messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed. Yet, rarely is clutter recognized as a significant source of stress in our lives.”Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy. D.
Carter goes on to explain that clutter
- “distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on”
- “makes it more difficult to relax”
- “inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve”
In other words, clutter can overwhelm the heart-and-soul of homeschooling.
As I seek to foster creativity, productivity, attention, and a love of learning in our homeschool, part of my work is to manage clutter. It’s humble but meaningful work. Thankfully, with a few organizational habits on hand, you and I can keep clutter at bay and create the atmosphere we envision.
1. Maximize Space
The top shelves in closets and the bottom drawers in cabinets are often underused or misused. Take a look in your home. Does the top shelf hold items that could just as well be donated? Is there a bottom drawer in your home that is practically empty?
I like to use top shelves for seasonal items like themed learning tools, blankets, decorations, beach towels, swimming supplies, boots. Bottom drawers are useful for items that a young child uses regularly like bath toys, socks, favorite books, toys, puzzles, and silverware.
Start noticing these underused storage spaces and strategize the items that you may store here. Bonus: by maximizing these storage spaces, you’ll free up storage space elsewhere to be used more strategically.
2. Use Containers Strategically
In my opinion, the right container in the right place for the right item can be a home’s best friend. Think about the things in your home that could be easily tidied and corralled into baskets, bins, and magazine holders.
We have two large baskets behind the couch: one for cozy blankets, the other for board books. When blankets and books are strewn around the living room, any of us can tidy the room by placing them in the appropriate basket.
We keep two large, rugged baskets by the front door: one for beach towels in the summer and snow pants in the winter; the other for lawn blankets (we love to read under the maple tree) in fair weather and boots in cold weather.
Each person in the family has a basket by the door that holds stuff that he or she grabs on the way out of the door, like ballcaps, mittens, socks, sunglasses, wallets, purses, and brushes.
Sturdy, clear plastic storage bins with latches are worth the investment. In our home, these help with book and clothing storage as well as toy rotation.
Speaking of toy rotation—I’m a fan! (More on that later.) Plan the size of bin that you will need for each type of toy that your child has (LEGO, Calico Critters, blocks, etc.) Label the bin clearly and store the bins in the basement, attic, or a closet. I love that the youngest child can easily clean up his toys if all he has to do is return the toys to the bin. Whenever possible, I purchase clear bins so that I can easily see what is inside.
Use black, white, or color coated magazine holders to sort school books for each child according to the time of day that you use the resources or according to the subject matter. This keeps all of the related books and notebooks in one place and is easy to return to the shelf after use.
Store the magazine holders on a shelf or in a closet.
A helpful side-note: when I’m trying to teach my child to take out the appropriate magazine holder and put it away when he’s finished, I include those steps in his assignment book. It’s an easy check mark for him and the habit is built over time.
3. Rotate the Tools for Fun
For our family, toy rotation is worth the investment of my time, energy, and strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, toy rotation is making a few toys accessible to a child while storing other toys, then in time, exchanging the accessible toys with stored toys.
This rotation practice can be applied to puzzles, board games, math manipulatives, science kits, and any other hands-on resources you use for your homeschool.
Rotating the fun tools (toys) keeps our home tidy, opens up space, and allows our children to connect more deeply with their toys without feeling over-stimulated or distracted. At times, I’ve included toy rotation on my monthly to-do list; other times, I’ve simply rotated toys on a whim.
4. Declutter and Tidy
On one hand, I am an advocate of consistent, little-by-little decluttering, keeping a daily habit of tossing out broken things, donating unused things, and tidying up. On the other hand, I am an advocate of learning to tolerate a certain level of mess so that I can rest and relax without having everything in order all of the time.
I used to ask the kids to help me tidy the homeschool space and the playroom a couple of times a day, but now I’ve learned to let those spaces remain lived in until the end of the day when we do one big clean-up. I’ve discovered that I can live with the temporary clutter, and my children appreciate the room to breathe. It’s rewarding to pull things into order at the end of the day and to wake up to a calm and orderly home.
5. Practice Contentment
One of the secrets to a clutter-free life is contentment. This is especially helpful for homeschoolers. If you have a curriculum and resources that are working well, stick with them instead of looking for the next best thing. This curriculum consistency will provide many benefits to you—including less clutter.
Why Organization Matters
As in every life endeavor, we are mobilized by our motivator: why will you and I work faithfully to manage clutter this year? My why is tucked in this excerpt from A Liturgy for Domestic Days.
“In the cleaning and ordering and
Maintenance and stewardship of things –
Of dishes, of floors, of carpets
And toilets and tubs,
Of scrubbing and sweeping
And dusting and laundering –
That by such stewardship
I might bring
A greater order to my own life,
And to the lives of any I am
Given to serve,
So that in those ordered spaces
Bright things might flourish:
Fellowship and companionship,
Creativity and conversation,
Learning and laughter
And enjoyment and health.”