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A Day in the Life of a Teacher - Clearing the Clutter

Meggin McIntosh

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Desks are not warehouses, museums or retail outlets. ~Don Aslett & Carol Cartaino

It took some time for your space to become cluttered and it will take some time for you to clear the clutter. The 6 containers and a list method of clearing the clutter gives you a way of staying on task, making the decisions that you need to, in order to return your work space to an area of peaceful productivity.

If your classroom and/or office have become cluttered in a fairly serious way, employing the 6 containers and a list method will help you rid yourself of this clutter which has become “dandruff on the shoulders of your room" (Christopher Lowell). Here is what you need:

  1. Trash bin (not a dinky wastebasket, but rather a large trash can)
  2. Recycling bin (most teachers need the huge blue bins once they begin this process in earnest)
  3. Give away container (either a large box or large bags labeled ‘give away')
  4. Belongs elsewhere receptacle (either a large box or bags labeled ‘belongs elsewhere')
  5. 'But I might. . . ’ container (a box labeled with the date one year hence; don't use this one if you don't have to)
  6. Keep box (for most teachers, this is the smallest box of all).
  7. List (a pad of paper to write down all the to-buys, to-dos, to-calls, and other random ideas that pop into your head as you are clearing the clutter.

Assemble all of the above, near the area where you are de-cluttering, and dig in. Note: It is wonderful to do this on a weekend or off-time so no one will bother you with ‘urgent’ business. Consider hiring a helper to carry away loads to the recycle bin outside, remove garbage, and bring you lunch. If you pay that helper by the hour, it will help you stay on task.

Wherever you begin, stay focused on that area. If you start on your bookshelves, work methodically and deliberately along one entire shelf before moving to the next shelf. Anything you find there that is beyond recognition and redemption, drop in the trash. If it is paper or plastic and can be recycled, toss it in the recycling bin. Place books or teachers’ guides that you think someone else might be able to use in the container labeled ‘give away. ’ As you find items that belong at home, in the library, or in another teacher's classroom, add them to the ‘belongs elsewhere’ container. If you unearth something that gives you a feeling of trepidation that ‘just as soon as I throw this away, I'll need it, ’ then put it into the box with the date that is a year from now. And of course, whatever you find that is worth keeping, goes into the ‘Keep’ box. Hmmm. . . and you realize you need some bookends so you write that on your list.

Picture yourself sitting at your desk and decluttering every square inch of it (inside and out) by using this system.

  • Trash: Old bottles of ‘white out, ’ pen carcasses, unidentifiable makeup, pictures of students from previous years, and scarily-outdated food;  
  • Recycling: Scraps of paper, memos, papers that students never picked up, pads of paper with fewer than ten sheets remaining, worn out folders, handouts from an in-service that didn't quite meet expectations, the four ‘extra’ calendars that have found their way into your keeping, that ream of purple paper that got wet on the corner and you thought you might cut up for an undetermined classroom activity and the multitude of pink phone message slips that you couldn't read when you got them;  
  • Give Away: The second and third copies of the State Standards, a paperback you will never read, 4 bottles of Avon cologne given to you by students, and a sweater you've never worn but kept in your bottom desk drawer in case it got too cold in the room;  
  • Belongs Elsewhere: Last year's scholarship committee notebooks that go on to the new chairperson, 5 library books, the big 3 hole punch from the front office, expired batteries that go into the hazardous materials box in the teachers’ lounge, and a plant that has grown too large for your desk;  
  • But I Might. . . a unit on the eyeball that you used to love to teach but is no longer in your grade level's curriculum, several letters from the mother of one of your students, and transparencies that are now redone as PowerPoint slides on your laptop.  
  • Keep: Pens, pencils, and markers that actually write, aspirin, formatted CDs, stapler, post-it® notes, picture of your family, sheets of labels, and so forth.  
  • List: Any and all ideas that have popped into your head while you are restoring order to your workspace.

Everything can be sorted into one of these 6 containers and/or written on your list. What is wonderful is that this system works for bookshelves, desks, cupboards, closets, floors, or anywhere else that clutter has clustered. You can de-clutter for 30 minutes or 3 hours - and then stop. Trash and recycling bins are then emptied, ‘give aways’ are taken around and given away, items in the ‘belongs elsewhere’ box are distributed to their proper homes, items on the list can start to have action taken on them, and the ‘dated’ and ‘keep’ box can wait until you are ready to start decluttering again.

Imagine the response others will have as they enter your newly de-cluttered classroom. More importantly, imagine how you will feel.

Humans need order in their lives to function at their best. The order of our days, in many ways, gives us our images of ourselves. ~L. Tornabene

Educators have the most influential positions in our society-and need every bit of support that can be mustered. Two resources that will help increase educators’ sense of peaceful, predictable productivity are Meggin's weekly emails:

**Top Ten Productivity Tips ( )

**Keys to Keeping Chaos at Bay ( )

(c) 2008 by Meggin McIntosh, Ph. D. , “The Ph. D. of Productivity"(tm)

Through her company, Emphasis on Excellence, Inc. , Meggin McIntosh changes what people know, feel, dream, and do via seminars, workshops, writing, coaching, and consulting.


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