Spring is in the air! Which means, in public schools across the U.S., classroom mess is reaching full bloom.
If you’re an educator who is allergic to disorder, take inspiration from the current master of de-cluttering: the star of the new 2019 Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Like millions of Kondo fans, NEA members are using the KonMari method to put their homes and classrooms in order and focus on what “sparks joy” or engagement or curiosity in their students.
Not only do they end up with less cluttered, more tidy and organized physical spaces, KonMari’s fans say they also gain more mental clarity and purpose.
“When everything is in its place, it feels better—and I think it works for the kids too,” says Courtney Middleton, an Oregon kindergarten teacher who applied the KonMari method to her home and her classroom this year.
“I feel like my mind is clearer and that I can focus better on what is truly important to me,” says Christy Bishop, a Florida third-grade teacher. “Keeping in mind the experience I have had so far with using the KonMari method in my home, I suspect that using this same method in my classroom will force me to define—or redefine—who I am as a teacher now and going forward. I believe that reflection will help me to grow and to be a better teacher.”
What is a KonMari?
Kondo, a Japanese author and self-described “tidy freak,” grew fans a few years ago with a best-selling book, “The Magical Art of Tidying Up.” But the “cult of Marie Kondo,” as The New York Times calls it, hit a peak this year with the New Year’s release of her Netflix series that takes her into American homes. Across the country, donations to thrift stores spiked as Americans re-examined their relationship to their stuff.
A few highlights of the KonMari method are these:
- First, empty your drawers, closets, boxes—take it all out and make a big pile!
- Then, hold each object in your hand and ask yourself, does it spark joy?
- If the answer is no, then thank the item for its service—and toss or donate it. Often art teachers will want your “useless” crayons, magazines, storage boxes, and other detritus!
- If the answer is yes, then find a correct place for it. Everything should be “easy to see and easy to access without making a mess,” says Bishop.
- Kondo loves to organize items by size. Categories are important. She also wants you to be able to see the items that you place into storage containers.
Is every aspect of the KonMari method relevant to educators? Well, you can’t toss the students who don’t spark joy….and often there are district policies about retaining paperwork, curriculum, and other classroom items. The decluttering guru’s much-imitated method of folding socks and T-shirts may not have much applicability either.
But the essential (and often mocked) Kondo question—does this thing spark joy—is adaptable to a classroom environment, say Kondo’s educator fans.
KonMari In Our Classrooms
Middleton started the KonMari process in her kindergarten classroom during a recent teacher workday by taking everything out of her classroom’s storage areas and piling it on the kids’ desks. “I open everything!” she says.
Then, the questions start. “The first year, I asked myself, ‘Is this something I would ever use?’” says Middleton, who has taught kindergarten for three years—and KonMari’ed her classroom each year. “Now I throw away more. It’s easy to say that, if I haven’t used it in the past three years, out it goes. As far as sparking joy, some things aren’t worth it. If it takes a lot of energy or mind space to keep a project organized, I’ll probably try to give it away and replace it with something more organized.
“I like thinking about whether something sparks joy. I think, in a classroom setting, some things do spark joy in my students!”
For Bishop, the question may be modified for an educational setting: “I think many, if not all, good teaching materials do spark joy in children (and teachers, too!) However, I think the guiding question I will use will be something like, ‘Does this spark engagement?’ Or, if ‘engagement’ is too much of a buzzword for some people’s liking, it could be replaced with ‘curiosity,’ ‘excitement,’ ‘interest,’ or whatever seems important to them.”
Examining every classroom resource also will help identify what you don’t have, says Bishop. “I may find a particular area of study for which nothing I have seems to engage students. Going through this process will help me better spot those gaps in my resources and be as prepared as possible for the following school year.”
Something else important happens while you KonMari your stuff, and it’s more powerful than a clean closet, says Bishop. “Really taking the time to ask myself if items bring me happiness or not forces me to define not only who I am right now, but who I want to be going forward. I can’t tell you how many times over the past month and a half I have asked myself, ‘Do you want to be the kind of person who owns and uses this?’ and ‘Why have I kept this so long?’”
Farewell Desks, Here Come the ‘Starbucks Classrooms’
While the idea of modeling a classroom on a Starbucks coffeeshop may elicit skepticism (and even a few groans), the move to more flexible seating is grounded in research that points to real gains in student health and classroom engagement. “Classrooms need to look different from how they did one hundred years ago, but we’re still seeing rows and rows of desks. The skills students need these days – 21st Century skills – can’t really be taught properly in a classroom where you have created islands of desks,” says teacher Kayla Delzer.