It is important to tackle homeschool clutter. When our home is clutter-free we notice an overall difference in the energy of our space. We feel more calm, relaxed, and at peace. As soon as there is a mess or an overflow of stuff we feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Imagine how you feel in a cluttered workspace. Now imagine how our children could feel in that same space. Young children are like mirrors. They’ll pick up on our energy and reflect it back to us. So if we’re feeling overwhelmed, chances are, our children are feeling overwhelmed, too.
I understand how difficult it is to keep on top of the clutter, especially if you have a young child. I’ve gone through clutter problems in my home life with a toddler and in my work life when I was a Montessori classroom teacher. But I know this is not ideal for most of us and we want to come up with a plan to clean the clutter once and for all.
My clutter experience in the Montessori classroom
I’ve had three different classroom experiences where I was a headteacher taking over a classroom from a different headteacher from the previous year. Sometimes, when a headteacher moves on, she takes her handmade Montessori materials with her. Usually, this leaves a confusing mess with “empty holes” left behind.
I believe this situation is worse than starting from scratch. I had to go through someone else’s clutter and system before I could organize myself and my thoughts. All three instances were challenging, but I’m grateful for these learning experiences because they helped me to discover what works and what doesn’t work.
The number one thing that helped me was giving myself permission to start over. Yes, it was time-consuming but what helped me was to move everything out of the shelves and bins and make piles of everything in the middle of the classroom. I made lists of what I had and what I needed and tossed or donated what I could.
My clutter experience at home with a toddler
Home is very different from the classroom but clutter exists in both. At home with my toddler, I find that her interests change quickly and I need to rotate toys and activities more often. Also, I noticed that some things get played with a lot but other things are never used, even though I put it back in the closet and try to bring it out again every so often.
Organizing the clutter with a toddler at home is fast-paced. Also, at home, I don’t have a classroom of children using these same materials and toys for several years. So some toys and activities at home come and go quickly.
It has been difficult to keep on top of all of my daughter’s activities and toys since she grows and changes rapidly. I know that she will continue to grow and change as she gets older throughout our Montessori homeschooling journey.
What is Montessori Homeschool Clutter?
A big misconception about Montessori is that it’s all about the Montessori materials. It’s about more than that; it’s also about the environment. The foundation of a Montessori space, whether at home or in the classroom, is the prepared environment.
The prepared environment means that the adult prepares the room for the children so that it’s free for them to safely explore independently.
It means that the shelves, table, chair, bookcase, baskets, trays, tools, and materials are their size and easy for them to access and use independently. It also means that the materials on the shelves are clean, beautiful, clutter-free, and as natural and real-life as possible.
Montessori environments have a calming, peaceful, and minimalist energy. This is our goal when setting up our Montessori homeschool space. In the main work/play space, you’ll want to set up low shelves with a minimal amount of baskets/trays set up with one activity per basket/tray.
You don’t want too many baskets/trays on the shelf at a time, maybe eight to ten total. You’ll want to rotate the activities on the shelf every so often, depending on your child. If she starts to get bored with them and not using them, it’s time to change up the activities.
So therein lies the clutter problem. How do I keep the low shelves clutter-free? What do I do with all of the other stuff my child is not using?
Why Montessori Homeschool Clutter happens
Does any of this sound familiar?
- There’s that missing Lego piece I was looking for! But I’m tired and I don’t feel like putting it away properly because I just stored that Lego set in the closet.
- It’s time for my child’s lunch, nap, appointment, or fill in the blank. I don’t have time right now to put that container of paintbrushes away in the correct art bin in the closet.
- I don’t know what to do with this bag of collected multi-colored pom-poms. Should I throw them away, store them with art materials or with the sensory bin stuff?
How about I just put them here for now.
Yes, this has happened to me several times in the classroom and at home, and I’m sure it’s happened to all of us at some point.
A big reason why clutter happens is that we don’t want to make a decision right now about what we want to do with something.
This is what goes on in our heads: “Where should I put this thing? Should I just toss it? Should I just use it right now? I don’t know and I don’t want to make this decision now. So I’m just going to put it in this pile of odds and ends.” This is how the clutter escalates.
Here are 7 Tips to help you organize your Montessori clutter like a pro:
1. Draw a picture of your work space and your storage space
If you’re a visual person like me, drawing a picture or a map with labels of your storage space/closet and your child’s workspace is helpful. It gives you an at-a-glance clear picture of what you’re working with and how your space can best be utilized.
You could use post-it notes or index cards to make a moveable “diagram” of your space. This way, you could move things around easily and see how things will work in different ways, like moving furniture around.
2. Use bins to store materials you’re not using
Since you don’t want to have all of your activities and toys out on the shelves for your child all at the same time, keep the stuff you’re not using stored in bins.
- Locate a space in a closet or a corner of a room to neatly store the bins.
- I suggest using labels so that you can quickly find what you’re looking for.
- If you prefer to “hide” what’s in the bins, use colored bins or ones that are not “see-through” or use baskets. I prefer clear bins in the closet so that I can quickly see what’s in them, visually.
- You could use different color bins or labels to color-coordinate different subjects/themes, like math is red, language is blue, science is green, blocks/legos are yellow, and so on.
3. Create an inventory checklist for all of the items you have in storage bins
I wish I did this when I was a classroom teacher. When I moved on to work at a different Montessori school, I left some of my handmade materials behind because I forgot that they were still in a bin in the closet somewhere. I didn’t realize this until it was too late.
An inventory checklist not only is an excellent way to keep track of everything you have, and what’s in each bin. It also helps you to remember what you have.
For example, when I was a classroom teacher, it was a total bummer when I forgot that I had a whole set of shamrock paint sponges. Then I discovered I had them at the bottom of an art bin a week after St. Patrick’s Day had already passed.
You could organize your item checklist list by subject, theme, month, or season and store items in bins that way.
You could create a spreadsheet for free with Google sheets and you can access it from anywhere.
4. Make a decision about where an item should go, or toss it
This is huge. This is most likely the number one reason clutter escalates in any given space. When we don’t know what to do with something, we delay making the decision and we throw it anywhere on a shelf with random stuff.
You want to make a decision quickly, as soon as possible, and do this on an ongoing basis. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:
- When was the last time my daughter used this?
- Did she like it?
- Will she really use this again?
- When will she outgrow it?
- Could this be repurposed?
- Could this be used for an art project or craft?
- Could this be used as a math or language activity or a science experiment?
- Does it make sense to keep this item with the collection that I’m keeping? Does it go with other stuff?
- Should I get rid of it? How?
- Should I throw it away or recycle it?
- Could I post it on a local “Buy Nothing Group”?
- Could we donate it to charity?
- Could we sell it at a local consignment shop or online?
5. Designate a bin or basket for temporary undecided items
Sometimes you can’t make a decision right away if you want to toss something or keep it in a bin. Perhaps something came up with your child and you can’t just drop everything to make a decision about what to do with an item.
Designate a bin or basket for temporary undecided items. This way, you’re not just forgetfully throwing stuff anywhere. Now you have a small collection of things you know you need to get to as soon as you can.
Give yourself a limit for how many items you’ll allow in the basket at a time. For example, you can limit it to 3-5 items.
Or you can give yourself a time limit or due date. For example, tell yourself that you will decide on these items within one week.
6. Create a schedule to rotate activities/toys and go through storage
If you write it down in a calendar, it’s more likely to become real. We think we can keep everything in our heads, but we forget sometimes. You could use a wall calendar, dry erase board, planner, or online calendar.
Let’s say, every Thursday afternoon while my daughter is napping, I’ll go through the activities currently on the shelves and swap out what she’s not using. I’ll write it down in my calendar to do this every Thursday. This could change at any time as you or your child’s needs change, so update your calendar accordingly.
Let’s say every month it will be time to go through the storage bins to see what you don’t need anymore or what you need to order or find. Write this on your calendar and make a list. Again, update your calendar as your needs change.
7. When you rotate activities/toys and go through the bins, declutter as you go along
This has helped me a lot. As a mother of a toddler, I find that time is precious. As the old saying goes, why not try to kill two birds with one stone? It’s okay to multi-task.
Sometimes our bins get messy or something ends up in the wrong bin. When I am going through them to swap out activities for my daughter, I’ll take the bins out and go through them to tidy them up. Our art bins get the messiest so I find I’m cleaning out the art bins every time.
You don’t really need to keep everything. For every new thing coming in, try to get rid of something if you can.
For memories, artwork and other special items you’re running out of room for, take a picture of it!
- Not all seven tips will work for every person. What may work for me may not work for you and vise versa.
- Don’t beat yourself up if there is still clutter and it’s not perfect. As my mom always says, “the dust and dirt will always still be there, even after we’re long gone.” Prioritize and organize/clean up what bothers you the most, first.
- What did you think of this article? Was this helpful? Would you like me to expand on something here? I’d love to know. Leave a comment below!