The Minimalist Educator Podcast

Episode 016: Decluttering Physical Spaces with Christine and Tammy

December 05, 2023
The Minimalist Educator Podcast
Episode 016: Decluttering Physical Spaces with Christine and Tammy
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In today's episode, Tammy and Christine discuss tips, tricks, and reflections for when you're decluttering your physical spaces. Our pare down pointers are around purposeful purchasing as well as finding flexible uses for the objects you already have in your space.

Today's episode was brought to you by Plan Z Professional Learning Services- forward thinking educator support. Find out more www.planzplservices.com. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @PlanZPLS.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Minimalist Educator Podcast, a podcast about paring down to refocus on the purpose and priorities in our roles with co-hosts and co-authors of the Minimalist Teacher Book, Tammy Musiowsky-Borniman and Christine Arnold.

Speaker 2:

In today's episode, Tammy and I discuss tips, tricks and reflections for when you're decluttering your physical spaces. Our paredown pointers are around purposeful purchasing as well as finding flexible uses for the objects you already have in your space.

Speaker 3:

Hello Christine, how are you today? I'm great. Tammy, how are you? I'm good. I'm excited to talk about today's topic in the podcast. Welcome everyone to the Minimalist Educator Podcast, where we talk about paring down so we can focus on purpose and priorities. Today we are discussing decluttering physical spaces. I do know, christine, that this causes many people, particularly educators. Some stress is when we have a bunch of stuff in our rooms. Sometimes just having it in there is fine. Shove it in the cupboards and shove it in wherever. Then, when we know we have to do some cleaning, that's stressful.

Speaker 2:

Yes, Definitely Beginning of the year, end of the year. This comes up a lot, doesn't it?

Speaker 3:

It sure does. I just want to share before we start. I remember teaching in New York. I was in two different classrooms in the school I was at over the eight years. I remember moving into the second room with my co-teacher at the time. She was really organized so we got along great in that way. But I do remember having some cupboards with stuff that was in there for quite some time. It wasn't a lot of stuff, but I do remember even how just what was in there I couldn't quite always close the doors. That really bothered me. It bothered me so much it's popped open a little bit because of this type of paper didn't quite fit in there and it just drove me crazy. Which sounds like such a minuscule thing. You need to operate in a space with a lot of students and you want to maximize the learning space for them. Those kind of things I don't want to worry about, because I want to have the space for them and not just shove stuff in a cupboard, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

I think we've spoken before about the impact that it has on people to have clutter. We all have different levels of comfort with clutter, but as soon as you've hit that point for you and you've gone beyond it, it can be very distressing and upsetting for people and they can't focus on other tasks because the clutter is bothering them so much. We've seen research about how unfortunately for women and as we get older, it seems to get more and more sensitive about it at home as well as in the workplace as well. Unfortunately, there's a lot of women in teaching, so I think it is a big thing for us to talk about.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah for sure. Just thinking about the emotions that we have going into a space, I often think about how I would walk into that classroom and feel some stress because there's a lot of stuff going on in there plus without the kids even in it yet, but just all the stuff that was in there. Then the different feeling I would have going into other teachers' classrooms that maybe had less stuff in there and just had it sometimes felt a little bare maybe, but when I think back I'm like that was probably better for the students because they had a little more space. There wasn't so much visual clutter, things blocking areas in which they could work. If I could go back, there'd definitely be some things that I would do differently in that classroom, for sure. I also think about how I want to feel good going into a space and not stressed out. How did my students feel coming into the classroom if I was stressed out? There's such an emotional no, not at all maybe attachment, I guess, to spaces, right, and how, like when I would leave school and go home. Sometimes we just have that relief, right, like it's like okay, now I'm in, like this comfortable space and to me, your classroom, where your kids are wherever. Like your office, even depending what your role is, you should have some sense of feeling good in it and not stress, and feeling some comfort and safety.

Speaker 2:

You would hope so yes.

Speaker 3:

Right and yeah. So I often think about that a lot. Actually, just when people go into spaces, how do they feel and how do I want them to feel? So I guess that kind of takes us into. Maybe we wanna start by talking about if classroom teachers or even people moving into different spaces like maybe it's you're moving classrooms or you're moving into a new role, like you have a new role this year where you're more administrator but also teaching, so you're gonna be moving spaces, how do we find purpose in the spaces that we're navigating? And if we have to move or transition or declutter? I know that's a big question, but I feel like it's a big thing. It's a lot to think about, and sometimes I think we don't think about the purpose of our spaces enough.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I definitely think the Triple P can be helpful thinking about our physical spaces for sure, thinking about the purpose for each area that we're working in and that the kids are working in, what items we need within that space to meet the purpose, and then, finally, what can we get rid of, what can we pare down in order to meet the purpose and the priorities. So, as you say, I'm shifting a little bit this year. At the moment, I don't know where I'm going to be. So as soon as you started mentioning that, I was like well, I don't even know. Am I gonna have a room or just a desk? Am I gonna be in a hallway? I don't know. It's hard to envision at the moment, but I think when I do discover where I'm going to be, and within the classroom or the different areas that we're working, we wanna start with what is the purpose of this area? What is this space going to be used primarily for? So, for example, with our roles, if we're moving around a little bit, you and I, our desk is gonna be like a base camp, right, that's where we're gonna house things, but it needs to be organized enough so that we can quickly find what we need to move to the next place that we need to be for our role. Would you agree with that?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I agree. In one of our previous episodes I talked a little bit about the table that I set out each day when I'm at the school and I pack it up because I'm not there all the time. So I really do just keep the essentials with me. I have my laptop, my phone, all the drinks I need to drink for the day are there and a clipboard, which is great because that's stuff I can easily move around with. I leave it there for the day, but then at the end of the day I just pack it up and it's like I wasn't even there, which is great and not great right, because it looks like I disappear. But I really do think about when I'm working in that spot, what my purpose is and what I do need, because I'm not always sitting there either. I'm in classrooms and meeting with teachers and things like that. But it does help to just have those essentials with me. I don't need to bring with me a whole bunch of stuff.

Speaker 2:

So, yeah, we can definitely think about the purpose. So, for example, if we are in an elementary classroom, you might have your rug area, your mat area, at the front. So, really thinking about what are we going to use this space for? Is it for morning meetings? Is it for the lesson itself? Is this for collaborative time? Are the kids going to be able to do some independent reading here? What is the purpose of this area, what are the uses for it and, with that in mind, what are the priorities that need to be here? Does it need to be comfortable or does it just need to be open so the kids can move in and out of it with ease? And when we've considered that, what can we get rid of? What doesn't need to be here? So it sounds like for your work space, there's not a lot that you need to pare down, tammy.

Speaker 3:

No, and I mean that's at school, but at home, yes, a little different. Because there are, you know, there's stacks of books sometimes and, like post, it's all over the place. But I do try to evaluate at the end of the day which of these post-its can I remove that I don't need to look at tomorrow anymore, which books do I not need out? So I do try to do that evaluation at the end of a work time or a work day. I'll call it when I'm working from home. But just thinking about the classrooms, this is an exercise that I'll often do when we have conference sessions around the book topic. I've done this at school with the teachers too. I'll give them some pictures of different classroom spaces. We'll talk about what are the teacher's priorities for that space. So the purpose is established. It's a learning space, like it's for students of whatever level. But can you tell from just looking at it the priorities that a teacher has for their learners? It's really great to compile a list. So when we did this at the start of the school year, because teachers were going to be setting up their classrooms and we wanted to have some continuity between spaces as much as we could, so that it could be learner-centered, and that was what we said. Every space has to be student-centered and how do we know that's a priority? Well, when you look in the space, you do have open space for kids to move about and go to collaborate on. So there's multiple rug spaces if you have enough room. There's maybe little tables and chairs kind of in the periphery, but they're moveable. There's little table desks that kids can take to the rug if they don't need to sit at a table. One of the key things was that the space has flexibility so that the learners can find a spot that works for them when they're doing their work, whether it's independent or collaborative, and you can tell that in a room setup and the materials that are out are the ones that will meet the needs for that time-specific thing. So you don't need all of your math manipulatives out all year long. You can rotate them. So it's a lot of buckets sometimes, especially with young learners. Like we know, as kids get a little older, we tend to remove some of those manipulatives, which is maybe OK but also maybe not so great, because we do have learners that need to manipulate and we should have that available, but they don't have to be out in the open, right, like as long as the learners know where to access materials, then you can have them stored in a cupboard with a closed door or you can take it out for that segment of time. But it really is very purposeful for what materials are out for that day or week or whatever. It depends on units and things like that. But it's a fun exercise to have teachers have a few moments at least to look at some different spaces, right, because we can be very tunnel-visioned into, like this is my room, and then sometimes, once the year starts, you haven't been in someone else's classroom for like three months, which is so sad it is, but it's true, right. So you don't even get to look like. You walk by them all the time, but you don't even get to go actually look at how people have changed their rooms as time goes on. And that's such a valuable thing to do, because there are those classrooms where, like, yeah, I want to, you get inspired, you want to implement a thing that you see another teacher do. You know we always talk about how your greatest resource is probably the teacher next door, and so when we have the time to go, look at each other's spaces and talk about the priorities within it. It's so helpful and impactful.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely, so hopefully people will be able to use the Triple P to help them think about what they need and don't need in the different physical spaces. But I think it would be helpful for us to talk as well about some of the barriers that may come up when people are trying to declutter their physical spaces, and one of the big ones I know is the scarcity mindset. So scarcity mindset is when you have experienced, in some point of your life you have had a scarcity of something, so it could be access to food or access to resources, could even be around money, and then that makes you feel more sensitive, more aware of not having that thing again in the future. And this does affect teachers, doesn't it? Because if you've ever had the experience, as many of us have, of being in an under resourced school where you literally do not have the money for the resources that you need, people can have a scarcity mindset around having physical resources and that leads to a little bit of I'm going to keep everything.

Speaker 3:

It doesn't end at me, it doesn't end.

Speaker 2:

Oh yes, it sure does. I definitely fell into that habit too Early on. It was you wanted to. When I taught in early childhood classrooms it was well, this could be useful for this art project or this building or that project over there, and you just kept everything. You held on to everything to the point that it was you're just filling your spaces with trash.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it's a hard thing because we do get emotional attachments to things too right. So it's like you might have taught something let's say you're teaching third grade for the sixth year or something and you really love teaching this one unit or whatever project in a particular way in the first two years and then you gave it a break or whatever. But if in your sixth year you haven't revisited that project from year two, you just don't need those materials. So check in with people if someone else needs them, but they definitely don't need to be in your space anymore. I know that I can't remember who I was just talking to, but there was. They were doing a decluttering process of their school and they found the old carbon copy paper. I forget the name of it, but it's like where people would write on it and then you press hard and it makes two copies. I'm like how has that survived being in a school building where children still go now? But that's old paper and why is it still there, Unless, of course, people didn't know it was there, which is another problem because it was buried so deep under everything else. I mean, thankfully, maybe it's going to be a fun thing now, but you know, you know it's been buried for so long that that space, like every school, has teacher resource room that's probably totally disorganized and it becomes a dummy ground right. So there might be some maintenance at the beginning, where it's like the good intentions are there to like oh, this is where we're going to house our books and this is where we're going to keep our extra materials, and it either becomes like a lock and key situation so you can never get into it because scarcity mindset right, Like we got to preserve, we got to keep all those posts just in case or all those markers or it just becomes totally disorganized and you can't find anything in there Anyway, so no one wants to go in there. So, yeah, it's kind of crazy and just thinking about this and I don't know if it's scarcity or having to use your budget quickly and not being able to think about the resources you're buying but at the beginning of this school year the depends when you're listening to this, so it would be August 2023, there was a public school in town here that was that had like a free pickup event, which is like one of the things that we talk about as a thing you can do, right, so if you're taking stuff out of your classroom, you can put it out on a table, and but you have to have it out only for a finite number of like time. It can be that day or few days, because then you got to get rid of it, but this one school was having one of those events. So they said only today we're having this free pickup event, and so a couple of the ladies from our school went over to see what they had, because we love free if we can get it. Yeah, although we are very thoughtful about the things that we are acquiring because we have limited space. So the ladies went there to go see what was there and there was multiple bags of math manipulatives that were unopened. Oh no, like bags of pattern blocks, bags of base 10 blocks, all of those precious materials that we use all the time in the classroom, especially in elementary classrooms, unopened, which was great for us. Great for us because we have outdoor classroom and now we have a set that we can keep out there and we don't have to transport the indoor stuff anymore. But that is money. Like we're thankful to that school that we have acquired that for free. But that was money meant for those children at that school and yes, it's benefiting our children now. But had they had the time to look at what they had, they wouldn't have potentially repurchased kits and things like that. You know, it's just it's hard to watch and see, but it happens all over the world in schools everywhere, like we've taught in multiple countries and places, like we've seen it everywhere. It's crazy.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. We just cleared out a math cupboard to make space for some new resources and we found some antiques. Let me tell you. I was looking. I was looking, I'm like you know, for some sort of indication of when they were made and I found one little it's like a little flip book about fractions, and it was like 1968, this thing had been made and it had just, I don't know, been held on to treasured. I'm not sure, but yeah it's. It is amazing what, what gets kept and and what we, what we can find if we're really thoughtful about it and reflective about how we do this and how we purchase, we use the spaces and look at the resources. So yeah, and I think that that's a huge one as well that you've touched on briefly, there is, after you go through the process of decluttering, how can we make sure that we don't just fill up the spaces again with more stuff, with more things? You know, you've got to be really intentional about all of that.

Speaker 3:

Naomi and I, I guess we had on early in our when we started the podcast. We were talking about math instruction and but she and I had started writing a bit on minimalism and universal design for learning and we were looking at specifically colors and one of the things that came up in, you know, our article, research and things like that was how people are just uncomfortable with white space. Ok, so it might be literally, literally, like you know, there's no color, so it's just like a white wall or whatever. But I was thinking about white space as like there's nothing on that shelf over there for a reason. Hmm, so we just are so uncomfortable with having nothing there that we feel it was something Like if you think about right, even at home, how many spots in your home are just have nothing on them, or like how many blank walls do we have? And I mean I've been living in this house for two years over two years now, and that you know I'm coming from. I'm used to living in small spaces, small condos and apartments for a lot of years and then, moving to Hawaii, we moved into this house and like didn't fill it, like there's. It's really freeing to like just be able to walk in the space and not have to navigate furniture, like there's no couch inside and it's such a weird thing to talk to people about by like I don't have a couch in here. The couch is outside because it's been a lot of time sitting out there and it's covered. Oh, that's lovely, but like, yeah, and I don't mind just not having things in the space that I'm not using all the time. It's great to have multiple workspaces, though I'll tell you that that's been a bonus, because a lot of times living in smaller apartments over, you know, quite a considerable number of years and then shifting to working at home more, was a bit of a challenge, because then you have limited space to, you know, find a quiet spot to work. But having more indoor space for me has been good because I can have different spots to work, but I haven't filled the spaces. It's literally just, you know, like a chair or I'm working at the table or whatever. But navigating white space for me has been really refreshing in at home. And so when I go into the school and the teachers are, you know, set up classrooms and things like that, it's fun to go to see how it's just pretty bare at certain times of the year, which feels good. It used to feel weird to me that there wasn't stuff on the walls, but then, you know, over time I'm like, well, you know, kids work will get put up there and they can decide what goes up there.

Speaker 2:

But in our school.

Speaker 3:

In our school, we're in a special school too, so we can't always leave things up on the walls because it's multi-purpose. In classrooms we have some rock walls, so, like you literally can't hang things, which has been kind of great because then we don't have like a bunch of stuff hanging up all the time. We have limited purposeful space to use and I think that it's really had to like retrain my thinking about the use of wall space too.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely, but you get a rock wall, so that's kind of cool. Yeah, it's pretty cool. It's lava rock, of course. Awesome, love it. Yeah. Well, I think it's just about time for us to do a pare-down pointer. Do you have a good tip for everyone around decluttering physical spaces?

Speaker 3:

I think I do, and maybe this is a preventative tip. We talked a little bit about, you know, the pickup event, where the school had these unopened resources, and I think that, as individual teachers as well as decision makers at schools, we do need to stop the tide. Like when we're talking about stopping the tide, we need to think about purposeful purchasing so that we are not filling our space with things that we are not going to use and that just get tossed in closets. We do this too as educators. I'm guilty of. I'm going to go to Target because I need a new set of markers and some more post-its, do I?

Speaker 1:

I'm using the drawings.

Speaker 3:

Right, and I know that a lot of us have comfort in a place like Walmart or Target or whatever to get our staples or whatever to get our school supplies, because we're educators, we love pens and markers and like clips and stuff Like it's fun stuff. But if we can think about in a previous episode a few episodes ago, we talked about habits right, it's a habit that we have where we're spending money that we don't need to spend on things we don't need, and so if we are really thoughtful about the purpose of a space and the priorities we have for it, we're going to save money and time in the long run because we're not filling our spaces with things that we just don't need.

Speaker 2:

Although it does kind of hurt a little bit to say that on that like stationary trip to Target, I get it, I get it. I think the pay down pointer I'm going to share is and I think again, it's something that we've talked about. I think it was on an episode with Nicole that we touched on briefly about having multiple purposes for things. You know a lot of the education supplier catalogs that you see the items that are there to purchase are really one and done type items. You can really only use them for one lesson once a year and they're not multi purpose. So, as much as possible, think about having resources that you can reuse over and over again for different things. And I think Nicole gave the example of just one set of counters that you can use for math, but you can use it for your bingo game, you can use it for your board games. You know whatever you need to be doing, you can have it for patents, you can have it for counting, you can do it for area. You know there's all different sorts of things that you can use it for, but you don't need it's lovely to have, but you don't need to have a dozen different types of counters. You can have that one set and use it again and again for different purposes, and I think thinking intentionally in that way can really help us declutter. Yeah absolutely.

Speaker 3:

This was another great discussion, Christine. Thank you so much for your thoughts and your time. I love chatting with you about all things decluttering Bid own Until next time.

Speaker 2:

Today's episode was brought to you by Plan Z Professional Learning Services Forward Thinking Educator Support. Find out more at PlanZPLServicescom.

Speaker 1:

Be sure to join Tammy and Christine and guests for more episodes of the Minimalist Educator Podcast. They would love to hear about your journey with minimalism. Connect with them at PlanZPLS on Twitter or Instagram. The music for the podcast has been written and performed by Gaia Moretti.

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