Parenting magazines, teaching journals, and scholarly articles all agree, “mess causes stress,” yet many wear their clutter like a badge of courage. The number of piles correlate to how busy we are and the amount of disorganization to how hard we work.
A recent Facebook post from Parenting Isn’t Easy [available online at https://parentingisnteasy.co/messy-home-anxiety/] provides tips for getting cluttered homes under control and cites an article from Psychology Today by Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. [March, 2012] that explains why clutter and disorganization increases stress. According to Dr. Carter, extra stimuli from clutter causes our minds to work overtime, distracts us, makes it difficult to relax, causes anxiety and guilt, inhibits creativity and productivity, and frustrates us by making it difficult to locate what we need.
Can the same be said about classroom clutter? Apparently so, and I’m not the first to write about it. 19,700 hits result from a Google search for “classroom clutter.” There are Pinterest boards on the topic, websites, YouTube videos, and products designed to reduce the problem of clutter.
There are also urban legends among teachers who believe that community members will criticize schools and individual teachers who throw anything out that was purchased with taxpayer money. Stories about members of the community dumpster diving to find items of value among the garbage lead some to believe that nothing should be thrown away. Junk piles up in classroom closets and supply rooms, taking up valuable storage space.
In a former district in which I worked, a library task force set out to improve district libraries. Their first task was to cull old books from library shelves. The entire school community – students, teachers, and parents alike – marveled at the improvements to the library environment before any money was spent. Books that were removed were outdated, age-inappropriate, raggedy, and culturally insensitive. At a primary school serving grades PK-2, the section on sports heroes included books on Babe Didrikson, Pete Rose, and Wilt Chamberlain. A book about the future was titled, “2010.” A book about George Washington Carver was subtitled, “negro scientist.” One book of poems included the following, about a prostitute:
Some suggested that we should dispose of the old books in the dark of night. Really?
Believing that our community understands the value of clutter-free classrooms and updated instructional materials, we will be clearing out closets and classrooms of old and outdated materials before the end of the school year. We now have a clear policy about school properties disposition (https://policies.smithfield-ps.org/home/dn) and for most classroom clutter, the value of what may be disposed doesn’t meet the criteria for this formal process. Administrators can answer any questions teachers may have about what can be thrown away without documentation. For some items, including old books, we divert materials from landfills by donating items to Kiducation and other sources.
So begins OPERATION CLEAN!