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Let It Go: Managing Curriculum and other School Clutter

Let It Go: Managing Curriculum and other School Clutter

Published: 01/15/2010 by Kelly Hipkin

» Education & Learning Support

We all, as functioning family units, have the same basic stressors: bills need to be paid, house needs to be cleaned, meals need to be prepared, kids activities and some parents are even working from home. Some parents do all this and homeschool their children. So what happens when your day to day stuff flows over into your school time? As it spills over, you skip a day of math here and there and before you know, it’s December and you’re looking at that pile of books you wanted to introduce but you are still working on stuff started in September. All I can say is that life is easier without clutter, especially the pile of curriculum clutter hiding in the closet!

For years I have helped people control clutter in their homes and offices however when I started homeschooling my son it took me two years before I could really evaluate how I dealt with curriculum clutter. Little did I know that curriculum would be my greatest challenge and biggest learning curve as a professional organizer.

As a homeschool parent our main goal is to show progress or growth over the course of the year. Even if you don’t homeschool fulltime, many of us enjoy keeping bits and pieces of our children’s activities. Whose house doesn’t have its fair share of finger painting, certificates, medals, trophies and photos!

If you keep your goal in mind it is easier to identify what you need to keep. Many homeschool parents take classes on how to make a portfolio. But portfolios can be a big, unorganized cardboard box of papers or a scrapbooked album! The question is how do you decide what to keep and what to throw away? How do you part with all the items you love because of the memories attached to them? Where do you start?

Pick a number

Whatever it is that is too much for you, photographs, books, 3D art pieces, worksheets, pick a number of how many you will keep for that year. Decide how you will document the progress or growth for the year. If it is in a portfolio, pick a binder and keep it to that size for the year. If you are using a plastic storage box, once it is full, go through it and get rid of duplicate samples of work. Typically a 3D piece that has just been completed is special and the child (or the parent) will want some time to feel proud of the hard work. The piece may be displayed on the kitchen counter and guests coming over can enjoy the masterpiece. But over time, dust collects and new pieces come to completion. If you made a decision about how many 3D pieces that you can display in your home at one time, then it is obvious that some pieces have to go. Send them home with visiting grandparents or friends. Take photographs of these creations and keep a scrapbook. You can do this with just about anything in your home that is taking over. What is overwhelming you? I tried it with scrapbooking my family photos and it has saved me time and money. We now have a limit for each event, 3 - 6 photos. If something, like a vacation or a family reunion merits more, than it can have its own special book. For your yearly records keep selected pieces of your child’s work from each subject at the beginning of the year. Then throughout the year chose similar assignments to show progress. You don’t have to keep the whole workbook.


For one week (one month, if you are really serious about finding answers) write down what’s coming in and what’s going out of your house: mail, library books, paper of any kind, groceries, clothing and toys. What is it? How do you handle it? Do you have a paper recycle basket and a shred paper basket somewhere in your home, so you can open your mail and sort it right away? Do you sort your curriculum by age appropriateness or by subject? Any organizing challenge is about creating new habits and routines that work for you. Knowing what is coming into your house and how these items will leave your house can be the first step in solving the clutter confusion. If all you have is paper coming in and never going out, you will not find a book shelf big enough or file cabinet deep enough to hold it all. By making the effort to evaluate what you bring into your home, you can see where the clutter problems start and make changes to control it. The One In/One Out Rule can be very effective: When you bring something new into your house, something old must go.

Unfinished Business

We all have it. What is it? Unfinished business is any project, activity or job that is lying around and you know you need to get it done but it falls to the bottom of your priority list. It is not urgent. Why does understanding what your personal unfinished business is matter? It is important because it calls to you! Every time you pass by unfinished business it drains you. Examples of unfinished business would be crafts, outgrown workbooks or projects in which you have lost interest. Curriculum you have not figured out or have been unable to schedule would also be considered “unfinished business”. Assess what it is in your home that is draining you and make a plan to attack it one project at a time. Try making a date with yourself to do it (first Monday of every month!) or just randomly pick a project. You will be pleasantly surprised at the reclaimed time and energy!

Old Textbooks and Resources

The old rule of thumb for University and College students was that textbooks are obsolete after three years. Why? The internet provides current data. Information can change so much quicker now then when books were our main source of education. People hang onto the books thinking they might revisit that subject someday. When and if someday comes you will need current information. Get those old textbooks out of your house and your precious living space and start enjoying today.

I hope you feel inspired to look for solutions for your family to get control of curriculum clutter. Even as a professional organizer it took me a while to identify it as a source of concern and identify ways to deal with it. Learning changes with the development of each individual child so by only keeping what you need right now you give yourself a great deal of flexibility on what to buy next. You just don’t know where a child will be in two years and the curriculum that works well with one might be a real struggle for another. Some years they make huge progress and some years they plateau. Slow down and enjoy your child’s learning for what it is, life expressing itself. Create your plan, adjust accordingly, know when a type of curriculum is not working for your child and let it go. <>

Favorite organizing books:

It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh
Enough Already by Peter Walsh
Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern

Style at Home magazine has lots of organizing articles.

The Fly Lady is a huge hit for new organizers.