Marie Kondo in the Classroom: How Teachers Are Tidying Up

By Sarah Schwartz — January 25, 2019 4 min read
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Old versions of lesson plans, dried up markers and broken pens, books students haven’t read in years—things unused and forgotten can pile up quickly in a classroom.

And when teachers need to keep track of hundreds of student assignments and bins of materials, staying organized can be a hard challenge to surmount.

Now, some teachers are turning to Marie Kondo for help.

Kondo, the internationally famous Japanese organization consultant, is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In her book, and the new Netflix reality series based on it, Kondo outlines instructions for organizing and culling household items, from clothing to books to paperwork.

She uses a process she created called the KonMari method. The goal is to clean up mindfully: Tidiers go through their things one-by-one, keeping only items that “spark joy.”

In the popular Netflix show, Kondo helps people declutter their homes. But some teachers say that the method has allowed them to organize their classrooms, too—and in the process, create better learning environments for their students.

Andrea Clark, a 5th grade teacher at the International School of Texas in Austin, started using the KonMari method in her classroom about a year ago, after she read Kondo’s book. She had also been tidying up at home, she said, but her focus was different at school.

“The question is a little bit different than ‘Does it bring me joy?’ It’s more, ‘Is it useful for my students and me?’” she said. “Is it worth holding onto this resource? Is it helping students learn?”

See also: Setting Up a Classroom Is Hard. See the Creative Ways These Teachers Did It

With those guiding questions in mind, Clark has organized student materials—like pens and pencils—and gotten rid of most of the papers she had stored around her room. She has a few hanging storage units for math assignments, but she stores most of her worksheets digitally.

Decluttering in this way has helped students take ownership over the classroom, she said.

“I don’t always want them asking me, ‘Where are the pens?’” said Clark. When there are fewer resources and everything has a consistent place, students can find things on their own, she said.

Bringing students into the process has also given them a voice in shaping their own learning, she said.

In their classroom library, Clark enlists students in periodically culling books. They pull the collection off the shelves and spread them out on the floor. Then, she asks her students to place sticky notes on all of the books they’re interested in reading.

At the end of the process, Clark has a clear visual representation of her students’ interests.

Books that have sticky notes go back on the shelves. With the others, Clark considers if the book has an important instructional purpose and deserves to be in the classroom library. If so, she asks herself: How can I introduce it or discuss it with my students so that they’ll be interested? If not, she can take it out of the bookcase to make room for new titles.

“I think about the things that are important to us as a community, and I try to put that forward,” she said. “It’s more about the classroom not being my classroom, but our classroom.”

‘Sparking Joy’ in the Classroom

“It starts with things, but it really is so much deeper than that,” Kylee Fiorante, a 5th grade teacher at Mike Davis Elementary School in Naples, Fla., said of Marie Kondo’s method.

Fiorante first turned to KonMari when she and her wife moved in together, and they both had to downsize. She thought that introducing the method to her class could be a good way for her students to reset in the New Year.

First, she and her 5th graders tidied their physical space. They discarded old flyers and cleaned out cubbies.

“Then we got more into: What brings you joy out of school?” she said.

She asked her students to write down the joys that they wanted to find at home and at school, and to list what they wanted to leave behind in 2018. They could choose to share their answers with a partner.

Some goals were personal—meet new people, or bake more at home—while others focused on academic aspirations, like reading for 25 minutes a day or finally mastering multiplication tables.

Several students listed problems or stressors at home as things that they wanted to leave behind.

Getting this insight into her students’ lives helped Fiorante plan how to better serve her kids, she said.

The exercise also helped her set academic priorities. A lot of students wrote goals related to reading, said Fiorante, so she’s tried to select a greater diversity of texts to bring into the classroom.

Top image: Marie Kondo introduces her new line of storage boxes during a media event in New York. —Seth Wenig/AP

Second image: Andrea Clark’s classroom library. Photo courtesy of Clark.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.