I recently read a blog post by Dan Tricarico (The Zen Teacher), who wrote about minimalism. He discussed how he liked the idea of getting rid of junk (decluttering excess things) at home and at school. The goal he set for himself was to purge 3-10 items a day to either throw out or donate.
This idea really struck a chord with me. I’ve been trying to find ways to minimize stress in my life, and seeing things at home and at school that I’m not using or needing has been bugging me. I decided to take his idea and run with it.
I decided that I would start with things at home and get rid of 5 items a day. I read the post on January 2nd and, being the rule follower that I am, went through my bookshelves and found about 12 books to donate (I had to make sure I had at least 5 for each day of the new year). A sense of relief actually washed over me. Just that small act helped put me a bit at ease.
I’ve been doing this everyday, looking for 5 items to throw away or donate. I actually do it first thing in the morning. I even set a reminder on my phone as a backup so I make sure I accomplish what I’ve set out to do. I had been going to the donation bin that I use almost everyday to drop things off for Special Olympics. It’s at an abandoned gas station, and I started worrying people would start thinking I was doing something illegal, like dropping off drugs or something. So, I decided to fill up the trunk of my car and drop things off once a week (it also saves me making so many trips, so win-win).
I actually mentioned this to some of my students one day. Some of them looked a bit worried and asked what was I going to do when I ran out of stuff. I shrugged and said I wasn’t worried, I’d figure it out if I ever came to that point. Right now, there are so many things that I’ve stashed away (hoarded) that it will be awhile before that worry comes home to roost.
It’s been quite a liberating feeling, knowing that 5 items everyday will no longer be taking up space in my home. Knowing that I will have less clutter in my life. Knowing that I won’t have to look at that crap anymore. It’s always a relief when I start my morning looking for five things to chunk.
This school year, I feel like I’ve cluttered things up. Being new to 5th grade, I feel like I’ve tried to fill time with as much junk as I can, hoping to meet all the standards I need to so my students will be ready for the blasted test at the end of the year. I feel like all I’ve done is spin my wheels and get nowhere. When I realized this, and realized I had to do something, I started cutting back on things in class. I tried to make sure I wasn’t over-planning; trying to cram too many things in at once. I also tried to think about what was most important for my students.
Time to read was one thing I was not giving them enough of in class. So, we’ve started each day, no matter what, without fail, with 10 minutes of silent reading (I got this idea from Pernille Ripp). I read silently alongside them as well, usually a book that they have recommended to me. This has been the BEST change that I’ve made! I set a timer, and when it goes off, it’s usually to groans or cries of, “NO, I’ve got to finish this chapter!” or “Could we read just a little bit longer?” They find it quite amusing when I groan too and say, “How does the timer know I’m on a cliffhanger?” If I’m reading something one of them has recommended, they usually ask me how I like the book or what part I’m on. When I finish, I recommend it to them (so far, the kids have picked winners, and I’ve liked, or absolutely LOVED, all of them). I’ve noticed that more and more of them are starting to check out books they’ve seen me reading.
I’ll admit, I was a bit worried about losing these 10 minutes. I worried I wouldn’t be able to fit in all the other things I still need to. But again, it’s helped me to refocus on what is important for my students. I always relook at my lesson plans to see if I’ve over-planned and what I can trim back on, but still cover what they need. The 10 minutes is non-negotiable. It’s there and it’s staying put. Period. The kids love it. I love it. It’s such a quiet, peaceful time in the room. I can’t see myself ever getting rid of this time.
Eventually, I’ll get around to decluttering my classroom of stuff. Right now, I’m content with pitching things at home and trying to keep a minimalist approach on my lesson plans. Focused and pertinent activities are the goal I set out to plan for. No, I’m still not 100% comfortable or happy about how this year is going, but it’s getting better. The more I work at it, and try to maintain my focus, the better I feel.