Got a messy art room? It might be time to Marie Kondo your space! If you’re unaware, Marie is a Japanese organizing consultant who has written several books including, “Sparks Joy” and “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” And I have to say, I think the art teacher world could use a healthy dose of her. Now before you line up tomatoes to throw at me, hear me out.
It All Begins With Self-Awareness
Art rooms are notoriously filled with clutter. Piles on top of piles of boxes with an assortment of things lurking inside.
Cabinets filled with several bottles of the same half-used ceramic glazes.
Bins of pretty silk ribbons plucked from birthday and holiday presents in bags tucked away on shelves.
Trays of spent watercolor paints stacked sky high.
Fabric scraps from the school nurse’s one month foray into learning how to sew.
And so on. It’s a hoarders dream.
Most of that was introduced into the art room with good intentions. Some of it was even gifted. And you accepted it with a smile and a quick, “I’ll find some way to use that, thanks!”
Then you shoved it into the cabinet with everything else and promptly forgot about it.
I know. I know. I’ve done it myself.
Last year I revamped my art room. And in the process, I tidied up Marie Kondo style. When the end of the school year came, so, too, did kids dropping off “gifts” from their teachers. Last year, I reluctantly accepted foam sheets filled with shapes and alphabet letters along with small plastic storage containers.
In and of themselves, those things may be of use. But the totality of an art room jam-packed with so much stuff is that it feels suffocating and overwhelming for those students who suffer from anxiety. And it does no good to have lots of things with no plan on how to use them.
5 Tips for Tidying Up the Marie Kondo Way
Marie Kondo has a whole KonMari Method that she uses to tidy up that’s geared towards home spaces. And I’ll be honest, it’s near exact to how I’ve always approached cleaning up my own space (which I got from my mother!) I’ve adapted her approach for classroom teachers. Here’s the gist of it.
Commit Yourself to Tidying Up
Before I leave for the day, I do the “The 10 Minutes Tidy up.” I wipe down all the tables, put anything back that’s been left out, and write myself a short list of what the next day will look like. I place all dried projects in class folders, too. This way, I leave feeling like I’m leaving my work at school. Nor do I feel like I’ll be walking into the aftermath of a hurricane the next day.
Imagine Your Ideal Teacher Lifestyle:
Look around your art room. What would you rather the space look like? If you have a clutter corner, imagine having room for those items in cabinets and bookshelves. If you have too many storage spaces, envision them and their contents gone. Perhaps your teacher desk is always sky high with damp art projects. Or the paint cabinet that doesn’t close because you or your students keep opening new bottles and never finish the old ones that are piling up. Or maybe you’re trying to make space for some flexible seating, but you’re hampered by too many small items taking up valuable floor space.
Step back and look at your space and listen to what it wants to be. I did this some years back when I had one entire wall of cabinets filled to the brim, lots of it just “stuff” leftover from the last teacher. I made a plan to junk or use up those things. And after several years, I whittled my room down to just two cabinets.
Now? When kids drop off things I process donations quickly. I make a quick decision if I can use it and if not, who can I pass it on to or how can I dispose of it. I know how much space I have to fill.
Finish Discarding First
Tidying up doesn’t work if you haven’t taken the time to discard some things that are filling the space. Things occupy space. There’s only so much more space you can eek out of your art room by merely shifting things around like Tetrus pieces. The key to successful tidying up is to have less things that need to be straightened up. Also, your students can tidy up at the end of class easier when they’re isn’t an overwhelming amount of things in your art room. Less is more. I promise.
Tidy by Category, Not By Location
Take everything out. Yes, everything! Your art room is going to be a colossal nightmare. Embrace it. Appreciate the empty space created by moving all that stuff out. Envision it filled efficiently with enough room to add a few more things down the road. Then, combine like terms. Categorize all the art supplies in your room. Put all the paint together, felt together, adhesives together and so on.
I’m sure you’ll have many instances of, “Ohhh, is that where that went?!”
Ask Yourself, “Does this spark joy?”
Marie Kondo uses this phrase to help clients tidy up. In the case of teachers, it’s more like, “Is this useful and attractive in my art room?” Assess each item or group of items effectiveness in your room. Is it a staple you use daily or weekly? Can you use it again? Start putting back the items that you answer “yes” to in places that are easy to reach and make the most sense. Like, paints should be near the sink. And bagged crayons, oil pastels, and colored pencils in easy-to-access bins for students.
If not, ask yourself if it’s something you can use up in an art project soon? If so, don’t store it. Begin immediately coming up with an art project for those supplies.
One such example are those foam alphabet letters a teacher gifted me. I came up with two ideas immediately: artist trading cards and a kindergarten alphabet soup project! If you can’t think of immediate ways to use them items, discard them. I know this is tough for art teachers. We panic when we have less materials to work from. But I promise having more space in your room will bring you more joy and spark more creative ideas moving forward.
And once you’ve tidied up your art room Marie Kondo style, it’s a whole lot easier to keep up with it. It might have taken me too many years to declutter my room from past art teacher’s clutter, but I feel like I can use my space more wisely. I can take a better needs assessment and make space for new priorities like that silkscreening unit I’d like to teach.
Have you tried the KonMari Method of revamping your art room? I’d love to hear what you junked and what made the cut. Leave a comment below!