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5 Ways to Nail the Perfect End-of-Year Classroom Clean Out

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Photo of Cassie (Teach Starter)
Updated | 6 min read

Oh, happy day! It’s almost the end of the school year. Which means out with the old and in with the new, right? Maybe not. When it comes to the perfect end-of-year classroom clean-out, the “old or new” classification isn’t always such a useful one — there’s plenty of “old” you’re going to keep on using in September.

But while you’re up to your ears in extra bottles of hand sanitizer and masks, you need a simple way to think about cleaning out your classroom. Good thing we have 5 simple decluttering tips for teachers to make this easy for you to get moving, get cleaning, and get on to summer vacation.

To start, get yourself set up with four large containers:

  • one for recycling
  • one for giveaways
  • one for items that need to find a new home, outside of your classroom
  • one for garbage.

Tip #1 – Sort by Category, Not Location

Queen of decluttering, Marie Kondo has more than a few fabulous decluttering tips in her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. But before you go and spend the next few hours reading, here’s the one that we think is the most useful to teachers.

Sort through your classroom by category, not location.

The “Konmari method” of decluttering would have you working through your home in categories. E.g. clothes, books, and documents, miscellaneous, and sentimental items. We’d suggest the same for your classroom…

…beginning with the categories that are least sentimental to you.

Here are some categories you might find in your classroom:

  • math equipment/manipulative, resource, and games
  • language arts resources and games
  • other subject area resources and games
  • class readers or classroom library books
  • board games
  • scripted programs, lessons plans, and syllabus documents
  • meeting and professional development notes
  • themed decorations
  • display items – posters, labels, etc.
  • sports equipment
  • office supplies
  • arts and craft supplies.

Write them up on your board in the order that you’ll work through them.

Tip #2 – Use It or Lose It!

Lay out everything you have in a single category.

You need to approach your classroom clean out with a clear set of boundaries.

It’s time to get tough with yourself and those persistent “I might use this for something later” tendencies!

Consider each item. If it falls into one of the categories below put it into one of your boxes (recycling, giveaway, relocate, garbage).

  • You didn’t use it this year (and not just because of the pandemic)
  • It’s broken or incomplete
  • It’s out of date
  • It’s not something that you need

how to keep your classroom organised

Tip #3 Not Many, If Any

If you’re having trouble letting go of some of the older bits and pieces that were handed down from the classroom teacher before you, try reframing those feelings by asking yourself one of the following questions:

  • How many of that type of resource/object/book do you actually need for your class to function as it does throughout the school year? If you have enough, then it’s time to realize that the older, damaged, half-used or outdated items have served their purpose to many kids in the past and they can be let go!
  • How much is that object/book/resource worth right now if you were to sell it second-hand? Ask yourself “If I didn’t already have this item/book/resource, would I be willing to pay that for it?”

Tip #4 – Host a Teacher Swap Party!

You might really enjoy hosting a resource/office supply/teacher resource swap party with teacher friends, especially if you got a notice from the principal that you’ll be changing grades this year (again).

Like clothes swap but waaaay better.

Invite your teaching buddies and provide them with the following instructions:

  • Bring resources, books, office supplies that you no longer use, but that are in good enough condition that IF you did need one, you’d buy it off the shelf for yourself.
  • Bring a plate of deliciousness to share.
  • Bring a beverage or two that will make you smile.

You might find that some of your friends who work with different age groups have been hoarding something that would be wonderful for you to use with your kids, and vice versa! It is a fantastic way to reduce the amount of waste generated by your classroom clean-out, as well as limit the new products you might purchase in order to get some new resources for your students.

Tip #5 – Stick it

Hands up if you’ve heard of the old wardrobe decluttering trick of hanging your clothes hangers in the reverse direction? Each time you wear a piece of clothing, you hang it back the right way.  Then at the end of six or 12 months, you’ll be able to see what you have actually worn and which items of clothing you haven’t touched in that time. You may not have a lot of clothing in your classroom, but the same concept applies here.

Non-Paper Items

Sticky dots are one way you can implement a similar process with physical items in your classroom. Place a sticky dot on each item or container. When you use the item, take off the sticky dot. Next time you go through your classroom, items that still have their sticky dots may be perfect for the “donate” pile.

Paper Items

Have a large number of printed resources stored in filing cabinets (likely filed by content and/or subject area)? Give this idea a try: If you have space, keep the top drawer of your filing cabinets empty and move all of your paper files and folders to the bottom drawers. Each time you use a printed resource, put it back into a new folder in the top drawer. At the end of the year, you’ll see which resources you’ve actually used in your planning and teaching. This helps you decide if you can recycle the rest of the unused printed resources.

an organised classroom

What to do with it all?

So, now you’ve got a whole lot of things that need to make a journey out of your classroom to make space for your mind, space for the resources you actually use, and space for your students to learn! But what to do with it all? Being aware of your environmental footprint is so important, and can be a great future motivator to help you reduce the amount of stuff that you bring into your classroom.

Sell or Give away
If it’s something that you’d buy in its current condition, that you know has value to others, consider selling it second-hand, or giving it away.

Provided the papers you have for recycling do not contain personal or sensitive information, make sure they end up in a recycling bin.

Did you know that you don’t need to remove staples for paper to be recycled?

After all of this, hopefully, you’ll have a slightly different perspective when it comes to the items you bring into your classroom. Not only does each item we create and consume need to have a ‘home’, which adds to the year-long clutter in your classroom, but we must be aware of the environmental impacts of everything too. We’ve even turned many of our popular printables into Google Slides to help cut down on all that printed paper, so don’t forget to download them for next school year!

Do you do an end-of-year classroom clean-out?
Share your top tips in the comments below.



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