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Simplify Your Teacher Life with a Minimalist Approach

Simplify Your Teacher Life with a Minimalist Approach

Are you feeling overwhelmed in your teaching or home life? Minimalism could be the answer! Minimalism can reduce more than physical clutter, it can help with mental clutter, too. It can reduce stress, improve organization, and make your life calmer.  This could be the solution to work/life balance you've been looking for.

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What is minimalism? 

If you were born anytime since 2010, chances are you've heard phrases like "minimalism," "decluttering," or some other word in the "tidying" genre.  There are several people I know that claim such mindsets are fading fads, but I often challenge those naysayers to take a real deep look at what minimalism is, why people are drawn to it, and the benefits to staying committed to a pared-down lifestyle.  Minimalism is impactful. It is life changing.

Most experts in the minimalism field agree that author Joshua Becker explained minimalism perfectly with this definition: 

The intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.

That definition means that we need to:

  • Be aware enough to know what we value
  •  Be brave enough to get rid of the distractions 
  • Be confident enough to promote what remains

Honestly, even though it is a tall order, that is exactly the kind of person I want to be.

Why is minimalism important for teachers?

As mentioned above, minimalism requires a lot of self-awareness, bravery, and confidence.  Doesn’t that sound similar to what we are often trying to pass on to our students? It’s hard to pass on something we do not possess.  By honing in on what is most important in our life, we increase our focus on what our calling is, what our message is, and what our purpose is, for rising each day.

By getting rid of all the extra messiness, our stress levels decrease.  Study after study shows that clutter and stress are connected. Inversely, when we get rid of clutter, we become more calm and focused. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk into school less stressed and more clear about your intentions for each day?  

Lightening the mental load is beneficial, but there are practical matters that are wonderful as well.  When you have less clutter, it is easier to become more organized and have a space for everything that remains.  This means you have a spot for your keys, your cell phone, and your library books to reside. (And if you are anything like me, I have spent countless hours searching for all of these!)  Not only that, but surfaces become more clear, enabling work to be done more quickly and efficiently.

strategic minimalism at home

I began my journey of minimalism at home by donating over 2,000 items one spring.  My family and I bravely donated anything we could.  We threw out even more. After that, I realized that I loved how my home felt with so many empty spaces.  

Here are my biggest tips for decluttering your home:

  • Get rid of as much from your kitchen as you can:  Don’t be afraid to donate or trash those weird appliances.  Consolidate everything you can. I use mason jars for everything now!  I pack lunches in them, store leftovers in them, use them as vases, and even give gifts in them. 

                 If you are really feeling brave, you could even try an experiment of                                      only having 1 plate, cup, and bowl for each person in your home!  It is                                amazing how much LESS work and mess comes along with this way of                               living.  

  • Go through your closet:  I weed through my closet all the time.  I am extremely careful when I purchase my clothes now, too.  If I do not feel fabulous- and I mean really fabulous- in something, I do not buy it.  If I somehow end up with something that is questionable, I donate it. Someone else can use it more than I can.
  • Junk mail: I have a bin underneath the mailbox on my porch.  I sort my mail on the porch, so junk mail never even ends up inside my home. This eliminates the piles of junk mail.

Ways to promote minimalism at school

Your classroom has the potential to be a learning haven to students.  You can use resources like Pinterest, TPT (Teacher's Pay Teachers), and Google to add to your clutter or you can use them to learn strategies to make your classroom inviting, organized, and efficient.  

Here's some tips to help you stay organized at school:

  1.  Set up your classroom in a way so there is as much empty floor space as possible.  That means I use cluster seating and perimeter storage (see images above). The empty floor space really helps my tiny classroom feel huge!
  2. I have become very creative with vertical storage.  Now, I’m a short person, so I have to be selective about what I keep up high, but I also keep many things down low.  I store my classroom set of clipboards under a table. I also keep my stuffed animals (very important in a Spanish classroom!) under the tables.  My homework station is set on top of a mid-height cabinet, and many craft items are stored in decorative boxes on a bookshelf.  
  3. If I don’t use it weekly, it's not visible.  My students do not need any more distractions than they already have.  And, honestly, neither do I.
  4. Keep the word walls and motivational quotes to a minimum.  Many times we begin to tune out if there is too much.  
  5. Have the things you use every day very handy.  I keep lined paper, staplers, tape, a 3-hole punch, and dry erase markers within 10 steps of me and my students.  I also keep extra important papers like our bell ringer answer sheets and our t-chart sheets right where my students know where to find them.  These are essentials in our classroom, and everyone, from my kindergartners to my seniors, know where to find them.

Minimizing our schedules

As a teacher, we have many responsibilities.  Since many of us love the kiddos we teach, we also take on roles like coach, advisor, play director, tutor, or Sunday School teacher.  In addition, many of us are married with kids of our own, and they are in sports, theatre, academic clubs, and church activities. They often have a stack of birthday party invitations.  Next, our spouses have priority activities at their own jobs- some of which may involve us. Add in aging parents, friends that need us, the never-ending laundry pile, the puppy we somehow ended up buying, and the 3 extra kids at our house this weekend- and yeah... we are a little busy.

The question is, "What do we do about it?" We have to eat. We have to have clean clothes.  We want to keep our bosses happy. It can feel really hard to keep everyone happy and cared for.

My suggestion is to constantly be curating a careful calendar.  If you do not have a system at this point, you need to adopt either a paper or electronic calendar and start writing everything down.  That is the first step.  

The second step- and this is the hardest- learn to say no when you are asked. Sometimes you should listen to the Holy Spirit and say yes- absolutely!  Because when we say yes, God can change the world. But, there are also 7 billion other people out there who can also say yes.  So, don’t be afraid to say no if you are not hearing the Holy Spirit clearly guide you. No is a beautiful word sometimes. It’s freeing.  It’s powerful.

“No. I can’t bring in snacks for that class party.”  

“No,  I’m unavailable to babysit Friday night.”

“No.  I can not run a club this year.” (I just said this sentence myself last month.. and it felt very freeing.)

 Every time you say "no" to something you are saying "yes" to something else. Since  you are not scrambling to get snacks together last minute, you have time to tuck in your kids with prayers and snuggles.  Since you said "no" to babysitting, you can go on a date night with your spouse and catch up for the first time in months.  When I said "no" to clubs, I was able to say "yes" when the ladies in the office needed my help with 2 projects.  

This is not easy.  But, when you get used to practicing it, it becomes a beautiful part of life- especially when you see God’s hand at work in those moments.

We highly recommend the Reclaim Your Time 101 program for those of you who are striving to find this balance, learn how to say no, and prioritize what really matters. Find out more about the Reclaim Your Time 101 course here

minimalism for a busy mom and teacher

For years, especially when I was first pursuing minimalism, I thought that it meant having everything all together.  But, as I have found out, that is not what it means at all. Minimalism means saying "no" to things that really do not serve the BEST purpose for your life so that you can try to serve God with your time and energy more completely, but still somehow ending up on “that” committee.  

It just means you keep trying.  It means you give yourself lots of grace to keep going.  There are weeks where my schedule is still pure madness. Where my to-do list is still way too long.  And, even though I feel like I have donated enough clothes to keep a small village clothed for a year, somehow my laundry pile still overflows.   

There are still nights when I bring work home, even though I had planned on having a night free.  Those setbacks may look like failure to some people. For me, I call them progress. Life is getting better. The messes are smaller, the piles are easier to tackle, and I am much more focused for tasks ahead.

And I still have to declutter.  A lot. But, life is so much more calm.  For me. My family. And my students. And that calmness and focus lets me live out God’s purpose with intention.  That really is the goal that I’m striving for the most anyways.

About the author

Sarah and her family live in NW Pennsylvania. She is a wife, mom, author, and speaker. Recently, Sarah had a bit of a role pivot and now she can include teacher and customer experience manager for Teach 4 the Heart on that list. Sarah is passionate about encouraging others, following Jesus, and finding ways to live a simple, but fulfilling life. You can follow her on Instagram at @humessarah or Twitter @SarahHumes8

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