Time for ‘Tidying Up’ the School Library

Inspired by lifestyle consultant Marie Kondo or the coming of spring, it’s time to pare down your stuff and organize your space.

Sample map

Spring is coming, and Marie Kondo’s Netflix show has everyone talking about “Tidying Up,” so cleaning your space is likely on your to-do list. Can you KonMari the school library? Those book display supplies sparked joy once, but is it time to thank them and say goodbye?

I don’t need Netflix for motivation. When that first whiff of warm air hits, I get the itch to pare down my stuff and reorganize. There is no right or wrong time to start getting your space in shape, but jumping in without a plan is unlikely to end in success.

Before you begin…

MAKE A SCHEDULE Pick a day/time to start. Decide which areas to tackle and when and add them to your calendar. What gets scheduled, gets done.

BREAK IT DOWN Turn the enormous task of “organizing the library” into manageable, bite-size places (e.g.: filing cabinet in office, desk drawers, one section of the shelving unit behind circulation desk, etc.).

BUDGET TIME ACCORDINGLY Smaller tasks need less time. Larger tasks need more time. Stopping midway can interrupt your flow and possibly keep you from finishing, so allot enough time for the bigger jobs.

PERSONALIZE FOR PRODUCTIVITY Instant gratification people should schedule some quickly completed tasks first. A few small wins may provide the motivation to continue and take on a larger area. Go-big-or-go-home types should put the large jobs first for that accomplishment rush.

MAKE A MAP For any organizing endeavor to be fruitful and long lasting, everything needs a logical home. Know where things are going to be stored before you start. Create a map. The “home” for items is where you typically look for them and where it is convenient to use them. This sounds simple, but it is amazing how many things live in places just because they always have. Next, designate spaces so like items can go together and be easily found. Keep your map handy; you will need it throughout this process.

DON’T BUY ANYTHING YET You don’t know what organizational tools you’ll need. You may need less after removing items or find useful containers you didn’t know you had.

CALL FOR REINFORCEMENTS If clutter clearing is overwhelming or organizing is not in your wheelhouse, ask a friend or colleague who is good at it. Chances are they will be happy to assist, and a partner will help keep you on track and hold you accountable. It will also make decision-making easier. Working with another person requires a nice balance of listening to advice and advocating for your needs.

IT’S OK TO LET THINGS GO In the world of tightening budgets, it is easy to hold on to everything just in case it could be used someday. But, the amount of time spent searching for what you need and the mental burden of being surrounded by clutter and disorganization can carry a heavy price.

IT GETS WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER This is totally normal. You must go through a rough bit to get to “Ta-da!” Also, let go of the idea that your library will be a “perfect” Instagram-able, Kondo-like space. It just needs to be functional, visually appealing, and organized.


Get started

CLEAR CLUTTER Removing the items you obviously don’t need is everyone’s first step in saving time and effort. There is no point organizing what you won’t end up keeping.

BEGIN WITH FIRST SPACE, DON’T WANDER If you encounter items that belong somewhere else, put them in a pile or a box to be handled when you get to their designated spaces. Use your map to guide you.

REMOVE AND EVALUATE CONTENTS Take everything out first to access what you have and start with a clean slate. As you go through the items, decide what purpose they serve. They don’t have to bring you joy, but they should be useful. If you no longer need them, don’t let them crowd the library. Do not spend more than 20 seconds on each item. It is easy to dither and second-guess if you take too much time. Go with your gut instinct. Then, sort.

USE, DONATE, RECYCLE, DISPOSE If it is an item that will be used, sort it to the designated area on your map. If you won’t use it but someone else might, put it in a donate pile. If it won’t be used or is broken, etc., recycle or dispose of it.

RETURN ITEMS TO SPACE Remember to put like with like. And, no, we are not quite ready for storage of “extra” items just yet. This area is still a work-in-progress as you may need to add things to it as you encounter them when decluttering other spaces.

Once everything is where it belongs according to your map, evaluate your original blueprint. You may realize you need less or more space for certain objects than budgeted. Your initial map is meant to give you focus, not to be written in stone. Adjust as needed.

BOXES, BUCKETS, AND BINS Before you spend any money, check to see if you have newly emptied containers and decide how you can use them. Once you determine that, decide what additional storage you need. See if you can request any donations before buying anything.

DEAL WITH THE PILES At any point in this process after the Sorting Hat has done its job, remove the donate, recycle, and dispose of piles. Host a giveaway for your fellow teachers. This can be a great way to get new people in the library and build relationships with staff. Then say goodbye to any unclaimed items and remove the recycle/dispose of piles by following the guidelines or procedures of your district.

ADMIRE YOUR WORK Seriously, bask in the glory of your accomplishment. You worked hard to make this happen, and if you honor that effort and commit to maintaining it, you are more likely to do so.

RESET, REEVALUATE Unfortunately, there isn’t a done button on cleaning and organizing. It is an ongoing process. Our best intentions are sometimes upended by life. Schedule time weekly to take a walk through your space, putting things where they belong. Reevaluation is important, because new objects are always arriving. Put them away according to your map or find a place for new items to live.

Equally important, continue to reassess items that may no longer be necessary as your and your students’ needs change.

Courtney Pentland is the lead teacher and research librarian for Omaha (NE) Public Schools.

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