Taming the Clutter, Homeschool Style

Remember last week, when I said I’d talk about organizing for lessons? Well, I lied. I’m sorry. I don’t want to talk about that, after all. Instead, let’s keep talking about organizing supplies.

Even the most minimalist of homeschoolers can find herself with so much in the way of books, games, and supplies that she doesn’t know how to store it all. Our family reached that point sometime last year. Lacking the funds to move to a bigger house with more storage space, I’ve learned a little bit about how to organize our lives so that we can easily find whatever we want to use, but have it out of the way when we don’t need it.

I’m easily visually distracted (ADHD, anybody?), so if there is a cluttered surface or a disorganized shelf, my eye is immediately drawn to it and my attention to my work won’t be what it should. Just being in a clutter-free room makes me feel relaxed and capable. Having to live in a mess has the opposite effect. I feel like I can barely think, let alone accomplish something useful in those conditions. Having finally figured this out about myself a few years ago, I make an effort to keep my home as organized as possible.

Not everybody has a problem with visual distractions, I’m sure, but I think enough people do that even the most laid-back mom might want to consider what the effect of her clutter might be on a more sensitive child’s concentration.

Of course, homeschoolers aren’t the only ones with clutter and storage problems, so just about anybody can benefit from the tips below:

Control the flow of toys, games, books, etc. I know this isn’t going to go over very well with the un among us, (or with lazies who prefer not to have to do so much for the little ones), but if you don’t want things to be constantly falling into disarray, the single most important thing you can do is make sure that the kids ask before getting things out, and put things back in the appropriate places before moving on to the next task.

For lacing cards, wooden toys and blocks, or anything else the smallest children find most attractive, I find a place on a high shelf so that I can be the one who gets them down. This means, of course, that I have to be responsive to their needs and be willing to stop whatever I’m doing to help them get what they need and put it away, but I find that that still takes a lot less time than fixing the mess after they’ve spilled several puzzles and games trying to find the one they want. I do this in their bedrooms with their toys, also, by keeping their toys in boxes on shelves and in closets. My house doesn’t take nearly as long to clean when it is arranged this way. There isn’t any restriction on which toys they can play with, but they have to ask for them, and they have to put them away before they can play with something else.

Pare down. When you only have a certain amount of space, you can only have a certain amount of stuff. No matter how educational an activity or toy may seem to be, you are going to have to put it somewhere. Either don’t bring new things home, or be prepared to throw away or donate something you have that is roughly the same size as whatever you are bringing in. My kids are blessed with generous grandparents and extended family. After birthdays and Christmas (and just random weekend visits) we often find ourselves having to make difficult choices. I’ve learned to harden my heart to the pleas for mercy toward this or that very special toy. Nothing is sacred. It’s just stuff. The kids have grown used to our quarterly trips to the Goodwill donation truck, and no longer complain about it—much.  I’ve even had my oldest comment that he likes having less stuff, because it’s easier to decide what to play with.

Store like with like. It’s easier to find what you’re looking for if there is some order to how you keep your things. If you’re like me, you probably buy a ton of school supplies at the beginning of the year when the back-to-school sales are happening. Sort your supplies by type and store them in labeled boxes. I love the plastic shoe-boxes you can buy at Wal-mart for just a couple of dollars. They’re stackable and just the right size for sorting small things. Glue, tape, staples, and anything that sticks one thing to another thing go together in one box. Pens, pencils, markers and crayons go in another. Craft sticks and styrofoam balls in another. You get the idea. Sort them in whatever way makes sense to you. If your box is full, it’s a good sign you don’t need any more of that particular object, so it’s also a useful way to prevent impulse purchases or over-buying.

Boxes, bags, and crates. I’ve found that the boxes most games and puzzles come in are rarely up to the task of permanent storage. They always seem to fall apart or somehow be too small to put the contents back in after you’ve taken them out. How do they get those things in there, anyway? I can never seem to get the boxes to close after we’ve opened it! Also, they fall apart.  After only a few uses they start to crack at the corners and slump so that you can’t stack them neatly.

For board games, I bag up small pieces and reinforce the corners with tape as soon as they start to fray. I throw away puzzle boxes immediately, storing the pieces in zip-top bags (the heavy kind with a good zipper on top), then put all the bags in a couple of organizing boxes. Cut out the small inset picture of the puzzle from the box and put it in the bag with the pieces for reference. The bags hold together better than boxes, and they take up less space.  Wooden lacing beads, matching games, wooden puzzle pieces, and anything else that can get lost or spilled all get bagged up and stored together.

Keep the bookshelves straight. Ha! I’m kidding about that one. I’ve tried, right down to labeling the shelves by subject with my Brother p-touch labeler and insisting that everyone put books back in the right place after they finish with them. There is only so much a mama can do, though, and my one year-old likes to pull books off shelves. The more I try to stop him, the happier it makes him to do it, so I gave up. I do try to straighten the shelves once a week or so, but most of the time they look like this:


If you have tips for keeping books neat, I’d love to hear them!

How about you, moms and dads? How do you keep the clutter from getting out of hand?


  1. LOVE your ideas for game….for books: use magazine holders. They help hold them, you can get them cheap and you can categorize them.

  2. Love it! While these might seem like “no brainers” for members of the National Association of Organizers, those that dwell together 24/7, benefit greatly from revisiting these principles often! ;0)