“Does it Spark Joy?” – A Japanese Lesson in Decluttering your Classroom

A few months ago, I discovered The Life Changing Habit of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo.  Shopping in a local bookstore, Main Point Books, for a birthday gift, I noticed the book and browsed through its pages.

Intrigued, I asked the shopkeeper if she had read it.

“Oh yes, I highly recommend it,” she replied.  “Her ideas are a bit intense but it really helps with getting your life organized.”

Get my life organized? Did I need that?


The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Classroom Connection

Maybe one of the reasons that I liked the book is that it reminded me of my prior job as a literacy coach for a Philly non-profit.  During those five years, I coached teachers on different literacy practices, such as reading/writing workshop, guided reading and Intentional Read Aloud.  We even spent time setting up their classroom literacy environments, which included organizing classroom libraries, leveling books and decluttering.

Lots and lots of time decluttering.

I’ve since returned to the classroom full time and said farewell to my job with the Philly non-profit.  But this book happily takes me back to the incredible experience that I had with those teachers.   Together we purged old materials, re-organized spaces and cleaned out clutter.

It’s a lot easier to do this in someone else’s space than it is in your own. Diving into old forgotten closets , boxes or drawers would actually give me a rush of adrenaline!  At a school where I spent two years,  the janitors would often shake their heads when they saw me coming, knowing that soon I would ask for one of the grey, rolling waste bins and a sleeve of oversized, black trash bags.

In one room, the teacher and I discovered two sewing machines during our cleaning binge.  Two!  This wasn’t a home economics room, it was third grade. She is retired now and I’m writing this post about her in the highest regard.  She was an interesting, amazing teacher, who took circus lessons in her spare time and lived in a purple house.  She also loved books (especially Babar and  Eleanor, Quiet No More  – a cool biography about Eleanor Roosevelt), science and you guessed it – sewing!

The Kondo Method

Back to the Kondo book.  In case you don’t know much about it, it’s written by a Japanese home organizing phenom, who started decluttering her own belongings as a child.  She guarantees that by following her methods of purging, folding and organizing, you will not only create more space and have a tidier house, but also transform your life.

Transform  your life?

Her method is quite simple, really.  She has a specific order to follow as you organize and declutter.  Clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and finally, mementos. She also states that you must put all of your items together in one place.  For example, if you keep seasonal clothes in the basement, you must group them in one pile for the process to work.  Sort by category, not by space.  This is one of her cardinal rules.

Another critical point is to handle each item.  Yes, you actually have to pick up each shirt, even one that you just wore yesterday from the clothes hamper.  And when you touch it, ask yourself:

“Does it spark joy?”

If yes, keep it. If no, say goodbye and move on to the next item.

Now, I’m only on the first part of the process – clothes.  But I am already amazed at the amount of space that I’ve created in my dresser.  By simply asking myself, “Does this item spark joy?” and folding properly, I have a totally new view on clothes and space.

My newly organized shirt drawer:

Kondo method

Feeling a “spark of joy” after my own success, I tried getting started with my husband’s shirts.

That didn’t work as well.

Note to readers: Do not take all of your significant other’s clothes and pile them on the bed all at once on a work night.

“There is no way that I’m doing this tonight,” he said, shoving everything back into the drawers and in a heap on the floor.

Gasp!  What would Marie think if she saw this?

As a last resort, I held up the book to him and pointed to her picture.  “But Marie says that if you do this, it will transform your life!”

“I don’t want to transform my life right now,” he said, pulling back the sheets and climbing into bed.  “I just want to go to bed and get some sleep.”

Fair enough.

Kondo and the Classroom: How to Declutter and Organize your Space

The purpose of this post isn’t to have you try this book out at home (although I certainly recommend it if you are so inclined).  Or, to urge you to dump your loved ones items in a heap as I did.

What I do want is for you to think about your own classroom as you approach the year ahead.  Close your eyes and picture all the items inside that you’ve accumulated over the years:

  • Books
  • Furniture
  • Files
  • Papers
  • Teacher resources
  • Sewing machines

 Do you really need all of them?

The Question

As you get organized and consider whether to discard or keep certain materials, ask the Kondo question for each one:

Does it spark joy?

If yes, by all means, keep it.

If no, thank it for its service to you and pass it along (or throw away).

This will allow more space for the items that you do need and appreciate.

Of course, the “Does it spark joy?” question might not always be feasible in your classroom and/or school.  For example, you might have district math materials to use.  Whether they spark joy or not is really not the issue and you have to use them.

But I also guarantee that there are some items sitting there collecting dust.  Maybe it’s an old, tattered stack of books, a dusty bookcase or a dirty rug.  With a good washing or a fresh coat of paint, maybe they will find new life.  On the other hand, maybe it’s time to say thank you and let them go.

It’s up to you to decide…


Reader Comments

What are your thoughts on this topic? Is it hard to follow this process in your classroom or have you had some success?  Whatever the case, please share your thoughts here.  I would love to hear from you!

Happy cleaning/decluttering,


P.S.  For more tips on classroom organization, check out these books:

Spaces and Places

Teaching with Intention

Or, this blog post, which gives a great overview of the Kondo method:

8 Decluttering Lessons

Also, this post from Ed Week, which summarizes classroom decluttering in general:

Declutter your Classroom, Declutter your Life





Traveling with Tulip

Looking for some end of year ideas to fill those last few days of school?

Here’s a fun and easy read aloud by author Cynthia Rylant that you can use to spark conversation about summer travel plans.  And because of the repeating language and beautiful imagery, it’s a no-brainer to connect this to a follow-up writing lesson.

Note to parents: Try reading this book at home and then using the attached handout Tulip Sees America as a summer writing activity.  A great way to document your summer travels in a meaningful, authentic way!

Possible Writing Objective: Use descriptive details to describe a setting

Possible Reading Objective: Create mental images to support comprehension

The Book: Tulip Sees America, by Cynthia Rylant

Before Reading (intro and possible language)

“This is about a boy who never goes anywhere as a child.  When he grows up, he decides to travel across the country in his VW Beetle with his dog Tulip.  (Show different states on map: Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado).  In each place, he notices something different about the setting.  As you listen, put your thumb up if you get a picture in your mind because of the details that the author uses to describe each state.”

During Reading: 

Stop to discuss parts of the text that stand out to the students.  Try one turn and talk: “What images stayed with you on this page?” or “Share your mental movie with a partner.”

After Reading:

Make a list of the descriptive words that the author used to describe each state.  If time allows (or during another lesson), try out the writing extension (see attached) Tulip Sees America.  The students can write their own “Tulip Sees America” stories based on a place that they have visited.

Disclaimer: I read this recently with some second graders and they got a good chuckle from the Nevada section.  I won’t give it away but be sure to preview that part before you read!






Launching a Love of Reading from Day One

The first day of school is fast approaching and you’re doing all the usual things that teachers do:  setting up reading corners, hanging curtains and other decorative items, clearing out the cobwebs in corners.  You’re climbing on top of desks to tack up number lines, stapling paper to bulletin boards, fastening letters onto the word wall.  Photocopying your introductory parent letter, an “All About Me” packet and the supply list. You leave at the end of the day exhausted, sweaty and…excited.

Excited for the new faces that will enter your classroom in just a few short days.  Excited for their stories, their enthusiasm and their own unique sense of excitement.

You’ve made a list of procedures to teach the first week, ice-breaker games, math lessons.  Everything’s ready or as ready as it will be.

But what about read alouds?  Sometimes we feel like we have so much to squeeze in those first few days (and beyond) that the read aloud is often the first thing to go.

Don’t let that happen.

There is so much to be gained from reading to students: fluency, comprehension, vocabulary and even phonics/phonemic awareness.  And perhaps most importantly, developing a love of reading and a community of readers in the classroom.

I’ve listed a few of my personal favorites here, along with a possible classroom connection for each:

Book Title                                Author                            Classroom Connection

A Chair for My Mother            Vera B. Williams             Helping others

The Carrot Seed                    Ruth Krauss                    Hard work and persistence

Something Beautiful               Sharon Wyeth                Caring for our classroom and community

The Important Book               Margaret Wise Brown     We are all unique and important

Chrysanthemum                    Kevin Henkes                  Diversity

Today I feel silly…                 Jamie Lee Curtis              Understanding feelings

A Bad Case of Stripes           David Shannon                Being comfortable with who we are

Bad Kitty                               Nick Bruel                         Following directions

The Relatives Came             Cynthia Rylant                  Summer vacation writing

Knuffle Bunny Too                Mo Willems                       Getting along and sharing

Lunch Money and                 Carol Diggerty Shields      Poems about the school day

other poems about School

Have any of your own “go to” books to share?  Please leave a comment so we can add to our list.

Then sprinkle in a few extra read alouds to your schedule those first few days.  You’ll be glad that you did.

Happy Reading!


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