Limbo

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“Limbo” is an accurate summary of my last few months. We started the official house hunt in mid-March, and after one failed house closing, one lost offer, and now an offer on a third we’re waiting on pins and needles. We’ve tried for a lake house with 2 acres, a hidden country property on ten acres with plenty of moles and farm cats to go around, and now a 1/4 acre house only a few houses away from our rental with a lovely yard for a suburban garden and plenty of space for some chickens.

We’ve spent the last two months, and even the months before that, being entirely unsure of our summer plans. We agonized all Christmas over how much to plant this year – do we risk losing a garden when we move, or just plant them all in planters (a more expensive and far less sustainable method for us)? The difficulty and frustration we had over the home meant so much more time finding comforts to solve our unhappiness rather than actually keeping up the garden and seedlings (read: we watched too much Netflix rather than having the discussions we needed to about what to do with the seedlings and start a fertilizing schedule). The stress sucks. But hey, if you’ve bought a house, then you know my pain. So what to do? Succumb to the stress and barely do house chores because you might be moving, so it can wait until a deep clean during the move? (So the spiders start building bigger webs in my basement…) Start thinking about moving boxes but get so depressed after perusing Realtor.com for 15 minutes and find nothing even close to being worth it? (Those boxes are empty…)

Being in limbo is a horrible feeling. Every decision about my home and my finances (can I buy a new work shirt this week for my new summer restaurant job, or should I save it for a new security system potentially in my future?) are tied to this homestead dream. Sometimes – no, most of the time – chasing this dream feels like dating as a teenager all over again – dragged around in the misery of puppy love, flirtations, the crushing denial of being distant and cool, flightiness, and unplanned, spontaneous meetings. So tonight, contemplating what to do if yet another house lets us down, I’ve decided to make a few decisions that keep my mind more rooted and to lower my anxiety throughout this process.

First, I’m going to make sure that I’m maintaining my house as best as I can despite the potential moving process. I have patches of spackling all around the house – time to actually touch up with paint and move on. The kitchen and bathroom deep cleaning? Still need to regularly happen. My cobweb-infested basement? Yup, time to unleash the vacuum. For me, a clean home keeps a clean mind – when we have gone to see homes and they are messy and cluttered, I totally feel the resulting anxiety from viewing cramped and unkempt spaces. Why should I continue to invite anxiety into my safe space at home simply by neglecting my work?

Secondly, time to tackle the projects I’ve been putting off that don’t depend on a house structure. Our bar cabinet has crooked hinges on one side, I have a pile of teacher to-do’s regarding long-range planning and concept plans, and I haven’t had a sewing project in ages. I have a stack of coupons ready for fabric purchases – time to attack Pinterest! We’ve been half-trying to introduce our cats to my mother-in-law’s cat, and without much success – time to hunker down and start positive associations and psychology work.

Third, I want to use the time I have to work on building my creativity and options for stress outlets. I’ve been meaning to write more on my blog, to start new sewing projects, and to find new ways to organize my small office creatively. Our library has a summer reading challenge and the reward is coupons for local businesses and a wealth of additional knowledge. My day times are now free for yoga, walks, or work in the backyard – or, better yet, time spent reading or sun-bathing in a new above-ground pool we splurged on this weekend from Target.

The point is that the house frustrations can’t be the reason for my summer grinding to a halt, my stress to be through the roof, or my home and possessions to be a jumbled mess. Life continues on, with or without a new 30-year loan, and it’s time to keep going along with it.

 

Summer Goals

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It hasn’t quite hit me yet – that the usual, daily grind has been postponed for a couple of months. Part of it has to do with my current misery – I’ve been coughing and sick for a couple of days now, coming to a head last night when I came down with a low fever and spent most of my evening huddled beneath blankets and binge-watching HBO. Tonight, I’m at least upright, and this time it’s binge-watching Hulu, but still – I’m not poolside, or even gardenside, by any means.

When I have unbooked time, I habitually create goals. Sometimes it’s just vacuuming and laundry, others it’s plant a whole garden. With two and a half months ahead of me, let’s see what I can do with the time and willpower I have.

1. Grow food!

With the homestead shopping spree still remaining that – shopping, not purchasing – we have piles of seedlings in our window sill with no destination. If we plant now, we’ll move without our seedlings (I joke that’s the only way to find “the” house – by planting the garden, we’ll jinx ourselves into finding the “one” the next day). We had hoped to have a plan by now, but to be honest, there isn’t one. I’m thinking we’ll go ahead and resort to what we did four years ago at our last house – a patio garden! It’s hardly sustainable, and goes against almost all of our hopes and dreams for improving soil, but growing in pots does provide homes for our seedlings and food for our table.

2. Finish my certificate.

For the last two summers, I’ve been working on levels I and II towards my Kodaly methodology certification – each level is offered for 5 hours graduate credit at Wichita State with a two week, ultra-intense course in the beginning of June. Since getting my level I, I have found a wonderful and satisfying new path with my teaching – a child-centered approach that uses folk songs from our student’s cultural traditions, all while enhancing their music literacy abilities to the fullest. This year will be my last of three levels to complete – which will bring me not only my status up to “Kodaly-certified teacher” but also my master’s degree status to “15 hours completed” – and this fall I’ll start in on the rest of my coursework to finish a master’s.

3. Buy a @#$^ house already!

Can you tell I’m feeling frustrated? I heard an NPR report that said in this past quarter of housing sales, houses have sold faster than they ever had in a decade. I can’t tell you how many houses we’ve looked at or gotten ready to look at only to arrive and find out an offer (or 3) was already on the house. It’s exhausting. It’s tiring. We’re at the point where we are happy to get a house with a big backyard just so we can build equity with something, but even that has been hard to find! It’s really stressing me out, so that means I probably ought to…

4. Take a yoga class or learn to meditate.

This school year, especially the last few months, have been stressful. I’m ashamed to admit how often I’ve broken down in tears or how often my husband has gotten some kind of exhausted or facepalm emoji through text the last couple of months. I. Need. A. Break. I’ve barely had time for myself, none for my friends or family, much less patience for any of the aforementioned. I’m going to start with some organizing to help me feel in order and then just some plain old sleep. It’s wonderful how therapeutic being in the garden can be, so as soon as I feel up for some exposure to allergens I’ll head out to the garden to weed and explore with the kitties.

Longterm, it would not be a bad plan for my mental health to establish a yoga or meditation routine. Even YouTube has some fabulous guides and gurus, and quite honestly I just need to step up and recognize how much I need this and do it already!

5. Get some thorough work done on my long-term planning.

In order to know what to teach, you need to have an end goal for your students – what do you want them to know when they leave your classroom at the end of your school year together? From there, when do you want to teach those goals, and how? With what resources or focuses? I want to take time to develop my concept plans and long-term planning, now that I’m entering my fourth year of teaching. My first several years were about experimenting, surviving, trying new things, and seeing what fits – how long it takes to teach a concept, that sort of thing. Now that I feel like I have the handle of it, it’s time to think broader, more deeply, and with more effectiveness.

 

Most of all, I want to spend time with myself, my friends, my family, and to relax. After all, it is summer.

Graduation

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It’s that time of year – wrapping up lesson plans and packing away supplies for the summer, endless graduation parties, saying goodbye to our students. For me, it’s a particularly-tough end of the year, saying goodbye to a hundred little faces that I’ve loved for the last two years. Part of the heart-wrenching part of working for a school district is just that – we work for a district, not a school, and our contract isn’t tied to a building. With numbers and circumstances changing, one of my school assignments is changing, so today I gave hugs and love to my little ones as I said goodbye on their last day of music.

While for so many, the end of the school year marks the end of an era – the end of 5th grade, the end of college, and, for some teachers, then end of a career. As I sit here on the couch, nursing a late-spring fever and miserable cough, I’m reminded that it’s never really the end, but merely the restart of another lap around the track. We’ll toast to the end of another year, schedule vacations, put our feet up, but we start the preparation for next fall as soon as our students walk out the door. Come this fall, we’ll be greeted with a similar batch of excited, beaming faces intermixed with tired, unsure ones and still need to inspire them to the same results through our teaching. We’ll face the same, miserable stacks of paperwork, exciting workshops with new ideas, complain about the same types of issues, celebrate the victories, and face that student that just makes you want to cry after trying everything. (Today, I had that student laugh at me and try to hurt me by saying that I must be getting fired if I’m moving schools, to my dismay and to the shock of all his classmates. Unfortunately, no explanation would persuade him from thinking it was the truth – and I left today hoping dearly I had made some kind of difference in this poor child’s education, with all the struggles we’ve had. It was not a good morning.)

But alas, the years don’t always get to end with a perfect, wonderful goodbye – sometimes they are messy and imperfect. All we can do is learn from each day and let it (hopefully) influence the next experience for the better. For a teacher, our years are a cycle, of hard months to exciting months, of challenging students to sweet notes on Valentine’s Day, of evening concerts to a much-needed summer vacation. While our students may close their books and move to the next school or graduate from their last classroom ever, we continue in the cycle – to rinse, refresh, be inspired, and begin again.

Happy summer, my friends.

Hurdles

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The past couple of days I’ve just been reminding myself to breathe. We’re taking small steps at a time towards our homestead – we’re at the point of getting insurance lined up, but until I have the keys in my hand I’m not willing to call it ours! We walked around the property and thought it felt too good to be true – close to town, 2 1/2 acres, mature trees but ample growing space, a wood stove, and a dock on the lake. We’re jumping hurdles at the moment, one piece of paperwork or check from my checkbook at a time. The finish line still feels laps away, so until we’ve crossed it we won’t call it a victory just yet.

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We’re at the point in the year where students are under stress from assessments and we teachers are trying desperately to keep them motivated, interested, and engaged while also not checking out ourselves. I have a few more lessons planned with my students, mostly to wrap up some work stations with recent concepts: we presented la in 1st grade, eight & two-sixteenths in 4th grade, and we’re diving deeply into instrument families in 2nd grade. My 5th graders are working on guitar, 3rd grade trying out recorder, and my kinders wrapping up their program. We’re about to tie up a nice and neat knot on our year, and what better way than to get out some of that extra energy with some folk dancing? We’ll spend the last three or four lessons just dancing, from traditional folk dance to maybe even the Macarena or the Cha Cha Slide (I mean c’mon, I can’t have these 5th graders not ready for their middle school dances!). I’m looking forward to wearing my comfortable dancing clothes for the last couple of weeks and having little to worry about in terms of lesson planning – all it takes is gathering a list of dances for each of my grades and prepping the music to go along. Heck, we might even go outside with my Bluetooth speaker!

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After crossing the hurdles with school, it starts to come down to cleaning and prepping our rental for the move. We have our inspection on Friday for the house, and if all goes well I’ll start making moving plans this weekend. I have garlic in the ground from last fall and onions from this spring, so the time will come to decide to take them with me and try transplanting or to let them be a gift to the future tenants. They’ll love to have 93 onions, right? It will be bittersweet to leave our rental – we’ve lived here for three years and have made so many memories here, from helping install a beautiful patio with our landlord to toiling over the garden every season to try to improve the hard, clay soil. I know it’s silly, but this home is where we had our second “baby” – Olivia, our little girl cat, has only ever known this house with us, and she and her “brother” love basking outside on the patio and chasing squirrels around our yard. There’s an emotional hurdle to cross when we leave, for sure. This home has been just that – our home. I will miss it when we move, though I know we have some wonderful times to look forward to wherever we end up.

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My last hurdle is my prep for my level 3 Kodaly course – the past two summers, I’ve enrolled in level 1 and level 2 certification courses through Wichita State University as part of my master’s degree. (Am I now regretting the financial impact of enrolling in 5 hours credit for the beginning of June after settling closing costs mid-May? You betcha.) Learning a new methodology for my teaching has changed my career – it gave me direction, inspiration, creativity, and a path to lead my students to true music literacy. It’s been an exhausting and thrilling three summers, and this year is the last I need to get my certification! I’ll spend two weeks in intensive courses and there is a bunch of homework I have to complete before I head down to Wichita – close to 50 songs to analyze for classroom use and multiple others to find myself for analysis, research, and presentation. Whew!

A month from now we will be days away from the last day of school and maybe even signing our contract on our house, and that sounds unbelievable even as I type it! Deep breath. Gotta keep my eye on the finish line.

One Year

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My goodness, have these past several weeks been a whirlwind. I apologize for the radio silence – we’ve been deep in the excitement and trepidation of homestead shopping, and it’s meant a lot of focus, stress, and intense amount of communication in our family as we count down the days to combining my mother-in-law and my husband and I into one big family moving into a home together. Without wanting to speak too soon, we are cautiously optimistic on a home that we put an offer on at the beginning of the week – there are a lot of pieces that have to fall into place (potential flood insurance, inspection, appraisal, stressful amounts of cash), so trust me, you’ll know when it’s a done deal because the three of us will be doing back-flips. In the meantime, I wanted to take a quiet moment to document a thought that has been pretty central this week.

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On the eve of our first anniversary, my husband and I got this darling card from my grandparents (HI GUYS!). It made me stop my whirlwind in the kitchen this evening, pause, and take a moment to consider how much we’ve really relied on each other and grown together over the past year. Like every couple, we’ve faced a lot of ups and downs and faced some stressful times (vacations can be stressful, but man, we handled it like pros – no shrieking children, crowded buffets, or sunburns could tear us apart!) and through every situation we’ve come out the other side relieved to have been through it together and wouldn’t exchange it for any other person. I’ve come to think of our relationship like my foundation, my home, and when stress or problems invade I retreat back to my comfort zone, which usually consists of my husband, our cats, and a fuzzy blanket on the couch. (Oh yes, don’t forget the glass of wine.)

We’ve also done so much growing in learning what we want our goals for our homestead to be and what each of our roles will be going forward – Evan jokingly says that while he’s the thinker, I’m the do-er. If you couldn’t tell from my blog already, I take DIY projects and run with them, and I spend a lot of time making sure our home runs efficiently and cleanly. Evan takes care of the growing and plant concerns (herbs and flowers are my projects), doing the digging and harvesting, and researching the best ways to be sustainable and reach our goals. We complement each other quite well, though it’s taken over six years to find that balance and we’re still not perfect.

Stepping back to the card from my grandparents, I most resonated with it because it was “us” – one year together, throughout the seasons, each one bringing new challenges, new stresses, and new rewards. Each season is different – fall brings the start of school and preserving food, winter the quiet boredom of the homestead but excitement in planning for the future garden, spring with busy schedules, summer with the promise of growth and worry of future success in the coming school year or the harvest. But through it all, he’s still my partner, my friend, the person without which I can’t imagine embarking on this journey. Here’s to year two!

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The Search Has Begun…

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We’re officially in the market for our homestead! The more we investigate, the more we think that we’ll be investing in a home with an extra large yard – in our area, houses in the country are just outrageously expensive for teacher and manager income. An existing home might be a great stair-step to help us build equity and save for building that open floor plan dream home with a pond and chicken coop out back, but there’s no reason why our first home can’t be a small, humble slice of paradise.

My mother-in-law will be joining us on the house hunt, so we’re looking for a little space to preserve the sanity of all of us, whether that means a separate wing or a separate building. (Let’s be honest – I’m spoiled by my husband working most evenings and getting to do whatever I feel like, so even having him home and around me constantly would be hard!) I am really excited to have an evening companion and to rediscover our city with my mother-in-law – we have so many fun bars or dinner spots to visit and having a companion will be so enjoyable!

We are also seeking some garden space. Ideally, I think 3/4 of an acre to an acre would be a beautiful spot for a handful of chickens, a couple of playful goats, and rows upon rows of tomato plants and veggies. Today, I visited house #4, and it just didn’t excite me. There was decent space in the yard and the bones of the house were in good shape, but my creativity juices didn’t kick in and I just didn’t feel the chemistry. We saw a house on Saturday and fell in love with it – extra den with a loft for our mother-in-law, open floor plan between the kitchen and living room, walk-in closet, even a pool, but it was next door to this hideous chemical plant that, after further investigation through the EPA website due to a weird smell outside, has apparently failed it’s environmental inspections for the last 12 quarters and had OSHA out investigating health complaints in February. It was devastating. Here was this beautiful, quaint home that boasted beautiful soil and we had to say no. I shed a few tears of frustration, to say the least.

It reminded me of an experience I had in high school. I was lucky enough to have my dad pay for my first car when I graduated high school, and I had a miserable time when we started test-driving cars. Dad picked out one he thought was suitable, I test-drove it, loved it and said yes, and the negotiating with the dealership began. Long story short, the dealership wouldn’t give as good of a deal as what my dad wanted, and he said no. I was heartbroken over losing that car, but it took that moment of letdown and frustration to approach looking at any other cars. I entered into the “shopping” with a much more level head and objectiveness than I had before and looked for cars that provided the right fit, not the one I fell in love with right off the bat.

I needed the devastation of losing that wonderful home that, in retrospect, was probably wise to let go. The sellers preferred cash and wanted to negotiate with full-asking price offers only and were proving to be stringy about the money. I needed to be let down by what I thought would be the house so that I can objectively move forward and evenly evaluate the others moving forward. It doesn’t mean that I’ll compare them to that house, but I can approach them with a level head and let them speak to me, rather than me justify their merits in my head.

Breathe, examine, think, and show patience. The house will come.

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Eco-Friendly Classroom Ideas

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We’ve done so much in our home to be eco-friendly – we installed a bidet, use washcloths in our kitchen rather than paper towels, cut down on our mini fridges (sorry, hubby, the one in the basement for band practice had to go!), bought more natural products and invested in ones that have less packaging, bought more items in bulk, use handkerchiefs more than tissues (not as gross as you would think) – the list goes on. But I suddenly realized that my paper product – and plastic product – consumption at school was nothing like what I was attempting to do at home. My room was filled with plastic storage, hundreds of copies were made – and thrown away – each week, I had filing cabinets stuffed with papers I don’t use… the guilt set in. Every other part of my life was filled with trying to do the sustainable, green, and healthy thing, yet why couldn’t I do it at work?

A lot of it comes down to standards – it’s standard and okay to make copies every day, to use color ink on your bulletin boards, to have filing cabinets bursting with lesson plans, ideas, projects, student files, and more. But I want to challenge that standard.

Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t make it right, or what YOU have to do.

This being said, we all have to approach our journey towards earth-happy practices in our own time and at our own pace and scope. If you don’t do these things in your room, that doesn’t make you a bad or evil person. If the progress you make today is to just be more aware of it when you walk into your classroom on Monday, then that’s progress that shouldn’t be ignored or belittled. If you are inspired to dump your filing cabinets in the recycling bins this summer and switch to Google Forms for tests and lesson plans, then all the power to you!

Here are some of my goals and accomplishments, so far, at achieving a more earth-thoughtful classroom:

1. Make fewer copies.

I have 420-some students, and that makes for a LOT of copies. And if we do a semi-school wide activity, like program evaluations or end of the year summaries, that means so much paper and ink consumption. And let’s be honest, where do those copies end up after they get used? While I’d love to think these worksheets get cherished, we all know they end up trashed at home.

img_17111.jpgTherefore, a lot of this comes down to a more critical examination of my lessons – do I need to have ten worksheets where my 3rd graders practiced writing sixteenth notes, or do I just need them to practice writing sixteenth notes? As much as I can, I’m going to make one set of 25 copies and place them in plastic sleeves for use with dry erase markers. The students still do the worksheet practice, but I don’t have 75 copies of these being made for 3 classes every year. Now, I have a clean, class set that gets filed every year.

I recently purchased these sheet protectors from Amazon – we used them for a write-the-room activity before break where my 2nd-5th graders had to find flashcards that a little leprechaun friend hid around the room. Each grade level practiced their own rhythm sets – but for my 300 students using this activity, I only had 25 copies made.

 

2. Reuse as much as possible.

When I make manipulatives, I try to make them sturdy and long-lasting to get as much out of them as possible. I believe firmly in the power of the laminator and the use of cardstock – the heavier paper and lamination helps turn my projects into long-lasting and strong work. Beat charts and card games that I printed and laminated my first month of teaching are still going strong three years in. Write-the-room cards, scavenger hunt pages, exit tickets, you name it – make one set, laminate, and reuse!

3. Plan smarter and slimmer.

There are some times in your career when scripting lessons is important – first year of teaching, observations, new lessons. But do you need to write your script out for every lesson every day? If you’re like me, you go through 7 lessons a day, 1-2 times a week. If I printed each lesson on it’s own piece of paper, that’s close to 420 pages per year. Let’s round that to 500, allowing for extra paper for your program prep. With 500 sheets of paper in a ream, that 6% of a tree. Multiply that over 5 years, and you’ve used 30% of a tree. Over a 25-year career? One and a half trees of paper. No, thank you!

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I threw together a simpler lesson plan for myself with smaller boxes to abbreviate my lessons and had them printed so that 4 grade levels would be on one sheet – 2 on the front, 2 on the back. What used to take 7 pages of print now takes 1.5 – cutting my paper consumption down by nearly 80%. Teachers Pay Teachers has piles of lesson plan templates – go explore!

Alternatively, you could go all digital – I investigated the idea of an online lesson planning software or even just using Google Docs to type my lessons and transfer them to my iPad’s Google Drive. Explore, and see what’s best for you – I’m still a tactile person that wants to write my lessons by hand, so the smaller lesson plan is working best for me right now.

4. Go digital as often as possible.

In addition to the idea of digital lessons, what about switching your tests and quizzes to a digital version? If you’re not feeling super tech-savvy with using Google Forms to take musical tests with adding pictures of melodic or rhythmic patterns, you can at least start with a performance evaluation that is digital. I made this for my 1st graders, and I was shocked at how easy it was for them to sit down at one of my iPads and take it while we watched our video performance after the program. I set up my 5 classroom iPads at my desk and had five students at a time come over and take the test – they were done within 1-2 minutes and only had to type in their name. This eliminated 450-some performance evaluation copies each year – and each year I read through them and then trash them, so why continue to throw away resources when I can have all the responses digitized, interpreted, and stored on Google?

Visit Google forms to build and experiment, or click here to visit my 1st grade performance assessment.

5. Re-examine student portfolios.

When I first started teaching I wanted to keep track of everything my students did on paper in their very own folders. I had visions of beautiful, crips folders containing their work throughout the year that would awe and wow parents when it was sent home…ha. This dream instead resulted in bulging and overflowing crates of folders that we would forget to keep updated. I didn’t use worksheets as often as I thought I would, so our portfolios weren’t very impressive. So why do I still have them? There’s nothing wrong with sending any of their work immediately home or hanging it in the hallway to show off to their classmates, and it will make the few paper copies they will use that much more special knowing they will be featured.

6. Switch to all natural cleaners and get rid of hand sanitizer.

Not only does the antibacterial sanitizer not truly kill all the germs (why do doctors wash their hands rather than just use sanitizer spray?), they are very bad for the beneficial bacteria in your body. Your body needs certain kinds of bacteria to fight off the bad bacteria (illness, autoimmune diseases, cancer), and antibacterial products don’t discriminate. Encourage your students to wash their hands rather than just rub down with sanitizer.

7. PURGE the unnecessary.

I’ve done so much work to clean and purge every single year I’ve been teaching. Early on, I was making the mistake of printing everything I thought looked fun or interesting…only to have it stack up in my file cabinets. I spent some time during conferences going through and sorting my cabinets, pulling them apart and recycling everything I hadn’t touched in at least two years. While the damage has already been done by having printed the copies, I can start to eliminate the practice to print automatically and second-guess where and how I’m going to store the random worksheet or newest poster I found.

By taking time to purge your classroom of unnecessary supplies, broken instruments, old and outdated curriculum, resources that are falling apart, missing game pieces, broken CDs, and more, you can also start to take away the need to buy more plastic storage containers or sorting bins. Use only what you need – it declutters your classroom and your mind, keeps your dollars in your pocket, and reduces the amount of petroleum products that are living and breathing in your room. There’s nothing that says your desk can’t still be untidy time to time, but you’d be surprised at how calm you’ll feel knowing what’s truly inside your deepest cabinets and hiding under your shelves and knowing that those items are there for a reason and that they have a purpose.