At some point while looking for something in the basement, the attic, or an out-of-the-way closet, you may have stumbled across an unfamiliar box. You open the lid with curiosity and trepidation—and staring back at you from the top of a thick pile is a sheet of grammar school math problems.

“Why on Earth … ,” you think, before quickly closing the box, putting it back, and moving on with the task at hand rather than confronting the larger issue suggested by the stash of vintage school papers. Clutter!

Entire generations of parents were molded into thinking their sons’ and daughters’ every scribble contributed to the narrative of their childhood, which gave each paper inherent value and marked it as something to be preserved for posterity.

Sure there are prize drawings, handwritten stories, and other records from our school days that deserve to be saved and cherished.

Christine Thorn, Sage of InteriorsBut sheets of rudimentary math homework? Penmanship exercises? Art class assignments that went terribly wrong? These things are … clutter!

That may be a shock to the system, but it’s true.

Now is the perfect time to do something about it! All families have entered back-to-school mode in a strange and difficult time as the COVID-19 pandemic creates many uncertainties about the new school year.

Researchers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education have even turned to Marie Kondo for inspiration in a recent report, entitled “Imagining September,” about students returning to the school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kondo-ing” school priorities, as a Harvard Gazette story called it, seems like a good idea.

When it comes to the intersection of back-to school and clutter, all families also face the issues lurking inside the walls of the home—those boxes or mountains of “stuff” that has migrated from the classroom to the bedroom, the basement, the study, living room, kitchen … basically everywhere!

It’s a phenomenon that became more pronounced than usual this past spring amid all the coronavirus shutdowns. Schools essentially compelled students to clear out everything—books, papers, backpacks— and take it all home. Living spaces that only had school work in progress were suddenly overwhelmed with piles of school “stuff.”

If your family is like most, that stuff is probably still sitting exactly where it was deposited last spring. However learning will take place this fall, the school stuff is about to begin multiplying.

Before that can happen, why not make a priority of “Kondo-ing” all of it for good.

Here are category-by-category tips for helping students achieve an uncluttered mindset as one way of making a strange and difficult school year easier and more tidy.

  • Declutter the school “stuff” from last year and all previous years by category, not by room.
  • Start with Clothing. Whether your children wear a school uniform or enjoy “free dress,” their clothes drawers are filled with items that are “so last year” as the kids might say. Most schools with uniforms have periodic swap events that benefit everyone; however it happens, the outdated clothes have to go.
  • Next comes Books. Textbooks no longer needed can often be sold, or returned to a school store and utilized by other students. All other books affiliated with academics will clearly fall into one of two categories—special volumes that spark joy and get to stay, or one-time reads that should no longer be allowed to take up space.
  • Move on to Papers, the big one! This may not be easy. There’s a reason many of us still have boxes of school papers from childhood; even those rudimentary math sheets do seem important as a record of us becoming who we are. But if we’re honest, most old school papers don’t spark joy and every time we encounter them we wonder why we’ve kept them around.
  • Marie Kondo’s category Komono, typically household items, applies to school supplies. The protractors that were vital for geometry at a certain point, the multi-color pens that ran out of ink two years ago—eventually these things simply clutter drawers and make it difficult to find the item you actually need for an assignment or project.
  • The Sentimental items category may not seem to apply to a back-to-school cleansing, but in an era when schools raise money with raffles and sales of all kinds, it’s likely rooms are filled with things like inexpensively-made stuffed animals, branded plastic rulers that will never be used as rulers, etc.

If you need help with a back-to-school KonMari journey, or to simply want to learn more about comprehensive tidying and decluttering, contact me by email at, by phone at (203) 772-8883, or through the Sage of Interiors website contact form.

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