Aviva Edelstein

Decluttering for the New School Year

I went to visit a close friend this week who was hosting a garage sale.  It stirred up a lot of emotions, like how much I will miss her when she moves and thinking about the experience of combing through all of your belongings and making decision after decision about what to keep, what to sell, and what to put into storage.  It is amazing what we can accumulate over the years and how each item tells a story about a moment in time.  Practically speaking, though, we cannot keep everything and certainly not forever.  My friend chose to host a garage sale as an educational model for her kids to teach that there is a time to assess what we no longer use or need, share with those who it might suit better, and apply whatever financial benefit to invest in new things to meet current age and interests.  Her kids were not only not sad about parting with these items, but they seemed excited about them going to good use and earning money to put toward new beginnings.

Thinking about this afternoon at the garage sale, I cannot help but wonder about what message can be applied to approaching a new school year.  There are so many things packed away; materially, intellectually, and emotionally, from previous years.  How can we guide our children and students to constructively take stock of what they have accumulated and decide what to purge, what to hold on to, and what to keep in storage?  I also wonder about how we can do the same as parents and educators to model that behavior.  What knowledge do we want to keep to build on, what classroom associations that were less than positive do we want to divest, and what questions or curiosities do we want to carve out space for to simply keep in mind?  On a more superficial level, there is also something to say for cleaning out closets from clothing that has been outgrown, desks from old workbooks and papers, and freshening and organizing home collections of school supplies.  New beginnings present opportunities for fresh starts but can also get muddled with the what-ifs born from experiences left unresolved or that produced unfavorable outcomes.  Taking inventory of what we carry from one year into the next is an important step in decluttering our minds and work spaces to truly allow the new school year to be a new beginning.

How do we decide what to keep?  When it comes to material items, the answers may seem more obvious.  Make space for new clothes that fit, new books that will be brought home, a clear desk area to work, and supplies that are relevant, usable, and in working order.  There is practical benefit to making space for items that will help one achieve their personal goals for the year, from choosing what to wear each morning to accessing supplies to use for homework and having space to spread out materials and get work done.  Conceptually, there are advantages as well to reflecting on the intellectual and emotional carryover from the previous year.  It is helpful to consider what we have learned and what we have yet to learn and build on both the knowledge and confidence attained from years past.  Going into any new or potentially challenging setting, it helps to think back to what worked for us when last in this position.  Asking ourselves how we got to where we are and what skills we drew on to get here can guide us in forging new inroads going forward.

Even for the most sentimental among us, there comes a time to cleanse.  Along with wardrobe has-beens, worn out supplies and workbooks completed, there are other kinds of purging to be done too.  Every year inevitably has its ups and downs and a whole slew of in-betweens.  Whatever it was that we had to persevere that was difficult, whether as student, parent, or educator, can make lasting impressions.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  When considering divesting, it is not to let go of these experiences entirely because that would be nearly if not completely impossible.  It can be immensely helpful to transform the experience to one that can be healed and built upon.  In other words, there is a healthy kind of attention that can be devoted to things that may have not gone our way and realizing that does not necessarily predicate what is to come.  What we purge is the restriction we may feel from past experiences that seem to inhibit good results in the future.  Whether we choose a mindfulness exercise to transcend or an affirmation to thinking positively, eliminating stressors can be very liberating.

Somewhere between what to keep and what to discard, exists a category we can label storage.  Storage is usually for those items we are either not sure we still have use for or simply do not have use for at the current time.  They may be seasonal items, or experiences we have yet to compartmentalize.  When it comes to storage, we want to try to be selective.  It is best for it to be an intentional category and not a default one.  Storage spaces can be costly, and space is valuable.  Simply speaking, our storage supplies may include items on a teachers list meant for later in the year or backup notebooks or pens for when our pages are filled, or ink spent.  Intellectually, storage may include factual knowledge like multiplication tables or technical term definitions that we are told will come in handy and help make higher level thinking come more easily and efficiently.  Emotionally, there can be a myriad of feeling stored away as well and it may be helpful to conduct inventory and know what we own and carry with us.

Making decisions about what to keep, purge, or store away, can be a grueling process, especially when preparing for a garage sale.  Still, whether the impetus is a move or a new school year beginning (or both), there is a great opportunity for self-awareness and growth to be had in these decision-making processes.  If as parent or educator we would like to encourage our children to take stock of what they are carrying, we might consider what we are carrying and how we demonstrate what we carry ourselves.  It is helpful to consider the example we set by our own choices for both material and mindful organization and inspire positive thoughts about this fresh new beginning offered by this new school year.

About the Author
Aviva Edelstein is an educator, writer, and researcher of mindfulness and education. She lives in Teaneck, NJ with her family (and loves when her children contribute Torah sources to her articles).