4 spring cleaning and organizing tips for homeschoolers

4 spring cleaning and organizing tips for homeschoolersJamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom

Something seems to happen to me every spring – as the snow melts and the sun emerges, I have an urge to throw everything in our house away. (I never actually follow through with this internal nudge, don’t worry.)

But after the winter I long to shed what we don’t really need or love, to focus on the essentials. To me, spring decluttering is even more important than spring cleaning.

Cleaning doesn’t take nearly as long (especially if you have growing little helpers) when our homes aren’t overflowing with stuff we’re hanging on to “just in case.”

Use the following four tips to help unshackle a few extra burdens you’ve been lugging around:

1. Use shelves, instead of making piles.

springclean2Notice the lack of piles? I much prefer having room for this expression of Mommy-love instead.

I have a side table in our dining room, and on it I used to make neat piles of our current homeschooling materials–the stuff I needed to have on hand at a moment’s notice. It bugged me to look over and see these piles, but I chalked it up to going along with the territory of homeschooling and left it at that.

Then one day I had a sudden organizational epiphany. I moved my collection of cookbooks closer to the kitchen, which left me with an entire shelf free in our dining room. I gathered all the piles and voila – a clear, clutter free table in the dining room and continued access to the materials we need.

I had a decluttering high from this event that lasted for days, people. It’s the little things, right?!

2. Focus on building your library, not your curriculum collection.

If I could give one piece of advice to new homeschoolers, this would be it. A few bookshelves filled with well-chosen and loved titles isn’t, in my opinion, clutter. It is life, nourishment, and an education all by itself.

Carefully constructing your own home library is a hobby that will return dividends for decades in your family’s life. It’s pretty hard to find a curriculum that can top that.

An excellent curriculum might last and work for a year or a few years, if you use it for multiple kids. But your library could last a generation.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you need to snap up every title for a quarter you come across at a yardsale. Take the time to research and find what actually deserves a permanent place on your shelves–Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt is a wonderful resource to help.


3. Ask yourself this question when you’re not sure what to keep or let go of.

Our family is about a month away from our Little House on the Prairie site tour this summer. All year long we have been busy inhaling all things Little House, and I have learned just as much as my kids.

One thing that has helped me when thinking through organizational questions in my life–about possessions or our schedule–is to ask myself this question:

What would Ma do?

I’ll be the first to admit this only works in certain situations. Asking what Ma would do about the laundry, for example, would have me hauling water outside with a scrub brush (not planning on that one).

But taking a look at the principle behind this question is useful. Take the case of the laundry. Ma wouldn’t have done a lot of laundry because of the effort involved. She would have pared it down to absolute essentials in the amount of clothes they owned and washed. I can follow this example and simplify my life, too.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 5.05.31 PM

Caroline Ingalls prioritized creating an inspiring atmosphere in the many homes her family journeyed to. Whether they had a dirt floor or store-bought wood, the homes were swept, organized, and arranged neatly.

She did her best to make a place of beauty and order for her family–I aspire to do the same.

4. What do you love? Keep it. What do you hate? Let it go.

I think of this not only in terms of possessions, but also in terms of the activities we add to our days.

I remember a time when a certain curriculum told me that I should introduce the recorder to my young kids. I started out with enthusiasm, but it quickly petered out. Soon recorder playing ranked right up there with having cavities filled. How happy I felt when I realized I could actually let it go (Thanks to an ever-wise husband who encouraged me to do so).

I will happily assist my kids in learning the recorder when and if they show an interest. But I can and should center our day around the activities I love and am passionate about. I wasn’t teaching the recorder out of love, I was teaching it because the plan told me I should–and out of fear that my kids wouldn’t be successful in life if I didn’t. 

While you’re making a few changes to your outer surroundings this spring, don’t forget to declutter your insides as well.

Because isn’t it about time to let go (again) of the comparisons that hold you back? And would you be better off to release the judgements you make of others and the ways in which their homeschools differ from yours?

And maybe your kids would thrive even more if you shook off your results-driven focus and concentrated on the process of falling in love with learning instead?

Our outside atmosphere influences our insides. Our insides influence our outsides, too. As we trim away the excess baggage in both, we’ll feel lighter, happier, and more content in our homeschools this spring.

“Certain environments, certain modes of life, and certain rules of conduct are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others. 
There are, in fact, certain roads that one may follow. 
Simplification is one of them.”
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. #2 is just about the best advice I have ever heard! I have very few “curriculum” resources and lots of books, but I never realized the theory behind that rationale.
    Excellent tips.
    sheila’s latest post: Planning for Homeschoolers: Nuts and Bolts

  2. Adele Latu says:

    Jamie, I loved your recorder lessons example. With four kidlets in our house home schooling together, it is very worthwhile spending the available time I have on noises and sounds that blesses our home life and not grates it. It is imperative for me that I metaphorically de clutter my mind almost 6 monthly. Way too many thoughts that are not fruit bearing seem to get lodged in there. Thank you for your encouraging blogs from down here in Australia.

  3. Great advice. Although I just had to share, in that picture of Ma and Laura, they aren’t washing clothes, they are making cheese 🙂

  4. “What would Ma do?”, love it! That gets me thinking about what is most practical/useful to keep. By coincidence, my daughter announced today that she is going through her room and getting rid of a lot of stuff. Yay! I am feeling the same way. I guess the urge to purge and clean comes with the season. I appreciate your tips.

  5. We don’t homeschool but a few years ago we put a bookshelf in our dining room solely for homework, binders, art projects, and library books. It’s worked wonders on keeping the piles cleaned up!

  6. I love your wisdom, Jamie, and reading your posts! Thank you for the continual encouragement.

  7. I needed this….I am currently re-organizing our “Brain Cave”. I find it easy to get swept away with curriculum. I often buy something because it appears so user-friendly, then I realize I have moved away from the focus of family education. I am getting ready to eBay out all the books and materials we do not need. I love the word “simplicity”…it is just so hard to keep it though.

  8. Jenny Panico says:

    I love all of your tips!!

    Can you PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me where you got your Thank God For Today calendar?? I have been looking for that everywhere an cannot find it.

  9. I concur on the buy-more-books-not-more-curriculum advice, for sure! This is a great post for me as I set up house at a new place. Great principles!
    Sarah Mackenzie’s latest post: Happy Mother’s Day!

  10. “What do you love? Keep it. What do you hate? Let it go.” Yeah, I’ve been trying to do this with hubby’s recliner for years! Seriously, the dad on “Frasier” had a better-looking recliner! In these kinds of situations, I remember the Serenity Prayer and change the things I can by getting rid of something of mine or talk hubby into getting rid of something else.
    I definitely agree with #2! While some people buy back their childhoods with vintage toys, I do it with books I loved as a child, but over the years they were lost, destroyed, donated, or shared and never returned.

  11. This mother of 8 (and a homeschooler for 25 years) couldn’t agree with you more. I can’t concentrate well if there’s too much clutter and we live in a day and age when the local thrift store has REALLY GOOD STUFF for pennies! It’s easy to justify bringing in more stuff when it’s free or cheap.
    Ma Ingalls has been my inspiration over the years as well. When our income was extremely low I would think about the Ingalls and try to keep our “poverty” in perspective…we had running water and HOT water and tylenol! We weren’t really poor-lol!

    Thanks again!

  12. Renee P. says:

    Yes, where is the “Thank God for Today” calendar from??? I’d love something like that for our new school we’re setting up!
    And thanks for all the insights, these are great to think about here at the beginning of our school.

  13. People often idealize the Little House books, and I am always left to wonder if anyone sees how tremendously misleading they are about that time in history or how deeply prejudice ma was. Little House in the Big Woods begins with the narraters voice expressing how you could walk and walk and would find no one else in these woods. hmmm- That gives the impression to young readers that no one else lived there- that this was open land just waiting to be used- but it wasn’t. So many Native tribes lived there. And in By the Shores of Silver Lake, Pa talks about how they don’t need to rush to build their homestead. That this is wide open prairie with no one living on it- they have the pick of the land. This is astonishing. The plains tribes were numerous and were being land thefted and pushed onto land prisons called reservations. They were being starved and fed alcohol, as their entire way of life was wiped away. It was what many would call a genocide. And yet most families read the little house books and just enjoy the cozy foods and simple way of life. They miss the opportunity to teach their children that often in history, the truth, the entire truth of a situation is “retold” and redefined, and it takes critical thinking skills to figure out the truth. That if one is going to spend time reading books like these, they need to balance it out with books such as , “The Birchbark House,” or biographies of great Native leaders, rather than the very mollified and fluffed up sound bite most children get fromt traditional US history classes- Pocahontas, minus what ended up happening to her, and Sacajawea. When I recently read On the Banks of Silver Lake to my children, I was proud when my children said, “But wait, weren’t the Native Americans living on the prairie?” And when they felt uncomfortable my Ma assuming the 1/2 native man was automatically a horse thief because he was 1/2 native. They picked up on that and that made me feel that I am preparing them to critically think in the future, when they read, and when they are facing any forms of subtle prejudice in life.
    I just thought I would mention this because I always see the Little House books glorified, and I also find them cosy reads, but I cannot ignore the misleading history or the ever so prejudice remarks from ma.

Share Your Thoughts


CommentLuv badge

Never miss a blog post,
PLUS get Jamie’s FREE ebook: