Calling all elementary (primary) school teachers

I received an email from an elementary school teacher, Rose Ann, a while back who needs help with keeping stuff under control in the classroom. Or maybe she even collects the stuff and keeps it around the house for when she needs it in class. She really didn’t elaborate on that. But I digress. As I have little experience in classrooms these days I would like any elementary/primary school teachers, who might be reading, to share their experience on how they keep their school supplies under control. Here is her email.

“Teachers save way too many things all the time. Do you have any suggestions to apply the Monday Missions for teachers? Especially elementary school teachers!”

As mini missions are meant to be useful to most readers, doing one especially for teaches may not be a helpful to the biggest majority of us. Which is why I have put this request to you in this post. Also, maybe some of you, who aren’t teachers, teacher’s aids or classroom volunteers, might know a teacher… who you could ask some advice from and post it here in the comments.

I know a nanny whose best friend is a teacher who I believe is very organised so I will send her an email to see if she could get some advice.

The funny thing about this request is that more often than not most teachers, at least that I have ever had contact with, are always on the scrounge form supplies because they never have enough. So I guess Ross Ann is fortunate that she has this problem. However, when supply problems are sporadic it can result in the act of saving every little thing all the time just in case of those times of scarcity. And I am sure this is indeed the problem that Rose Ann is referring to.

I guess one of the ways to avoid this is to set in place an efficient system whereby a teacher can call for help with acquiring supplies when needed, therefore eliminating the need to hoard for lean times. Just like depression era people continued to do long after the problem had passed. My best advice on is to establish a list of email address, each year, of all the students parent. Add to that list all the friends and family you can rely on for help and when needed send out the call and I am sure lots of people will step up.

So please if you have any advice for Rose Ann come forward.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I don’t know where Rose Ann lives but most elementary teachers I know here in the US hoard supplies because they have to buy with their own money or be given many of the supplies they use for their classes. Otherwise it can be mighty lean as far as enhancing lessons. I have a friend who is retiring after this school year is over. She has file cabinets and other types of storage full of supplies. She is giving them away to her fellow teachers. She teaches Kindergarten. In her file cabinets she has drawers with fun puzzle sheets and coloring sheets for each subject, for lesson handouts, and for lesson plans. In her craft drawer type of storage she has all the supplies for the projects the kids make, for extra pencils/crayons/markers, and any other supply she might need as the year goes by. Her supply area is full but well organized. The file cabinets were supplied by the school and so were the cupboards in which she placed the craft drawer units she herself purchased. Hope this helps.

  2. Hi Rose Ann!
    I am only teaching as a side job, so it isn’t quite that extensive here, but I’ll try to give at least some ideas. My sister is also a teacher.
    For one, it is important to know how much you really have to provide and in how much you can rely on your school or the students to provide. I think this varies very much from country to country and depends also on the school and the subjects you teach. Is “teaching supplies” for you mainly hand-outs, books and posters? Other things to showcase stuff? Or stationary/craft stuff for your students to use?
    For prints etc. I highly recommend digitising, if you haven’t already done that. Also, even then I tend to save too many exercise sheets I run across and so I’d recommend earmarking the ones that prove to be most effective and delete those of the same topic you always seem to skip. With posters and books just the same: there are only so many you can use in a specific school year, so you can very well get rid of duplicates that aren’t doing their job so well as others.
    It might be tempting to have many sets of cards and a lot of biggish “real” things like puppets or role-play items, musical instruments, special tools to train counting, balls or whatever… although they do serve a purpose, I try to be rigid with what I keep, simply because they take up so much space. In some schools, teachers just borrow these things from a pool, in others everyone has to bring their own. Maybe if you don’t have a shared pool in your school yet you could pitch the idea – it might at least save you some clutter. There are of course some “must-keeps” – the ones you use almost every day. For the rest ask yourself how often you use it at all in the classroom and if something else of your supplies could double in function. E.g. when I was in school, we used a giant foam dice for all throwing-catching games in the classroom (like when you choose who has to answer by passing them a ball), which was also used in math lessons in other function. Also, if it is really rather rarely used and big, maybe you can replace it with a smaller version or a flat paper version, too: If you bring a stuffed animal to tell a story about, maybe you could also just put a picture of said animal with a magnet on the whiteboard. Also, for one-time use, you can maybe also bring something from your normal household or have the students bring something from home with them.
    I don’t provide much stationery or craft supplies, it’s all confided to one box. Over here it’s not expected that teachers do so.
    In elementary school, every kid has a little shoe-box in the back of the classroom that holds their paint brushes, coloured paper, scissors, glue, play dough, counting blocks and whatever else teachers deem necessary. If something else is needed, students get the “homework” to bring along some yarn ends, autumn leaves, yoghurt containers, newspaper, fabric cuttings and so on.

    I hope this was of any help. Good luck with decluttering! 🙂

  3. A little anecdote in the vein of “teachers save way too many things….” Last year my mother bumped into my seventh grade teacher. A short time later I received by mail the “what I want to be when I grow up” essay I wrote at the beginning of the school year. Remember, 7 th grade. I am now SIXTY! Mrs. L held onto that piece of paper for nearly 50 years! That she kept it stuns me. That she could FIND it boggles my mind. It frightens me to think what her house must be like…

    So, my advice to Rose Ann would be to avoid hanging on to student work for 50 years, OK!

  4. Here is a helpful comment I received via email.

    I am a 26 year teacher and I have a lot of stuff. What happens is that you collect stuff at home because you might use it at school. Plus you also have so much stuff at school especially paper piles. I have begun to declutter both places this year…baby steps because that is a lot of years to save. 🙂 Here is what I have done this year to help me start off on the right foot:

    *I reduced my filing cabinets to six drawers: reading, math, social studies, science, writing, & miscellaneous which includes monthly files like for holiday or themes for that month. My new rule is if it won’t fit in the file (paper things) it is supposed to then I can’t keep it so I have to decide to get rid of it or get rid of something else. Plus instead of printing things I try to save things on my computer into organized folders. Inside my closet, I have one small basket for each month. I apply the same rule to these baskets for things that I keep. (These are for non paper things.) All my flat holiday decorations are in a drawer organized by month.
    *On top of my desk I have one tray for each subject and the papers that I need for that day, week, month..go in there until I use them. That way I can plan ahead and not lose my papers.

    *So I put all my piles in one box. It was big. Each day I take a pinch of papers and take care of them applying the rules above.
    *The best advice/rule that I got this year was to touch something only once. SO either put it in the place it goes or recycling or trash it.

    HOPE THAT HELPS 🙂 I am hoping by the end of the year to have my room decluttered including all boxes and closets. But don’t ask me about my house.

  5. Another email response…

    for elementary teachers……just pack it up and send it to the class down the hall that got all the students from last year. im sure they could use the supplies you took aoway from them that they brought from home because of special needs or they were left handed or blind cause they lost their sight or just becuase you are in the wrong school and brought it to give to the other teacher……sterilze it and pass it on and im not a spelling teacher………Lb

  6. Another comment received by email.

    Oh my goodness – I’m a 37 year veteran primary teacher and I share Rose Ann’s need. My colleagues and I are constantly trying new methods – plastic rolling carts with drawers, bank boxes, plastic $1 store type baskets – to corral math materials, books, project samples, art supplies, and social studies/science materials and display items. File folders have given way to “binder-izing” lesson ideas into plastic sleeves inside labeled binders for each month/holiday/special topic. Many of these strategies have helped somewhat at school, but we’re always looking for new help and an area of special need is home organization of school materials. Our dining rooms, family rooms and basements/garages are full of the overflow from classrooms. This seems even harder to organize since it is used less often, but still needed throughout the year.

    This may not be important to the majority of your readers, but to teachers it may be a sanity-saver! I’ve scoured pinterest, blogs, and teachers pay teachers for ideas, and still continue to struggle with how to keep thousands of books and materials neat, organized and accessible on short notice for my lessons and sharing with colleagues. It’s and on-going challenge! I can’t wait to hear other’s responses and get new ideas!


  7. Another comment via email
    Perhaps the school could keep a supply closet for all teachers to use and therefore, not have everyone trying to keep their own “stash”. We did this at my office and at first thought some people would take more than their share. Well, it worked wonderfully, because no one wanted to try to find where they put the extras.
    We just had to find a dedicated closet that would work and gave everyone a key.

  8. Hi Rose Ann,

    I’m sorry for the long delay. I just found this blog run by a teacher. She has a lot of good ideas for her household. I haven’t read all her posts but maybe she would have some ideas for “teacher stuff” too? Anyway, I like her voice and maybe you will too: