Clutter detox in the high school basement!

While in graduate school I worked in a number of wonderful schools in various capacities. Sometimes I lectured on sex in the book of Genesis. Sometimes I lead workshops on gendered language in the Qu’ran. And this one time, I was retained to organize an entire storage vault including a decade of paper files.

I’m flexible!


A large portion of my assignment was, for sure, a massive de-cluttering project; a considerable amount of what was being stored was not going to be staying. I had to order a dumpster to accommodate the trash, and I sent out bags for donation to various local charities as well.

Paper clutter could not be solved, however, without preventing the creation of additional paper clutter; as I organized the files, I also took note of the best means of identifying and grouping them, and developed an appropriate file retention system to be used by educators and administrators going forward. It would no longer be acceptable to bring a file box of report cards to the basement and put it on a table and go back to what you were doing; now there were requirements, and signatures, and specific locations for everything.  Access to the room was now restricted, which would both ensure the safe return of items being removed and guarantee accountability for the duration of their absence. Considering the registrar’s staff was currently struggling to find crucial student records in a sea of clutter and the drama club was re-buying backdrops for the third time, the end of years of neglect meant an organized space and substantial waste reduction.

Supplies from experiential education programs had been left out, and since there was no formal give-and-take or inventory protocol in place, often materials were repurchased due to people simply not knowing they were already in the school’s possession. Other items had to be thrown away because improper storage actually caused damage; for instance, disposable cookware and serving pieces from an overnight trip were not put away, so they were hard to inventory or pack for the next outing. Clutter is not just aesthetically daunting; clutter means we can’t access what we need easily (or at all), and thus clutter causes waste.

Strangely there was a lot of beautiful beautiful student artwork and sentimental pieces of the young school’s history in the storage room – but sadly they were literally thrown in the mix alongside suitcases for use by staff for student trips! One way I beautified the space – which would encourage those using it to be respectful of maintaining the lack of clutter – was to hang up the artwork. The room instantly had a warmth to it. Added bonus.


Files are now stored properly, in an intuitive manner which is compliant with state and federal regulations; a detailed report regarding how to maintain these files was presented to administrators for incorporation into their plans. Leadership was thrilled to hear my suggestions on ways to maintain an important balance between ease of access and confidentiality.

Plastic bins already owned by the school were used, but I also used sturdy cardboard boxes, clearly labeled and put away purposefully. Maintenance staff members were called in to assist in storing larger, heavier equipment requiring only occasional use, at a higher level, thus freeing up substantial space for more frequently needed items. A workspace was created adjacent to storage space to encourage proper packing of supplies to enable future use.


Several years later this storage room is still infinitely more functional than it had been thanks to my organizational intervention. The administrative staff still uses the systems I implemented to assist new staff members in understanding the importance of keeping the space organized and empowering them to find ways to do so which work best for them.


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