I love New Year’s.

It’s a beautiful time to reflect on the blessings of the past year, celebrate the successes, learn from mistakes, and look forward to new possibilities. 2014 was a year of wonderful blessings and opportunities for me, but also a year of great stress. The commitments, the change, and the clutter are a recipe for anxiety for a Type A personality like myself. So, although I’ve never been big on New Year’s Resolutions, I made one this year. It comes down to one word: minimalism.

As a starting point, I read about minimalism, which is about paring down possessions to what is truly necessary. The idea behind it is simple: less is more. Less stuff, less expense, less maintenance, more time, more money, more living. Do I really need three pairs of running shoes? Twelve blankets? Those clothes that haven’t fit since 2011? So, I began purging and donating, and with each bag and box I loaded into the car, I felt a little lighter. I began to contemplate how this principle might apply to other areas of my life.

To simplify, to minimize stress, and thus, to maximize living. And as I returned to work after winter break and looked around my busy classroom, I thought it might be time to bring that principle right into my teaching space. How can this idea of minimalism and simple living transform my classroom and my teaching practice? I’m challenging myself to explore this idea in the following three areas, and I invite you to join me in the challenge!

Materials

How many teachers, packing up for a classroom switch, have been shocked to uncover their own hoarding tendencies? I know I was when I made the move last fall! All of those materials I’ve been holding onto because I might have the perfect lesson for them someday? The broken instruments I’ve convinced myself I can repair when deep down I know I never will? The stack of old papers that’s been waiting to be filed for months, the old bulletin boards, the inherited materials that I’ve never touched. Goodbye to all of it! Naturally, there are those things that we DO hold onto because we know their value and we have faith that we will make good use of them, but generally speaking, if it isn’t serving a purpose, it is taking up your precious space and time.

Communication

Can you set up procedures for communicating with families, colleagues, and students that will save you time and energy? This will look different for many of us, as our responsibilities look different, but find a system that works for you to maximize your communication with minimal effort. Remind is a great, free, safe tool for communicating with students and parents via text message with minimal effort. A classroom blog, website, or Twitter page can keep parents and other stakeholders informed of what is going on in the classroom. Establish a regular system with minimal effort, and remember that the key to communication is brevity!

Time

If you simplify your materials and your communication, you should already have gained time, but what can you put in place to intentionally maximize your time? Have you looked at your lessons to see if they can serve more than one purpose? I see this principle in practice in many of the Kodaly and Orff resources I use in my classroom. A song is introduced to primary grades and brought back throughout the years to teach various concepts, saving yourself and your students the time it takes to introduce new material. How else can you take a lesson and stretch it to serve many purposes?

How do you make the most of your materials, communication, and time and teach with minimalism? We would love to hear your ideas!