Clutter sneaks up on all of us. If you’re like me, your piano studio likely started out (years ago) with a somewhat minimal, uncluttered feel.
But with each passing year, piano studios tend to collect more and more music and more and more teaching tools, and then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, clutter monsters have taken over.
The problem with clutter monsters is that they don’t actually appear out of nowhere; they’ve been there all along, slowly getting stronger. And while their slow takeover means teachers may not have noticed them, it is very possible that students have been distracted by the clutter monsters for some time.
In today’s post we’re going to tackle 5 common piano studio clutter monsters and calm your students with the help of Marie Kondo… the Netflix sensation who is “tidying the world by storm”.
Decluttering Your Piano Teaching Studio… With A Smile
If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo, then it’s likely you haven’t been in a book store or on Netflix for awhile. Recently named one of the “100 most influential people” by Time magazine, she’s rocketed to fame with her unique take on blasting away clutter… in a peaceful, polite, zen-like way.
As the author of “The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up” and the star of the show “Tidying Up”, Marie Kondo is the creator of the KonMari approach to transforming your home or your space.
And while she has quickly become the topic of many memes on social media and her signature question, “Does it spark joy?” has become the punch line of many jokes, she’s popular for a reason… and that reason is because tidying up feels good! Marie’s right; it really can be life-changing.
Now I’m no Marie Kondo… so I’m going to help you tackle the clutter monsters in your studio with a simpler approach to her tidying method (if you want to go whole-hog then check out her book). Set aside one day this weekend, follow the steps below and just start tidying.
Be like Marie – plaster on a smile, take a moment to thank your studio for all it brings to you, and then roll up your sleeves!
The Piano Teacher’s Guide To Discarding Items
Before anything can be tidied you have to go through a process of discarding items that are no longer wanted or needed. When Marie enters a home, the first thing she does is haul everything out of the closets, creating a huge pile of stuff. Next? She helps the homeowner decide what stays and what goes. How is this accomplished? By holding each item and asking, “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is yes, it stays. If the answer is no… it goes.
As items are discarded, Marie stresses the importance of thanking the item. This often elicits guffaws from many… but the idea of being truly mindful about what is kept and what is given away means that people are less likely to make knee-jerk, “I just have to keep this” reactions.
If you’re feeling panicked and thinking, “But EVERYTHING in my studio sparks joy!”, remember that a studio that is free from clutter monsters will lead to less distracted and more focused students… and what sparks more joy than that?!
Now, the whole idea of sparking joy can be somewhat vague when applied to educational materials, so how can you decide what items in your studio should stay and what items you should “thank” and discard? Follow along!
1. Clutter Monster #1: Sheet music and supplementary music books
Music is often the biggest clutter monster for piano teachers. We all love to collect music; we’re given boxes of music for free from people who clean out their attics, we save music books from when we were piano students and we can’t resist the clearance bin at our local music store. In most cases however, it would take years to play through everything we own. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we likely use about 25% of the music that we own. This means that 75% of of music is causing clutter… and it’s time to find out what can stay and what can go!
Action Items For Piano Teachers:
Begin by pulling all books of repertoire off of your shelves. Then, ask yourself, “Do I like to play more than 30% of the music from this book? Do my students like to play more than 30% of the music in this book?” If the answer is yes, it stays. If the answer is no… it goes.
Next, put all of your seasonal music. Then, ask yourself, “Did I use this book during the most recent holiday season?” If the answer is yes, it stays. If the answer is no… it goes.
Finally, search out your sheet music. Then, ask yourself, “Did I use this sheet music in the last year?” If the answer is yes, it stays. If the answer is no… it goes.
Is it hard to get rid of music? Yes, absolutely… It hurts to let it go! But it’s also really hard to use music when you can’t find it! So, hone in on the music that actually “sparks joy” for you and your students and you’ll find that your repertoire selection becomes much easier (and more joyful!).
2. Clutter Monster #2: Office Supplies
The Office Supply category is the second biggest clutter monster for piano teachers. We’re wired to be organized, and with that organization comes an insatiable need for post-it notes and folders and binder clips and notebooks. More often than not, however, we have WAY more than we need or will ever use…. and storing these supplies causes clutter.
Action Items for Piano Teachers:
From your shelves, remove and categorize all of your office supplies. Select one category at at time and ask yourself, “Will I use these items in the next three months?” Anything that will not be used in three months time should be donated.
When returning your office supplies to your shelves, store them in a way that allows you to quickly check quantities. This helps you to avoid purchasing supplies when they are not actually needed (thus, creating clutter).
Are you thinking, “But I’ll need that stuff again eventually!”? This way of thinking is an immediate clutter trap. Instead of storing office supplies like a nervous squirrel before winter, consider how you can find paper-free alternatives or how you can get more than one use out of single items.
3. Clutter Monster #3: Manipulatives
If you teach young children, you likely have a plethora of manipulatives: Iwako erasers, play dough, rhythm instruments, magnets, boom whackers, micro cars, stuffed animals… the list goes on (and on!). Most of these things are awkward to store and take up a lot of space in your studio.
Action Items for Piano Teachers:
After gathering all of your manipulatives on the floor of your studio, select an item and ask yourself three questions: “Do I use this manipulative more than 3 times per week?”, “Does this manipulative directly contribute to learning goals?” and “Have I had repeated and frequent success using this manipulative?” If the answer is yes, it stays. If the answer is no… it goes.
Not all manipulatives work for all teachers. While one teacher may use rhythm instruments every class and considers bongo drums to be extremely valuable, another may find those same bongo drums distracting for students. Be willing to let go of your “I wish this would work” items.
4. Clutter Monster #4: Studio Decor
Our studios can quickly become a museum of treble clef knick-knacks resulting from 20 plus years of student Christmas gifts. And while your studio decor should be a reflection of who you are as a teacher, it should also project a professional image to your clients.
Action Items for Piano Teachers:
Gather all non-teaching items from your studio. Select an item and then ask yourself, Does this knick knack make me feel happy and relaxed when I’m in the studio and does it project a professional image to potential or new clients?” If your answer is yes, keep it. If you answer is no, donate it.
If you have trouble parting with gifts, photograph them, write captions about the students who gave them to you and then make a cute little coffee table book filled with memories of thoughtful presents. It takes up a fraction of the space but preserves the kindness.
5. Clutter Monster #5: Stickers
Ask yourself, “Do I really need this many stickers?”… just kidding… stickers all stay 😉
Does It Feel Overwhelming? Take Heart…
It’s common when faced with a daunting task like decluttering your entire studio to say, “Meh…It’s fine!” and skip the tidying. But when you consider the benefits to your students of a beautifully-organized studio, you might want to avoid the avoidance. We all spend hours planning lessons, seeking out new clients, hunting for exciting activities and finding “just the right piece” for our students; should we not spend the same amount of time optimizing the environment where all of this good stuff takes place?
… I think we all need to sit on our knees with our eyes closed to take a moment to breathe à la Marie… and then get started!