Mess = Stress?

Even Calder worked in a messy studio.  Mess is ok. It’s a part of making art. As art teachers, we each have our own tolerance for the amount of mess we can handle.  However, if we don’t keep messes at bay in our art rooms it can get out of hand, quick. (By the way, I love to show this picture of Calder’s studio to my 1st graders when we do Mobiles… It’s just fascinating to see him at work!)

Lately, my room has been a mess.  Between finishing up clay, trying to catch up on emails, and basically catching up on everything, cleaning is the last thing on my list.  Just today I got a chance to start doing some deep cleaning of all the clay dust and artwork piles, and it sure feels good. I feel like I can finally focus on teaching when my countertops are cleared…

One thing I like to do to make cleaning and picking up less work is to leave as many supplies out as I can.  I always kick myself when I noticed I asked the students pick up the markers when the next class coming in needed them.  It’s always better to leave out anything you can to save time and energy putting away and picking up.  It has worked well, however, to keep some standard supplies on the table this year. The kids have done a nice job with it and it’s saved a lot of running.

Still in all, each day we make a lot of messages, clean them up, and do it all over again!!

What is your tolerance for mess? 

Any strategies to keep your room in once piece after a busy day? 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Very LOW! I feel better when everything is organized which is the bain of my existence because I’m a messy artist. When I get an idea supplies will fly!

  • Anonymous

    I keep a large tub filled with water in the sink for paint palettes and such. At the end of the day the paint comes off so easily hence I spend much less time cleaning.

  • Amber

    Having art helpers really helps me keep my every day mess under control. They put away artwork, supplies, and do small day to day things like erase my board. It is a huge help to delegate the workload.

    • Vivian

      When do they help you? Because of scheduling, students aren’t able to come help me during the school day. I am thinking of designating students to help once per week after school for things like prepping canvas with gesso, sharpening pencils, checking markers, etc…

      • Amber

        I teach K-5 and I have about 6 fifth grade helpers come every morning after they unpack in their rooms and help me through the morning annoucments (usually 10-15 minutes). In the afternoon, it is a little harder, they can only stay 5 minutes or so but its better then nothing!

        It is a big deal to be a helper and they must write me a note and explain why they want to help and why i should hire them.

  • I teach grades 1-5.

    The thought of leaving materials out from one class to the next gives me hives! LOL

    I don’t have a running set of materials for the whole school at once. At any moment one class is using crayons and markers for a wax resist and another class is on calligraphy pens. I find that keeping everyone on different schedules works best for me.

    We all take ownership of the room, I cannot do all the cleaning or putting away. Each table has a helper that distributes and clears the days materials. I keep a tight ship but it’s definitely not a spotless space!

  • Helpers helpers helpers! I’m sure everyone already does this, but I leave ample time for clean up. It may just be me, but I feel like I can’t be 100% productive unless things are organized and some what neat. I feel scatterbrained if my room is a disaster. Sure, I have piles everywhere of projects or supplies, but at least they’re in piles.

    I share a room at one of the schools I travel to with a health teacher. He uses the room in the morning and borrows my supplies, fine, but I come in the pm EVERY day with crumpled paper balls all over the room, pencils on the floor, snapped in half, markers without caps… it drives me nuts! I don’t know how anyone could work like that?

    Also… here’s the kicker, in that room, I don’t have a sink! So… clean up is VERY important. Right now we’re doing printmaking, so the tables, hands, supplies- it takes a lot of effort as a whole class to clean. (You can read my tips for a sinkless room on my blog). I, too, use a bucket filled with a little water to load up and at the end of the day, I have art helpers come down and help clean or I just have to do it all at the end of the day.

  • hahahaha! There is a reason my blog is called ‘Organized Chaos’. Honestly the supplies in my room are organized a long with their work and workspace… however, my desk is piled high and a mess. I can find most things in the room with ease, but someone walking in wouldn’t say, ‘wow it’s so clean, labeled, and organized’. It’s messy in the room. My room is super tiny for 500 kids plus we are in the midst of the 5th grade production which has added a 18×20 or so back drop, random set pieces, a truffula tree, and 85+ cereal boxes to make “books”.

    Being an art teacher rocks. ::happy sigh::

    • Daevid

      I agree! My room is reasonably organized and clean but my desk and planning space always look like something exploded no matter how hard I try!