Some Insight on Paring Down Your Teaching Files

This summer I switched between two schools, and had to pack and  haul all of my teaching supplies that were mine personally over to another school. If anyone has done this (especially an art teacher) you know what I mean when I say “Where did all this stuff come from!”

Today I am sharing some insight on paring down your teaching supplies, so you only keep the most helpful things to you as you move, change positions, or try to pair down in your existing space as the walls start closing in on you because you have too much “Stuff.”



First, I would suggest going through your files and getting rid of any lesson you haven’t taught in 5 years. It may seem ruthless, but unless that lesson is something you KNOW you will teach again, why are you keeping it around? There are so many great new ideas on Pinterest, and if you really want to teach the lesson again someday I bet you can remember the basics. The file is just cluttering up your lesson that are winners.

Next, my mantra when sorting was this “If I can get the information online, I don’t need to keep the flier, handout, article.” This was so hard. Every piece of information I had saved seemed so valuable, but a one page information sheet on Pablo Picasso was just taking up space in my files. I can google him and find out the same information to put into a power point for my students, or to make a poster for the wall.

Lastly, digitize. I have so many art samples, even some from when I was growing up.  I kept this huge box of samples to show the kids, but over time my samples are getting dingy and ruined. My goal in the next few months (we’ll see how I do) is to digitize all of my samples into photographs to put into Power Points or on my computer. I will keep the best ones to hang on the wall, but for the most part I like to keep a simple, decluttered space, and don’t hang a ton on the walls as far as samples go (plus sometimes showing too many samples can make students feel intimidated).

My sister told me: If you are thinking really hard and debating if you should get rid of something, then you should probably get rid of it. You’ll never miss it.  Boy was she SO right. It’s a great feeling.

I was pleased to pare down 7 boxes into to  2 rolling files and one box. I feel like a “Clutter Free Teacher” now!

What do you tend to hang on to when it comes to teaching supplies?

What is the hardest stuff to let go? 


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.


  • Ingrid Larson

    I am with you on this!! I have been stalling on this very thing this week! Sigh. Anti-procrastination!!! I have managed to pare down my downloads file, and I’m working on getting the paper clutter destroyed as well. I still have my student teaching notebooks!! I have my lesson plan books from more than a decade ago!!

    • Once you start, it becomes addicting, just dive in and the rest will follow! Good Luck!

      • Tracey

        I work in the inner city. I have been moved four times because of school consolidation and budget cuts. I’m hoping to organize even better then I have the previous years. Everything ends up in a storage area then gets resorted out when I go to my new art room. I use a lot of the inexpensive methods you use for setting up art class. I would like to store all my lesson files just on a web site; I like to brainstorm by looking through binders at past projects and online.

  • cfrobeyinc

    This post came at the perfect time. I was thinking yesterday how to organize and “clean out” my lesson plan ideas folders. It is so easy to accumulate “stuff” and as an art teacher I am constantly filing away ideas, etc. but then it gets overwhelming and some of the stuff I never even look at again once I have filed it. I have a friend who is a professional organizer and she has helped me immensely in tackling my “to do” files and piles! :)

  • Mariee

    I’m on the other end of this- I’m moving up from teaching artist to full time art teacher next Fall and wondering how I’m going to build up all those resources!

    • We’ve all been there! Soon you’ll have too much. I suggest digitizing wherever possible.

    • Brenda Pace

      One idea could be that as you teach your lessons, you can ask interested students to embellish your concepts with important information they research about the artist, period and social context. You could create a template for students to fill in with information you need, as well as input on what the students find interesting and motivating. Also ask your colleagues to give ideas on interdisciplinary activities in their content areas. Best wishes to you!

  • Marni Oberpriller

    Perfect timing for me too! With the last day of school tomorrow (year-round calendar), I’ve been thinking about what my criteria would be for purging paperwork.
    My goal is to also incorporate Smart technology into my lesson presentations.  The notion of digitizing samples is something I’ve been doing occasionally this school year.  I was thinking too about digitizing all the picture books I use for my literature-based lessons.

    Another direction I need to focus on is thinking about the supply room. The packrat’s montra “I could use that someday.” Is taking over the floor space in my storage room!  I’ve been too “Minnesota nice” keeping too much of what people donate to my program.

    Mariee, what curricula/lum has your district or school adopted? I’d start there first. Then embellish as you go along.

  • Jeanette

    I have some 20 boxes from my years of teaching ie 15 , same issues of where did t put the posters that lesson plan etc. and how many lessons do we actually go back and re teach. ???? my task is to get rid of at 3 boxes a term ie take them home and sort out and chuck out what is old and not taught in 5 years or less.

  • I try my best to keep a digital file of everything. My files are sorted into 2d & 3d, etc. I have a file for each project with student examples and handouts. I recently bought a printer with a document scanner & have started scanning in handouts from conferences and other reference tools in my files. I also have a teacher website that I can upload items to for my students and find this really useful for homework assignments and absent students. I change buildings daily and don’t have enough room in my bag to carry file folders back and forth, nor do I always remember to grab what I need. Having a digital file has saved me in a pinch so many times this year.

  • Sarah

    We’re about to move from temporary buildings into a new building. This will be my 6th classroom in 12 years. :-P But I had actually never thought of taking pics of student examples of work. I do have 1 BIG 18×24 box FULL of examples. That’s about to go away! I think I’ll pin them, artsonia them, and google drive them. That way I have them but I’m sharing with the world as well!

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