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How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself – Part 1

How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

This post is the first in a series: How To Get a Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself.

A few years ago, I came across a book that completely upturned my life called The House That Cleans Itself. It’s a simple, easy read — and insanely practical with step-by-step advice and humor, as well.

I’m the sort of person who people describe as “organized” — which is true. I love organization. However, I’m also TERRIBLE at keeping things tidy. Confession: my nickname growing up was Messy Bessie…

I hated this about myself. So I did the only thing I knew to do: I read books, scoured magazines, and looked for ways to organize better. And as you can probably guess… none of them really worked longer than a few weeks.

So when I was handed a copy of The House That Cleans Itself, I rolled my eyes and assumed this was another false promise of hope.

And I was totally wrong.

Putting The House That Cleans Itself to Work

The main premise of The House That Cleans Itself is to stop focusing on changing someone’s behavior and instead change your house. Essentially, you’re giving yourself permission to stop working AGAINST yourself and your family members and to look for creative ways to work within everyone’s strengths.

For example, the book nook at our old house was always a mess. Sure, we had a nice bookshelf… but it was like my kids were allergic to putting the books back. They were always scattered across the floor or stacked in falling piles. I cringed when guests would visit and compulsively start arranging the books. I wanted to beg them: please don’t… it’ll explode again when you leave…

How to Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

Don’t believe me? Check out the sprawl after a post-pick up.

How to Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

But after reading The House That Cleans Itself, I realized that my kids are ploppers and not filers. Sure, I can spend a TON of time and energy trying to train them to stack books. NOT LIKE I HADN’T TRIED. So it was time to stop trying to change behavior and change the house.

I completely removed the book shelf and got some fabric bins.

Suddenly the book nook stayed clean. My friends were stunned at the change (and so was I!). Here is the book nook — untouched by me — almost a month later. Success!

How to Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

I began using the techniques from The House That Cleans Itself for other hot spot areas of my home.  Take a look at the transformation of our playroom at our old house.

See how clean the playroom is? This is THREE MONTHS later without any tidying effort from me. Hallelujah.

If you’re still curious about The House That Cleans Itself, you can check out more of my review here

How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

I think we homeschoolers have a unique challenge: we are not only keepers of the home, we also function as teacher, librarian, and even janitor. We spend hours culling together the curriculum we want our students to use — spending precious resource dollars to purchase the tools we believe will help our kids succeed.

Do you remember the picture of my book nook? It wasn’t long until our school shelf turned into an even worse version — complete with bent books, lost supplies, and ripped pages.

Whenever I would walk into our homeschool area and I would find this (anyone else use amazon boxes to stuff paperwork with? No? Just me?):

And this (Oh, more stacks of paperwork.):

And this:

There is nothing more frustrating than losing important papers, misplacing books, damaging resources, or hunting scattered workbooks and teacher guides.

Telling my kids: PUT AWAY YOUR BOOKS THE RIGHT WAY OR ELSE! clearly wasn’t working. And it certainly wasn’t make ME anymore effective at my own organization, either. It was time to call in some back up help.

Here’s how The House That Cleans Itself helped me.

Our homeschool space is a breakfast nook off the kitchen, which is a lovely sunshiny spot secluded from the rest of the house. We have a table, chairs, and two giant magnetic whiteboards — but storage space is at a premium.

It’s important to us to have the daily-used school supplies handy so we don’t go traipsing around the house: math books and supplies, spelling materials, workbooks, lined paper, teacher manuals, etc. 

So we converted part of the kitchen broom closet into a school supply center. We use a 4-cube shelf for those daily-supplies.

I remembered that my kids are ploppers, not filers — meaning, it’s not their natural inclination to line up books in a straight line. So I purchased plastic tubs to put the workbooks/supplies for each student inside.

My kids could dump nicely place their school books and put away their bins, for an eye-pleasing finish.

Additionally, if we wanted to do school outside (or in another room), it was easy to grab the bin and go. We were no longer hunting/scrambling for supplies. These bins were wide enough to give plenty of room for full size textbooks and deep enough to hold PLENTY.

Here is our school nook the first WEEK we moved into our new house. (Seriously, I never thought we could have a clean homeschool space within a week of moving locations…)

How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

And here it is today, 18 months later — just as clean and organized.

How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

At the time of writing this, each school bin has a math book, spelling book, spiral bound notebook, an English grammar workbook, flash cards of the week, a paired down math manipulative set, and a pencil box with sharpened pencils, an eraser, and colored pencils. (Oh, and one kid also has a giant Critical Thinking workbook and science journal; the other has a handwriting book and a preschool workbook.)

How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

Seeing my success with our school bins prompted me to organize our school manipulatives. These are things that we use maybe 1-2 times a week — like flash cards and dry erase books. I purchased more plastic tubs, getting these half size ones so I could fit four on a shelf.

How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

You might be wondering: where are all their other books?? Don’t worry. We have plenty of them, tucked away in a nearby room. We only keep those daily necessities in the school nook.

A Few Other Notes About Our School Nook

Since I have no problem “filing,” I do not put my teacher manuals  in bins at this moment.

We keep a bin in the center of the school nook to hold erasable colored pencils (these are AMAZING for motivating kids/making school work less boring — and they erase so well!!!!), pencils, crayons, and twistables (great for preschoolers learning to write so they don’t snap crayons).

How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

One premise of The House That Cleans Itself is to make sure that all the supplies for a given task are in the same location, so you aren’t wasting time hunting from room to room. Since we use pencils/colored pencils every day, we quickly realized that we needed to move the sharpener out of the back bedroom into our school nook.

(This is a good electric one and this is a top-rated, battery operated, portable pencil sharpener.)

Rounding out our school nook, I mentioned that I have two large magnetic dry erase boards, as well as heavy duty magnets and clips to hang work in progress and items we want to highlight. I like that the clips can hold multiple sheets of paper, including essays in progress.

How to Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

We have two rules to our homeschool space:

  1. At the end of every school day, all school bins must be put in the closet.
  2. The homeschool table is to always stay cleared. (No groceries, no garbage, no stray books. Projects do not stay out overnight. Respect the sanctity of this space!)

Obviously, to have rule #2, we have to have a place where ongoing projects go to die live. These two rules allow us to always have a clear homeschool table that is both pleasant and inviting.

And yes, that’s my yoga ball chair I use when I sit at the table with my kids. I absolutely love it and it’s great for my kids to use when they need a little more bounce/movement while doing school.

Stay tuned for more homeschool organization tips and future posts in the series — including what to do with pesky paperwork or large on-going projects.

If you’re still curious about The House That Cleans Itself, you can check out more of my review here

Doing School on the Go — and Desperate to Survive?

And don’t forget you can check out all our homeschool blog posts and curriculum reviews.

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How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself


  1. Change in your school room was great I have a question about your playroom how did you transform that as my kids are just too in six months in the playroom is difficult we’ve gotten rid of a lot of toys but still picking up is a chore

    • Bethany Wright

      March 13, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      Hey, Lisa! GREAT question! One success we’ve found is to label all our playroom bins with words AND pictures. We also make the categories large enough so that it is easy to pick up. We had a giant bin for Little People (rather than sort out the farm set, the zoo, the castle, etc). Rather than separate out our cars into Hot Wheels, pull back cars, etc, ALL cars go into a “CARS” bin. This helps keep it easy. I taught piano out of my home for many years and had MANY children rotate through my house — of all ages and stages. This system has worked for EVERYONE (kids and parents alike).

  2. How old are your children? As my kids get older, I feel like they would need multiple bins for piling in. Would a bin per subject work for pilers, do you think? We are in Classical Conversations so Challenge books, Essentials binders, etc are what I am thinking of. I love these ideas and am trying to figure out how to implement it for my kids.

    • Bethany Wright

      March 13, 2017 at 8:01 am

      Becki – my kids are in the earlier elementary years: kindergartner and a 2nd grader (who is doing 4th grade-ish work). A bin per subject could probably easily work for pilers, as long as the “choice” decision didn’t become too much and everything was clearly labeled. I probably wouldn’t do a bin for EACH subject, but lump them into easy categories: work done at home, essentials bin (we are doing a DVD-based IEW program and so we have our IEW bin), challenge materials for this quarter, etc. You’ll have to experiment around and let us know what you decide to do / what works for your family!

  3. Thanks so much! I actually just started reading THTCI and our school room is one of the worst places in the house, but you’ve given me some great ideas for my “pilers”!

  4. Love this! Thank you! Going to check this book out for sure! I can relate to every picture and word you shared. You give me hope!

  5. Thanks, this is super helpful for me as I’m preparing to set up our homeschool space in the new house!

    • Bethany- Thank you so much! This has been so helpful for me, especially starting out our home school journey for the first time!!! I actually had found your old blog the bentkitchen and was very happy to see you had moved over here!!! 🙂
      I was curious if you had ever finished the timeline tidbits? I had found the first 12 on CC, and I know they will be so wonderful with teach my five year old daughter this year!!!

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