How-To Marie Kondo Your Studio
by Samantha Steitz
Minimizing our stress through mindful de-cluttering is all the rage right now, and rightfully so. Living with intention and discarding that which does not bring us joy IS life-changing! Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold millions of copies worldwide. The message is relatively simple: take inventory of everything you have, keep what you love, and throw away the rest.
We have indeed implemented Marie Kondo’s teachings in our home and the result has had sweeping benefits to all facets of our life. Like many others, I have realized that this mindset has also impacted how I run my business. Here are 5 doable ways to immediately de-clutter your teaching space and studio.
#1: Declutter Your Music Books
I was VERY lucky to read Marie Kondo’s book BEFORE we moved to Austria and seriously shudder to think about what would’ve happened had I lugged at least 50% more stuff overseas. Yikes.
One of the first tasks was going through our music books and wow, I had NO idea how many books we owned — including many duplicates. Two musicians’ lifetime collections of music books. Here are some photos of us going through the old book collection.
By the end, we were able to give away over 70% of our books. Our new music library now looks like this:
Take EVERY single book out of your shelves and place on the floor.
Make piles “Keep” (this will be clear to you; books you use daily in teaching, Henle Editions, etc.); “Donate” (this will also be clear to you, crappy editions you never use, books you just don’t like, teaching books you never use); and “Not Sure” (go through these again at the end when your ability to decipher between keep and donate is more honed).
Drop all donations off at a local music school, music library, public library or Goodwill. Alternately, you can give ones you like to your students as gifts or sight-reading practice.
Organize all remaining books into neat piles. Place piles in their “forever homes” — spaces specifically allocated for said book piles. Books should always be returned to their homes after use to avoid clutter build-up.
#2: Declutter Your Teaching Space
My heavens the spectrum of teaching accessories I would surround myself with: piles of books, snacks, even an oil diffuser. No more! Ideally, I keep the piano 100% (OK, sometimes 90%) cleared off and only keep the ABSOLUTE necessities around me when I teach. These include: metronome, post-its, highlighter tape (LIFE-CHANGING BTW), and my teaching staples, Rhythm Keeper, rep books, flash cards, pencil. Everything else should be put away and only taken out if used on a case-by-case basis.
#2: Declutter Your Teaching Schedule
Nothing will help you declutter your schedule like moving across the world. But since most of you are not doing this, it’s still helpful to reassess when and how much you’re teaching.
When I first began teaching, I used to accommodate families to the point when I had no time or life of my own. I would teach in the mornings, afternoons, evenings and weekends. Over time, I learned to BLOCK teaching time, and got better and better at doing so. Rather than teaching at 9 AM, 10:15 AM, 2 PM, 4 PM, and 5-7 PM, I would teach 9-10:30 AM and then 4-7 PM in BLOCKS.
In all honesty, I burned out teaching 35-40 students twice a week (once for private lessons, once for group theory/performance classes), 6 days a week. Therefore, I now teach only 3 days a week so that I have time for other projects (like this company), developing new books, and other consulting work I take on outside of the teaching space. This also allows me time to travel on weekend and spend time with friends and family, something I did not previously prioritize but makes an enormous difference in overall quality of of life.
Finally, I plan out the teaching year ONE WHOLE YEAR in advance to give myself AMPLE (16 weeks) time for FREE/Vacation/Work/Travel time. This helps declutter my schedule remarkably and offers substantial peace of mind knowing what lays ahead.
#3: Declutter Tuition Payments
I wrote a post about my very minimalist approach to tuition here. The overall advice: simplify the amounts (so that it is the same monthly, 12 months a year). Furthermore, simplify the WAY families pay by only accepting bank transfer (Chase Quickpay/ Venmo in the US - direct bank transfer in Europe).
I used to accept checks, cash, direct pay, Square credit card reader - what a mess. Simplify this process and you’ll thank yourself!!
#4: Work With Families That Spark Joy
I’ve written extensively about only accepting families who you really want to work with. The emotional cost of handling families who don’t share your personal teaching values and enthusiasm for music is MUCH higher than you think it is. I can’t count the number of hours I have spent lamenting situations that were completely OUT OF MY CONTROL. As a teacher, you can only do so much. My take on this is that, as music teachers, we help strengthen families, but we can only do this with families that are healthy and strong to begin with.
Are families taking advantage of your time, not being kind, or not fulfilling their end of the bargain via home practice/listening? Let them go. There are many other teachers out there who might be a better fit, and you deserve to work with people you love. I can assuredly tell you from the other side, now only accepting really lovely, energetic, and hard-working families, that it is life-changing. Teaching can and should be the highlight of your day, every day.
These Kids Spark Joy!
I hope these tips are helpful! Please let me know in the comments if there are other ways you can think of to DE-CLUTTER your music studio!!