Desk Clutter/Mind Chatter


Consider this post a foil to my previous planning posts (this one and this one). Or perhaps think of it as a window on reality. No matter how early or loose a plan is, it always looks good typed up and/or photographed. Everything appears neat and tidy and organized. Such images may lead to assumptions that the person who made the very early and oh-so-loose plan is also neat and tidy and organized. Perhaps she is also impossibly tall, unbelievably thin and naturally blond. Sadly, none of this is true.

The photograph above shows the surface next to my chair in the living room. Underneath my coffee cup are resources for our bird block, poetic recitation, geology and a catalog for the John C. Campbell Folk School – which I always dream about going to, but really has nothing to do with anything. The photograph below shows the surface of my desk. (Notice I didn’t lead with that one. Didn’t want to scare anyone away!) God only knows what’s on there. To the right, I can definitely make out the watercolor paintings I worked on and featured in this post crammed in between someone’s grade binder, some other resource and the tape gun.


If my physical space looks messy, my mental space is even worse. This is a conversation I had with myself when I was planning Vincent’s block on Rome. “Hmmm . . . well Donna Simmons suggests starting out the block with Penelope Lively’s retelling of The Aeneid, In Search of a Homeland.” Look that up in the library system. Put it on hold. Think, “We should really own that.” Check Amazon. Check Thrift Books. Get side tracked by “customers who bought this item also bought” . . . and noticed retellings of The Odyssey and The Iliad. Remember both these titles were cut from our block on Greece last year. Think, “Really now, how can we read The Aeneid without first reading The Odyssey and The Iliad? These are seminal works. Literary touchstones in the course of human civilization. How can we NOT read them? I’ll put them in the beginning of the year and THEN we’ll start Rome. But which version of Homer should I go with? Donna Simmons recommends Rosemary Sutcliff’s retellings, The Wanderings of Odysseus and Black Ships Before Troy.  But I know I read somewhere that The Children’s Homer by Padraic Colum is the best. Plus, we own that one already.” Compare Colum’s version with Sutcliff’s. Like Sutcliff’s better. Look up Sutcliff in the library system. Put both books on hold. Think, “We should really own them.” Check Amazon. Check Thrift Books. Get side tracked by “customers who bought this item also bought” . . .

This is where my eyes start to bug out, my head starts to ache and all thoughts of incompetency, overwhelm and anxiety begin to flood my brain. I’ve been around the block with this planning gig several times. It doesn’t matter. This is how it goes in the beginning. If I don’t consciously put a stop to my mental chatter and construct some firm boundaries around our blocks nothing is going to get done. Nothing. Not one stinkin’ thing. I’m trying to plan a six-week block on Ancient Rome for a sixth grader and suddenly, I’m piling on a mountain of pre-requisites like it is a 400-level college course. Not to mention, we have other subjects to cover, and oh, I have to plan those as well. We are never, ever, ever going to get to everything – especially if we can’t even get to the subject at hand.

But what to do with all of those books, projects and ideas that come up? I am pretty strict – sometimes even ruthless – with keeping our blocks lean and mean. A lot of additional books related to our blocks go in the read-aloud basket. Sometimes they get chosen and sometimes they don’t. This year, I have come up with what I’m calling “The Sick List”. Basically, whenever something comes up that is related to what we are studying, but is not deemed essential, I’m putting it on the list for when we are sick: physically sick, mentally sick, sick of school, sick of each other . . . you get the idea. Currently this list has a bunch of handwork projects, craft ideas, recipes and books – lots and lots of books. And can you guess who is at the top of the list? Homer and Virgil, well, Rosemary Sutcliff and Penelope Lively. After all, they started it.

***Click on the comments for this post. It would seem there are a lot of us in the same boat! (You can reach the comments by clicking the pale grey bubble with the number in it, directly to the right of the title above.)

35 thoughts on “Desk Clutter/Mind Chatter

  1. Laugh out loud funny! Just had to spell that one out here because you make me laugh. I think every one of us who has planned blocks for more than one year thinks this aspect of the beginning will go away, surely I’ll get better at this! My desk looks almost identical to yours – laptop, stack of books and notebooks with a watercolor painting stuck in the middle, two books by Steiner, planning notes and then notes I need to read before a board meeting tonight!

    Firm boundaries, we’ve got to set up some limits or it does just keep spinning. This is the part we get better at I think, setting up the boundaries! Years ago, I participated in a workshop exercise called “chocolate or vanilla, choose.” The whole point was to stop judging and trying to figure out the “best” or “right” choice because it doesn’t matter! Now, of course it matters in some ways, we want a resource that resonates with US so that we can feel warm and enlivened while we share with our children. But it’s also important to remember “Good enough is good enough!” And at some point, it’s time to move on, stop searching, jump in, or go outside!

    When my kids were in the elementary grades, we had “the bored list” and all those books and ideas went on that. It does help to park them somewhere, and in the end to realize we will never, ever get to it all. And that’s just fine.

    Love your honesty and humor, Sheila. Thanks for making me smile this morning! Can’t wait to give you a hug on Thursday:)

  2. I think it is so important to tell these things as honestly as I/we can – because they are a part of the ride of homeschooling. And we ALL think we are the only one who has a messy desk and/or a messy brain.

    So many conversations I want to have with you at Taproot . . . I’m sure we won’t get to half of them, but, really, I’m just looking forward to what unfolds at Barbara’s. It is always exactly what I need.

    Wishing you a productive and relaxed week here. I’ll email you later about the article. It’s great. Really, really great.


  3. Just in from Bimini and changing gears to come to Taproot and I find this in my (very untidy) inbox:) This is so hilarious – and so true… my entire being is like the top of both y’alls desks right now – but I will do some speed cleaning and be good as new …. now where is that coffee? See you soon…can’t wait!

  4. Ha, Sheila! That is pretty close to how I’m feeling now too. I made my plan and loving how neat it looks on paper. Then had to spend some time cleaning up the mess that happened while I was planning. Started to implement the plan and found it needs tweaking already. Sigh. Anyway, good to hear I’m not alone.

    Look forward to seeing you on Thursday!

    • Hey Kelley,
      I remember talking with Melisa Nielsen about planning and how it seems as though it never ends. I know I tweak and revise and tweak and revise some more. Looking forward to seeing you as well.
      Traveling mercies!

  5. I LOVED this honest funny post! I immediately felt better when I first read it this morning. It’s consoling to know that others have desks and piles that look like mine.
    Homeschooling can be so messy. Love your candor Sheila and can’t wait to see you on TH!

    • Yeah, nothing is looking very tidy today. Half thinking about hiring someone to sweep, mop and clean the windows while I’m gone! But honestly, it will all be here when I get back and that is ok.
      See you soon.

  6. LOL!! Yes I can only repeat what everyone else has said. And I’m so glad I’m not alone :0) Cathy
    ps I did that exact same book search/thinking loop last week after listening to a Eugene Schwartz lecture on Greece for 5th grade…

    • That’s too funny.

      I have never listened to Eugene Schwartz’s lectures. Would you recommend them? Have you ever taken one of his courses online? Just curious.

      Thanks Cathy.

  7. Oh goodness, were you spying on me? ;-) I am starting to feel a bit nutty on the whole 6th grade year. I am not sure why it is feeling so hard to just put a concrete plan in place, but I feel myself spinning on the hamster wheel everytime I grab a resource. And I can wholeheartedly recommend Sutcliff’s retelling, if that means anything at all. Sigh, here is to some clarity in the upcoming weeks!

    • I think this post rang true for a lot of us – which is why I wanted to write it. My “plan” was to have my first 2 blocks rock solid before I left for Taproot on Thursday. That doesn’t look like it is going to happen. I need to go back and focus on Rome a bit more closely. I think I’m good with Jude for Animal fables.

      Thanks for the Sutcliff advice. I do hope we get to read them eventually.

      And guess what? I’m absolutely in love with Live Ed at the moment! Blame Rainbow!! Their approach is meeting me where I am right now. I like their balance of inspirational and practical instruction. I have the grade 2 curriculum (used) and a copy of grade 1 (used, also) on the way. When Andrea and I met with Jean in June she heartily recommended them for grades 7 and 8. I didn’t mean to throw that into the hamster wheel, but just wanted to let you know it was one of the many lasting effects of Atlanta.

      You’ll get it all done. Yes, here’s to clarity. (And a clean desk!)

      • Hmm, I may have to go that route for 7th and 8th. I am so happy that it is working out for you. I had a used copy of Grade 1 and it literally sat on my shelf for months before I finally just resold it. It may have had something to do with the fact that I bought it to use for my 3rd time teaching 1st grade. I am wondering how I would have felt if it were the first time, you know? I really wish I could buy bits and pieces! And thankfully, 2nd grade feels like a breeze as far as planning (again, 3rd time and all) so really, I can focus more energy into 6th. Have fun at Taproot and please do share any tidbits!

        • I was really intimidated by what people said about Live Ed. I remember being afraid of Christopherus my first year too! As I have explored Waldorf longer, I am finding that different things speak to me. I am not afraid to go deeper, and I am also not afraid to bring in non-Waldorf things either. Homeschooling has been a lot of discernment along the way.

          This is my first year teaching second – so I feel like I have 2 new preps. Next year though, I will be in better shape with third grade. At least I’ll know what NOT to do!! LOL

          I’ll bring back a full report from Ohio!
          You need to come one year!

          • I just had another thought about geology. I think I’m going to focus on the earth as a whole during the 3 weeks in October and then do 2 weeks in mid to late May on local (NC) geology, specifically gold mining in WNC. That feels good to me. I felt like 3 weeks really wasn’t enough, and I like spreading it out across the year.

            Any progression on your end?

  8. Get. out. of. my. head!

    Have a great time at Taproot. I hope it gives you all the peace and clarity you need. Hope to see you when you get back!

  9. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I really, really appreciate your honesty. Keep it coming – makes me feel SO much better knowing I’m not alone : )
    Can’t wait to hear about Taproot – which I look forward to attending one of these years…

    • Hey Heather,
      It works both ways, you know. Hearing all these comments about everyone being in the same boat makes me feel good too. I feel such a sense of community here – thank you for being a part of it.

      And yes! Think about coming to Taproot one of these years. It’s wonderful.


  10. My own computer rabbit trails of literature took me into the wee hours last night and now I’m tired. Vicious cycle, surely.

    My desk, side table in living room, ottoman in family room, bedside bookshelf and always expanding nearby floor area and school table are all avalanche hazards. And school is supposed to, scratch that, will, begin on saturday.

    Sometimes don’t you wish that you were like, “the box from a-beka arrived. get your pencils sharpened”? Well, no. So, I embrace the creative genius which is objectified in every horizontal space that is in the near vicinity of somewhere to sit and look at a book (;

    • Yes, I do wish that box would arrive somedays!!

      One solution I have made since that post was written? I got a smaller desk!! LOL at myself!! Now I only have room for my laptop and one book. I’m still unlimited in how high I can pile on top of that one book however. Good thing the ceilings in this old house are not even 7 feet high!!

      Have a great day on Saturday. I’ll be in touch when I get back from the Buckeye State.


  11. This has been one of my favorite posts! Love your photos and words about reality. It’s crazy what I do in my own head. I imagine that everyone else’s desk/house/homeschool planner is neat and tidy! Especially yours Sheila! :>) And somehow, if I were just “something more,” I would be able to keep up better with all of it. Gradually, I pull myself out of the mind chatter and piles of clutter and realize it’s enough. I’m enough. It’s Grace.

    • Yes. Keep telling yourself that because it is true.

      On a lighter note, maybe I’ll start a new Friday series called “The Surface of Desk” with a photo and a detailed list of everything piled on it – I’m sure blog readership would plummet!!

  12. We’ve just been reading those books (Sutcliff/Lively) with my 6 and 9 year olds – DH and I are classicists, what can I say? – and they LOVED them, truly have delighted in them. I’m sure you will love sharing them with your children.

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  14. Hi Sheila,
    Sorry for the late reply to your question, which I only spotted today after reading your latest post. The only resource of Eugene Schwartz’s that I’ve purchased is his “elements of grade…..” CDs. I bought all the grades on 2 discs. They are pictures of main lesson books. Personally I think they get better as the grades progress. I haven’t found them all that inspirational in grades 1-3 and there are so many images on the web now (I let Pinterest do the searching for me ;o)).
    I’ve also looked at his video series on vimeo – great for form drawing, and he has a few for grade 2 which you might want to check out. We’ve had fun here with portions of the circle time video.
    I’ve listened to/watched the sample lectures and videos for his teacher conferences. I have to say that his lectures seem to be jam-packed with really useful information. Do you read Teri’s blog “Homeschooling Waldorf”? She has done his annual teacher conference and highly recommends it. I think that, after listening to the free samples, I will probably buy a few lectures for grade 4.
    One of the great things he did with his lecture on teaching the Greece block was he outlined what to cover if you only have 1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks or 4 weeks. I found this really helpful because – even if I’ve got the full quota of time left to present the material – it’s great to know specifically how to go deep not wide (and why to focus on those specific areas).

    Good luck with your new year. I’ll look forward to all the updates :o)

    Love to you all,

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  16. thanks for always so honest and realistic, this is very good for those who always think that others are perfect and we do not. I usually crush me my same thinking why I can not be like others, orderly? and often, when I see other mothers blogs think, that I would like to be like them, so organized and tidy and I would like to be able to get up at 6 in the morning and make jams and preserves and be a perfect mother and wife, and all this makes me feel worse and worse, until I sit on the couch and make a realistic reflection and then I realize that I’m me, and I can not be somebody else and surely other women also could see in my many wonderful things and at some point think they would like to do something that I do as well as I do.
    When I read your blog, I feel relieved and I see that we all have some time when things are not perfect and it is beautiful because it shows that we are hard working, yet very human. Thank you, thank you very much to heart.

    • Thank you for your kind words Rosa. I think it is terribly important to convey some sense of reality into my blog. It’s not all jam-making in a sparkling kitchen over here!!

      I think if we can all quiet those comparisons in our mind our path will be easier.

      Love to you.

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