The Organizational Trap and Creating a “School” on a Budget

As we attempt to turn our 950 square foot apartment into a mini school by Monday, my mind is constantly torn between two competing thoughts:

  1. Buy stuff to organize
  2. Don’t buy stuff to organize

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have had these competing thoughts.

It always starts the same way and in the same place…the kids’ room.

Here is how it goes: I casually walk into their room. I have a vision in my mind of how it should look, but then my eyes are assaulted by all the junk strewn about their floor. My heart stops for a second, my blood pressure rises, and I want to scream “How did this happen!!?!!!”

I calm my heart and keep my thoughts to myself (most of the time), and my mind immediately wanders to its happy place.

In my minimalist happy place, there is a shelf (preferably white or charcoal grey) for everything. There are labels, wooden toys, framed artwork, and an appropriate amount of whimsical stuffed animals. There is no carpet in my happy place because who wants carpet in the perpetually dusty and hot desert?!?

Basically, my mental happy place looks like IKEA.

But back to reality.

My kids’ room does not look like IKEA. And as badly as I want it to at times, I know deep down it’s a simplicity mistake.

Organizational stuff does NOT equal organization.

I could put their 1000s of LEGO pieces in the cutest bin, but they will still end up all over the floor and under my feet.

The truth is, the best organizational tool is reduction. My husband is excellent at reducing things. He is NEVER tempted by organizational items, or any items for that matter. So when he sees me eyeing the TROFAST storage shelves once again, he reminds me that it is better to get rid of items than put them in fancy bins.

Why am I sharing this?

Because if you have children beginning distance learning this fall, you have likely seen the same images on social media that I have. Images of clean, crisp spaces where every child has a spot and everything is in order.

This type of space is feasible for some, but for those of us in tiny spaces or on tiny budgets (or both!), these images can be hard to process.

When I see these images, I begin to wonder if certain products would improve our space and give my kids a better experience. I begin to desire new items even when I know I have the items I need.

Thankfully, after years of practice and failures, I can snap myself out of this mindset. I can look at my space with fresh eyes and look at the products I already own and get creative.

So here is how we are making a school on a budget with what we have, plus a few other items.


We have two kids doing online learning. As awesome as it sounds to buy two desks for them, there is no space and no money for that.

So, they will both sit at opposite ends of our kitchen table. I spent $15 total on two pairs of headphones so they can each hear their teacher and classmates without distractions.

Art supplies

We already had lots of markers, crayons, glue, etc. So instead of buying new art supplies, I spent $2 on two pencil boxes. Then the kids helped me put markers, crayons, and pencils we already owned in their boxes. This way they each have quick access to their own supplies.

It felt like new supplies since they each got their own container.

White Board

I was prepared to buy the largest whiteboard humanly possible to “organize” our schedules.

Instead, I spent $6 on a small whiteboard that I can divide in half for each child and $6 on a small planner for me where I can write ZOOM call times and other administrative information.

I decided I didn’t want the kids fretting over these details or overwhelmed by a monstrous whiteboard.

So their white board will be small, simple, and to the point.

Notebooks and Folders

Since schools don’t let kids have “character folders,” I am letting the kids use their character folders they already have for their important papers.

We were actually out of notebooks entirely, so I spent about $2 on 8 notebooks (only 25 cents each!) for both kids and for me.

A Pointer

This was my impulsive $1 purchase :). It is a super cute cloud pointer that I plan to use mostly with my kindergartener to point to letters and sight words on the wall. And I think it will help her stay engaged if she can use the pointer.


The eternal struggle of feeding the kids all day.

I sat down with the kids yesterday for about 30 minutes and asked them to list all the snacks and meal foods they like. Veggies, carbs, fruit, protein…all of it. I told them we cannot always have their favorites on hand, but it is a good guide for me when I go to the store and meal plan.

We found a little cabinet space last week for their snacks. The cabinet is within their reach and I pre-bagged the dry snacks. They do not need to ask me for a snack anymore, they just grab what they want. (fruits and veggies are also cut and pre-bagged in the fridge).

There are some limits for them, but for the most part they can be independent with their food choices. Their lunches will also be “packed” in the fridge each day, so they can just grab the lunchbox when it is lunch time.

I am realistic and know the snack cabinet will not always be stocked and I will not always have time to individually bag stuff. But to start, it will help me a lot if I do not have to hear “can I have a snack” 10 times a day.

For approximately $35-$40 we got everything we needed for two students to start online school on Monday.

If I had impulsively purchased all the crisp/clean/perfect items I imagined in my head, I can only imagine what my total would have been.

Yes, the space may have photographed better. But my wallet would be empty and the learning outcomes would be the same.

I will hang on to my money and work with what I have.

And if you find yourself with a tiny space and/or tiny budget, take heart that you too can make this online learning thing work without breaking the bank.

Best of luck!


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