This advice column originally appeared in the Albany Times Union on Sunday, September 20, 2020.
NISKAYUNA - Colleen Bosco's progress toward a clutter-free home shifted into high gear when she needed to create workspaces for her two children, both of whom are attending school remotely this year.
Bosco is a local middle and high school Spanish teacher, and although she has returned to the classroom, she needed a work-from-home space as well. The pandemic created a lot more to think about than supply lists and lesson plans.
"At work, I lost my classroom, and at home, I had to create spaces for remote learning and for my husband to work. In 20 years of teaching, I've never had to prepare for a year like this one," she says.
Bosco is not alone. Springtime experiments with remote learning highlighted the need for more functional spaces at home but figuring out the best way to accomplish this has left many frustrated.
As a teacher, Bosco is familiar with various spaces to accommodate different subjects and learning styles in schools today, including collaborative learning spaces, science and technology labs, library space, gymnasiums, music halls, and traditional individual classroom desks. At home, there are times when a student needs to focus on a single task without distractions. There are also times when kids need more space to spread out and work on projects with materials or when parents need to supervise or participate in their children's learning - all while remotely working themselves.
Bosco reached out to me three years ago when she was ready to start clearing her spaces to make living in her home more enjoyable for her family. She learned to let go of reminders of when her children, Lily, 15; and Brennan, 12, were little. Now the family has space to play and make new memories. Decluttering also allowed Bosco to create a home studio for herself where she makes jewelry, and cleaning out the basement allowed for a complete renovation of the space. See more about Bosco's story on YouTube.
Your home can become a dynamic learning environment by creating flexible workspaces in your house and avoiding the one-size-fits-all approach. Lily chose to have her primary workspace in her bedroom, and together they created a warm and inviting space. Lily is home part time and attending school in person part time.
"I really wanted Lily to have a space that she wanted to work in," Bosco says.
Brennan, who will be home full time, needed a little more supervision during the day, so Bosco created workspace for him next to her husband, Brad, a graphic designer who is currently working from home.
The skills Bosco learned while decluttering her home have made remote learning and working from home easier on the family. The ability to maintain clear surfaces has allowed everyone to have options during the day if they need more space or a change of scenery. Bosco also recreated a locker area for her kids at home - a single spot to store all of their school supplies. Adding labels to these spaces has made it simple for everyone to remember where school supplies go at the end of the day.
Maintaining clear, flexible spaces requires a commitment to new daily routines, and one of Bosco's favorite mottos is don't let a drop zone become a stay zone - meaning backpacks, shoes and toys get put away each night instead of growing into an unruly pile.
"I'm surprised how keeping my surfaces clean has helped manage our daily schedule and my stress level," Bosco says. "This year is mostly about how parents approach it. We are going in knowing we need to be flexible, and I'm trying to keep the house fun, relaxed, and inviting. It's really the only thing I can control right now."