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Tidying Up Paper: Old Schoolwork

February 12, 2019

            Have you been watching the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo along with the rest of the world? If so, you probably know that tidying up paper is one of the toughest tasks. Legal and medical documents, old receipts, and miscellaneous papers aside, I found the toughest type of paper to tidy was old school materials! My identity has been so tied with academia (I’m doing a master’s degree in Fall 2019), so I have more of an emotional connection to university assignments and notes from my favourite classes than any other type of paper. Whether you liked school or not, you’re bound to have some old material lying around your house begging to be let go of, or better organized. Here are my top tips for tidying up paper from old schoolwork!

1. If you enjoyed school and/or find it difficult to let go of things, give yourself time and space first

When we’ve just dedicated our time and energy to something, including a course in high school or university, we can avoid ridding ourselves of its associations. Even if you didn’t like school and will never need the notes or assignments again, getting rid of them can feel like you’re devaluing the effort you put in for so many months. It’s okay to need some time first.

You can set aside those course materials in a bin where you don’t see the materials every day, like on kept under the bed or on a closet shelf. Then set yourself a timeline to return to it and tidy it out, such as 6 months to 1 year away. During that time, re-channel that productive energy and emotion into something new and create a little separation. Then, when the timeline is up, you can try tidying up paper from your school days with a more detached mind. That’ll help items that do spark joy for you to shine more obviously, making the process easier.

2. Start with the oldest to newest materials.

If you have several years of material to go through, use the time and space you’ve already had to your advantage. Start with the school projects and notes that you created first, when you were youngest. You’ll be most detached from that content, making questions about what to keep and what to get rid of easier. The younger you were, the less likely you’ll need to keep any materials for practical reasons as well, since it’s bound to be below your current grade level or out of date for current portfolios and applications. You can truly decide what to keep based on what sparks joy.

3. Let go of all notes except a curated selection of those you’ll need for future studies

A pit created by circling books.

As you get closer to the most recent school content you’ve created, identify what study materials might still be relevant or helpful if you’re still in school. For example, if you took Grade 12 history and are about to continue with history in university, keep your best notes and cue cards with dates and figures likely to be discussed next year.

Also keep any notes with tips on analyzing primary documents, writing a historical significance paragraph, or a history essay. There’s no need to seek this information out again so soon if you have strong notes already organized and available for your use in the coming year.

Apply that same logic to any school subject you’re still moving forward with, as long as the notes are still supportive of your current grade level and ability.

4. Keep pieces that form part of your work or academic portfolio.

This tip is highly practical. If you produced any assignments that still reflect your level of ability or can form part of a portfolio, keep them! And keep them organized so they’re accessible and in good condition. Even better, keep a clean and safe-saving electronic version on the cloud (even if it requires scanning).

For example, if you perform music, keep the sheet music to main pieces in your repertoire. If you’ve designed posters and work in the field of graphic design, keep the best in a work portfolio even if you don’t need it to look for a job right now. Finally, keep any strong essays you’ve written in the upper years of high school, and definitely in university. You’ll need them if you decide to apply for a master’s degree or postgraduate diploma. If you can, keep them on the cloud but scan them onto your computer if your professor wrote physical notes down on the piece. Some postgraduate applications want to see your professor’s notes on any writing sample you submit. Then, safely stored electronically, you can get rid of the stuffy, paper version.

5. Keep only the assignments (essays, posters, etc.) that you’re proud of and enjoy the most.

An organized stack of handwritten papersWhen deciding on what to keep for emotional reasons, remember they should spark joy according to Tidying Up. I experienced some moments of guilt getting rid of course work I had put a lot of effort into, feeling sad for my past self. But the reality is, I didn’t need the work anymore, I still appreciate the work my past self did, and looking at those materials only continued to make me feel bad in the present due to bad school memories. So I was free to get rid of them!

That left more space to cherish and scrapbook or otherwise carefully store the projects I am really happy to remember and remind me of the best points in my school career. Tidying up paper I enjoy re-reading  is far bigger payoff, even if I didn’t get the best mark at the time.

6. Save and scrapbook symbols of great work that you no longer needA page of sheet music on top of piano keys

If you’d like to remember having worked on something, but the piece is too bulky, save a symbol of it! For example, save just the front page of sheet music from a song that represents fun times in choir club. You probably will never need that whole song again, and if so, could photocopy or download the sheet music. However, you can use the front page in your scrapbook! You get to keep the trigger for those positive memories, while tidying up paper and cutting down on what’s unnecessary to keep.

 Now over to you!

             Those are my tips on tidying up paper from your school days. What suggestions do you have for curating your old school materials and creations? Please share with us in the comments below! You can also learn more about life-long learning in other articles on the Intrepid Emma blog.

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About the Author

Emma Givens

Emma Givens is the Founder and CEO of EG: Content & Copy. She’s a brand messaging strategist, copywriter and writing coach with 10+ years of experience. She specializes in serving premium SMBs (Small and Medium-sized Businesses).

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