How to organize school materials

2725169624_79e7ace593_b photo credit: School supplies via photopin (license)

There’s not much terribly new or exciting on the 13th first day of school. I knew all the procedures, I knew my classes, I knew who I was going to see.

But as I was getting my materials together on the first day of school, I realized that after a few years of not having detailed supply lists, I had developed my own organization systems for my classes. They still have yet to be perfected, but they’ve been working pretty well.

This is what I’ve adopted after 4 years of high school:

1) A general folder

I have one paper folder with a pocket divider that serves as the hub focal point for all my work. General organization:

  • Front Pocket: Anything that needs to be easily accessible–homework, relevant notes and note packets, paper applications, random handouts
  • Middle Pockets (the divider): Notebook paper and graph paper, as well as any calendars.
  • Back Pocket: Scratch paper, club stuff, origami projects in progress, other random papers .

The front pocket fills up fast, but it should be manageable if every once in a while, you take out the papers and file them elsewhere, whether it’s in a binder, another folder, or the recycling bin.

These folders get beat up really easily  because of the constant use and occasional overstuffing, but since they’re incredibly cheap (I got a bunch for a penny each a few years ago), it’s fine if you go through 5 or 6 each year.

2) Bullet journaling

I’ve used a planner every year since kindergarten, but my school stopped providing them last year, so I started carrying around a small notebook instead. And now I don’t see how I ever used anything else.

Here, I can use as many pages as I want every day. If there’s a specific assignment with extensive instructions, I could fit it in. If I forgot to bring paper or a notebook, I could write it down here and transfer later (if ever). If I wanted to draft a blog post, I could do it there. If I needed to send a note, I could rip out a page in the back and write it down. If someone told me something randomly in the middle of the day, I had a place to put it. This past year, I have blasted through two 100 page notebooks.

But without a formal calendar, it was easy to forget dates and deadlines. I used Google Calendar for important dates, but it seemed stupid to set up “events” for homework assignments and random notes to myself. Those tiny things ended up cluttering my brain and made me less productive. Writing things down does help with anything and everything.

So I decided to try bullet journaling after reading about it on the web. It’s not too much different from what I did previously, but my notebook’s more functional as a calendar now. Highly recommend.

Main differences:

  • Index + numbered pages
  • A 4 month log to record important future dates, as well as a page each month with a monthly “calendar”
  • A coded bullet system with different bullets for recording things to do, events, and thoughts.
  • Keeping the longer thoughts separate from the shorter bullets
  • Being forced to rewrite my to-do list every day including items that I didn’t get done the day before
  • A system to make sure tasks not done the past month/day were transferred properly

It’s not a difficult system to learn, and I chose it for its versatility and its simplicity. It works with any notebook, and it takes like 15 minutes to set up. Give it a try. 

3) Notebooks

Notebooks need to be used carefully. I’ve had multiple classes that required a notebook, yet throughout the year, I only wrote in it a few times, leaving the rest of the book empty. If you’re going to start a notebook, intend on finishing it. Otherwise, notebook paper may be just as effective and more environmentally friendly

For instance, I used to keep a “scratch paper notebook” for whenever I needed a place to show work that I wasn’t turning. I ended up using it for most of my math and science classes and got through 3 notebooks in one year. That’s an efficient use of notebooks.

I also used notebooks in classes that required copying down vocabulary throughout the year. I got through all of them. It’s a pretty satisfying feeling.

4) Binders

Binders are fantastic for storing and flipping through a large amount of material quickly, but they take up too much space on a desk and are a lot less accessible than say, a folder. 1 As a result, most people give up on filing everything away properly and ended up ridiculously disorganized.

I try something different. If there’s a note packet or some worksheets that I need to use regularly, I keep it in my main folder. When I’m done with them, I move all the relevant papers into a binder at once, only to look at if I ever need to reference back to it.

Minimize the number of binders if possible because frankly, they’re space consuming. Combine subjects whenever possible, and keep everything chronologically organized. This can be as simple as putting the newest handouts on the top. That way, when it’s time to study, it’s easy to get all the relevant material together, as opposed to flipping back and forth between different tabs to find homework, quizzes, notes, etc just for one subject.

And when a binder gets full? Empty it somewhere at home and start anew. Very rarely will you need something from many months ago.

5) Other folders

In classes that didn’t require a binder or are notebook centered, I’m putting all the handouts in a folder. One folder per class. Super thin and easy to add/remove papers. But they do tend to fill up fast, and if it turns out that there’s more papers than I expected, I may (grudgingly) get a binder.

I’m still woefully optimistic about this year and have a good feeling about most of my classes. The best part is finally not being amongst the youngest people in my math and science classes, feeling like I somewhat belong, and  that I’m not an obnoxious underclassman pretending to be smart and getting ahead. We’ll see how long this lasts.


  1.  Yes I’m complaining about the physical act of getting a binder out of my backpack, opening it, flipping to the right section, opening the rings, placing the paper in, closing the rings, flipping back to the front, closing the binder, and placing it back into my backpack. No sarcasm. 
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