what to do with old papers from school

What do to with old papers from school, Part 1: Toss or keep?

Katie Azevedo good habits, organization, study skills

what to do with old papers from school

This is Part 1 of a 2-Part series about organizing school papers. When you’re done reading this post, check out Part 2, which is all about the Limbo Folder.

Students accumulate a ton of papers over the year, from worksheets to quizzes, from essays to final exams. But do you know what to do with old papers from school? Should you save them? Toss them? Keep some of them? And where should you keep them — at your home or dorm, or in your back back? And for how long should you keep your old papers?

Here’s what you should not do: Do not under any circumstance keep everything. There’s no need to do so, and saving all your old papers could actually hurt you in the long run. The more you keep, the harder it will be to find the important stuff when you need it. (More about “the important stuff” in a second.) Also, the more you keep, the more storage you’ll need, which is frankly annoying.

So how do you know which papers to keep and which ones to toss? Below is a list of tips to get you started.

What to do with old papers from school

1. Toss anything you won’t need again.

Be ruthless here. If the final exam is over or the class has ended, then don’t keep any papers related to the class. If you’re tempted to keep a paper because you think “I might reference this paper later on for another purpose,” TOSS IT. What do you think Google is for? (An exception to this rule is if you will be tested on the material in a cumulative exam later on, such as for a Master’s Degree, a Bar Exam, or something similar.)

2. Toss all duplicates.

If you’ve just finished a Slope unit in math class, chances are high that you have multiple practice worksheets with slope questions on it. Keep only the best one, and chuck the rest.

3. Toss anything that you absolutely know.

If you have a worksheet or handout that contains information that you absolutely know, then there’s no need to keep any papers with that material. However, if you know the material now, but think you might eventually forget the information before you need it for a test, then keep the paper.

4. Toss old essays and writing assignments.

You might hesitate to throw away a 10-page paper that took you 2 weeks to write. I get it. You’re proud of it, especially if the paper earned a good grade. But here’s my reasoning for discarding these essays: You have the digital version! No need to keep the hard copy (which takes up space) if you have the digital file (which takes no physical space). If you’re reluctant to toss the paper because your teacher wrote meaningful comments on it, which makes you feel good, then scan the paper into your computer and toss the hard copy. You don’t even need a scanner to do this — plenty of free phone apps can do the exact same job. I use DocScan.

5. Keep quizzes and tests before the final exam.

If the exam is over, chuck all the papers. If the exam is a few weeks or months away, keep your quizzes and tests until the exam is over because quizzes and tests make excellent study guides for larger year-end or class-end assessments.

6. Keep papers that sincerely bring you joy.

You might have a paper, essay or project that for some reason brings you joy when you look at it. Maybe it represents your finest work, or maybe the assignment actually changed you in some way as a person. These are absolutely okay to keep.

Where to store old papers that you’re keeping

I suggest you only carry with you (in your backpack or locker) any items that are in immediate and current use. I recommend storing everything else at home in a designated place.

What designated place? Depending on how many old school papers you’ve decided to keep (hopefully not too much!) you can probably make due using a single folder for each class. All your important biology handouts/quizzes go in one folder; all your important math papers go in another folder, etc. And of course, label these folders clearly, and keep them somewhere together. A magazine file works great for this purpose (see my awesome pics below).

what to do with old papers from school 1

Use a classic magazine file to store individual folders

what to do with old papers from school

Use a simple horizontal paper sorter to hold folders, books and papers

Final tip: At the end of each class and definitely at the end of each school year, go through these folders and throw away what you no longer need or want. (Some classes run for half a year, while others run a full year.) This should be just about everything, except for those few items that you decide bring you joy.

Oh and of course none of you would ever really throw away old papers … you would recycle them!! 😉

Don’t forget: Check out Part 2 of this paper organization series to learn how to use a Limbo Folder!