How to organize piles upon piles of paper.
May 19, 2006 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I currently just finished my second year of college. As a electrical engineering major I find that I sometimes go back to look at course notes and material from past semesters. Thus, I have a lot of paper and not a whole lot of room to put it. Currently each class I have taken is in its own manilla folder and in a file caddy I have. This is less than ideal as most classes don't really fit in a single folder yet I do it anyway so I can keep track of them. I am looking for a creative and space saving way to store them for semi-easy access and more importantly organization. I have thought about 3 hole punching everything, but I would probably end up spending a day or so doing that. Any suggestions.
posted by dyno04 to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
I think any organizational method would take about a day or so, wouldn't it? But isn't that the point, that you spend the day doing it now so you don't have to do it later? Binders should work best, really - that's what I used for a lot of my law school classes.
posted by MeetMegan at 10:41 AM on May 19, 2006

If your notes aren't currently hole-punched and you want to avoid doing that, then buy a file cabinet with hanging files and some file folders. Then all you have to do is label the folders as you transfer the paper in, and maybe put them in alphabetical order.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:47 AM on May 19, 2006

Split each class up a bit more, by topic. For example, my Evolutionary Theory 308 class has about 10 folders labelled things like "308 - Food Theories"; "308 - Speciation"; etc.
Really fundamental papers/things go in their own folder.

Don't be afraid to split up classes and reorganize notes by topic. Topic wins over class title.

Take the time to do it now; don't wait until you're in grad school like I did.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:49 AM on May 19, 2006

Binders are the cleanest way to do it, but you're right that it take a long time to set up, and it also requires a lot of ongoing maintenance.

I'm a big fan of file pockets like these. They have all the same ease of use and labeling advantages of manila folders, but they hold a lot more paper so you don't have to deal with multiple or overflowing folders. They should fit neatly into a file caddy. They also work well in bookshelves and other locations since they can stand up on their own. You should be able to use just one of these for each class, which would help with organization.
posted by brain_drain at 11:02 AM on May 19, 2006

The standard way to organize lots of semi-related stuff is with file folders. If you don't have room for a file cabinet, you can get banker's boxes or plastic bins, which would hopefully fit under your bed or along the bottom of your closet.

As everyone else mentioned -- organize by topic. Don't be afraid to use lots of folders. You want to look up stuff once, not look up a folder then spend 20 minutes looking through a giant pile inside the folder. Organize alphabetically. Don't worry too much about a system, as long as it's filed under something you'll think to look for later, you can find it in one of just a couple places (IE look up your dog under 'Rover' or 'dog' or 'pet', there's only so many places something can be.)

The filing system given in Getting Things Done works very well for me. It's basically what I just said above.
posted by voidcontext at 11:07 AM on May 19, 2006

If you like the idea of 3-hole punching everything but don't want to spend a day doing it, do it in chunks. Keep a stack of papers and holepunch handy for when you're watching TV or something similar. This is probably a good method for whatever way you decide to organize, plus you won't get so sick of it that you ignore maintaining it until it's just as big a job as the setup.
posted by coffeespoons at 11:19 AM on May 19, 2006

If you have a reasonably big hard drive, you could scan them in, store them as PDFs, and (believe it or not) organize your notes in iTunes. So you can put dates and keywords in, say, the Comments field to make your notes more readily searchable. A scanner these days can be had for about $50, less than you'd spend for a new file cabinet.

If iTunes is too weird for you, and you're on a Mac, you can use iPapers
posted by adamrice at 12:21 PM on May 19, 2006

I should add that, if you adopt this approach, it would probably be better to give yourself a target of scanning N pages a day, rather than trying to do it all at once.

And scan your notes as you go through the semester.
posted by adamrice at 12:23 PM on May 19, 2006

You could pay to have someone else spiral bind everything. That way you keep it all together, don't have to spend time punching holes and it fits nicely on a book shelf (unlike the annoying stacks of binders I have).
posted by kechi at 12:46 PM on May 19, 2006

Yeah, I agree with Kechi. Get them bound at your local copy shop, ask about finishing services. I used to take my important class notes to a copy shop to get them wire or tape bound on the side. Stick in colored paper between chapters or sections of notes, and a few extra blank pages for notes at the end.

It's worth it to take time now, especially if you think you're going to be using them as reference later on.
posted by hooray at 1:11 PM on May 19, 2006

Binder or folders, binders or folders, binders or folders oh my!
posted by orlin at 1:15 PM on May 19, 2006

Most printer-like locations* have nifty tools for drilling vast quantities of paper for 3-hole binders and would do this for a nominal fee. Binders by topic is a great system. If the majority of paper is printed, as in not hand-written, scanning + OCR is optimal in that you can harness the power of automatic indexing (Spotlight, Beagle, whatever passes for document-level indexing on Windows) to find relevant documents later. This is how I've archived all of my course pack type materials which I combined with binders by topic for my handwritten notes.

*Beyond Kinkos et al, most colleges have a local "printing" company nearby that makes its living putting together course packets. Look them up—they'd be thrilled at the opportunity to do something before the fall semester crunch. I say this based on past summer job related experience.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:25 PM on May 19, 2006

If you go the PDF method, a good quality sheet fed document scanner is the ticket. A friend of mine scanned about 6 years of engineering / computer science material in a little over one day. Now he has one DVD (plus backups) to store and move instead of several boxes of books.
posted by Yorrick at 11:24 PM on May 19, 2006

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