Binders and Boxes and Bookshelves, oh my! I've got too much school stuff...
February 18, 2008 3:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm almost done with grad school, and all my academic detritus is taking over my apartment. How much of it do I really need to keep?

I've been in graduate school since 2002, getting my doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy. It's been a great program, and I'm well-equipped to go out into the world and do the stuff of both therapists and academics.

The problem is: What the heck do I do with all this grad-school stuff?

I've done the searches on uncluttering, getting rid of stuff, and living a 'leaner' lifestyle, but I'm not sure that it addresses the heart of my question, since I think that there's always a chance that I'll need this stuff for my career.

I have taken six years of classes (for Masters and Doctorate), and have kept: every textbook; every syllabus, correlated with all my class notes and papers (i.e. each class has a 1/2 inch binder devoted to it with everything from the class I received or completed); almost every recommended textbook, and most printouts that were involved in any research for a class (like lit review stuff).

I now have two huge bookshelves devoted to these textbooks and professional journals, as well as almost a dozen Rubbermaid containers full of my freakin' 1/2 inch class binders.

I'm done with my classes, but am working on my dissertation in a pretty specific area; however, since I'm not sure when I'll be asked to teach a class, or give a presentation, or write an article, I feel like it will always and forever be 'handy' to have these resources at my fingertips.

So: (1) Should I just find a more efficient way to keep all of this stuff?
(2) If you've been through grad school, what did you do with all your stuff? How much of it did you need again?
(3) What should I keep and what should I get rid of?
(4) Other general advice?

Thanks MeFites.
posted by cheeken to Education (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Well, my wife did some freelance contract work after graduate school, and ended up having to buy the same overpriced $150 textbook she sold 6 months earlier, as it had some key formulas she needed for her work. She's also referenced some of her material from time to time while helping me out (we're in similar fields). While you can probably chuck your American History 101 stuff, your more advanced notes and books do have the potential to augment your career and income; at least it did in our experience.
posted by crapmatic at 3:13 PM on February 18, 2008

I'm not quite as far along as you (should be starting on the dissertation in the summer) and have dealt with about an equivalent amount of stuff. I kept textbooks that I really liked (and would want to use for class) and all the class material that can't be reliably found online. I organized it into giant three ring binders with tabs. Journal articles got pitched, but I kept the reading lists so I can just pull an article again if I want to look at it.

The way that I wish I could have proceeded would be to get one of those superfast, form-feed scanners and keep everything in neatly organized PDFs, but alas it just never happened. Partially because a good form feed scanner is crazy expensive--especially for somebody living on my stipend. If I was starting over, I think it would have been worth it to just suck it up and buy the scanner (used on eBay of course), but too much stuff has been discarded to start it now.
posted by jtfowl0 at 3:14 PM on February 18, 2008

I get an immense amount of comfort from being surrounded by my books, notes, etc. Not that I need to have them, but being surrounded by knowledge provides a good environment to do further work. Maybe scan the syllabus' and create an aesthetically pleasing way to store all the other stuff. You may not need the stuff, but it's presence is worthy.
posted by pwally at 3:15 PM on February 18, 2008

If you do decide to go the scanning route that jtfowl10 mentions, there's some good info in this thread.
posted by desjardins at 3:32 PM on February 18, 2008

Sell all but the best books and give your notes to some incoming students. You'll never look at them again, but they'll appreciate the hell out of them.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:02 PM on February 18, 2008

I am almost done with grad school so here's what I did. I sold some textbooks but have held onto major reference books. I tossed out all papers (there's online versions anyway). For class notes, I took the important ones and scanned them into PDFs. I did not do this for every class but just ones that might be useful later. It seems very labor intensive but it's really not. So now I have PDFs of all class notes if I ever need to refer back.

Paper Journals: Toss 'em all out. You could just pile them up outside your grad student office with a Free Journals! sign (and wait for a first year sucker to take them all in).

Textbooks: I stored them in file boxes, taped a list of contents outside, dated it and stuck it in my basement. If after a year I never open the box, they're all going for sale on Amazon. So space permitting, save as many as you can.

So really, you need to get as much as possible into digital files, which are way easier to archive. Toss out all journals and printed papers [unless you maintain an extensive filing system and have no other pressing need for the space].
posted by special-k at 4:05 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

On Preview: I did all my scanning on a regular flat bed scanner ($99 four years ago on Amazon). It really doesn't take more than a few weekend afternoons.
posted by special-k at 4:06 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had lugged all my undergrad and grad school notes (Engineering) around with me through about 5 moves over the last 7 years, and never looked at them once. With this last move, I threw them all away. My main motivation for keeping everything was in case I needed to look up something I had learned. But with the internet/wikipedia, there are much faster ways of finding out anything I need, and I decided I didn't need them anymore.

Keep things that have sentimental value or information that is specific to you (eg research, significant papers, etc), but throw away anything you could just look up.

I kept all my textbooks, though
posted by jpdoane at 4:08 PM on February 18, 2008

SCAN SCAN SCAN! It will save your life to get rid of the clutter, but still have the peace of mind to know that you still have them. If you're going to scan, do NOT waste your time with a flat bed. Get one with a top feeder. I have the Canon MP350 which has a top feeder (because it includes fax functionality) and it only cost me about $150 last year.

Sell your texts on and recoup some of the money you laid out in the first place. If you need to teach a class on a specific subject, you're likely to receive newer edition sample texts. (My friend who taught undergrad classes during her PhD program gave me ten or fifteen texts a year while she was in school that she didn't end up needing that were sent to her as samples.)

And I simply couldn't bear to part with a few of my really fundamental undergrad texts, even though they're nine years old now. So, if you need to keep a couple really good referential texts, then keep them.
posted by santojulieta at 4:17 PM on February 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

One more thought: This may reveal my OCDness but when I scanned my class notes, I scanned each one in a pdf like AMR_205_Statistics. Then I took all the pdfs for each quarter and made then into a PDF binder (if you have Acrobat professional). So like Spring 2004 has many pdfs under it.

b) For classes where I took little/no notes (e.g. ones where we just discussed papers), I scanned the paper list or more likely, just saved the email as a PDF. So every class has a pdf, just that some have notes and others have the syllabus (with all the material easy to replicate if ever necessary).

A final thought is that you may have some paper copies of articles that aren't online. Toss them out too. A good librarian can easily track it down for you later and have the pdf (scanned by a different librarian elsewhere) to you in a matter of hours.
posted by special-k at 4:18 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It sounds like it's time for some scanning...At least now I know what I'm doing for Spring Break! I had often wondered about the practicality of scanning notes and stuff, so these responses have been helpful in that route.

What pwally said is particularly true for me, just having the stuff around is's just an issue of less actual tangible stuff.

Thanks for the input, everyone.
posted by cheeken at 4:28 PM on February 18, 2008

Keep it. If you have space problems, keep what you think you'll need with you in your apartment and put the other stuff in self-store or your mother's basement. I am an unrepetent de-accessioner (I throw away everything) and even I have kept every professional book, note, record, computer file and white paper I've gotten, and yes, I refer to them often.
posted by nax at 5:13 PM on February 18, 2008

Did a master's, worked in industry four years, now finishing a doctorate (all in engineering). My recommendations:

- Discard the journal issues immediately.
- Discard the notes and the lit review articles as soon as you finish your dissertation, unless you'll be teaching soon afterwards.
- Keep the textbooks for a while. I still regret selling some engineering textbooks years ago.
- If you want the room, store the remaining material off-site. Best of both worlds.

Scanning? Scanning is what keeps people feeling productive even though they're not finishing their dissertation.
posted by Mapes at 7:01 PM on February 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Scanning is what keeps people feeling productive even though they're not finishing their dissertation.

Boy howdy, that hit me right in the ol' solar plexus. It's funny, because my girlfriend just remarked over dinner: "You should probably wait until after you graduate before you take all that time scanning. It's not like you've really had to use most of it so far."

Fine fine fine.... :)
posted by cheeken at 7:06 PM on February 18, 2008

Hold onto it all!

Once you become a professor and have all these fancy bookshelves in your office, you'll need SOMETHING to put on them... Where do you think all the other professors get all the books they put on their office bookshelves (apart from the many that publishers seem to like to send you free when you are a professor, of course!)?
posted by ranglin at 9:39 PM on February 18, 2008

I was in a PhD program and saved all my hardcover drafts and copies of source material for nearly a decade. I never touched any of it, and recently dumped nearly all of it. It was a relief to be rid of it. You really don't need to keep hardcopy drafts - just keep one or two if you feel you must. And that source material? Unless you're going to use it in the next year, or it's some incredibly rare and hard to find piece of work, my advice is to toss it. Odds are very good you'll be able to find it again if you need it.
posted by zippy at 11:56 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

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