It was early January, and I sighed as I stared at the large pile of Christmas cards we had received the previous month. I hadn’t even gone through last year’s pile yet to mark down address and e-mail changes, and now I was way-y-y behind. Most contained newsletters from friends and family, filled with photos and updates—things I wanted to keep. What should I do with all this? An “aha” suddenly flashed into my weary brain. I’d been systematically converting piles to notebooks for a couple of years now—why couldn’t I do that with this too?

I grabbed some clear page protectors, put each newsletter in one protector with last year’s behind it, and tore any new addresses off the envelopes and tucked them in front of each letter. I put the letters in alphabetical order by family name in a three-ring binder. I added my master Christmas card list. Then, to make the whole binder easy to spot at a glance, I cut up the fronts of a few Christmas cards and inserted them as a collage on the binder’s clear front and in the spine. Voila! Pile gone, stuff organized. And that “I’ll never get my life organized” cloud had dissipated a bit more.

Notebooks are wonderful! Since I began homeschooling, what started as a fledgling effort to keep things organized has now become a full-blown way of life. I have notebooks for everything—school projects, planners, individual school subjects, craft ideas and patterns, collected recipes, Bible study notes, memory books for each school year, family photos, and favorite magazine articles, just to name a (very) few.

Notebooking, as we’ve come to know it in the homeschool community, is primarily for our students—an effective method of showcasing what they’ve learned on any given subject. This, however, is different—it’s for us! So while your students write and clip and paste in their notebooks, you can join them with yours . . . and conquer the paper monster!

Notebooks have some great advantages, not the least of which is space. You might be short on filing cabinets or drawers, which can take up a lot of room. Notebooks allow you to do without these. And notebooks save you time! Even if you have things in hanging files, it’s not always easy to lay your hands on just that certain paper in them. Notebooks, on the other hand, are quickly accessed, can be easily organized within and without, are moveable, stand up on shelves, and can be reused.

Have I convinced you yet? Let me show you how easy it to organize your life with notebooks.

Start With Some Simple Supplies

You need, of course, three-ring binders in a variety of widths, preferably the kind with a clear vinyl spine and front cover pocket where you can slip in theme/title information. Garage sales and thrift stores can be a great place to find used ones. My husband brought home a haul from his office when they were downsizing, another great resource.

Next, you’ll need:

  • Clear plastic page protectors, pocket-type that open at the top (I use Avery #76003). Some stores carry these in boxes of two hundred, heavy-weight and acid-free. These can also be written on with wash-off or dry-erase markers—good for checklists, etc.
  • Tab dividers
  • Three-hole punch
  • Three-hole ruled paper or blank paper           
  • Construction paper, old calendars, stickers, used greeting cards, photos—anything that would serve for creating interesting covers or insides, scrapbook-style.

Now the Fun Part!

Remember, you’re on a mission here! What can go into a notebook? Well, just about anything. And this doesn’t just apply to your homeschool stuff. You can use this concept for all sorts of things. For the purposes of this article, however, I’ll stick with homeschool applications. Here are some ideas:

Teacher planner. You probably already have your planner in a notebook. A great website to print out every kind of planner and homeschool form is www.donnayoung.org (subscription required). Keep all your goals and curriculum information behind subject dividers to refer to often. Have a section for each child or routine event (sports, music lessons, etc.), with all handouts, schedules, and information handy. I also keep a master address and phone list in my planner, along with menu ideas, shopping lists, master gift list, etc.

Student daybook. You can create a daybook for your students: all the day’s (or week’s) work can go in it, each subject with its own divider. Take apart workbooks and three-hole punch them, add a zippered pouch with pencils, eraser, glue stick, and scissors, and you’ve got a portable desk. Great for when you are doing car school!

Student “keeper” stuff. Notebooks are a great way to keep track of penmanship and dictation sheets, creative writing efforts, science projects, field trip reports, tests, math drill sheets, etc., especially if you’re not using the notebooking method for your children’s studies.

Field trip information. Just drop those brochures in the plastic sheet protectors. You can add dividers by type of trip—science, history, etc.— and keep all your planning notes in there.

Homeschool reference information. This is a wonderful way to organize all those loose “can’t-live-without-it” papers from conferences, articles torn out of magazines, and information printed out from the Internet. I keep mine close at hand and review it often!

Maps. I made our own book of maps, which I cut from magazines, books, and old atlases, putting them under the appropriate tab for major continents and other areas.

Correspondence. We put a correspondence notebook together for my daughter so she could keep everything in one handy (and portable) place: all her pen-pal letters, with the most current on top; stationery, stamps, and return address labels in plastic page protectors; and ruled notebook paper. (This could make a great gift idea for a friend!)

Memory books. I set up a notebook at the beginning of the year with paper and page protectors. When we have any photos or memorabilia of the events of the year, I just drop them in the protectors. It’s so easy to put it all together scrapbook-style at the end of the year. Ultimately, I’ll bind them in stiff report covers when there are too many to keep in notebooks.

Unit studies, book and reading lists, co-op materials, artwork . . . you get the idea. The possibilities are endless. Get your kids to join you on this venture. Their creativity can enter in here, and you’ll all appreciate the positive effect this can have on their rooms!

You can start small. Set up a couple of notebooks that meet an immediate need. As you discover how easy and doable this is, and as you start to bring order out of chaos, you’ll begin to (maybe!) even get excited at the payback that happens. 

This article was published in the March/April 2016 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.

Wendy Dellinger and her family have relocated to Arizona to be closer to their families. They enjoy the mild climate, spectacular sunsets, and the adventure of living the next chapter of homeschooling. Wendy's desire is to encourage those beginning or still on the home education journey and to share with them her experiences of God's goodness and faithfulness.