Adventures in Organization: School Supplies

“Don’t you just love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.”

I’m the overly organized one at my office. My labelling has become the stuff of legend. I’m basically an organization superhero: Color Code Girl: Volume I — Adventures in Scheduling. I’ve taken to buying my own Post-It notes because I have a very intricate system that would use up our office supply. I’m so specific about color and size and and general usage that it’s really best that I feed my habit myself. I think the whole thing goes back to school supplies — the highlight of any young person’s school year, right? [Zelda’s Note: Of course right.] I loved back to school shopping so much, some years I would do it before second semester too.

As a kid, I loved going back to school, mostly because of those afternoons spent perusing the Five-Star products like it was my job. I liked getting all new binders and notebooks and what have you for the beginning of the school year — the idea being that if I liked the stuff I had to take to class enough, I would enjoy class more. I say “more” because I was at my core definitely the kind of kid that enjoyed school already, or at least the learning part (the social part is a story for another day). It’s the same idea behind buying cute exercise outfits in an attempt to make yourself work out more. I looked at every new school year as a chance to improve my note-taking regimen until it was at peak efficiency and peak aesthetic appeal, and each new semester found me prowling the Target aisles with annotated list in hand.

In grade school, I stocked up on Lisa Frank folders, because it was the 90’s and that what you did. In middle school, I made the switch to the more austere five-subject notebooks, but I still spent a good hour searching bin after bin for the right colors, and then parsing out each section for one of my main classes: English, Math, Science, History, and Foreign Language.

Every year of high school had a new approach, until I eventually settled on the utilitarian yellow legal pad and a folder for each class. This was largely because they didn’t have rings and were easier to fit in my messenger bag (and also maybe because they made me feel like a cool intelligentsia type of person — I think I probably stole the idea from either Rory Gilmore or Jess Mariano, or possibly both, since they were at the time the epitomes of nerd chic). These legal pads were used for taking notes during the school year, and then when finals rolled around, those notes were ripped out and, along with various handouts, hole-punched and placed in meticulously color-coded binders used for test prep (this strategy was brought back during grad school). This was often coupled with Zelda and I recording videos of ourselves narrating key events in European history — anything to make AP Euro prep fun.

My supplies gradually went from what I found prettiest to what was most useful. In high school art history, my real love affair with Post-It notes began when I started putting them in my textbook next to the art, so I could take notes with the art illustrated right there. Later, when I ran out of Post-It’s, I started writing directly in the margins; art history textbooks are notoriously hard to re-sell anyway, and I’m pretty sure the girl I lent my books to the next year appreciated the annotations. In college, I switched to steno notebooks so I could carry smaller bags and write on both sides of the page without having the wire rings cut into my hand when I flipped the page over. In grad school, upon finding out that my “textbooks” consisted of over 1,000 pages of scanned PDF documents, I bought an iPad and a stylus and downloaded a note-taking app — all my notes right there in one place. The point is, I put a lot of thought into the supplies that got me through the school year, and even though I am three years out of any type of school at this point, I haven’t quite kicked the habit.

Now to be fair, my current position revolves largely around schools, so the beginning of the academic year is still a big milestone for me. And so I find myself back once again in that aisle at Target, stocking up on Post-It notes and new pens and colored paper and…everything, really. We spent the last week cleaning the office, and my desk is newly refreshed and ready, my calendar color-coded just as meticulously as my high school binders. I still find it a little hard to kick off a new school year without new stuff. Maybe this is materialistic of me, but it helps me stay on my game.  And there’s something thrilling about sitting down in this little area you call your own and seeing everything neatly organized and color-coded, reaching for pens that you picked out and letting your personality shine through in a world of cubicles.

One of the things I miss most about my schooldays is the way that every year got to be its own, with its own identity. With each semester, you got a chance to start fresh. This isn’t true with most adult jobs. As we grow up, we stop marking the year by semesters, stop having finals to pass and grades to make. We just have to keep going, get through another day, and then another, and then another. And maybe if we’re lucky, we have a job that gives us something concrete to show for it. I think that’s one of the hardest things about being an adult: So often, what you do every day may not be working towards anything tangible. It can feel like it’s just something to do, something to pass the time. We’re not learning or hitting milestones; we’re moving forward without seeming to travel anywhere. So I’m lucky, because my job revolves around the school year. I get benchmarks, and holiday breaks, and my time gets marked by semesters, by finals, by in-service days. Most of all, I’m lucky because every year in September, I get to start again and try to make this year better than next.

Academics aside, from where I’m sitting, September still is the beginning of a new year: the Jewish one. I like that Rosh Hashanah often coincides with the beginning of the school year. We get a spiritual clean slate, and I’m lucky enough to get a professional clean slate as well.  And as our calendar (at least mine and Zelda’s) flips from 5776 to 5777, kids get on buses, we welcome new interns, leaves change, I get new office supplies. That’s just how it is.


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