How to Get Rid of Your Notebooks But Not Your Ideas

I wasn’t always a minimalist. Since college, I had started accumulating more and more stuff, refusing to actually let go of anything despite it losing its importance and immediacy in my life. Finally, after nearly two moves every year, I decided I needed a change.

One glorious weekend, I threw my hair into a bun and got to work. I packed up college gear, clothes from schools I no longer attended, high school materials, textbooks, and clothes that I would never be seen in ever again and took them to the local Goodwill. In two days, I made at least five trips and got rid of about 75% of my things.

But the one thing I could never get rid of were my notebooks. I had never really finished any of them, reaching the halfway point before finding a newer, more appealing notebook online or while perusing the office supply aisles. They contained anything and everything I could, and even more once I started my writing journey in them.

But over the last year, I’ve started to minimize even my notebook collection. Afraid I’d lose any future book ideas or any other important information, I spent some of my days transferring old ideas into new notebooks and went from over twenty half-filled notebooks to four. Here was my process to get rid of my notebooks.

Find the best notebooks

Unfortunately for me, this didn’t mean I got to go out and buy new notebooks. Instead, I went through every single notebook I had and determined which had the most material that I’d want to keep. Ideally, they had open pages in the back but it wasn’t a necessity. These were the notebooks that I would keep at the end of all this, so I tried to keep it to a minimum number (3 or 4).

Go through the material

The next step was to more thoroughly go through the material. Out of all of the notebooks, I dog eared all pages that contained ideas or material I wanted to keep.

Honestly, I started the process the other way around — planning to dog ear all the pages to toss. However, the longer I went through the process, the more I realized half those things I had completely forgotten about or didn’t understand at all. So I switched up the routine.

After, in the notebooks I was keeping permanently, I went through the pages and ripped out the ones with notes or ideas that were no longer useful. That helped reduce the clutter because it didn’t take up as much space.

Transfer your ideas

Next, it was time to transfer all of my pages. I went through the saved pages and copied all of the ideas and notes into the notebooks I was keeping. This was a longer process, but often I discovered that in round 2, I was skipping over more stuff that I realized wasn’t pertinent.

If there was a huge amount of detail or pictures, I either cut them out and pasted them into the new notebook or took pictures on my phone to either transfer later or end up trashing.

I did my best to organize, so if I had a book idea in more than one notebook, I tried to find parts of a previously used page to document the additional ideas.

Index the pages

This was really critical after getting all of my notebook ideas shoved into four notebooks. I didn’t want these to just get thrown in a pile again and never be opened, nor did I want to have an idea and have to go looking through mounds of paper just to figure out where I had written it down.

If there was room on the inside cover of the notebook, I’d index as much of the material as I could and write it out there. Sometimes it was too much to really identify, but giving myself an idea of where things were helped minimize a lot of searching time later. If there wasn’t room on the inside cover, I stapled a lined paper to the first page and wrote my index there.

Create a commonplace book

After I had made it down to my smaller set of notebooks, I started working on a commonplace book. You can read more about making one here, but the gist is that it’s a book that contains everything you come across and have an idea about — quotes, books, shows, ideas, and more.

While the commonplace book added another notebook to my collection, it reduced the clutter of my other notebooks. As I continue to minimize after bringing in more notebooks, I’ll start to categorize each notebook for different ideas. My commonplace book will contain everything, so I can travel with it and not have to take a million different notebooks, and the others will be categorized by book ideas, quotes and article ideas, and any other category I might need.

Am I still a notebook hoarder? Kind of. If I don’t keep myself in check will I absolutely go out and buy a million more? Absolutely. But having this system really does keep my ideas sharp and focused. I know where to go when I think of something I need and I don’t stress about any of the old pages I threw out. In fact, I don’t even remember what was on them because I’ve been able to follow and build on the ideas I did keep.

The one notebook I’ve stuck to and kept for organizing my life has been my Passion Planner (affl. Use code LAURAW10 at checkout for a discount). I track all of my writing projects and know exactly what I need to be working on thanks to this little book. When I finish the planner, I’ll transfer those ideas to the next one and be on my way!


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