Academic Clean Sweep



Over the course of the semester I acquire tons of paper. I have stacks on the kitchen table, on my nightstand, even in my car.  The stacks live at home with me. I dust the stacks on Saturday mornings and I rearrange them the other six days of the week. The stacks are towers of notes, papers, homework, articles I should read, forms, flyers for events I did and did not attend, handouts, folders, left over copies of the syllabus, essays and God knows what else.  I don’t know how it’s possible that I still have stacks considering that I do virtually all my communicating electronically and my students submit all their work electronically. I get invited to events electronically, look for articles electronically, read electronically and fill out forms electronically.  The accumulation of stuff and psychological implications of hauling things around are on my mind this summer as I get ready for a cross country move.  Just how much of this stuff do I need to take with me and how do I avoid similar such accumulations when I arrive?

All of these televisions are nicer than mine.

All of these televisions are nicer than mine.

At the end of every semester I go through the stacks and I cull.  I have been performing this pseudo-religious rite since the end of my first semester in college.  As an undergrad and graduate student I looked forward to the May day when I could go through a semester’s worth of crap and organize it into binders with neat handwritten labels.  I arranged my binders and then sat back and marveled at how much knowledge I had (theoretically) added to my brain.  Binder day is second only to the first day of classes in my hierarchy of best days of the year.  As a faculty member my ritual is very similar.  I revisit the semester, I organize and I file, I shred and I store. But this summer I am on a slash and burn mission consolidating binders and throwing away as much as humanly possible while trying to create a plan for how to effectively go paperless.

Plastic things to carry other plastic things

Plastic things to carry other plastic things

For others the end of the semester is not so much about filing and labeling as it is about ditching, dumping and donating.  Students don’t have much time to clear out of their dorms up here on the banks of the Stillwater.  As soon as finals are over they have about a day to vacate (graduating seniors have a bit longer).  What remains in their wake is an epic first-world wasteland of consumer goods.  The overworked and underpaid custodial staff sorts and clears what remains and gets the dorms into some sort of livable shape unreasonably fast so that the first rounds of camp kids, visitors, and summer program residents can move in.  Some students simply walk away from the semester, hands in pockets.  I don’t just mean they leave half-used containers of shampoo.  For some, leaving it all behind and walking out the door is the best way to organize one’s semester.  But maybe I’m not giving enough credit.  Maybe some leave with a flash drive in hand containing all they need to know from Spring 2013.

Oh the many homeless books.

Oh the books…so many homeless books.

Some years ago the universities decided to start selling off all the left over stuff that the custodial staff removes from dorm rooms.  The Clean Sweep sale, as it is called, is a fascinating event that I attended for the first time last week.  I bought the two volume set of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages for $1.00 and had my sights set on a new desk lamp but without luck.  The sale attracted dozens of people who could purchase everything from textbooks to televisions, clothes to crutches. There was a table devoted solely to wires and cables for connecting everything from iPods to car batteries.  Another table covered in desk organizers and more shower caddies and bed risers than you could shake a stick at. There were rugs, shoes, appliances, kids toys, stuffed animals, decorations, enough  Christmas lights to decorate the coliseum and so many clothes (many still with tags) that the staff must have trucked them in by the bale on a forklift. And there were books; so many books.

Crutches and vacuums

Crutches and vacuums

If this is what they leave behind what do students take home? My guess is laundry and as little else as possible.  Is this stuff they brought with them, or stuff they accumulated over the course of the year?  What process of culling and sorting do they use? Have students figured out how to reduce a semester to a flash drive’s worth of space and, if so, why the hell am I still creating binders?

In upcoming posts this summer I will be writing more about my move from the University of Maine to Arizona State University.  The logistics of an academic move are complicated and, like moving from any other job, require some planning. Added to the logistics of a 2,900 or so mile drive from Vacationland to the Grand Canyon State it all makes for a wide array of blog topics. I’m currently deciding how to manage the flow of student work as this cross-country move offers an opportunity to ditch old methods of storing, scoring and sorting.  I do virtually all my grading digitally and students submit work to me digitally but I know there are areas where I can increase efficiency and streamline processes.  As I put together the syllabus and reading lists for my fall classes workflow will be on my mind and the opportunity for an academic clean sweep will be the goal.

Have you moved recently? Did you make changes to your work life? How did it go?

4 thoughts on “Academic Clean Sweep

  1. Pingback: What We’re Reading: June 6, 2013 | American Historical Association

  2. Katherine,
    I have made three academic moves over the course of my career thus far; from Ohio to Montana to Georgia. I know exactly what you’re experiencing! Doing the “clean sweep” will be liberating! You’ll see!

    The problem I have found is that after each clean sweep and move, I end up with the same piles of paper, binders, etc. when you described your piles, binder day, and the rest, you could have very well been talking about me! I go through the same rituals and still end up thinking, “How did all this paper and other stuff get here? Didn’t I cull this mess not too long ago?!” And yet, it all continues to pile up!

    I will be interested to follow your blog and pick up any tips and suggestions you may discover along the way. I have to believe someone out there has figured this out!


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