Scratch Paper, Scrap Paper: Using Your Paper Again, and Again

Back in ancient times, social scientists shot down the common supposition that we would all be paperless by now. We’re using more paper than ever. As knowledge work grows, paper use grows; because paper is a tool for thinking, which is distinct from thinking with digital devices. (<<<< Lots of reasons for this, which are all beyond this scope of this humble blog post.)

But the production, distribution, and disposal of paper and electronic devices alike, scars the natural environment. As a human being I care about this; as a birdwatcher (I prefer the term “bird nerd”) I regularly see the damage of human consumption on the natural world.

As ONE lone human being, there is not a lot you can do individually, but you can do some things.

You can actually use what you buy.

You can get as much use as possible, out of the paper you bring into the house. (More on this, below!)

And depending on where you live, you can recycle the rest.

This is also good for your budget.

Flip Your Paper Over, to Double its Memory

You know what’s cool about paper?

Paper has two sides!

Unlike a written work on the internet, you can take writing that is on a piece of paper, flip the device, I mean, the piece of paper over, and re-use it again!

Wow! Try that, with your e-thingy!

Paper technology automagically gives you double the memory capacity. (Wouldn’t it be cool if you could flip over your laptop, and instantly double the storage?)

Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, does not use his nicer notebooks for scribbling down his initial writing ideas.

He saves paper he’s printed out, and then uses the back of it for what is called colloquially, “back of the napkin” ideas.

Yeah. Paper napkins, our cultural shorthand for geniusness on the fly*: Ding ding ding! Again, with the usefulness of paper! I’m telling you: paper is a multi-tool!

Of course you can also print both sides of your paper, but in some cases it’s more useful to print just one side. (I use paper notes for public speaking, and only print those on one side for delivering the speech. For other uses, I do print the paper on both sides.)

Storing Your Scrap Paper

Scratch paper, scrap paper, whatever you call it, it’s good to keep it on hand.

It’s also good to designate a place, or places, where your scratch paper lives.

I like to keep mine in a couple of sizes.

Full-size letter-size scrap paper lives in the same bin I use for my clean printer paper:

an arrow points to a folder labeled scrap paper, inside the bin

Scrap paper that I have cut up, and index cards that I’m going to re-use to write on the backs of, live in this little desk tools sorter:

an arrow points to a slot filled with cut-up pieces of paper

Paper is Your Multi-Tasking Multi-Tool

Obviously you can use paper for your own “back of the napkin” thinking: jotting down a list, drafting a timeline, creating a mindmap.

Other uses:

Cut paper up to use for reminder slips for your tickler file. I also use the backs of index cards, and the backs of memo pad paper for this.

Trade with a kid: give the child your scrap paper and some crayons, and get your phone back.

Even better: put the phone away, share the crayons (as possible), and draw together.

Clean up your custom rubber stamps by pressing them onto a clean, damp sponge, and then stamping a piece of scrap paper until the ink is cleared off.

Shred used paper for guinea pig bedding or package packing material, if you must shred paper at home.

Cut out some paper snowflakes.

Draw some demons.

The possibilities with paper are endless.

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Wondering how to manage your paper-based or hybrid paper-digital systems? Ask me a question.


* Spoiler alert for Glass Onion: the plot turns on notes scribbled on the back of a paper napkin.


Burkeman, O. (2023) Webinar: ‘Designing Your System for Creativity’, 11-12 March.

Havron, A. ‘Draw Your Demons’ (2023), 3 March. Available at: (Accessed: 20 March 2023).

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