Creating a central binder for your home

As much as I tend to store information digitally, slips of paper still manage to sweep into our home, such as gym schedules, school lunch menus, and event flyers. That is why I have set up a central home binder. It offers a safe haven for important papers, vital contacts for anyone to access, and a receptacle for health information.

I personally set up a very simple system for less than $15. Here is how to create one of your own:

First, decide what categories best reflect the kind of information you refer to often and that you want to store in your central home binder. Categorize by type of information or by family members’ names, or both. I keep my categories to five or less for simplicity — I don’t want the binder to be an overstuffed catch-all for everything.

The Categories (one per binder tab):

  • Contacts
  • Health & Fitness
  • Food
  • House
  • Travel

The Tools:

  • Simple Binder
  • Tabs
  • Plastic Pockets for In Between Tabs

Simple Binder

Select a binder size to match the number of categories and size you think you’ll need. Unless you have many people sharing the binder, a 1 to 1.5-inch binder should do. I use a simple, 1-inch binder with a plastic cover that’s sturdy yet malleable. It’s easy to squeeze it in between cookbooks in a cabinet beneath the kitchen counter.

Tabs

Use the number of tabs to match your categories. I purchased a package of five by Avery with large, easy-to-read tabs and printer-friendly labels.

Plastic Pockets for In Between Tabs

Some sheets that come into our home will simply be 3-hole punched and placed in the binder, such as a sports schedule. But others, like smaller pieces of paper, can be stored in clear pockets.

Filing Suggestions

Contacts: Keep a list of emergency contacts here. Phone trees, especially for your child’s classmates, are great since entering everyone into your address book would be unnecessary. Permission slips can go in the front pocket, too.

Food: Insert standard shopping lists and meal planning worksheets in this section.

Health and Fitness: A blank sheet of paper to record prescriptions fits nicely under this tab. Note which prescriptions need to be renewed and when. Jot down free medication sample names so that you know who and what they’re for in case you need a full prescription. Use pockets to insert doctors’ notes. Store exercise programs and fitness class schedules here also.

House: The section pocket is a great place to temporarily store recent house maintenance receipts for things like plumbing bills. That way, you have quick-access to the information in the event of a repeating issue. Also include cleaning checklists in this section.

Travel: If you employ a babysitter, this is a good section to include maps to locations your children may have to travel while you’re not at home. Google maps directions to music lessons and sports practices are appreciated by the people who aren’t a regular part of your routine. If you have frequent house guests, store a city map in this section to easily have on hand.

What systems have you used for your home-central information? Let us know in the comments, we are curious to know what has worked best for you.

42 Comments for “Creating a central binder for your home”

  1. posted by Sarah on

    This is very similar to the FlyLady system’s “Control Journal”. I’m not GREAT about using ours, but it sure is a fantastic way of organizing the household!

  2. posted by Geri on

    I love this idea! It’s like the ultimate address and reference book! I love the idea of storing maps and directions. I’m going to make one for my home, and I’m going to add a laminated blank weekly schedule and attach a dry-erase pen to the binder so we can fill in our schedules for the week and everyone can see where we are.
    I think it would be a good idea to purge this file on a regular basis, as schedules change or information gets outdated. This way important papers can get filed (eg the house receipts you describe) and the outdated ones trashed to prevent the binder getting clogged.

    Thanks so much for this, it’s a great idea!

  3. posted by Stuart on

    We include an “In Case of Emergency” section for the babysitter.

    Phone numbers to the hospital, fire department, police department, etc.

  4. posted by TMS on

    I did something very similar a few years back with an old filofax which I no longer used. But I included a section with instructions on how to use equipment such as the DVD recorder and washing machine for my non technically minded and elderly dad so that when I was away he could refer to it quickly rather than having to call me up.

  5. posted by Imelda on

    my housemate and i did this sometime last year, except we just did the in case of emergency sheet. since she international, it’s helpful to have her folks contact information even if they are in japan. we never know what might happen.

    we also have another binder with take out menus and another with recipes. :)

  6. posted by Tabitha (From Single to Married) on

    This is a great idea! I keep meaning to do it only for emergency information and haven’t gotten around to it yet – thanks for the reminder!

  7. posted by Peters Effective Beans on

    I have found GTD’s 43 folders to be over the top for me and my family.

    However we keep one folder on the countertop called “Agenda” (Any name will do). Everything ind this folder is ordered by date (next upcoming event or obligation).

    This is where we keep all the paper that used to sit on the fridge door. If a slip of paper from school has a date on it like invitations or fundraisers, I highlight the date and and file it in order of date in that folder, the paper to the front of the folder being the next upcoming event.

    We now also include schedules and cupons that will expire, but you get the idea.

    This means that by a glance I can see the next

  8. posted by Taylor at Household Management 101 on

    I really advocate the idea of having a household notebook, because it can help you keep track of lots of different areas of your life at once, simply.

    3 advantages of keeping a household notebook are:

    1. It lets other people in your family know what needs to be done around the house, and can encourage them to participate without you having to nag.

    2. It is a great resource in case of an emergency where you need to get out of the house fast. Grab your household notebook and you will have access to a wealth of information you need, such as phone numbers for insurance agents, etc.

    3. In situations where you are unavailable, because you are sick, helping someone who is in the hospital, out of town, etc., it allows others to know what needs to be done, including friends or extended family, who come to help so the house does not descend into complete chaos.

    There are lots of other reasons to create a household notebook, but those are some ones that come to mind first.

    I have a section of my website, Household Management 101, devoted to this topic (click on my name as the link to the main page of this section), because I really think it is so important.

    In addition, I have a page devoted to how to make a household notebook, where you can also share how you made your own.

    http://www.household-managemen.....ebook.html

    Come over and visit if you want!

  9. posted by knitwych on

    I’m planning to make one of these for our household. I’ll add a “Storage/Supplies” section, where I’ll list out supplies we have on hand and their location, as well as where infrequently-used items (such as the large snack trays we use when entertaining 2-3 times a year) are stored.

    Hopefully, this will save me the pre-entertaining ‘Where did I put that?’ panic, and keep my DBF from going out and buying cleaning supplies he thinks we’re out of. We have a designated shelf in the garage for cleaning stuff, but he never checks it. Thus, we have 3 bottles of ammonia, 4 bottles of spot carpet cleaner. Argh.

    I will also add a “Pet Care” section for our house-sitter. We have six pets total, and everybody has special feeding rules regarding what food is fed to whom at which location in the house, who is sneaky about stealing food, who’s not, etc. That’ll save me having to print out the ‘Care and Feeding of the Zoo’ instruction sheet every time we go out of town. :-)

  10. posted by Shalin on

    Awesome! I have a couple binders of misc topics, I should really consolidate them…and use them…

    –S

  11. posted by TuringTestFail on

    I keep a “house book” that is similar, but mine just has everything that has been done to the house. Before and after photos, receipts, warranties, flyers, etc. When I go to sell the house, I put it for potential buyers to look at. Realtors have told me it is a huge selling point. The buyer of my last home sent me a note thanking me for that book after a needed repair. Similar idea to yours! Great post, I will probably start a “how this house runs” notebook now!

  12. posted by Lia on

    I’d suggest a second binder with more important vital information in case of death/accident. It would include things such as auto titles, financial/bank contact info and account numbers, copies of insurance policies, important computer passwords, who to contact in case case of EXTREME emergency, etc.

    One of my clients passed away and his wife (in her 40s) was not easily able to identify or stop the automatic withdrawals from their checking account because she could not locate the passwords to their Quicken software or to even figure out what the $$ was going to! It took her months to figure it out – on top of trying to settle his estate.

  13. posted by Kait on

    Oh, sounds just like Flylady’s control journal! Very useful to have a system like this – I couldn’t do without mine.

  14. posted by Rue on

    I keep a file box that I file pretty much everything listed into. The only things you’ve mentioned that aren’t in there are a) my address book, and b) take-out menus. I only have like three menus so I keep them in a drawer by the fridge. My file box has everything from vital records, to bank statements, to old tax returns, to pay stubs, to credit card info, to manuals for appliances.

    I do agree with Lia’s suggestion to also have a vital information binder. But since it contains sensitive information, it should definitely be stored in a secure place (like a safe-deposit box, or at the very least a fireproof/waterproof box somewhere in the home), and everyone in the home should know how to get into it.

    I also agree with the person who suggested having a binder with all of your home information (repairs, remodels, photos, etc) in it. It makes it easier to sell the house later because you have a record of everything that’s been done to it – no having to fish around or guess at dates/amounts, etc.

  15. posted by Cynthia on

    We don’t have a house binder, but I think it’s a greatput together a binder dedicated to my son for his school. I have different tabs for newsletters, invoices (private school), activities, returned homework and things he made at school are kept in clear plastic sheets.

    The current newsletter and activites are kept on the refrigerator as they are easily accessible that way. When the new one comes out I put it away in the binder. I’ll keep all the newsletters and activity announcements for the year and then discard anything we don’t need anymore at the end of the year. This way, I can look back at what they were doing in a particular month, if I ever need to know. Last year, I started throwing everything in a plastic box and it was too difficult to keep track of, I like this much better.

    Having a home one would be beneficial, so that I can keep current insurance policies on hand and warranty information as well.

  16. posted by Sadie on

    About 2 years ago, a friend of mine told me about a friend of her’s that was using this binder system.

    I tried it and it worked better than any system that I had tried before…And I was hooked.

    Have been using it since then, it just suits my lifestyle to a ‘T’…

  17. posted by rhetor1999 on

    I have collected business cards of all the people who have worked on the my house or that I have regular interactions with –vet, dr. insurance, banker, etc–and put them in those 8X11 plastic 3 hole punched business card holders that come with organizing systems.

    Those pages are then placed in my HOUSE/IN CASE OF EMERGENCY file, for quick reference.

    Why retype all that info?

  18. posted by Lily White on

    The most effective organising part of this wasn’t mentioned.

    I’ve got a display book into which I slip all the takeaway menus for the places around me. Vouchers for a particular place go into the same pocket as their menu. It keeps everything together, accessable, and means that when you’re wandering around trying to gather choices, the menus don’t get separated and left around the house.

  19. posted by midlifemom on

    I have kept a binder for kids’ activities for many years. Each child has a section and within each is a tab for ‘school’, ‘sports’, ‘extracurricular’. But more and more information is coming from coaches, school, etc. via email and the web. Since I am trying to reduce my paper consumption I don’t print everything out to put in the binder. Instead I have created digital notebooks using Evernote. I can add entire documents or just sections of relevant text. And I don’t have to worry about misplacing anything. The search function searches WITHIN the documents (even PDFs) themselves not just the file or note name. I use both the desktop and online version that self-syncs. This way I have the info via my smartphone where ever I am.

  20. posted by J. Ann on

    For me, I ended up with 2 binders so far: one has 4 general sections in it; 1 section per family member. This binder holds our important documents such as birth certificates, vaccine records, social security cards, passports, decrees, credit reports, etc. Yes, I also have every family member’s current shoe/shit/pant size in there so I can shop for gifts or, like recently, shop for the proper pant size/length for hubby to use at work, & the same with my son’s school uniforms.

    I have another binder full of nothing but my son’s stuff. It has a section for his medical records, awards/certificates, school stuff (grades, teacher contact info, etc), child support papers, and then custody/visitation papers.

    Once my daughter starts Kindergarten in the Fall, chances are she’ll accumulate papers of her own with grades & what-not on it, so I’ll have to set up a binder for her soon.

    We then use an accordion file for other things. One set is for instruction manuals of things we have or stuff that can be taken apart (complicated furnishings, toys, etc), repaired, or has a warranty. I usually write the serial# & other info on the manual, as well as staple the receipt to it.

    I use another accordion file for bills, bank statements, and that sort of thing. For most of the utilities, I only keep the last 3 months’ statements, with the exception of the phone bill (has call records on it), credit cards that have a balance, car loans, and rent/mortgage pmts.

    Then I have another accordion file that houses 2 years of bank statements, 2 years of pay stubs, and 7 years of income tax returns & related papers. This accordion is basically my archive, just in case the IRS decides to audit or do something crazy. For each year that I add stuff to it, I take the oldest year’s stuff out & shred it.

    I’ve just swapped banks, and my new one has the capability to have our bills/statements delivered online to our online banking account, where it can be accessed/viewed for 6mos. We’re going to give it a shot & if things work out, then it will eliminate the need for our “bills” accordion at least! Less paper in my home means less clutter, so my aim is to get rid of it! :-)

  21. posted by Marjorie on

    I’ve been using a “Family Notebook” for the last five years, and I’m a HUGE believer. In addition to your suggestions, we also keep all our take-out menus there, plus event tickets. We also have an “In case of Emergency” page at the front with phone numbers, including our lawyer and financial advisors.

    One big mistake I made was to include a list of account numbers. We were lucky that no one stole this page or abused the information, but in retrospect that was kind of a dumb thing to do.

  22. posted by McColley.net » Blog Archive » Organize All Your Paper with a Central Home Binder [Organizers] on

    [...] with a number of online paper templates, like the previously noted Household Notebook forms. Creating a Central Binder for Your Home [...]

  23. posted by RandomWorker on

    In our home binder we use clear sheet protectors for everything. No papers go in there with 3 holes. This way there’s no punch to be looking for, you just slip in the paper.

    Our binder is also bright green, so that it’s easily seen if it get caught underneath something.

    And one last thing, from the front of the binder, the first sheet is visible and that is the sheet that contains all the phone numbers. You can see the phone numbers without even opening up the binder.

  24. posted by Slackerology - Organize All Your Paper with a Central Home Binder [Organizers] on

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  26. posted by Diane on

    I’ve recently started a 3 binder system – 1 for me & 1 each for my high school & college sons. We each have too much to combine it into one binder.

    Mine has general bills, rebates, contact info, orders placed (until rec’d, orders waiting to be placed, anything current & ongoing until it is completed & filed (insurance claim & tax filing info for example).

    High school son’s contains Varsity soccer team info, premiere soccer team info, school calendar & info for the year, class planning for next year, orders placed (yearbook, team photos), class info & progress reports for each class.

    When I go to parent/teacher conferences or soccer team meetings I have everything I need in his binder.

    College son’s contains school calendar, class schedule, tuition/financial aid info, pending items (car registration & insurance renewal), bills to pay, medical bills for a recent accident (until resolved).

    Anything that comes for him while he’s at school gets filed there. When he gets home for the weekend he can review his items, pay bills and get whatever he needs (new AAA card).

    So far, seems to be working pretty well. Each binder contains a few clear folder dividers & a couple of plain dividers, and some items are hole-punched & inserted.

    I don’t have piles of paper growing for each person and don’t have to search files for current items. Only completed items are filed away and everything current is at hand.

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  28. posted by Jeanne on

    I did something similar with appliance warranties, directions, etc. It’s a great way to keep things organized.

  29. posted by Sue on

    Thanks to everyone for your detailed responses in how you have or will make this home binder system your own. You’ve added several great ideas, such as tabs for warranties and ‘how to’s’ for guests needing to use DVD players and remote controls.

    All the best,

    Sue Brenner
    Unclutterer

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  31. posted by Wise Finish on

    This is a fantastic idea, I have been to someone’s home that had one of these and found it useful.

  32. posted by Organize All Your Paper with a Central Home Binder [Organizers] | Ramblings on

    [...] with a number of online paper templates, like the previously noted Household Notebook forms. Creating a Central Binder for Your Home [...]

  33. posted by Turn your junk drawer into mission control (in less than an hour) | This Tiny House on

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  34. posted by Bob Parker on

    We started creating a similar system for each home business that was great for VA/temps/administrators. The key is remember that these are never complete, so keep adding notes to keep it updated.

    These can be great emergency reference for babysitters and house sitters and pet sitters.

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  40. posted by Molly Green on

    Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I will be featuring this tutorial in my weekly newsletter this week ( A Minute with Molly). There will be a link to your site and full credit will go to you. If you want to see past newsletters so you can kind of see what it will look like, just go to econobusters.com and look on the right hand sidebar for the hot pink text.

    Thanks!

  41. posted by Dianne Long on

    Just a small warning to those of you storing sensitive inbformain such a binder… Anyone can view what is in there, so your most confidential information should NOT be stored in this manner. Social Security numbered items, birth certs, passports and such should be locked up away from prying eyes.

    Buy a fireproof home safe or box and keep sensitive information stored in there.

    Never keep an original document in anything that can get lost, burned, or otherwise destroyed.

    Get a safety deposit box at the bank.

    Dianne

  42. posted by A year ago on Unclutterer on

    [...] Creating a central binder for your homeA central home binder offers a safe haven for important paper, vital contacts for anyone to access and a receptacle for health information. [...]

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