Ask Unclutterer: Organizing child-related documents

Reader Victoria submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband and I our expecting our first child in July. Being the responsible adults we are (ha?), we took the child-birth and breastfeeding classes to prepare. Now I’m overwhelmed by all the handouts on everything from heartburn to pre-term labor to when to start feeding solids, etc. I’m at a lost at what to do with it all. Should I keep some of the handouts for future reference, or recycle them and look toward other resources for answers when needed? Help!

A giant congratulations to you on your expectant little one! The first thing to do is remember that thousands of years of women have given birth and raised children successfully without any of those pamphlets. So, if anything happens to them, you’ll be fine. I’m not saying you should get rid of them, but if you do, you’ll easily be able to ask your doctor, friends, and family for advice, as well as consult numerous books on these same topics once your child is born.

That being said, a nice resource guide is never a bad thing to keep around, especially if it provides advice you trust. I recommend getting a three-ring binder and filling it with sheet protectors. Sort through all the pamphlets and handouts you’ve received, and put those that you think are worthwhile into the sheet protectors. You might also want to store important numbers, track your child’s measurements, and keep any valuable papers related to your child in the same notebook. A three-ring binder is perfect to take with you to all those doctor’s visits you’ll make the first year and easy to use when you need the resources at 2:00 in the morning when your child is crying for no apparent reason.

I think you’ll be surprised, though, at how rarely you consult those resources. I really only looked at the chart I had about when to introduce certain foods and how to identify possible allergic reactions. The notebook was more of a security blanket for me. I’m glad I had it, but now that my son is about to turn one, I’ve already recycled the vast majority of papers in it.

If you’re worried that you’ll need something after you’ve recycled it, simply scan it and just keep the information digitally before dropping the handout into the recycling bin. Also, the notebooks are great to keep even after your child reaches his or her first birthday. They’re perfect for keeping track of your child’s sports schedules, preschool phone tree, and all those random papers your child will acquire. If you have another child, get a new three-ring binder for him or her, too.

Thank you, Victoria, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. And, again, congratulations on becoming a parent! Be sure to check out the comments for more ideas from parents about how to organize your child-related documents.

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22 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Organizing child-related documents”

  1. posted by wintersmom on

    I have to agree with Erin — you will rarely consult those references. Whenever I had a burning question, I went online and read every article, blog post, and forum thread on the topic, in addition to asking our ped and other parents.

    The only paper reference I kept was the booklet from my Red Cross Infant/Child First Aid class. I put it in our household binder and still read through it on a regular basis, to keep my skills fresh.

  2. posted by Grace Hester Designs on

    Ditto here, I kept the info I felt would not be easy to find online. But I held on to the What To Expect book series from pregnancy to toddler years which was super helpful in providing insight into everything I had questions about.

  3. posted by Jen on

    I also agree with Erin. And I like the reminder that women everywhere have been birthing and raising children without tons of handouts for thousands of years. Some of them can certainly be helpful, but I would bet that you will just remember the most helpful information from all those handouts and won’t really need to go back and consult them again. You’ll probably look back at your binder in a year or two and wonder why you kept it all. And then, happy recycling! I think the 80/20 rule applies here – 80% of the time, you’ll be consulting 20% of your references, most likely just a couple of books that you found really helpful. (I like What To Expect the First Year and Health Sleep Habits, Happy Child.)

  4. posted by wonderworld on

    Great advice!

    Very true- it is rare that you will ever consult those pamphlets & usually I found they were advertising propaganda anyway! Rather than toss them or recycle I simply returned them to the doctor’s office so they could just give them to someone else.

    Reality- you will never have enough time to read everything anyway! Also, there are more than enough live humans around you who are more than willing to offer advice & wisdom!

    I like the scanning idea for some of those really important papers, but then I would still return the original pamphlets to the doctor’s office (and WIC office, and medicaid office, etc!) afterward to let someone else have it.

  5. posted by Mike on

    “What to Expect the First Year” was the most useful of the various references when we had our first, and by the time our second came along, we didn’t even need that.

    Kudos to the submitter for taking the time to learn this stuff in advance. That preparation will pay off, even during those late-night crises when it won’t seem like you can keep a thought in your head. But as Erin pointed out, ultimately it helps to remember that people have been having babies for “a while now” and tend to manage things more or less correctly “on the fly.”

  6. posted by CM on

    I kept a file box and dropped everything in — why even spend time sorting it and nicely organizing it when you’ll probably never look at that stuff again? When he was a year old I recycled it all.

  7. posted by DJ on

    I’d toss these sheets of paper, read “What to Expect the First Year” or some similar book, and don’t worry. Erin is quite correct… when you have questions after the baby comes, you’ll be calling your doctor, friends who already have kids, family members, etc.

  8. posted by JDeLa on

    I bought an accordion file for my son and made tabs for ped visits, childcare research, birth certificate and SS card paperwork, owner’s manuals for his stuff and other seemingly relevant info (I don’t have the file in front of me at the moment). It’s fairly small, fits on a shelf and is easily recognizable for me as *his*. I sort through it every now and then and have found it really helpful when I am selling one/passing along/lending some of his stuff as I can just snag the owner’s manual and pass it along. I have made the same file for other friends (many who are not unclutterers!) and they have found them useful too.
    Ditto to Erin – the most useful piece of paper was the one on introducing food!
    Another rec for Happy Sleep Habits. And if you are inclined toward the philosophy of Dr Sears – bookmark his website instead of buying a book. It has all you need.

  9. posted by Marla on

    Agreed – keeping emergency phone numbers and first aid info handy is likely what will actually be used. Keeping great sites like the Berkeley Parents Network, Dr. Sears and maybe a site like Parent Central bookmarked is often easier.

    The one handout I kept was the one about how to deliver a baby in an emergency. I also needed nothing in the hospital for the labour other than a copy of Vanity Fair to read between contractions. Everything else, from socks to hard candies was available in the hospital shop, and enough people around me were able to catch and carry anything else I needed from home.

    In Ontario, we have Telehealth :

    and MedVisit:

    and the CFIA sends periodic emails with food recalls and allergy alerts:

    And websites like BabyCenter will send weekly newsletters that align with your baby’s due date and age and will help you to keep on track of milestones and stages and answer questions that might arise in a timely way.

    Really, you need to keep very little. Best wishes!

  10. posted by Java Monster on

    Oh my, whatever you do, DO NOT consult “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” while you’re pregnant. Just don’t. Unless they’ve seriously revised it from the early 90s edition I used to have, that book is well known to cause panic in new mothers when they go on to read the “This is what could happen to your baby if you do not eat a perfect perfect diet which we highly recommend you eat every day!”

    What to Expect the First Year is okay, but honestly, you don’t need that brick of a book either: get it out of the library, read it through, copy the relevant answers, and return it.

    Motherhood is not a cinch, but neither is it a needfully paper-packed event, either. Take pictures, keep your records (I’ve known mothers so anal and unhealthily into their baby’s every gained ounce it sucked the joy out of their motherhood) and then focus on the baby.

    But do not throw out the hospital paperwork, unless, of course, you’re doing a homebirth. Then don’t throw those docs out either.

  11. posted by Andrea on

    Remember any questions you have can easily be answered with a quick search of the internet. Other then reading for your enjoyment or learning about something in particular with your baby’s growth or development that was enjoyed by a friend, health practitioner or family member there is so much more info out there now then there was when the “what to expect” books started (and I had them all.) And after all people (maybe in chat groups you find that you like) are sometimes better resources then anything on paper.

  12. posted by [email protected] on

    Has my comment regarding La Leche League been deleted for some reason?

  13. posted by Jay on

    My advice is advice I did not follow and wish I had.

    Most doctors have a shot schedule. I would keep it or, preferably, re-type it in a computer spreadsheet. Whether on the shot schedule itself or in the spreadsheet, keep a record of what shots were given when. Double-check that your doctor’s office’s shot records are accurate. Also, keep the “receipt” from the doctor’s office showing that a shot was given.

    There are two reasons for this. First, you don’t want your child to receive a shot a second time by mistake; duplicative shots could be harmful. Second, some day camps and schools will want to see the doctor’s office’s shot records to see if all required shots have been given; you want these records to be accurate.

    As to handouts on other issues, see if there is a link to a website. If there is, jot the website down in a text file or other word processing file, and consult if necessary.

  14. posted by Cristy on

    Chuck ’em!
    Connect with some older friends who’ve raised successful families, and go with your gut. You won’t have time to be reading pamphlets. Your instincts are accurate – older friends have perspective. When in doubt – call your mom.
    AND –
    Cherish….. CHERISH the trip. Every moment. It’s the best thing that can ever happen. Don’t worry – revel. It’s a glorious thing.

  15. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jess — Yes. We had a post in the past where the comment thread was taken over by members of the group, and then by other people who dislike the group. The comments had nothing to do with the post, we spent way too much time monitoring the attacks being thrown at each side, and eventually closed comments and deleted the whole thing. We deleted your comment not wanting to see a repeat of the previous fight. No offense to you, just limited monitoring resources over the weekend.

  16. posted by Weevie on

    You can get a scanner (I got an excellent one from for <$80) and scan every document you think is a keeper. Then recycle the paper! This is great for all your documents, not just those for your baby.

  17. posted by JustGail on

    I’m going to 10th (11th/12th?) the recommendation to toss them in the recycle bin, and get a good book. I had one by the American Pediatric Association, or was that the American Medical Association, which covered birth to 10 years old. Consult with friends and relatives. Also, for the first year, you will most likely have regular checkups with the doctor, if it’s not a need-an-answer-immediately question, make a list. And it looks like you’ve gotten some good links to reliable web sites.

  18. posted by James on

    Plan to send baby to preschool eventually?

    Wait until the coloring papers and crafts start arriving EVERY DAY!

    The pamphlets will seem such a trivial concern! 🙂

  19. posted by Michele on

    1) Toss the pamphlets in a box. Look at them again from time to time, and then recycle them as they are no longer useful.

    2) Get a sturdy envelope for the birth certificate and social security card, and designate a safe place for them in the home — wherever it is you keep your own passports and similar documents. These are the important papers to keep track of; the childbirth and early childrearing papers are not.

    3) Buy or borrow a handbook for childrearing for the first year. We preferred the Sears books to the What to Expect books, but whatever works for you.

    4) Cultivate a network of other parents in your neighborhood, people with babies and with older kids, too.

  20. posted by [email protected] on

    OK, Erin, thanks for explaining that. What a shame it is so divisive.

  21. posted by Jen B. on

    By the time I came home with my little guy I had acquired so much paperwork that I felt panicked! The nurses and nursing consultants also really pushed for me to keep track of exactly when I nursed my baby, how often I changed him and what the contents were of each diaper (is the poop the size of his fist? It didn’t count unless it was!). After a couple days of that, I pitched it all into the recycling bin and settled in and went with my gut. I’m not saying I never needed help but there are better resources, as everyone else has pointed out!

  22. posted by James Lee on

    We got a portable file box, and put everything related to our daughter in there. We also created shared a folder in both Dropbox and Google Docs (each has its purpose/advantages & both are free) to keep all the digital stuff in a single place, and accessible from anywhere.

    As others have noted, we rarely refer to the stuff (mostly pamphlets, etc.) in the file box, but it’s nice to know it’s all there, and was especially reassuring when we were new parents and didn’t yet have a sense of what we’d really need.

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