The Magic of a 3-Ring Binder

I know it seems archaic, but you can’t beat a simple 3-ring binder for getting your life in order. In this age of Google calendars and Facebook reminders, a simple binder can put details and documents at your fingertips in a way that digital devices can’t. A binder contains and organizes information and records you can actually touch. You can hold it in your hands or lay it on a countertop for all to see. You can flip through and add to it. Don’t dismiss this humble tool until you have given it a try! 

Here are 5 of my favorite ways to use binders:

Create a school year portfolio for your student 

After 6 years of homeschooling, I was still throwing every scrap of paper into a box for each child. I felt like I had created an archeological dig. If I wanted to find 3rd grade work, I just had to dig down 4 layers. Then I heard a mom explain the idea of creating a school portfolio. One binder for one child for one year. The only other items required were 3-ring sheet protectors and a box for temporary filing (and of course you can decorate the cover).

As we went through our school year, I threw worksheets, piano recital programs, field trip ticket stubs, math tests and all the bits and scraps that come with school days into each child’s box. After we enjoyed art projects and science experiments, we took photos that could be printed and included in our portfolio (and tossed the projects).

Halfway through the year, we sorted and added to each binder. The cover page stated the name, grade, year, and then a list of the courses studied, extra curricular courses (such as tennis team or playing flute), field trips or vacations, and services opportunities. Then the pages were filled with samples, awards, photos, tickets stubs, and all the things that fill the calendar. At the end of the school year, we took another “in service” day to file the best samples — and tossed the rest.

One of the best (most unexpected) benefits — besides the taming of the paperwork— was seeing the kids pull out their portfolio to show to their grandparents when asked what they were doing in school. Instead of answering “nothing”, they flipped through the pages together talking about their classes and experiences. They still pull out their portfolios and enjoy them.

In the younger years, we worked together, but as our kids got older, they took over the creation of their school binders.

Set up a binder to collect documents for a trip or event

My two daughters each spent a year abroad with Rotary Youth Exchange. Even before they turned in their application, we set up a binder (complete with nice cover and empty sheet protectors) so we had a place to collect the huge assortment of documents that were required including visa application, money transfer information, addresses for host families and counselors, school transcripts, insurance forms, plane tickets, etc. As different issues arose, all the documents were in one place at our fingertips.

Use a binder to collect medical records

When one of our kids developed a strange, ongoing health issue, I realized that we had records and tests scattered all over the place. It was time to start a binder.

Things are much easier now with electronic record sharing, but I was surprised how helpful it was to bring the binder to appointments and be able to answer questions about tests or dates or medications quickly for the staff. We were even able to track down an MRI from 8 years ago (because I had saved the ER documents) that significantly helped with a diagnosis.

A binder takes the file folder one step further, because it is so easy to flip through the pages and reorganize as necessary. With medical issues, it is important to pay attention to these details and not just assume that electronic records are infallible.

As a joke, we set up a binder for our inbound exchange featuring him as a band member of One Direction (a little cut and paste!) 

Keep a binder of login ids and passwords 

Who knew 10 years ago that we could be keeping track of 200+ passwords and counting? You may tell Chrome to remember yours, or use an app such as LastPass, but I still like to write mine down in a book. And my favorite book is… (you guessed it) a 3-ring binder primarily because I can fill a page, cross out, update, rewrite, and when it is just too messy, I can pull out just one page, make a clean version and replace it. Sometimes, I rearrange according to types of accounts. 

Is this the most secure plan? I am sure not. But if someone can actually find this ONE binder in my shelves of binders, they almost deserve have it : )

Collect recipes and favorite family meals

Of course this can be done digitally as well, but building your own family recipe book—even with pages printed from the computer—creates a very personal tradition. It can have the value of looking through a diary, especially if you have your family make notes about the date it was first served, who liked it best, what occasion it was served at or who gave the recipe. Photos could be added. Younger children especially love flipping through pages and then “helping” in the kitchen.

I just love tools that help me spend less time on things I don’t enjoy (such as hunting for paperwork, losing important documents, looking at piles that keep growing) and more time for on things I love. The options are endless. I bet you already have a binder project in mind… give it a try.

About the Author

Jennie Lodien is the author of Thrifty and Thriving.  She is an enterprising mother, graphic designer, home manager, and friend. She and her husband skillfully live on a small budget and are always looking for creative solutions to life’s demands. They live in Minnesota, the beautiful state of 10,000 lakes, and are parents of three young adults.

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