Anatomy of a Binder: Organize Any Project (with Pictures!)
Hand-me-downs were big in my modest, Midwest family. My favorite pair of roller skates came from a neighbor who outgrew them. My first pieces of jewelry were terribly gaudy items that my mom handed down. And of course, my favorite thing for school was the hand-me-down Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper given to me by someone who undoubtedly did not appreciate those awesomely 90’s graphics. Perhaps that totally rad binder was what started my love affair with organization.
I recently admitted that I am nearly obsessed with binders. The amount of joy that I get out of making one is probably unhealthy, but when they’re done well, a binder can save you from losing important documents, missing deadlines, and generally being unprepared. A great example is in my recent experience of buying my first house. My realtor and mortgage originator pointed out that I’ve been ultra efficient with the process, and that we’ll be able to close over a week early because of this. I can thank my binder for that.
So here is the anatomy of a good binder, with pictures! Feel free to put the steps together in any order that works for you. Just make sure they’re all ready before you start filling it, or you’ll have to do more work later.
- Cover. The cover is the funnest part! Just like my Lisa Frank binder, I prefer something colorful. Obviously for business projects, I don’t go with unicorns and purple pandas, but black and white is boring. Add a photo or line drawing, use your own markers or print it out, and set the mood for the rest of the binder. I’m not setting the bar very high on this one, but you should have seen my “Moving back to Michigan” binder.
- Inside pocket. I prefer to use the inside pocket for documents that I know I will need shortly, or for things I grabbed in haste and haven’t yet placed in with the rest of the content. Nothing should be in there for more than a day because it should be able to fit within the system that you’ve made for the content.
- Tabs. Imagine that your tabs are like an outline. They’re the Roman numeral, and what comes next are the subcategories. I’ve never made a binder without tabs, or at least some kind of section dividers (like a heading page, all in the same format) because it would be too inefficient to thumb through trying to find things.
- Content. I like putting my papers into page protectors when they’re more important (like with bank documents), but otherwise I just use a three hole punch. When you use page protectors, the tabs don’t stick out very far, so it’s a little more difficult to see the sections anyway.
- The Miscellaneous Pocket: my secret weapon! You can use an envelope, one of those handy pouches with a clear pocket and zipper that already has the three hole rivets, or you can do as I did here and use an empty page protector. Mine has scraps that don’t fit as whole pages, the almighty pen, my checkbook, and a page from an old business card organizer that I used to keep the cards of all of the realtors, bankers, and mortgage people I met. You need the name of the person who set up my new bank account because there’s a missing paper? Well, I happen to have his information RIGHT HERE! It’s a good idea to keep some of your own business cards in there, too.
Additional tip: electronic copies of things are great to have. I use Google Drive pretty frequently, but DropBox is also good, or just an external hard drive or cloud source. You could always set up a virtual binder like this and save a tree, too.
That’s it. This is the magical recipe to creating an efficient binder that will never let you down. The real key to binders is that they should be used as a central place for storing things, organized in a way that makes sense (like an outline), and that they should be updated and referred to regularly. I’ve seen shelves upon shelves of old binders, and half-finished projects in lonely plastic folders that were of no use to anyone, so don’t think that just having a binder makes it a good system. Have a good system and then make it into a binder. Lisa Frank would be proud!