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Organizing Your Important Documents: Introduction (Part 1)

Written by Mandy White

The need for knowing exactly where your important papers are, and having them organized and easy to locate, can’t be overstated. A friend of mine lost her husband to cancer, and said that one of the best things he did for her before passing away was to put together a notebook of all of the papers and accounts she would need.

So, what constitutes an “important document”, anyway? I look it as anything that:

a) Would be a big problem if it were lost, stolen, or destroyed

b) Would be a huge pain-in-the-neck to replace, or is irreplaceable

c) Would need to be found quickly in the event of an emergency

There are many places online to buy ready-made binders or kits for your important documents, but it is actually really simple, and a lot less expensive, to create your own.

Two years ago, for Christmas, I mass-produced these binders for my and my husband’s siblings. I gave ours the name “The Brain Book” because it is everything that’s in my brain that my husband would need to know if something happened to me, or that I simply can’t remember all of the time.

You can name yours whatever you like! So, let’s jump in!

Supplies You’ll Need:

A large, heavy-duty notebook (at least two-inches, though three-inches would be preferable)

A large pack of plastic sheet protectors

Stick-on divider tabs (they will stick onto your sheet protectors and can be written on or have a label inserted)


Recommended Supplies:

A fire-proof safe (These are exactly the types of documents you want to protect from fire or theft!)

Cardstock (for the section dividers)

A second, smaller notebook (I use a two-inch one) for bulky items

Clear, three-ring zippered pouches to hold bulky items

A large-memory flash-drive, or travel hard drive for backing up your computer

Multi-page sheet protectors (they hold up to 50 pages each) to hold things like Life Insurance policies (I had to order mine off of Amazon.)

A scanner or copy machine (don’t go out and by one if you don’t already have one, but see if a trusted family member or friend has one you might be able to borrow for a day)

A shredder (You can get a small, fairly inexpensive one at Target or Wal-Mart.)

That’s it! Gather your supplies, and we will get started assembling your binders tomorrow.

Mandy White is blessed to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. She and her amazing husband have three amazing kids. She loves to serve others, and her favorite time of year is fall. Unfortunately, in Arizona, fall doesn’t start until November!

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  • Amy says:

    This is a great idea. Thank you!

  • DawnJoy says:

    Thank you so much for this series. I’ve been meaning to start this project for some time now as I am the only one who knows where stuff is and hubby would be LOST with out my brain. Can’t wait for the next post.

  • Robin says:

    Cannot WAIT for this. I was cleaning our spare room this weekend and kept finding ~important paperwork in random places. Not good!

    • Lotus says:

      I have been trying to do this for past 4 years. Before 2 kids my documents and papers were all organized. With arrival of kids and other life changes keeping these documents in place fell apart. Now I am struggling with 4 years worth of papers work. Need to take small bite each day and hope this series is the right motivator for me.

      • Mandy W. says:

        It has been so great knowing where my baby’s shot record is every time I have to take her to the doctor! I hope you like it!

  • lynn says:

    This is an important topic. Last Labor Day we were evacuated out of our homes due to wildfires in Texas. We came home 5 days later and I immediately began to organize our important papers. We were fortunate and did not loose our home, but many of our neighbors were not so fortunate. I have heard so many horror stories about getting these things replaced. We all think it wont happen to me, but disasters can come in many forms. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement to take the time to do this BEFORE it is to late!

  • Traci says:

    Such a boring but integral issue! My dad died suddenly 3 years ago and my mom didnt know much about how their finances were set up. He did kinda have an old pension folder where I found seemingly useless documents but at least policy numbers I could work from. Although I know he knew exactly where everything was families tend to think differently so communicate with your spouse on how they think! At minimum have a list of policies/accounts somewhere other than your home!

    • Mandy W. says:

      I started our Brain Book when my friend (the one whose husband died) taught a class on it for church, but I became passionate about keeping it up to date when my own mom died almost 4 years ago. I will never forget her stopping in the middle of one of our conversations, and saying “Go get your dad. I have to tell him how to make the mortgage payment each month.” At least we had warning – she had cancer – but so many people we know haven’t had any warning at all!

      I am so glad everyone is excited about this! Thanks!!!

  • Jaclyn says:

    I just started working on this kind of project, so I am excited to follow this series to make sure I do not miss anything!

    I decided to get a 2″ binder and then 1″ binders for each person in our family. The not so top secret things will be in there and more accessible like copies of passports, shot records, copies of birth certificates, etc.

    Thank you!!!!

    • Jaclyn says:

      OH, and borrowing a scanner is a GREAT idea! Also, if you have a smart phone there is an app to turn a picture into a PDF. I have no idea what it is called, but my husband has it on his iPhone. I also can take pictures and turn my jpegs into a PDF for filing. I find this is just as easy and cheaper than going out to buy a scanner.

      Lastly- ask if you can take paper to work (you or your husband) to shred!

      Ok, I’m done. 🙂

  • Kara says:

    When you say 2 or 3 inch notebook, do you mean 3-ring binder? Totally doing this, have been putting it off WAY too long!

    • Mandy W. says:

      Yep, that’s exactly what I mean. Around here, we call them notebooks. And the reason I suggest a 3″ one is because they tend to fill up really fast, especially if you have more than 2 kids.

      Glad you are excited!

  • Really looking forward to this! I am always looking for tips on paper management and organization. My son has generated quite a bit of paperwork in his three years of life thus far, not to mention our regular documents. Right now its all in a cabinet but I need a practical way to be able to grab it and go. Thanks for doing this!

  • Tara says:

    I can’t wait! This is a great idea and something I’ve been meaning to do!

  • Shelly says:

    I should really do this. It became very apparent when I was in the hospital with our son, that my husband doesn’t know what he would need to know if something happened to me. Such a good idea to make one of these binders.

  • Jen says:

    This has been on my “to-do” list for years! Thanks for the extra motivation to get this done. I think it would be a HUGE blessing if anything happened to my husband or I . What a relief to not have to worry about these details when in the middle of a crisis or loss.

  • Christy says:

    Make copies of stuff and put in a safety deposit box and/or scan in and save to some sort of icloud type service. Even fire proof safes are not 100% “fire” proof and then there is flooding, tornados, etc.

  • Allison Voges says:

    I used to have a fire safe box with everything in it….until our house got broken into and it was stolen!! Fortunately I had removed all the birth certificates and SS cards for my husband and me because we needed them for something, but they did get my infant daughter’s SS card. I’m guessing that it was teenagers so I hope everything ended up in the garbage, but still…although with my awful credit if they were able to get anywhere with my identity, more power to them! I do have a box now with everything in it that I can grab if I have to, but it’s not fireproof.

    • Mandy W. says:

      Great point! I address this very issue a little in the last post. If you don’t have a firesafe that is too big to move, then you need to make sure that it is extremely well hidden.


  • Bree says:

    Great post! Couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m in the process of cleaning up our office right now. Thanks, for sharing.

  • Love this topic. In fact, it comprises one full category on my blog. In working through our personal documents (Box 1) and insurance documents (Box 2), I share each Sunday the next step in a way to organize. Having just started our investment and retirement (Box 3) file, we focused on reviewing our Social Security annual statement.
    Thanks for sharing your system. Keeping those important documents organized continues to save money, energy, and time. Happy filing!

  • ruth says:

    I would put an inventory list at the front of each binder that corresponds to each tab number.
    For ex:
    1) Birth certificates
    2) Copies of social security cards
    3) Passports
    4) Deeds to cars
    5) Deeds to property
    6) School degrees

    and so on. It is just a super quick reference. I inventory all the boxes in the attic too.

  • Leah says:

    I have been promising myself that I will do this for years. Now this will give me a little extra motivation to do this for our family and then help my parents and my in-laws get this done. Thank you for this!!

  • I know this is an older post, but I just came across it and love the idea of creating a binder filing system! Sharing on my blog 🙂

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