When it comes to homeownership and home improvement there are lots of receipts, and manuals, and warranties, and documents, and maintenance reminders, and just stuff! Luckily, “organization” is my middle name, so you can bet I get a kick out of keeping that stuff in check. Here’s how I do it.
I have a few methods for keeping home maintenance documents in order.
1. A Digital Calendar - For Maintenance Reminders
I use Apple Calendar, but Google Calendar, or any of those other cal apps will do the trick. I have recurring events in the calendar to make sure I keep up with home maintenance tasks. A few examples are:
On the first Saturday of October, clean out the gutters for the rainy season and reset the irrigation schedule
Every six months change the A/C filter
On the first Saturday in July, empty the washing machine pump
On the third Thursday in October, prepare to transfer funds to pay property taxes
You get the gist. There are apps out there that can do this for you, and some are likely better than a calendar. But I like it because it’s an app I already use religiously. Plus, if I’m out of town on that Saturday, I can just drag it to the following Sunday so I never forget to do it.
2. Dropbox - For Shared Documents and Receipts
Nowadays, most everything is digital - and I love that. We use Dropbox because it’s an easy way for both Ross or me to access our shared house documentation no matter where we are, even on our phones.
Ross travels a lot for work, so this is a great place to put the documents we’re reviewing for current projects. Things like spec sheets for solar panel options and PDF brochures for roof colors are particularly helpful to share here. When we get bids for projects from multiple contractors, I scan them all in and store them neatly in Dropbox so Ross can review them even if he’s on the other side of the country. It’s also super helpful for me because I’m not having to search through a bunch of email threads to compare the pricing from different tradespeople.
If you aren’t sharing files with someone else, I’d recommend storing them in a digital folder on your hard drive. If you don’t need it in “the cloud” just keep it internally. Did you know our digital files in the cloud and email have a carbon footprint?
We also store a lot of the things listed below in digital format. If it came digitally, I store it digitally in Dropbox. But I get a lot of things in paper, so that stuff goes in the binder.
3. Home Binder - For All The Papers
This is the main star of this blog post. I shared my home binder casually once on Instagram Stories nearly a year ago and I’m still getting questions about it to this day. Someone just messaged me about it yesterday, so here I am to tell you all about my house binder. It’s really not that revolutionary, but I do adore it, and I can see why people are curious about it.
I often prefer digital storage because it takes up less physical space and you can search through the files to find what I need. But there definitely comes a time and a place for paper storage. I have a three-ring binder with dividers and plastic sheets to organize everything. All of the binder components I repurposed from my college days, but you could ask your local Buy Nothing Group because there’s always a graduating student looking to unload their supplies.
First, why a house binder:
It’s nice to have important documents all in one spot instead of strewn about the house. I always know where to go when looking for something.
I like to think of this binder as something I can give to the future homeowner. They’ll have all the info they need about appliances and repairs done while the home was ours. And even if we don’t sell anytime soon, I get to enjoy it as a house scrapbook in the meantime!
When a tradesperson needs to see an old document or manual, it’s way easier than having them look over my shoulder while finding the digital copy. Plus you can toss it around on a job site unlike an iPad. It also saves you money when a tradesperson doesn’t need to spend time looking up a manual online - they’re billing you for that time!
Here’s what I store in paper format:
Whenever I get a significant item that comes with a manual, I keep it. Think washing machine, thermostat controller, sink faucet maintenance guide, etc. Sure, you can often find manuals online, which is great. But if I have it printed out already, why not keep it? This is especially handy if you feel like you’ll ever need to hand it off to a tradesperson. Just last week our thermostat broke and the technician asked if I had a manual. Boy, did I!
Rebate and warranty documents
Similar to the manual, I keep all of the paperwork that’s specific to my house/appliance/project. The warranty info with dates and serial numbers is worth holding onto.
I keep the paper receipts of things that already came in paper. But only the big stuff! I definitely don’t save the hardware store receipts when I buy a paint brush. But I’ll save the ones that I might need to use in the event I needed to file a warranty claim, or need to remember the retailer I bought it from, or if I just like to reminisce about the time I bought a nice new washing machine. *sigh* What a nice day that was. really.
I saved the brochure of our roofing material. No, not every single color option and sales pitch. But that handout with the info about the type of material and its expected lifespan and things like that. I’m sure it will be helpful one day.
Signed contracts with tradespeople are always important to keep. I scan these in and keep them digitally, too. But it’s nice to have in the binder as a comprehensive record of what we all agreed on.
I have the handout from when our house was in our neighborhood’s historic house fair. You can also treat the binder like a baby scrapbook, too! Maybe include before and after photos or pictures of you tackling that DIY project! I have a blog, so that’s where I store those photos, and I keep the binder mostly for archival information that a future homeowner would want. But by all means, have fun with it! Before starting the blog, I made a custom book full of before photos of the house and some of the projects we tackled in our first year. It’s pretty cute.
We had a crew run a camera down our main sewer line and they sent us the file on DVD. I ripped it so I have a digital version on my computer, but it’s nice to have the content in the binder on the DVD along with the documentation. If I were to hand this binder off to a new homeowner, it’d be nice not having to find the digital file and email it to them. This also came in handy when that sewer line had a leak - I was able to show it to the repair crew and they could identify the most likely area that it failed.
It’s nice keeping those oddly shaped forms and documents in the plastic binder sleeves so they aren’t sliding around or stapled to random pieces of paper. I also have saved some of the business cards of the tradespeople and representatives that gave us bids or did the work. Sure, I save their info in my phone, but it’s handy to have it all in one spot. Again, if I were to give this to the next homeowner, I wouldn’t need to un-digitize info for them because I get the hard copy.
Paint swatches can go in a sleeve labeled with the room it’s painted in, the sheen used, and the year it was painted.
Does that give you an idea of what we store and don’t store? You can really do with it as you please! Maybe add in photos of your accomplishments, or tell a story of the process. Maybe turn the house binder into a physical copy of a personal blog or baby book, or whatever. I like to think of mine as one I can hand off to the next homeowner, so it’s pretty impersonal. But you do you!
How it’s categorized:
I spent some time thinking about how I’d want to sort each of the things I wanted to store in my binder and I came up with the following:
Windows & Doors
That’s it for my house! But of course, some people will want a category for Pool or Chickens or Water Slide or any of the other things I don’t have in my home. You could also add a Furniture or Fine Art category, but I personally prefer to keep that separate from the house-themed binder, because that’s just stuff that lives inside of the house. Another fun category could be “Aspirational” where you store your green home improvement checklist.
4 - Spreadsheet for Tradespeople Info
I have an ongoing spreadsheet where I keep track of all of the contact information of tradespeople. I used a Google Sheet but Excel or Pages also works. I save the contact of the tradespeople I’m working with in my phone, but I use the spreadsheet for vetting new hires and organizing all of the referrals I ultimately get.
Basically, I just list the name of the contact, the company they work for, the contact information, the person that referred them, any notes about expected fees or quality of their work from the referral, the status of the bid like if they aren’t returning my calls, and any details or notes. Then, I color coordinated them as I went. I turned the text red of the people that I didn’t like, orange if they were a contender, then I highlighted green for the people we ultimately hired and worked with.
I keep dozens of spreadsheets for hundreds of things. I’ll save my spreadsheets for calculating solar production, or appliance shopping, or remodel budgeting for another day.
A couple of bonuses for storing information
I use Apple’s Notes App pretty religiously. It’s admittedly gotten a little out of hand and I wish I fell in love with another app that keeps you organized, but I’m still happy with Notes. It’s reliable, it syncs to my phone and computer instantly, and I can share notes with Ross super easily. Just today I had a tradesperson out to talk about our backyard and I immediately wrote everything down in the Notes app so I wouldn’t forget it. Then, I shared it with Ross so he could see what he missed out on. He read it on his lunch break which saved me from repeating it during our limited time we had to chat tonight before he had to go back to work for a long day.
This isn’t quite as related. But, since a big part of storing home documents is sharing it with someone else (a partner, a parent, a designer, an investor, a whomever) that also means we want to give access to those people. Ross and I use 1Password to share logins with each other. That way, we can both make changes to our home internet account, or I can manage the thermostat replacement even though Ross set it up in his name. It’s handy!
I’ll point out that the best part of 1Password, though (and the actual reason we use it) is that is generates and stores super complex passwords. Our accounts are very secure with these whacky passwords, and it integrates into our devices so I can use FaceID to log into these accounts - I only need to remember one password, and that’s the one for 1Password.
This little scanner is how I scan all the paper files that I’d prefer storing digitally. It’s a great at-home scanner because it’s petite and takes up very little space. There are many models available, but we have the one that connects via wifi to the computer so I don’t need to even plug anything in to upload the scans. It also scans OCR so the words within the files are all searchable. Magic!
That’s about it! Any questions? Leave them in the comments. I’ll probably flip through the binder later today on Instagram Stories, so if you want me to answer a Q, leave it here so I know to show it later on in video format.