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Making a household notebook work for you

Ever wake up and ask yourself, “How did I get here?”

Whether it’s an untidy house, a jumbled bank account, or an overpacked schedule, I’m stuck in chaos on more than one occasion. It may be because I am bursting with creativity or actively working on a project. Or I might be in such a fog of busy-ness, I can’t see clearly.

As moms we’re responsible for the welfare of others as well as ourselves. That’s the nature of the job. While we can’t do everything perfectly—nor should we try—it’s in our and our family’s best interests to put a little order into the chaos.

This is where paper comes to my rescue. Not only does writing things down help me make sense of my thoughts, it also helps me organize my life and my household. And I do it with my handy dandy notebook.


Tsh wrote years ago that her household notebook was her brain. I completely agree. I have so many thoughts floating in my head, I have to capture them somewhere, put them in order, and create a plan to give feet to my ideas.

A household notebook or personal planner is a great tool to help you manage your home and family responsibilities and to capture those elusive thoughts.

Where to start?

You don’t need to have a complicated planner system. When I was a tween, DayRunner came out with their inaugural planners. My mom and all her friends were smitten, but it seemed you had to take a class to figure out how to make it work for you. They would get together over coffee to try to make sense of all these papers and lists.

No, no, no. Let’s keep things simple.

1. Include some basic lists and records in your household notebook:

  • a calendar
  • a to-do list, like Tsh’s Daily Docket
  • an address book
  • the lists you find yourself creating over and over again, like a meal plan, a grocery list, or a checklist for road trips.

2. Tweak it to fit your needs.

We each have different needs, desires, and quirks when it comes to a personal planner or household notebook. I like to have separate binders for my homeschool records and for our financial records. My homeschool binder stays in our schoolroom because that’s where I use it. Our accounting book stays in the office where I pay the bills.

But, my personal/household notebook—my brain—goes with my everywhere. It’s lightweight and easily portable, and includes the things that I need throughout the day, like my meal plan, my calendar, my idea file, my shopping lists, my writing and blogging files, and my overarching goals for life. I even laminated some of the pages to save paper and to give me a fresh start on my daily to-do list.

Customize your book to fit who you are and what you need on a daily basis.

3. Bind it.

Many folks like to put their planning pages in a three-ring binder. I tried this for years, to no avail. I gave it up after a few months of lugging around an unwieldy book. A few years ago, I tried a new tactic and had mine spiral bound. Now, I take my notebook everywhere with me—and it serves me well, instead of taking up space in a cupboard.

Choose the packaging system that works for you and then put together a planner that rocks. Add color and fun accents to make it suit your personality.

4. Use it or lose it.

You’ve heard it before—“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Make your household notebook work for you! Make it fit you and your life and your sense of style.

Last year I wrote an e-book that explains in more detail how to put together a household notebook, and how to maximize its potential to help you get your act together. The e-book is chock full of planning pages and inspiration for organizing your day, your home, your life. (And if you’re a homeschooler or a blogger, I’ve got those details covered, too.)

The most important thing to understand about a personal planner or household notebook is that it’s there to make your life easier, to help you keep track of your responsibilities and to free you up to do the things that matter most in your life.

Life is too short to spend it a day late and a dollar short. Make the most of your days and capture those elusive thoughts in a household notebook.

What’s your organizational system for keeping track of things?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Blondage

    This is on my To-Do list for the week – the one job I WASN’T looking forward to due to a complete lack of inspiration and motivation.

    This post was exactly what I needed – thank you for the bump in the right direction 🙂

    • FishMama

      Yeah! I love it when that happens.

  2. Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy

    My household notebook is set up on a September-August calendar, and I haven’t made a new one even though it’s September 26! Thanks for the encouragement to get on the ball! (I used Life as Mom sheets last year and it worked very well…this year I’ll be making a few tweaks to customize it even more.)

    Thanks for the reminder, so I can get this done before October!

  3. Carrie de

    What kind of marker do you use? I tried to do my lists with a dry erase marker sometime ago, but I never used it because the tip was too big for my liking. Do they make markers with a tip more similar to a regular pen, like the extra fine sharpies?

    • Christina Y

      I’ve used sharpies with ultra fine tips (they’re not dry-erase, though). You can find them at any office supply store 🙂

    • FishMama

      I use fine tip wet-erase pens, also called overhead projector pens. And I use baby wipes to erase.

  4. Susie's Homemade

    I have everything in Google Calendar and is REALLY light-weight since it all fits in my iPhone.

  5. Paula

    I am using apps on my iPod touch for my organization. I use iCal for meals, appointments and homeschool schedule. I have cleaning routine and a grocery list app. My contacts are on there and I use Evernote for other notes and ideas

  6. Brittnie (A Joy Renewed)

    I use a basic Blue Sky planner and then write my own to do lists (on plain notebook paper) and keep it inside the planner. This system works ok for us now since we do not have kids, but I can definitely see myself needing a better system in the future. Thanks for the ideas and inspiration!

  7. Seriously Sassy Mama

    That is a genius idea. I wonder if I could stick with it?

    • FishMama

      It definitely takes some practice — just to remember to put all your notes in one place. Once you do that, you’ll need it so much that you have to stick with it. 😉

  8. karen

    ah, colour me overwhelmed!

    • FishMama

      In a good way or a bad way? If it seems too much, you can simply start with Tsh’s Daily Docket. That’s a great, simple beginning.

  9. jenlarson

    I use the google calendar, and I have my address book and budget setup in google docs, so they’re always handy (can access from any computer or my phone). But, I love Tsh’s daily docket for my to-do lists! Thanks for some new ideas!

  10. Tashia @ The Household Planner

    I use a Household Planner and my Outlook calendar since I am on my computer all day. I agree that your household should be something that works for you! There is no “one size fits all” when creating a system to help you organize your household and daily routines.
    I have lots of Free Printables for your household planner on my website! 🙂

  11. Sharon W

    I just emptied out an old binder last night in hopes of making a household book. Just a few weeks ago I had to call after hours for my daughter to see a Doctor and was stumbling when asked what her birth date was. Was it the 21st or 23rd???? They couldn’t find her record under either date. I asked my husband her birth date and he said it was the 27th!!! In the end, I had given the right birth date, they just didn’t look far enough down the list after seeing a name similar to my daughters! It would have saved some time if I had it written down! Yes, of course, I know her birth date (most days), it’s just in that moment of panic that you forget things you thought you’d never forget.

    • FishMama

      THAT is a funny story. I hope you guys are able to laugh at it. 🙂

  12. Maggie

    We have a monthly calendar on our fridge for everybody to use and see what is going on. The address book is with the stamps and mailing stuff near the phone.
    We do have a set daily, weekly, seasonal rhythm in our home so planners normally do not help me, …they make it actually more complicated for me. Everybody knows pretty much what is going on in our house on a regular basis. If something comes up that needs to be done the next day, I put it on a post-it or on the calendar on the fridge.
    The shopping list is also on the fridge so when we are running low or out on something the person who used it last puts it on the list, ready to take on our weekly shopping trips.
    I guess you could say our fridge is our “household notebook”.

  13. Mary

    I love this idea and didn’t know I could just have something wire bound (I dropped $50 on the last planner I purchased and it still doesn’t meet my needs!) By laminating the cover (I’m assuming that can be done) you can use designer worthy decorative paper, personalize it with anything you like and even include a photo! I’m sold!

    • FishMama

      You don’t even need to laminate the cover, unless you really want to. You can have them add a clear plastic cover. I don’t think they charged extra for that, though lamination is extra.

      • Mary

        Thanks for sharing that FishMama! I’ve never tried this and it’s good to know!

  14. Lisa

    Love it! I am implementing a new organizing system for my coupons this week which involves a 3 ring binder. Currently my home management notes are kept in my tablet. But, that may change. Whatever works…

  15. Mary Ann

    Wow! This is so timely, I was actually thinking of putting something like this together – and you gave lots of helpful hints. I may do a blog post and link to this one as I know there are so many people who would find it useful. thanks so much!

  16. Jennifer@A Blog of My Very Own!

    I love the idea of a household binder or control journal or whatever you want to call it, and I have even tried putting one or maybe 3 (blushing) together. But I can’t ever seem to use it once it is pulled together. I like the idea of spiral binding. But I’m thinking a plain spiral notebook might just work for me. I’m excited to find a “method” that will suit me 🙂

    • FishMama

      Having it bound is what clinched it for me. I can fold it back on itself and save space. Binders don’t work that way.

      • Jennifer@A Blog of My Very Own!

        I found a pin on pinterest that showed a household binder using a Mead 5Star “Flex” binder. It is a normal 3 ring binder, but the spine is made of material so it folds back completely like a spiral bound book. It was a bit more than I’m used to spending for binders, but I think it is something that I will actually use!! I can’t wait to get started on moving my dividers over 🙂

        • FishMama

          Sounds like a great product!

  17. Kimberlee Lorenz

    Hello! I love the notebook idea! I wish you would design an iPhone/iPad app! I would definitely buy it!

    • FishMama

      I wish I would, too!

  18. MamaBird

    Great tips and ideas! My organizational system involves lists, lists, lists. I am the hub of a multi-generational home of 6 (and sometimes 7), so organization is a must. I have a Simple Mom-inspired household notebook divided into multiple categories each with running lists, as well as a daily to-do list, housekeeping checklist and calendars. I also use chalk boards around the house… we have one for the weekly dinner menu (my mother and I each sign up for days to cook for the week ahead), a board listing the kids’ morning routine, and one for the kids’ chores too. I like to see things in writing, and check them off. Digital lists just don’t cut it for me. 🙂

  19. Brenda

    Hi Jessica,

    I really appreciate your efforts in listing your daily to-do lists. I like the notebook, it is designed for you to manage your schedule very clearly. Great Job!

  20. Andrew Walker

    Hi there. Thanks for sharing this with us. It’s a very interesting tips from you.

  21. Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site

    I must admit that my notebook is my brain, and it is getting too full! I really must get on board with a real notebook! Thanks for all the great ideas everyone!!!

  22. Kristen

    You mean I could potentially condense my meal planning papers, my blogging calendar, my daily to-do lists, and my personal and family goal sheets into one handy entity? Move over, sliced bread! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • FishMama


  23. Rachael

    A timely post!

    I had been keeping all of my basic lists, schedules, and etc. on a clipboard, and a couple weeks ago I realized how absurd it was. I was essentially carrying around a sort-of-sorted, sort-of-not-sorted pile of paper. So now I’m in the process of moving everything into a 3-ring binder. I like the idea of your spiral-bound book, but right now I’m figuring out what I do and do not need, and so I like the versatility of the binder.

    • FishMama

      I first tested the spiral bound by telling myself I was only going to make it have enough stuff for 3 to 6 months. Then when I knew it worked, I made it for longer time periods. Currently, my book should go through Dec 2012.

  24. Transcription Company

    I m using a note book and write all the work that have to perform daily. Here you share it in very organized way, how to do and done it more efficiently.
    Thanks for sharing!

  25. Beth

    Hi Jessica – I love your ideas. I use a weekly spiral bound planner that I leave out on my kitchen counter all of the time (the counter is a little nook next to the fridge which is “my spot”). I tried switching over to a binder but found it didn’t work for me. I like seeing the calendar open all of the time with appointments and off to the right in the quick notes section I generally have my weekly to do list. Then I have a separate steno pad I use to make my own sort of “daily docket”. I like seeing what I need to do over the course of a week and relieving myself of the pressure of doing it in any one day. Having these two separate items out all of the time works well for me. I also like how when ideas come up I can jot it down in the notes section and then I can decide whether to keep it on my list or toss the idea out. The trouble I am having is keeping the more general stuff organized (like meal plans, grocery lists, babysitter info, etc). I have a couple of notebooks scattered around that I’ll write lists down and then tear out a page but stuffing it into the back pocket of my planner but it doesn’t feel organized enough for me. I’m trying to figure out how to marry the more general lists to my planner/daily notebook – any ideas? I never realized how passionately I felt about this! Thank you – you are an inspiration!

    • FishMama

      It does take some tweaking to find a system that truly fits you and your habits. But, it sounds like you could corral all that “general stuff” into a binder or a custom notebook. Or even get a plain spiral with pockets. I keep our finances and school stuff separate from my regular book. So, you could certainly organize in a different way.

      • Beth

        Thank you – I will try that.

  26. Kerstin

    I would love to hear more ideas on how to incorporate the binder with my Google Calendar. I love the idea of the folder as a way to track lists, groceries, ideas, and all the rest, the calendar part has me stymied. Print the calendar once a week and add it as a page? Just leave that part out? Would love your thoughts!

    • FishMama

      I got locked out of my google calendar once. Some glitch. And that really messed me up. So, I’ve stuck with paper for most things. I don’t have an ipad or a smart enough phone to really maximize that capability anyway. I might feel differently about it if I did.

      I think your print once a week is a good idea or just sync the two manually?

  27. Barb @ A Life in Balance

    Back when I was a mom working at an office, I started using Lotus Organizer, then after I left the working world, I switched over to print Lotus Organizer out, and then printing Franklin Covey out, and then a version using the FlyLady’s system.

    This summer I went back to electronic planning to be more green, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I use Toodledo for my checklists – daily & weekly repeating tasks. Springpad is for my meal planning, though I’m not entirely happy with the interface. However, I’ve heard that the interface will be improved this fall. And finally, I use Evernote as my filing system. I have Evernote on my phone, laptop, and computer. I keep all my Next Action list, Project lists, and blogging lists in there. And, I use Franklin Covey for my repeating tasks for blogging since I only need to see those on the laptop.

  28. StephanieB

    I have been using the Flylady site to help me get organized as a young wife. On their she recommends a great app for a home notebook minus the paper. Its I have it linked to my IPhone so I can update my calender, to do lists and, grocery lists!

  29. Marya | Writing Happiness

    I just have a very basic notebook that I use to plan for my day. For my online tasks, I have a TTD list. Works fine for me. 🙂

  30. Roxanne (TheHolisticMama)

    This is a great idea! I am going to try this. Right now I have all these things in separate locations and it would be a lot easier to just have them all at my fingertips in a handy booklet. So simple, why didn’t I think of this!

  31. Breana

    Great post! I’ll definatley be making one of these!

  32. Erin OK

    Making a new planner has been on my to-do list for about a month. I made a pretty good one before using something like Tsh’s daily docket & some downloads from other blogs with weekly copies of a master grocery list. I have major redesign in mind for my next one though!
    I print mine out in booklet style, bind it with an elastic band, and keep it in a zip-up agenda holder (with pockets, pen holder and a notepad). That’s working well for me.

  33. Camille

    Hi, Just wondering where and how you have your notebook spiral bound? Do you go to a kinkos type place or is there a way to do this at home?


    • FishMama

      I had mine bound at FedEx Office (formerly, Kinkos). It was about $5. There are machines you can buy to do this at home, but unless you were going to bind a lot of books, it wouldn’t be worth buying it.

  34. Beth

    Your daily checklist is EXACTLY the one I have been searching for. It contains all the items that I too incorporate into my daily life. Is this a printable that is available?

    Thanks for your blog, its really great!


    • FishMama

      Yes, that is included in the planner. 🙂

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