How to Set Up a Household Filing System

July 24, 2011

So you’re read the CHECKLIST OF IMPORTANT PAPERS and you’ve gathered a number of papers.  What to do next?

Gather a few more tools.

hanging file folders w/tabs – expandable or box bottom are nice
something to hang your file folders in (safe, cabinet, box, etc.)
manila folders
pen & paper
sticky notes


© Kaarsten | Dreamstime.comMove to a large work area (your kitchen table or an open area of floor).  Pick up the top paper in your pile of important papers.  Imagine looking for that paper.  What word comes to mind first?  Do you think of people (“Bob” or “Cindy”) or do you think of papers by topic (“education” or “medical”)?  When you pick up the car insurance policy do you think “car,” “vehicle” or “insurance”?  Write that word on a sticky note, attach it to the paper and lay the paper down in your work area. 

Pick up the next piece of paper and do the same.  What word comes to mind?  Will it fit in any existing piles or do you need a new label/pile for this piece of paper?  As you work through your pile of important papers, you’ll begin to see large and small categories (now labeled with words that make sense to you).  When you are done sorting your papers, you will have the categories that you need for your filing system.

You can now label your hanging folders and fill with papers.  You might want to alphabetize them or you could group them by type (for example put all family folders next to each other, all financial folders, all property folders, etc.)

Realize that you can also create files within files.  You could create a general medical hanging folder and fill it with manila folders, one for each member of your family (or you could create folders for events – William’s tonsillectomy, Bob’s yearly checkups).

If a file is particularly full, ask yourself how you can break the contents down further.  Are there any natural divisions (by person, date or event)?

 You may also wish to write out your filing system.  You could put this list in a folder at the front of your system (or in your HOUSEHOLD BINDER) so your husband can find what he needs (or you could work on the system with him so that it works for both of you).

Here is what a theoretical filing system could look like written out:

Bob (husband)

birth certificate
marriage certificate
Social Security card
educational records
service record

Sue (wife)

birth certificate
Social Security card
educational records

Sarah (daughter)

birth certificate
Social Security card
educational records

William (son)

adoption records
Social Security card


pedigree papers for Sparky
vet records

Medical / Dental

Bob (manila folders for each person)


rental agreement
renter’s insurance policy
manuals & warranties for household items
household inventory


vehicle registration or license (file copies if state law requires any of this to be in your car)
car loan agreement
copy of driver’s licenses
car insurance policy


Bob’s IRA
Sue’s IRA

Credit Cards

credit card contracts
copy of cards or card information


Now this is only a pretend file system.  Yours will likely have other folders and it might make better sense for you to put your medical/dental information in each person’s folder instead of creating a separate file for it.  You might want to create a separate folder for anything to do with your husband’s military service or you may need to create folders for your family business.  You are unique and your system will be unique to you.

If your husband already has an important paper file, ask him if you can write out which papers are in each file (as above).  This will give you a working record and something of a starting place if you should need to find something.


I highly recommend that you purchase a fire proof safe large enough to handle a small file system.  Some papers can be left with an attorney.  Some papers can be put in a safe deposit box, but generally speaking there are still important papers that you need at your fingertips.  A fire proof safe is the way to go.

This is the safe that I have and it accommodates a number of hanging files. I even have a couple of binders in there. SentrySafe (aff link)


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marylynn September 18, 2014 at 1:49 pm



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