Organize a Home Filing System

Guide G-229
Constance Kratzer, Family Resource Management Specialist
College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences New Mexico State University. (Print Friendly PDF)

An organized filing system is essential to good record keeping. Haven’t we all experienced the frustration of not being able to find some important paper?

Stuffing papers in the kitchen drawer or hall closet can be classified as records-keeping, but obviously it is not the best system. The amount of time spent developing an orderly system for keeping your personal and financial records will be well spent and need not be difficult. Consider it a creative task.

There are many benefits to an organized filing system:

  • Other family members can find documents.

  • Records are available for income tax preparation.

  • It saves time and money in processing insurance claims.

  • Records may be needed in legal matters, such as divorces, law suits, estate settlements or tax audits.

  • Records may be needed on short notice in case of an accident, illness or other emergency.

  • Systematic record-keeping aids in financial planning for matters, such as preparing wills, net worth statements, investments and retirement plans.

An elaborate office is not necessary. Many reasonably priced items on the market, such as portable metal file boxes, ledger books and inexpensive filing cabinets, simplify record keeping. Even sturdy paper cartons can be used to hold file folders. Old records can be boxed and stored in the attic or garage. Keep current records where they will be safe and convenient to use in your home.

Some items listed should go in a safety deposit box. However, you may want a file folder with related items or correspondence even though the main documents are in the safety deposit box. Put irreplaceable documents in safety deposit with others that would be costly or time-consuming to replace. Examples are mortgages, deeds, stock certificates, some contracts, an inventory of household goods, one copy of your will, and divorce papers. Negotiable securities or bonds that could be cashed by someone else should always go in the safety deposit box. Keep a list at home of the contents of the safety deposit box.

Some suggested categories and headings for filing systems are listed below. It is not intended to be a complete list. You may not want a separate file folder for all items listed. This list is intended as a guideline that you can adapt to your needs. You may wish to consolidate some of the suggested items, use different headings or groupings, and include other items. For example, you may want a divider for insurance or you may want to file insurance papers under separate headings of “auto,” “home” or “health.”

Guide to Files

Addresses, Dates
   Christmas card list
   Birthdays, etc
   Magazine subscriptions
Equipment, Appliances
   Use-and-care manuals
         Range, refrigerator
      Air conditioner
      Small appliances
      Personal care appliances
         Lawn mower
      Recreation equipment
   Bonds–records of
   Stocks–records of
   Real estate investments
   Other investments
Autos and Vehicles
Financial Records
   Net worth statement
   Records of earnings
   Records of expenditures
   Loan contracts
   Credit card numbers
   Property tax records
   Receipts and paid bills
Organizations, Clubs
Bank Records
   Checking accounts
   Savings accounts
   Loan contracts
   Safety deposit box
      (list of contents)
   Mortgage payments
   Lease and rent payments
   Capital improvements
   Household inventory
      (second copy in safety
         deposit box)
   Floor plan
   Wiring diagrams
Personal Records
   Educational records
   Marriage license
   Medical records
   Pet papers
   Military records
   Wills, copy of
   Birth certificate
   Divorce papers
Income Tax
   Previous returns
   Cancelled checks
      (related to tax)
   Current year information
      (medical receipts,
Reference Material
   Crafts or hobbies
   Home furnishings
      Hang tags
      Stain removal
   Magazine articles
   Others of interest to you
Employment Records
   Employment contracts
   Retirement or pension plans
   Social security records
   Fringe benefits
Insurance Policies

Originally written by Jackie Martin, Extension Family Finance Specialist

To find more resources for your business, home, or family, visit the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences on the World Wide Web at

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New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

Revised and electronically distributed March 2003, Las Cruces, NM.