Save time, money and reduce clutter: Part 1

Know the benefits of organizing your family records.

Have you ever tried frantically to locate an important paper in your home? For many, this process lasts several hours and includes sifting through boxes, drawers and even closets. It often ends unsuccessfully. This can be extremely frustrating, stressful and time consuming. Therefore, consider the benefits of a home filing system.

A home filing system can save you time! This is a place where you would store the majority of your family records. By housing important papers in one location in an orderly manner, you can access things quickly and efficiently. There are many benefits to a home filing system including: being able to prove that bills were paid; evidence to dispute billing or banking errors; proof of homeownership and education; documentation of legal events (births, marriage, adoption, death, divorce) and accessing required documentation for annual income tax purposes.

A home filing system can be stored in a variety of containers. For example, a cardboard file box, a plastic water-tight box (to prevent water damage), an accordion-pleated folder, a shoe box or a file cabinet. The most important aspect of a home filing system is that it meets your needs and makes sense to you. If you currently use or are considering using a safety deposit box to store your very important and hard to replace items (i.e. will, deed, birth certificates, etc.) be sure to review Understanding safe deposit boxes: Part 1 and Understanding safe deposit boxes: Part 2.

Tip: When setting up your home filing system, Michigan State University Extension recommends recommends labeling file folders in colored categories that pertain to you and your family (i.e. insurance, pets, medical/dental). File them alphabetically so they are easier to find. If space is limited you might consider filing permanent or inactive files in a different location than your temporary or active files. 

A home filing system can also save you money! Some documents are difficult and costly to replace and may require travel time, processing time or postage costs for replacement. In addition, certain documents may provide protection such as warranties, insurance and property agreements. Knowing their location is important.

A home filing system can help reduce clutter! When you have a system in place, it is easier to maintain order and reduce the temptation to haphazardly throw papers in a pile, drawer or box.  In addition, knowing when to keep or toss items is important. Things to keep should include documentation of major life events (i.e. marriage, births, etc.) and health and immunization records.  Things to toss, as a rule of thumb are those items that are not needed for tax purposes, are not in the keepers list and would not have value to you or your family in their absence (i.e. expired warranties, old utility bills, grocery receipts). For general guidelines on Keeping Family Records visit

The next article in this series will focus on the benefits of organizing your finances. For additional ideas on how to save money, reduce spending and fulfill financial goals, visit Michigan State University Extension for a variety of financial resources, including how to develop a monthly budget. MSU Extension offers money management and homeownership classes. For more information about classes offered in your area visit MI Money Health.

Other articles in this series:

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