Keeping a family file

A family file is the home’s best defense against paper clutter.  Usually clutter is a result of items that don’t have a place – a family file provides this much needed place.  It’s important to keep the file, weed it out frequently (about once a week), and get in the habit of using it.  Please note that the Family File should only keep papers that you need to use or reference frequently.  Papers that do not need to be referenced frequently, such as contracts you have signed or your mortgage paperwork, should be kept in a Safe File System.

Here’s a list of the files that I have in my Family File and would suggest including in yours.  You’ll probably have more that are not listed here – do what works best for you.

Files to Keep

  • To Do, Urgent: this should be the first file in the folder – I go through this file daily so nothing falls through the cracks; examples are bills to be paid, cards to be written, and items of mail that require a response – you can even write “to do list” notes to yourself and keep them in this file
  • To Do, Less Urgent: examples will vary widely of what is included in this file and usually includes notes to myself of to do items and less urgent mail
  • File for Each Family Member: includes papers for activities in which they participate, and school or work papers
  • One File for Each Month: I keep a list in each month’s file of all the birthdays and anniversaries for each month so I know which cards and gifts I’ll need to send; I also keep a list of any annual responsibilities that need to be taken care of that month, and items I will be using at some point during that month (such as concert tickets)
  • Crafts or Activities: This file contains magazine articles, print outs of web pages, or written down ideas of activities I’d like to complete in my free time such as scrapbooking ideas, patterns for knitting, or crafts I’d like to do with my kids
  • Group Coupons Purchased: This file includes printed coupons that have been purchased through a service such as Groupon or LivingSocial.  Because these coupons expire after a few months, you don’t want them to go to waste – it’s good to keep them accessible

Additional Ideas to Consider

In an emergency, the last thing you won’t think about is search for your family files.

It would be an equally devastating experience if you lost your family files and essential paperwork. Thus, you have to find ways to ensure easy access to all your documents.

Go digital

The best way to keep your important family file and personal documents is to digitize them. In this manner, you can easily access the documents you need in whatever situation. 

Digitizing your family file allows you to retrieve your important documents from a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

While you already have the physical copies of your documents, digitizing them will bring so many advantages to you.

As long as you have a secure internet connection, you can easily retrieve your documents at any place. With your digitized family file, you do not need to experience the inconvenience of wading through piles of physical papers either at home or at your office.

Lastly, you can quickly email or transfer your electronic document if your family member, lawyer, or financial adviser needs it. Doing this is much convenient than looking for photocopies or faxes to transmit your paperwork.

Examples of Documents to Digitize

While you feel like keeping every credit card statement or utility bill that you have, remember that you can access these documents through your online bank account or utility service providers. Therefore, you do not have to scan and digitize all your family files.

Only give attention to the documents that you need to have a reference at some point and to paperwork related to significant changes in your life:


Birth certificate

Marriage Certificate

Domestic partnership certificate

Adoption papers

Divorce papers

Automobile titles

Stock and bond certificates

Property settlement papers


Household inventory

Immigration certificate

Identification cards


Drivers licenses

Health records (immunization, vaccine)

Pet records

Titles and deeds to property

Graduation certificates

Loan and lease agreements

Tax returns

Living will

You have to consider the saving and scanning processes for family photos since digitizing pictures needs to be high resolution. 

For some historical family records with sentimental value, you can also digitize them in photo format. You may also contact the US National Archives if you need help on how to keep your high-value or extremely delicate documents.

In storing a will, the original copy can be e kept in a safe deposit box or in the safe of the lawyer who made it. If the safe deposit box is owned jointly, the co-owner has access to the said box after death.

For your physical or original documents, you can store them in fireproof home storage, a safe deposit box, or a home filing system.

PC Mags recommends some of the best scanning applications, like the Microsoft Office Lens and ABBYY FineScanner. Note-taking applications and cloud storage also have scanning capabilities.

To store your important documents safely, you can have a cloud storage service or file-syncing service, like Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive.

Other available cloud storage solutions are Evernote and Dropbox.

To store your family file, you can organize them by year or according to the extent of your paperwork.

You can also make folders and sub-folders in organizing them. You can start creating ten folders and name them for the last ten years. Use the year of issuance if you are saving identification cards. For your transcripts and academic records, use the last year of attendance. Write the file name clearly, for quick and easy access. 

Moreover, ensure a strong security password in storing your digital family file.

The Bottomline

Always remember that the reason why you are digitizing your family file is to have convenience in accessing them. Having a backup file is equally important in case something goes wrong with the original paperwork. Label your folders properly and arrange them by date accordingly. This activity can be time-consuming at first, but it will help you in the long run.