Most of us own sensitive documents we need to keep safe, often for legal reasons. This is doubly true for paperwork relevant to our jobs — whether we work from home or in a typical office space.
When you go to store these items, it’s crucial to consider several factors beforehand. Doing so will prevent misplaced and damaged letters and articles.
With that in mind, here are a few pieces of advice to keep your files in good condition.
- Choose the Right Environment
Paper is a plant-based material made up of cellulose. It’s strong enough to write and print ink on and holds up for decades when appropriately archived. Select a location where you can control the temperature so that it remains cool and dry. A room with warm, humid air can cause documents to decay faster.
Keep items off the floor and away from windows. That way, if rain seeps in or a flood occurs, it’s less likely to harm your records. Sunlight fades photos and ink, so put up curtains or blinds if need be.
An office is an ideal storage environment, as the temperature is typically regulated. Your co-workers likely store valuable papers around their space, so these practices are commonplace in work environments.
If you work at home, you’ll have more flexibility in where you house your records. Attics and basements aren’t ideal locations, as they’re prone to pests as well as moisture and poor ventilation, all of which harm paper files.
Consider a den or closet — these spaces are generally risk-free areas that are tucked away from the rest of the house. You can even install shelves so that your documents are kept at a secure vantage point.
- Maintain a Filing System
This is one of the most crucial steps. You’ll want to develop a system to organize your documents, basing the structure on a few categories. Take some time to gather your items and put them into different folders or binders. Label these items clearly and concisely so that they’re easy to navigate.
At work, store papers according to the projects they relate to. Separate them with tabs to identify them. Try to laminate certain items that won’t need alterations in the future.
These same methods are useful at home as well. If you’re able, invest in a waterproof and fire-resistant safe to protect your papers from natural disasters as well as theft.
- Digitize Your Records
If you don’t want to store all your files at work or at home, look into digitization. Take certain valuables to your local library, scan them and store them as digital files on your computer. Be sure to purchase an external hard drive to back them up. That way, they’ll always be available to you.
If you’re wary about storing documents on a work device, look into a file hosting service. Digitization eliminates the possibility that records will endure damage from external causes like the weather.
Electronic files are also easier to navigate in some cases because you can search your computer for specific file names. Depending on the nature of the document, this may be a worthwhile option for you.
- Consider a Safe Deposit Box
When it comes to more sensitive items, like wills, birth certificates and insurance papers, remember that safe deposit boxes are incredibly secure and often worth the cost. This container resides in a bank, not your office or home.
You’ll sign a rental contract and place your records inside. Then, the box will be stored in a vault. The only way you’ll be able to access it is to check in. At check in, your signature will be matched with its original.
Two keys will be required to open your safe deposit box — yours and the bank’s — so if someone gets their hands on yours, you won’t have to worry. A safe deposit box is best used for highly sensitive files, but not ones that you’ll need in an emergency.
Take a Smart Approach
Don’t shove a bunch of papers into a drawer and call it a day. Organize your documents based on a system and store them in a temperature-controlled environment. Move some onto a secure electronic device if necessary — just be sure to back them up.
These steps will keep your files out of harm’s way and allow them to last a very long time.