My professional writing career began in 1972. It was a time long before computers and the internet. Research, writing, editing, and publishing was done entirely differently.

We typed on a typewriter with carbon paper for copies and white-out in hand to correct mistakes. Sections were literally cut from the paper, rearranged, and pasted or taped in the desired order and then retyped. When I wrote for the Tribune in the early 1990s, I had to take the stories I’d written at home and go into the Tribune to retype them into their system using specialized key strokes for spacing and returns.

I saved all of my research for these articles in paper files. Reclaiming the information was difficult without them. There was no internet to relocate people or organizations. And even when computers first came into public use, little room was available for storage.

I recently realized that, after all of these years, my old files could be tossed. But 40 plus years of writing and research makes for a lot of paper. I had several file cabinets and boxes that needed to be purged. I had to sift through the folders carefully, shredding sensitive information, and carefully selecting what little was still pertinent.

Today we are not collecting the paper records for home or business as we once did. We aren’t printing rolls of film, purchasing as many hardcopy CDs and books, or receiving paper bills. We are relying on the source, such as our credit card and utility companies, to maintain those records and Amazon and iTunes for our eBooks and music.

However, we manage most of our own personal records, photos, and music ourselves. The challenge is in organizing all the data we acquire and then deciding on the most reliable and secure form or storage. Should we trust the computer or phone alone or use CDs, external drives, or remote storage sites known as clouds?

I back up my phone to my computer and my computer to an external drive daily. We’ve all lost data due to a phone or computer crash. I recently had an internet modem that failed and caused my computer issues that had to be resolved by doing a complete restore, wiping out all of my records and software on the computer. And I’ve had external drives die as well. Recently, I sent files to a cloud but later when I was out-of-town and wanted to access them, all files were empty.

Nothing is fail-proof so saving to several formats is vital. It also is important to keep abreast of technology. It isn’t easy to retrieve information from floppy disks anymore. There will be times the data will have to be moved to another format before it is too late to do so.

As far as storing paper files, the US government website (usa.gov) recommends keeping important items such as birth and marriage certificates, divorce decrees, passports, military service records, life insurance policies, and social security cards forever.

Their recommendations for less important records are as follows:

Bank statements – 1 year unless needed to support tax filings
Credit card records – until paid, unless needed to support tax filings
Home improvement records – as long as you own the property
Investment statements – shred monthly statements, keep annual statements until you sell the investments
Real estate deeds – as long as you own the property
Receipts for large purchases – as long as you own the item
Tax records – 7 years from filing date
Vehicle titles – as long as you own the vehicle
Will – until updated

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

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