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Family Living Focus, Dr. Cathy Bowen

Posted: July 8, 2016

Summer is for moving and records management. New college graduates move out of their parents’ home. Career advancements or job changes may require a move across town, across the U.S., or to a new country. A young family may move into a larger home. Newly married couples may be moving into their first apartment and retirees may be vacating their office for the next person to set up shop.
Dr. Cathy Bowen

Dr. Cathy Bowen

Regardless of the reason for the move, all moving events require many decisions about what to keep or toss. I can say with confidence, the longer you have inhabited a space, the more decisions you will likely be making about what to keep or to toss. Moving motivates us to assess which of our prized possessions are really valuable and perhaps more importantly, which personal records to keep and how to keep them.

There are hundreds of print and online resources with standard recommendations of which records to keep, how long to keep them and guidelines for sorting your collections. One resource is www. eXtension.org and others can be found with a basic web search using terms such as “records management” or “organizing household records.” Also, there are enough storage suggestions that you can find one that suits your lifestyle, space and preference.

A relatively new storage solution, digital records storage, seems to be the one of choice for many young adults. Keeping records in a digital format, on a computer, an external hard drive, or a USB flash drive (thumb drive), means less paper to move on moving day and having access to records with the click of a few keystrokes. Which would you prefer, a four-drawer file of paper or a thumb drive that fits in your purse or pocket? Also, if you choose to store records on secure cloud-based storage, you can have access to your records from almost any place on the planet.

Whether paper or digital, neither is 100 percent foolproof or without precautions. Paper is perhaps the lowest common denominator, and anyone, regardless of computer skills, can access organized records. Yet, paper also can be lost if it catches on fire and burns, and it is heavy to move around.

Considerations for digital storage would be whether records are harder to access by those who are not computer-savvy; if virus protections are needed; if USB flash drives could be lost because they are small and easy to lose; if file encryption during the transfer of records is a concern; and issues relating to the password protection to access your data.

If more than one person needs access to the files, communication about passwords or other changes that can limit access should be routinely discussed.

It is recommended that you store at least two additional copies of digital records in different physical locations. Storing records in two locations is a risk management technique in case a natural disaster hits one location, or records are otherwise ruined.

Whichever storage option you choose, paper, digital, or a combination of the two, do your homework and investigate which best suits your lifestyle. Ask enough what-if questions about situations that might occur so you can be prepared to handle them.

Cathy Faulcon Bowen teaches at Penn State in the department of agricultural economics, sociology and education.