My parents are in the process of downsizing their house to a smaller one. Part of the process is going through years of papers and memorabilia to determine what to keep and what to throw out. That seemingly important file from 20 years ago doesn’t look so critical when you look at it now. The collection of National Geographic Magazines might seem valuable but do you (a) need it and (b) do you have anywhere to put it. With digital data, there are many of the same issues and it’s important to be able to determine what is important for long term vs short term.
An important distinction to be made between physical and digital data is the amount of space it takes to store both. Having to find place for 500 magazines is not quite the same as having a big enough hard drive to store 500 digital copies of the same magazines. Hard drives continue to drop in price so it’s feasible to keep buying larger hard drives as your quantity of data increases. And it’s also like that your current hard drive purchase will be cheaper and higher capacity than the previous one.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it should help you think about what you should and shouldn’t keep.
Photos and Videos
This summer we went on vacation in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We took lots of great pictures of the scenery. When we returned from the trip, I went through the hundreds of photos that we took and DELETED many of them. If there are 10 pictures of a statue then only the best one needs to be kept. The key thing here is to do your purging of pictures as soon as possible. If you wait until the end of the year then there’s a good chance you’ll never delete anything. The same goes for videos. Check your videos after you record them and if they’re no good, then get rid of them!
These include all your digital bills and statements, receipts for products purchased and everything to do with taxes. I’m not one to give financial advice but I have been told to keep all tax related documents for 7 years. I have also heard that when there’s a tax problem, the tax department might go back even further. The reality if you save copies of documents then the files are not too big, at least compared to photos and videos. If you don’t do much else in digital filing, at least have a folder with files for years. Put everything in each year’s folder. Take it further by having folders for bills, statements, receipts, taxes, etc. This way if you decide to get rid of certain years, you know that the files are broken up by years. And it has the added bonus of making it much easier to find what you’re looking for.
Documents created in word processors and spreadsheets
Some of these documents are related to taxes or finances and should be filed along with the statements. Others are quick letters or notes that you might take that are never needed again. These too should be kept in folders by year so that you can quickly check through them at the end of the year to see what you actually need. Many of these are also small files that over time do not take up that much space on our ever increasing sized hard drives.
What to do with files that are kept?
The key take away here is to have an effective filing system so that you can better locate what you want to keep and what to get rid of. In future posts, we will talk about various methods for long and short term archiving. You should be able to actually find what you choose to keep!