In Records and Information Management, part one, we discussed GARP, Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles®. Today we’ll cover a few definitions and then prepare to organize records by doing a records inventory.
What is a record?
A record has recorded information, regardless of format, that is created or received by our household to conduct its daily activities. Examples of records include:
- Bank statement (paper) delivered by mail
- Utility bill (electronic) downloaded from the utility company’s website
- Email receipt from the items you purchased online
- Photo of a check from your friend who bought your old dining room suite
Three types of records: Active, Inactive, and Vital.
Active records are those needed to do your day-to-day activities. They include the water bill that you have to pay next week, receipts for items purchased that need to be reconciled with your bank account.
Inactive records are those that you need to keep for a specific period of time but will not likely refer to often, if at all. This can include your previous years’ income tax return, your will, and instruction manuals for items you purchased and still own.
Vital records are issued by government agencies to prove you exist. These include birth certificates, social security numbers, and passports. They can also include legal documents such as a deed to a house, adoption certificates or any other documents that might be difficult to replace.
Aren’t inactive records the same thing as archives?
Actually, no. Many people get archives and inactive records confused. Inactive records are destroyed as soon as they are no longer needed. Archives are a curated collection of inactive records that are kept forever. Not all inactive records are kept forever, just significant records — mementos of an important time or event. For example, the stub of your very first pay statement should have been shredded after you had filed your income taxes for that year. However, there is a justifiable reason to keep only the first one — as a memento of your first job. (Note: In business and industry, archives are built with many series of records that show the evolution of the business over time. Most households don’t need to keep an archive this detailed.)
Before organizing, it is important to do an inventory to determine which types of records you have and where they are located. If we compare this to the S.P.A.C.E. model of organizing, the inventory is the “S” for sorting. However, rather than move boxes and physically sort through paper and computer files two or three times each, the inventory creates a short-cut so that you will save time when it comes to the next step, “P” for purge.
During the inventory, it is not necessary to list every document in every file. List groups of records and their date ranges. Remember to look in all of the places where you may have stored records. Also, there may be records stored on various computers, external hard drives, and cloud storage spaces so ensure you verify those as well.
As you progress through the inventory process, you will notice common characteristics about the records that you have. Some items like electric bills, water bills, heating bills, you can group into a common category such as Utilities.
Create a spreadsheet to keep track of the information as shown in the example below. It is helpful to add columns that tell how often the document is created, and how often the document is accessed.
You shouldn’t do a detailed re-arranging of files at this point but feel free to pile storage boxes and filing cabinets into one room. For example, if the attic is creepy and difficult to access, you could move those boxes into your home office. If you move the boxes remember to note the new “current location” on your inventory sheet.
Next up, we’ll look at how to know which records to keep and which to purge.
Also in this series: