Let’s start by separating the two by looking at dictionary definitions:
As you can see, ‘archiving’ feels more related to electronic media, and the word itself has only really been applied to non-electronic media (like paper archiving) in recent years. That does not take away that the activity itself has existed in the past: the descriptions used were different, though. A distinction was rather made between ‘active files’ and ‘inactive files’, but I personally find those a bit vague, and ‘filing’ vs ‘archiving’ makes much more sense…
From an organisational point of view, THIS definition makes more sense:
The keywords are ‘long-term’ and ‘flexible’.
Why make the distinction at all and not just have a filing system?
The main point of separating into filing and archiving is simple: it allows you to find relevant documents (the last gas bill or that receipt from the cleaner) quickly and easily. If you are running a one-person household and you are an employee, you’ll find that the level of paperwork you are confronted with may be very small. In that case, there is no need to create two repositories.
However, if you deal with loads of paperwork (you rent a couple of flats, you run a business, you have a family of five) then long-term records become more important and convoluted. Do you need to see the birth certificates all the time? Of course not, but you need to find them when you need them. THAT’s what an archive is for.
Other things to go there are passports, lease documents, references, ownership certificates, school/university records, etc. – anything you have to keep for legal or practical reasons. Just imagine all of this in the place where you regularly look up information! Not the best idea in the world.
When is it time to start an archive?
Simple answer: when you realise you often spend a lot of time looking for particular documents in your files. Be careful, though: if you keep EVERYTHING and never clean out paperwork that is no longer relevant, you may not need an archive, but a decluttering session!
How to set up an archive?
Simple: you already have a basic structure for your files, right? Whenever something moves from filing to archiving, set up the exact same structure in the archiving system. Not only will that make it easy to shift things from one system to the other, but it also allows you to use the same thought process to look for things. If you know that car-related things are in folder X in the filing system, you’d find older paperwork in a similar place in your archives.
How long do you keep papers in filing, when do you move to archiving?
Whenever you have newer versions of contracts, archive the old one. If you see a document that you realise you don’t need to see all the time, archive it. It’s a fluid process.
Where do I keep my archive?
Since it’s long-term, non-active material, keep it away from your office, somewhere dry. Ideally, archived documents should be packed air-tight, dark and dry.
Famous last words
As with everything else in the world, things usually have a limited use and lifespan. Filing everything and then moving it into an archive may seem a logical thing to do, but it’s important to keep in mind that both your filing and archiving systems need regular cleanouts as well. While it’s a good thing to be careful what you discard, some documents have a limited lifespan: if you had a new insurance provider for a couple of years, it’s safe to say that you could consider ditching most of the old insurance materials, bar the essentials that prove you HAD insurance, of course.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.