This article was written by Brian Kramer and includes information from his interview with Kathy Jenkins of CTO. The article is published in the Spring 2011 edition of Storage by Better Homes and Gardens, which is available on newsstands until March 2011.
Should you store your personal information digitally and online? Here’s how to weigh the risks and rewards to choose the best products and services to get started.
Using digital and online solutions to manage your life is definitely appealing. Your important papers, family calendar, even the week’s grocery list can now reside on a tiny storage device you carry with you or on a website you can access anywhere. Think about it: No more confusion at the doctor’s office. Easy access to your vital information while traveling. You can even get rid of your overflowing filing cabinet. “We’re at the start of a new organizing wave. People are definitely beginning to embrace electronic and digital storage options,” says Kathy Jenkins, Certified Professional Organizer and president of Come to Order. “But the technologies are still evolving, and the number of options can seem overwhelming.”
If you love technology and are comfortable with password-based security on websites such as my.yahoo.com or facebook.com, chances are, you’ll embrace managing your life electronically. For individuals with complex health situations or those who live in areas threatened by natural disaster, proper electronic storage can save lives and money. However, Jenkins is quick to point out that electronic storage is just one of many options for personal information. “You have to use the type of storage tools that work for you and your family,” she says.
This next electronic wave takes two main paths: portable devices and websites. While devices vary in appearance, most are keychain-size and contain preprogrammed forms that help you gather personal, medical, and financial information. You can save scanned documents and images to most devices, then print or share your information with any computer that has a USB port, which can come in handy at your doctor’s office or child’s school. However, devices have proprietary forms and software, so transitioning between manufacturers and devices can be challenging.
Lifestyle management websites also store and manage personal stuff, but they’re more appropriate places for organizing information that changes constantly—schedules, calendars, to-do lists—which is great for an on-the-go household. Several free websites offer decent features and some online storage space, but expect to pay a small fee to enjoy top tools and unlimited storage. You control who can access your website, and many sites offer free apps that allow you to interact with your website via
your phone or other handheld device.
When you’re ready to take the plunge into electronic life management, Jenkins recommends that you:
Start Small. Pick a specific project that you can complete in 1 to 2 hours, such as loading medical information for one family member onto a portable device or one of the projects from the table, opposite.
Always back up. Devices go missing and websites are occasionally unavailable, so store another copy of your information on an external hard drive, another USB storage device, or another reputable website.
Pay Attention to Security. Manage website access with individualized passwords for each family member. Know that password-protected medical storage devices can be problematic, particularly if the owner is unable to remember or communicate the password to medical professionals at a time of emergency treatment.
For digital storage product recommendations, click here to open a pdf.
Copyright 2011 by Meredith Publications & Better Homes & Gardens. Used by permission.