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Contact me at Mom25dogs@gmail.com

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sorting Saturday - Electronic or Digital Organization

Sorting Saturday – Any tips on how to go about sorting through a closet or box of stuff, what to do with what you find, organizing, supplies and tools you might need, etc. What about having to clean out a parent’s home once they’ve passed? This is an ongoing series by Michelle Goodrum at Turning of Generations on Geneabloggers.

Well, it's a new age. No longer do I have to organize paper like I did 10 yrs ago, or even 5 yrs ago. Things change. I've done a lot of organizing posts on my blog. To see them, scroll down and look for the Categories on the right hand side. Choose the category, "Organizing", and you will get all the posts I've done on organizing.

But almost everything you did with paper and file cabinets, binders and household notebooks, can be done with your computer, ereader, tablet, and smartphone. I'm still learning this but I'm slowly switching to all digital.

Example of a well organized scraproom

Just 2 years ago I was using our sunroom as an office and it was FILLED with paper scrapbooking supplies and equipment.  I heard you could do it all digitally. It was an epiphany! So I proceeded to go to the library and do some research. I decided on the software I wanted to use. I already had a desktop and a laptop computer. Then I began to teach myself how to use the software. Within 2 months I was proficient enough to start making some good scrapbook pages. I then learned how to upload them to Shutterfly.com and have them printed in books. Now I can make up my pages, upload them to Shutterfly and either I or my family can order the books they want. I don't have to print them at home! I can do a book on a vacation trip, a niece's first year of life, a nephew's college graduation, etc. Once I felt good about what I was doing, I decided to get rid of all the stuff packed in my office. I offered it to a niece that was interested in scrapbooking and she took what she wanted. Then I had a yard sale and sold everything. Anything left was donated to Goodwill. I use a digital camera, I use my laptop and software to make my digital scrapbook pages. That's all I need. I don't have to store paper photos or any of the equipment and supplies that I had used previously.

I haven't stopped there. Currently I don't use my office at all, except for file storage. I have a rolling table top that I use in my bedroom with my laptop. I have a multi-function printer so that I can scan and print what I need. As paperwork comes in, I scan it and organize the scans in my computer. I haven't filed any paperwork all year. I have been putting it in a basket but there is little that I need to keep hard copies for so I'm gearing myself up to shred the papers at the end of the year.

Another big hobby for me is genealogy. I have several file cabinets of papers that backup my genealogy work but I've become a member of Ancestry.com and I no longer keep hard copy backups. I save the original files from Ancestry.com on my computer, I use a database to keep all my data (this highly organized data is an absolute necessity) and once I've finished a line, I publish it on Ancestry.com so that it's available to others but also to me, in case I ever lose everything. I used to use binders for each family filled with forms filled out and backup hard copies as the sources. I don't have to print any of this now if I don't want to. I not only enter data, but photos of people, their home, or their tombstone. I can even store the GPS coordinates for places like cemeteries, etc.

As my mail comes in, I scan bills, invoices, statements, receipts, etc. There isn't much need to keep a lot of that paper. Make your choices of what to keep and then purge the rest. You have them stored and organized digitally!

An example of a full library

Then, another thing I decided was to get an ereader. I got my first one 2 yrs ago and I've loved it! Within a couple of months, I went through my book collection and purged a pickup truck load of books. A big truck and it was piled high! I donated them to the Friends of the Library to be sold. They sell donated used books in order to raise money for the library. So far I've purchased a few digital books but 99% of my collection have been freebies! I joined a Facebook group that alerts me everyday about free and cheap new books. It seems that some authors are new and need to give out some books free for a short time to get good feedback on their Amazon page. (And when I get a freebie and read it, I will make a comment about whether or not I like it. I'm not ugly about books I don't like but I will put an honest opinion. If I like the book I'm helping them out by making comments.) Some will give out free books for a time to get you hooked on their series. I have come across some that aren't that good but it didn't cost me anything and all I have to do is delete. I've come across many GREAT new books that I might not have tried otherwise. The only drawback is not being able to share a book with someone. But I got used to using the ereader very quickly. People say they would miss the feel of a paper book but it hasn't bothered me. Of course, I still go to the library and pick up books. You can get digital books from your library too. Digital books are cheaper than hardback but can still be a little pricey for the popular authors. For instance, James Patterson's latest book, in hardback, would cost $27.99.  That book on Amazon.com would cost $16.99. The Kindle edition would cost $12.99.  I'm still too cheap, so I'll go to the library, even if there is a waiting list. Of course, sometimes you can find used books at book sales and yard sales and save a lot of money. But you won't find the latest titles and you have to store the books. Why spend even a quarter on a yard sale book when I have an ereader library full of free books and I don't have to store them. I do still have a small book case of "To Be Read" books. These are books I can take to the hot tub (where I would not take my ereader), on the beach, by the pool, etc. And if you lose your ereader or your ereader dies, you haven't lost your books. They are still on your Amazon website (your cloud library). I can organize my digital library, I can take notes on my ereader and highlight passages, etc.

Someone even color coordinates her binders!

Another way I've switched to digital is in my household notebook. I used to keep binder(s) to organize all the little details of life and would keep it updated about once a year. Now I can keep it updated on a daily basis. What do I include in my household notebook? All my bank information, credit card info, address book, websites and passwords, medical expenses, insurance policies, a running list of tax information to file my returns, SS#'s (all these items I keep in a digital notebook but I don't use that notebook on the cloud, it's just on my laptop and external hard drives as I'm still nervous about having that stuff on the cloud.). I also keep my list of light bulbs (what lightbulbs for which light fixtures); appliance/electronics warranty info (serial #'s, vendor, manufacturer, model #, date purchased, how long is warranty, how to access warranty); Birthdays; Gift ideas; Gift List; running Utility expenses (a spreadsheet of all utility expenses); size of all the windows in my house (for shopping for curtains or new windows or blinds); Room dimensions; Paint manufacturer, colors and codes by room; etc. It's my tickler file for almost anything to do with running and preserving our household. There are ways to not only access this on your home computer but storing it on the cloud so that your tablets and smartphones can access it too. Any where you go, if you have an Internet connection, you can pull that info right up. If you use the latest Microsoft Office, then use OneNote to create your notebooks. But you have to purchase MS Office to get One Note. If you don't want to purchase a software pkg, then use Evernote or SpringPad. You can use their free version unless you are a power user and need more cloud storage space. ANYTHING you used a binder for, in the past, can now be done digitally using these software tools. I created a notebook for my Daughters of the Revolution chapter. I'm the Secretary of my chapter and I keep a page for meeting minutes, a page for member lists, a page for By Laws, etc. My chapter still gives out printed chapter notebooks to new members and prints updates for us annually. I foresee we will go to digital one day so that we don't have those expenses for printing. I've already started a chapter website with blog that is password protected for our members. On that site I put the same thing they put in the printed manual. I also have a digital notebook for my recipes. As I come across them online I can save it directly to my notebook. Then, I can use them to make my shopping lists or just pull it up while you are at the grocery store. I still have my recipe books, recipe cards and binders in my kitchen but I want to clear that space in my kitchen. That's valuable real estate so I intend to work on that in 2013.

I keep my calendar on my computer. I put everything in it. Not just doctor appts. But reminders to change my HVAC filter; clean out the lint trap in the washing machine; when to take books back to the library; when to give the dogs their monthly heartworm and flea treatments; when to trim the camelias; when to change the oil in the cars; etc. I can set reminders and the reminder will notify me on all of my devices - my laptop, tablet or phone. I can add events and my devices will sync so that my schedule is on all my devices. Same with To Do lists, shopping lists, gift lists. It's nice to create a grocery list and then my husband can access it and add anything he wants to it. Or maybe he stops by the grocery store for me with the list I made on my laptop at home. It syncs with his smartphone so he has the list!

I hope I've given you some new ideas on how to digitize your organizing. It's a matter of learning new things and getting a feel for the new ways. That may seem overwhelming for some but you can take it baby steps at a time.

The first most important thing... the best advice I can give you, is to have backups of your digital files. Whether digital photographs, digital notebooks, any digital data. you MUST have backups. I have several external hard drives. I regularly backup my data not once but twice on these external hard drives. They are much smaller than those filing cabinets I have in the office! This means that I have my data on my laptop and 2 more backups on the external hard drives. You can also backup on "the cloud". That means you pay a small amount to backup on someone else's servers. If your data is minimal, it will probably be free. But I have tons of photos and videos so my storage needs are larger. You can even grandfather your backup files. For instance, Backup File #1 can be named "Backup 1/1/2013". The next time you do a backup, save the 2nd backup as "Backup 1/8/2013". That way you have the last 2 backups in case something happens to one or the other. Believe me, you cannot have enough backups. You can store everything "in the cloud" which is storing it on a business' server which you can have access to using any of your devices. As long as you have an Internet connection, you can access it. This way, you don't have to make separate backups. But I'm still nervous about having my most sensitive data on someone else's server. So I haven't gone that way completely. I still keep passwords and financial data only on my local computer and external hard drives. I haven't used Evernote (or OneNote or SpringPad) to corral this sensitive data because that would put it on the cloud. Although it would make it easy for me to access it with my devices, it still makes me nervous to have it offsite on someone's servers, could it be hacked? Maybe one day soon I'll take that plunge.

I've had a personal computer since 1984 and I've had my share of losses and have learned the hard way to make up backups. I hope you will take my advice so you don't have to suffer. Also, keep in mind that there are certain things that you would need in hard copy in case something happened to the world of electronics. Life Ins policies, Wills, Marriage Licenses, educational diplomas, some family photos, bank and investment information are things to keep in hard copy. You might think of other things. But there is always the chance that some national or global catastrophe could happen and wipe out all electronics. If there is a terrible natural disaster or an enemy attack on our electronics, the result would be the same - no computers, no electricity, no access to your data. I like to keep a backup of my genealogy data on DVDs when I'm through with a file so that I could have a hardcopy backup without it having to be paper. And make new DVD backups every couple of years so that you have it saved in the latest technology. Hopefully, one day we would be back on electricity and have another computer. Any hard copy stuff you think is important enough to keep, is important enough to, at least, have a copy in your bug out bag. Let's say you find out there is a fire in your area and you are being evacuated, what would you take? If you only have 15 mins or 30 mins to get your things and go? Do you have things ready to go? It's good to have a bug out bag in an easily accessible place. Remember, you would be spending some of your precious time rounding up your children and pets so it's very important to have some organization and a plan in your head of what to grab.

The second most important thing is to learn how to organize your computer and KEEP it organized. A computer has a folder system of organization. Your hard drive is like an office and inside that office are file cabinets, file drawers, file sections, file folders. Your computer doesn't use the terminology "cabinets", "drawers", "sections". In a computer everything is organized in "folders". For instance you will find folders on your computer called "My Documents", "My Pictures, "My Music", and "My Videos". These will be the default folders that your computer and software will save documents, photos, videos and music files in. But within those basic folders, you need to further create and organize sub-folders in a hierarchy. For instance, in "My Pictures" you might have a sub-folder named by year, "2012". Within that folder will be all photos you created in 2012. Or, you might have folders with family member names, "Suzy", "Mike", etc. Some photos will have both Suzy and Mike in them and you can put a copy of the photo in both file folders. You will organize according to how it makes sense to you just like you do your paper files. If you don't save your files in an organized fashion it will be difficult to retrieve your files because you simply can't find them. For an analogy, think about your office. What if every piece of paper or information that came to you were thrown inside the office door onto the floor. Now, 2 years later, you have a pile of stuff on the office floor and someone notifies you that you could be included in a class action lawsuit that could net you $10,000 if you can prove you purchased such and such a product. You would have to go into your office, sit on the floor and begin going through every piece of paper on that floor until you found the reciept... if you ever did. But if you file your digital files all along, you can find what you need in seconds. This has happened to me. I've been notified several times of class action lawsuits on products that we purchased. I was able to find receipts and fill out the forms. The most I got was $100 but $1-$100 is still worth finding that receipt and buying a stamp, so I do it.

Some people really struggle with organizing and they live their life in chaos. Some people are born organizers. It may be that you have a hard time organizing your home but it may be easier to organize a computer. I sit on my adjustable bed, with my laptop computer on a rolling laptop desk and work while I watch TV. Physically it's a breeze.

So, why not begin thinking of ways you can streamline your home and organize using your electronic gadgets. Be open to learning new ways. If I can do it, so can you. It's good to stretch your mind with new things.

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