Where do you keep your most prized possessions? Chances are, they’re stored somewhere that isn’t all that safe. We keep birth certificates and tax statements in cardboard boxes in the attic, and wedding photos and baby pics in hard drives on the computer. A single fire could destroy those precious documents and memories, but so could a leaky roof, a burrowing mouse, and other environmental hazards you aren’t aware of. Computer files can be corrupted during power surges, water spills, viruses, even by accidentally dropping your laptop onto the floor. Then, once these documents and files are gone, they’re gone forever.
That means that you need to think about new ways of safeguarding your valuables. Whether you’re hoping to protect paper documents, computer files, wedding dresses, christening gowns, photo albums, or other valuable possessions, you need to look at specific methods of keeping everything safe.
Make copies of as many documents as possible
Yes, a photocopied passport isn’t going to take the place of the real thing, but it’s an essential tool to have on hand if your passport gets lost or stolen. As Paula Sollami Covello writes: “Leave one copy at home, place another in your carry on bag or toiletries kit, and give one to someone you trust back home. Do the same for each member of your travel party. You can also scan and save a copy in a secured electronic file and e-mail it to yourself.”
So start photocopying all of your essential documents — birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, driver’s licenses — for both yourself and your family members.
Then, make copies of other types of documents: if you do your taxes online, for example, there’s no reason why you can’t print out two or three copies of your completed tax forms instead of just one. If you have photos in a photo album, take them out and scan them into your computer. Then make at least three physical copies of your computer’s hard drive, as well as an internal backup. (Since you update your computer’s hard drive every day, it’s best to recopy your updated hard drive to an external hard drive about once a month.)
The more copies you have of your most important documents, photos, and files, the more places you can store them. And the more places you store important documents, the more backups you have in case something happens to the documents stored at your home.
Store your prized possessions away from your home
Where should you store your documents and prized possessions, once you have made the copies you need? Here are a few options:
- Safe Deposit Boxes are great places to store your most important documents. They aren’t big enough to handle large items or stacks of stuff, but they’re a good place for birth certificates and a copy of your computer’s hard drive.
- Offices tend to have a bit of extra space; if you have room in your desk, stash a computer hard drive or copies of your family’s passports. Don’t store anything you wouldn’t want your employers to find, of course, but there’s definitely space in a standard office desk for a few important documents.
- Storage units are great places for you to protect your personal belongings. Many units are climate-controlled and have 24-hour security, meaning your stuff will stay safe even when you are away.
How this system works
Let’s end with an example of how this type of storage system could work. Say you’re a family living in Chicago. Your city home probably doesn’t have the closet space for physical keepsakes like wedding dresses, christening gowns, and baby shoes, so you box it all up and look for self storage units to protect your personal belongings.
This is also important because Chicago’s most recent records indicate a 26% burglary rate; that means your home has just over a 1-in-4 chance of being robbed. Stashing copies of your most important documents in a self storage unit, along with physical keepsakes, keeps your belongings safe no matter what happens to your home.
Then, you put another set of copies of your family’s most important documents in your desk drawer at work, including a copy of your computer hard drive, and a third set of documents at home. The original documents — the actual birth certificates and passports — go into a bank safe deposit box, as you cannot afford to lose them.
Whether you actually do live in Chicago, or live in another urban area like Boston, New York, or Los Angeles, this system is essential to keeping your documents and valuables safe. Even if you live in a suburban or rural area, making copies of your most important possessions and keeping them in multiple locations helps ensure that your belongings stay safe no matter what.