How To Store Paper Documents Long-Term (6 Methods)
By Larry Li
November 3, 2022
Despite the digitized world we live in, some people still prefer to hold onto essential paper documents so that they can refer to them from time to time.
If you’re one of such people, then you must know that poor paper storage practices can cause you to lose your essential documents or leave your space looking like a mess.
So, how can you store paper documents for a long time without losing them?
You can store paper documents long-term by digitizing them or organizing them in physical filing cabinets, fireproof safes and lockboxes, off-site storage facilities, or safety deposit boxes. The storage method you choose typically depends on the content of the paper documents, and how often you need to access them.
Organizing important paper documents requires a lot of attention to detail so that your confidential information doesn’t get into the wrong hands. Try the storage methods I’ll share in this article to keep your documents secure for a long time.
This detailed guide will cover:
How to prep your documents for long-term storage
Ways to keep your paper documents safe long-term
Important practices to know before storing paper documents
Answers to common questions people have about long-term paper storage
Preparing Your Documents For Long-Term Storage
Gather All Personal Documents
Begin your storage process by scouting for paper documents that must be safely kept away.
Go through every room where you stash documents — cabinets, drawers, dining table, store rooms, your car’s glove compartment, etc. Set them up in the area where you’ll sort through them.
Categorize Your Documents
Sort through the paper pile you’ve gathered and separate them into categories that will be easy for you to remember.
Common categories include bills and receipts, medical records, sentimental documents, personal information, confidential office documents, and tax documents.
If you have a recurring category, create a pile for that too. Remember to create a separate pile for documents that need to be disposed of.
Dispose of Unnecessary Documents
If you sorted through your documents properly, you would have found a few documents that need to be disposed of because they are no longer relevant.
To dispose of these, you can use a shredder to safely destroy them so that no one can get access to the information they contain.
6 Methods For Storing Your Paper Documents
A survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center revealed that 1 in 4 Americans misplace a financial document around the house — not to mention other essential documents that are unaccounted for. Don’t add to the statistics.
Here are the six most common methods I recommend for storing paper documents long-term:
1. A Digital Filing Cabinet
The problem with choosing physical storage options is that physical paper files get destroyed or missing too quickly.
Only 40% of people know where to locate their essential documents in such storage spaces when necessary. A digital filing cabinet is the safest method for storing essential personal and business documents.
It is a highly secure, digitally encrypted platform that allows you to store your paper documents all in one place, making them easier to locate.
In a digital storage system, you can access your documents via any device and from any location. Simply scan the files, upload them to the digital storage, and categorize them into different sections like you would a physical filing cabinet.
Additionally, you can share access to important files with family members or essential stakeholders like your lawyer or accountant right from the digital storage tool. Trustworthy is a digital filing cabinet I recommend because of its high-end security and storage features.
It offers super-secure 256-bit AES encryption and 2-Factor authentication that makes it impossible for anyone to access your files without your permission. Even better, your digital documents will remain unharmed in the case of a natural disaster or fire, so you can never lose them.
2. A Physical Filing Cabinet
These cabinets are usually sectioned or partitioned to allow a separate storage space per category. So, bills and invoices have a section, medical records and finances have another section, and so on like that.
This allows for easier categorization of your documents, so files don’t end up in the wrong sections. If you have a large collection of paperwork to store, partitioned filing cabinets or drawers will work best in the long run. Be sure to label each section for easy identification.
Pending or frequently reviewed files don’t need to go into the filing cabinet or drawer. Instead, you can get an open-lid filing box or shelf to store such documents. Once they have been reviewed and do not require further use, you can move them to more permanent storage like a digital filing cabinet.
I recommend consciously setting aside pending, uncategorized documents because it makes them easy to locate when you’re ready to keep them away.
3. A Safety Deposit Box
You may consider using a safety deposit box when you have original copies of essential paper documents to store away. A safety deposit box is a storage space usually within the bank or credit union. Most safety deposit boxes are built into a vault, making them fire-resistant to a degree.
The trouble with using a safety deposit box is that in the case of one’s demise, it becomes difficult for family members to access the stored files if you hadn’t given them access before. There’s also the challenge of easy accessibility during emergencies since the safety deposit box may not be in close proximity to you.
It’s wise to securely store copies of the original paper documents in your digital filing cabinet in preparation for such cases.
4. Fireproof Lockboxes or Safes
If you have documents with confidential information, a safe or lockbox can help you keep them secure for a long time. A physical lockbox is similar to a safe but has less thick walls. Be sure to verify that they are fireproof and have digital locks to increase their security capabilities.
To store your paper documents, you can simply categorize and file them as usual, and then store them within the safe or lockbox.
They usually vary in size, so if you get a small-sized one, you may use it to store only your very vital or personal documents. To store your documents securely, set a password and give the code only to a trusted acquaintance or family member.
5. Off-Site Storage Facilities
There are facilities that provide storage spaces for storing inactive paper files from your home or office. If your office requires you to keep numerous client documents over the course of several years, you can arrange these documents in sealable boxes and store them away in such facilities.
If you’re going on a long trip with no one to tend to your home, you can also use these facilities to store your paper documents until you return. Use appropriate paper-preserving practices on your documents before storing them away, and verify that the facilities abide by any laws and regulations that have been set in that regard.
6. Cloud-Based Storage Systems
Cloud-based storage systems like Google Drive or Dropbox can also be helpful for storing scanned paper documents. Most of them are free and encrypted, but you may also need to use a password manager to lock and keep the files safe from intruders.
Best Practices To Know Before Storing Physical Paper Documents Long-Term
These best practices help prolong the life of your physical paper documents, especially because they’re susceptible to quick damage.
1. Avoid Heat and High Humidity
Documents stored in low humidity last longer. The lower the temperature, the longer the length of preservation. Temperatures that are cooler reduce the rate at which chemicals in paper decay, and lessen the activities of insects.
2. Protect Paper With Plastic Page Slips
If you’re storing paper documents in bins, boxes, or binders, take further protective steps by covering the pages in plastic slips or sleeves. They keep the papers from getting wet or tearing easily.
3. Don’t Use Sleeves or Containers That Are Made Without Polyvinyl Chloride
Containers that have been made with this chemical prolong the content of whatever you put in them. So, always choose storage containers that have been designed to protect your paper documents.
4. Acid-Free Papers Last Longer
When storing paper documents for a long period, ensure that no acid was used in printing or photocopying them. If they have acidic chemicals, consider scanning and uploading such documents to a digital lockbox instead.
5. Keep Boxes and Binders Off the Ground
Moisture and humidity from the ground can affect cardboard storage boxes, causing them and their content to decay. If you can, place boxes on shelving units or anywhere above direct contact with the ground.
6. Roll Up Large Sheets
Paper documents that have been printed on large sheets of paper can be rolled up to save space. Roll and then wrap them up in clear polyester film to prevent moisture from soaking through. Label each roll for easy identification.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Store Paper Without A File Cabinet?
To store paper without a file cabinet, categorize them in binders, envelopes, or accordion files and then arrange them in plastic bins or paper baskets. You can also keep them in a fireproof safe, lockbox or digital filing cabinet.
How Do You Keep Paper From Deteriorating?
Store papers in a cool and dry place with as low humidity as possible. Choose storage containers that have been produced with Polyvinyl Chloride because they help papers last longer. Protect papers in open binders with plastic sleeves or slips as well.
Do People Put Documents In The Freezer?
Yes, people store paper documents in Ziploc bags inside their frost-free freezer compartment. This part of the freezer is airtight and safe from water damage. It’s also well insulated so the documents are safe even in a fire.