Survey Findings

I’m glad to be able to write my final entry on this subject as I’ve found it a rather tortuous and boring exercise. In fact, to keep pushing me along, I’ve had to keep reminding myself that I embarked on this survey because Household files are such an integral part of the domestic information landscape. The results do, indeed, reflect that. I discovered over 9,800 documents residing in 113 files placed in 15 separate locations – and bear in mind that these were purely household related files and did not include personal correspondence or specialist professional-type material. True, 71% of these were in email folders – but that simply reflects the importance of email in today’s information landscape. Even when emails were excluded, 31% of the remainder were still in electronic format.

The 15 locations were many and varied – a wooden chest, 3 study drawers, a study bookcase, a study window ledge, 2 email accounts, 2 laptop computers, 1 iPhone, a kitchen drawer, a utility room cupboard, a garage drawer and a shed drawer. There was also a great deal of variety in the type of containers that the files were held in: cardboard folders, poly folders, plastic folders, plastic pockets, plastic button wallets, a plastic zip-up wallet, 10-pocket plastic pages, presentation folders, email folders, electronic folders, an iPhone app, ring binders, a plastic bag, a manila envelope and a box.

Four fifths of the documents addressed nine main topics – Local Community activities (17%); Sport-Related Clubs, Associations & Activities (16%); Orders & Receipts (11%); Non-Sport-Related Clubs, Associations & Activities (10%); House Sale and Purchase and Renovation Work (7%); Banks & Credit Cards & Money Saving Advice (6%); Loyalty Accounts (Shops) (6%); Loyalty Accounts (Airlines & Hotels) (5%); Service contracts & Bills (Gas, Electricity, TV, Phone, Broadband, TV, etc) (3%). The remaining fifth deal with Holidays, Year Files (mementos and sundry docs for possible future ref), Pensions, Tax & Benefits, Healthcare, Legal Documents, Recipes, Instructions/Guides/Guarantees, Cars, Insurances, Budgeting, Local Community Information, Garden, Investments, Mortgage, Service Leaflets/Business Cards/Vouchers, Retirement, Key info about relatives,  Death related documents, and Inventory of items in the loft.

In the course of the exercise, I threw out about 1,980 documents and this just confirms what is common knowledge – people don’t prune their files very often. In the case of hardcopy files, it is often only the shortage of available space that prompts the pruning activity. However, for email files there may be no such prompt – in this survey large amounts of free storage were available in the email system. Two other reasons were also identified for not pruning the email files – first, the fact that the large amounts of material arriving via the email system are too great to be able to easily undertake additional filing work on them; and, second, the email archive can be searched at will to find email addresses or specific content.

Overall, the survey clearly shows that digitisation has had an impact in four distinct ways on these particular household files:

  • much information is coming in by email and the email system itself is being used as a primary storage repository for household files;
  • some household files are being generated on the home computer;
  • some household information which arrives in hardcopy format is being immediately scanned and stored only in digital form;
  • some old hardcopy household files are being scanned and archived in digital form.

However, the survey also highlighted the fact that hardcopy may be a more appropriate format for material which needs to be used by both partners when a shared electronic filing system is not available.

Of course, because this survey has looked at only one household, it cannot be used to reach general conclusions. As with most of the other investigations recorded in these OFC pages, it shows only what can be done, NOT what everybody is doing. As such its findings and conclusions must only be used only as a starting point for further thinking and investigation.

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