Whether I like it or not, physical mail continues to show up in my mailbox nearly every single day. A lot of the mail I receive is tossed in the recycling bin, but I do still get some mail that I want to keep.
For quite a while I would file my paper documents away in a filing cabinet. This was not a very good idea for several reasons.
- The filing cabinet takes up unnecessary space.
- My documents weren’t always the easiest to find.
- What if there was a fire? I would lose everything! (I was using a regular filing cabinet that wasn’t fire resistant)
The fact that I was storing all of this paper was super ironic. Why you may be asking…?
Well, for a majority of my career I’ve worked with a large organization helping design, develop, and implement large scale document imaging solutions.
I knew exactly how to get a company from a room full of filing cabinets (with millions of sheets of paper) to paper free. That was my thing.
So, why wasn’t I doing that in my own house? Good question!
I finally asked myself this exact question a few years ago. Since I didn’t have a good answer for why I wasn’t practicing what I preached at work, I successfully made my household paperless!
Interested in getting rid of your own mess of paper? Whether you have filing cabinets full of paper or your paper is stuffed in a bunch of desk drawers, it’s really simple to go paperless!
Below are the 10 simple steps for you to make your household paperless.
These steps assume that you have a decent understanding of how to use a computer (either PC or Mac).
Step #1: Slow the paper flow
The first thing you need to do is slow down the amount of paper you receive in the mail. You can do this by signing up for eStatements wherever possible (i.e. bank statements, cell phone bills, insurance bills, etc.).
Step #2: Determine the size of the project
Ok, now it’s time to figure out how much paper you have that you want to keep.
You don’t need to identify the exact number of sheets of paper here. You just need to have a high level understanding of what this project is going to look like.
If you have 3 large filing cabinets of paper, it is going to be a larger project that may impact the type of scanner you choose in Step #3. For most people this will end up being a small number of documents in a single small filing cabinet or drawer.
This will also be a good time to identify and set aside any documents that you no longer need to keep. There will be no need to scan these documents if you no longer need them. These unneeded documents will go straight to Step #8 to be shredded.
Step #3: Invest in a basic desktop scanner
Now that you understand how big of a project you are about to take on, it’s time to get a scanner.
This is probably the most confusing part of the entire “going paperless” process. There are so many options out there to choose from that it can lead to paralysis by analysis.
Ultimately, it is going to be up to you to choose the right scanner for your needs. However, I’d like to offer up a couple of recommendations.
- Brother ImageCenter ADS-2000 – this is the model that I have been using since 2014. I personally like the scanner because it scans in both black/white and color. It also scans both sides of each page – this is called duplex scanning. You can checkout a full review of this scanner completed by PC Magazine here.
- Neat Desktop Scanner – I know a couple different people who use this scanner system, including my parents. It is more expensive than the Brother ADS-2000, and it requires a subscription. I personally wouldn’t buy this due to the subscription, but some people love the software that comes with it.
- Scanner Pro Mobile App – if you don’t have much to scan, you can skip the physical scanner and just use your smart phone. I have used this mobile app for a while now, and I often use it instead of my Brother scanner for simple documents. You can checkout a full review of this app by PC Magazine here.
7 considerations when looking at a physical scanner will be:
- Do you need to scan in Black/White or Color?
- How fast do you want your scanner to be?
- The one I use is rated at 24 pages per minute. This is just fine for me, but you can find scanners much faster and slower. The price will go up and down based on the speed you select.
- Simplex vs Duplex
- Simplex means the scanner will only scan one side of the page.
- Duplex means the scanner will scan both sides of the page.
- Do you have a PC or a Mac?
- Make sure you confirm whether the scanner you’re looking at is compatible with your computer.
- What type of connection are you looking for?
- The majority (if not all) of the home scanners will connect to the USB port on your computer. However, be careful not to buy a scanner that connects with Firewire if you don’t have a Firewire port.
- I’d suggest sticking with a USB scanner.
- Does the scanner come with scanning software?
- Most will come with scanning software, but it is still good to confirm.
- Even better would be if the scanning software is able to organize your documents for you. Otherwise, you can go with a very basic folder structure to store your files.
- Other features
- There are many other features available with some scanners. Below are a couple common features…
- OCR (Optical Character Recognition) which can do some cool things for you, such as: auto-rotate your pages and make your PDFs searchable.
- Image Enhancement can clean-up your documents to make them look pristine.
- There are many other features available with some scanners. Below are a couple common features…
Step #4: Prepare (Prep) your paper to scan
It’s now time to get all of your paper ready to scan. Here are a couple of things to do:
- Remove staples, paper clips, and anything else that may jam inside of your scanner.
- Organize your paper into the documents you’d like to save. If there are 5 sheets of paper that belong to the same document, group those 5 sheets together.
It will work out best for home scanning if you split up the scanning into batches. Basically, don’t go through and prep 100% of your paper to scan. Instead, split it up into a few different sections and only prep 1 section at a time.
If you have 1000 sheets of paper to scan, split this up into 4 batches with 250 sheets of paper in each batch.
This will allow you to prep and scan 1 batch before prepping the second batch. This will allow you to go through the entire process with a subset of your paper and make process improvements for the next batches.
Breaking up the scanning into batches will also boost your confidence and overall morale with each batch you complete!
Step #5: Scan Time
You now have slowed down the amount of new paper you’ll be receiving, you know the size of your scanning project, you have a scanner (or your phone with a scan app), and you have your first batch prepped and ready to go.
Hooray, it’s now time to start scanning!
Once the scanner is hooked up and the software is installed, it’ll be time to start scanning each document from your first batch.
I recommend storing each of your documents as PDFs. Your scanning software will most likely give you the option of to store your documents in several formats (i.e. PDF, JPG, TIFF, etc.). Again, I’d suggest that you stick with PDF.
Remember above when I talked about how it was hard to find things in my filing cabinet? It can be just as hard to find your documents on your computer too if you don’t organize them!
If your scanning software doesn’t have the ability to organize your scanned documents, I would suggest keeping it simple with a folder structure. You can follow a folder structure similar to the following:
Documents –> My Filing Cabinet –> [Name of Vendor/Business] –> [Type of Document] –> [Your File Here]
A real example of this might be:
Documents –> My Filing Cabinet –> ABC Electric Company –> Invoices –> “2017-10-04 My Document Name.pdf”
Note: if you are using document management software, you will be able to tag your documents using various properties or indexes. This is a much better solution than storing documents using a folder structure.
I won’t be going into this concept of properties or taxonomy in this post because it will only complicate things. But, I do want you to know that taxonomy (i.e. properties) is the most important thing to ensure you can find your documents at a later date.
Our taxonomy above is going to consist of the names of our folders and the file name. Although not ideal, it is a simple approach for our simple scanning needs.
In the business world, this would not be recommended 🙂
Step #6: Confirm your documents
As you scan each document you should quickly review it to make sure it scanned correctly.
Is the quality acceptable?
Are all of the pages there?
This step is extremely important! In Step #8 below you will be shredding your documents. You need to be confident that each document is successfully scanned before permanently disposing of your paper documents/files.
If all looks good, you can then move on to scanning the next document in your batch.
Step #7: Back-up your documents
Many of us have gone through the terrible experience of losing a file (or many files) on our computer. Whether the entire hard drive fails or a single file goes missing, something bad is bound to happen eventually.
Because of this, you need to mitigate this risk by backing-up your files. There are three options that I’d suggest you consider:
- Buy an External Hard Drive and schedule your files to automatically back-up to the external drive. Although this doesn’t protect you from a fire (assuming your external hard drive is physically located in the same place as your computer), it will reduce the risk associated with a hard drive failure. You can also consider storing your external hard drive in fire resistant media safe or take a look at the other two cheaper options below.
- Use Google Drive to back-up your digital filing cabinet in the “cloud.” You can setup a free account with up to 15GB of free storage. This should be plenty for backing up your digital filing cabinet. The important thing with this type of solution is that you need to be very cognizant to not share your personal files with anybody else. It is easy to share files in Google Drive, so don’t accidentally share anything you don’t want others to see. This is my recommended option since it is the cheapest and is simple to use. It also protects you from both hard drive failure and the possibility of fire at your home.
- Purchase a subscription to a cloud-based backup solution, such as Carbonite. An option like this can be setup to automatically back-up your computer to a server at the provider’s (i.e. Carbonite, etc.) location. This could be a good option if you want to back-up more than just your filing cabinet. You’ll need to do research on this to find out if this is right for you. There will be an annual or monthly cost associated with this option.
Step #8: Shred your paper
Once you have confirmed that your documents truly exist on your computer and have been backed-up, you can now start the shredding process.
I would suggest looking for a free local option for shredding. There is a local credit union here in my area who has a free quarterly shred event. They allow up to 2 boxes of paper to be shredded, even for non-members.
See if there is anything like this where you live. If not, you may need to pay a company to have your documents shredded.
You can also consider buying your own document shredder, but I think that is more of a nuisance than using another service. Let me just say that I have a shredder in my house that never gets used 🙂
Important Note: there are some documents that you need to keep. This could include a car title, tax returns, home documents, etc. Be sure you understand what you need to keep in paper format. Because of this, I would recommend having a simple fire resistant safe for these documents.
Step #9: Continue scanning new paper to stay paperless
Once you’re paperless, you need to keep it that way. Any new paper that comes your way should be scanned, stored, and shredded in a consistent manner.
Don’t let your paper pile up again.
Step #10: Feel the relief from being organized
Doesn’t it feel good to have all of that paper out of your house?
I know the feeling, and I can attest that it does feel great!
Alright, it’s time to take your household paperless with my simple 10-step process. It may feel overwhelming looking at this list, but just take it one step at a time.
If you have any questions along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Enjoy, and get ready to experience the great feeling of being paperless!
Co-Host of The Timeless Family Podcast