What does spring cleaning mean to you? Throwing open the windows and letting in some fresh air? While that may be good enough for some, the season for renewal is also a great time to get to your spring organizing list. With that in mind, here are a few tips on getting rid of the most prevalent and frustrating form of clutter: Paper clutter. Do you even know what is lurking in that old, dusty filing cabinet?
We are a society of digital information and digital technology, so you would think we could figure out a way to be a paperless society, too, right?
As much as we think that we could be paper-free, really, we should strive to be paperless. In other words, lessen the amount of paper that surrounds us. We’ve been talking about becoming paperless for a very long time, as referenced in this 1975 Business Week article about the future of the office. So what is holding us back?
It's Not Hardware
For one, the technology is out there. The sale of scanners is growing exponentially. (I heart my Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500. Yes, I’ve drunk the Kool-aid.)
It's Not Software
You can’t blame lack of software. Cloud-based file repositories are secure and easy-to-use. Whether you choose Evernote, Dropbox, Box, or Google, there is an abundance of web-based solutions to help you set up a structure once your documents are digital. (I happen to heart Evernote, myself. )
I know, I hate to admit this. Fear grabs hold of our mental state and tells us that we can’t throw anything away. Even as a professional organizer, I am constantly checking my IRS Guidelines and calling my accountant to confirm the nuances of certain paperwork.
How Do We Get Over It?
It’s really simpler than we think. Scanning your documents is a safe and efficient way to keep up with all those critical archival papers that we need or want – but hate giving up physical storage space for. (I’ve even started scanning all those creative masterpieces from my children, so I don’t have to keep all the originals stacking up in my basement.)
Scan Your Papers
Scanning offers many benefits above and beyond freeing up precious storage real estate. First, scanned records are easy to find and track electronically. Second, scanned records can be a key component of your disaster plan, providing extra assurance that you can access your information should the worst happen. Third, if your paper collection includes fragile paper records, scanning these preserves the integrity of the originals by allowing them to be handled less frequently. Often, the scanning process increases the legibility of aging documents, too.
Ready to get started? Let’s do this.
Step One: Naming Conventions are Critical
The first step to enjoying the benefits of a paperless lifestyle is to set up a taxonomy for keeping your scanned documents. Tossing your documents onto your digital desktop can be a worse nightmare than tossing paperwork onto your physical one. Use a naming system for your documents that is both descriptive and consistent, and easy for your future self to remember. I keep my personal and my work documents separated into different Evernote stacks, then I create notebooks for the various types of paperwork. (Receipts, meal receipts, mileage, personal information, medical prescriptions, DMV paperwork, insurance card/information, charitable donations, tax back-up information…) Keep in mind that much of the time, you’ll be building your system as go.
Step Two: Round up your Documents
Compile all your to-be-scanned paperwork in one place. If it seems to overwhelming to tackle the whole stack, take 15 minutes each day for a week or so and knock out a "pile" of digital documents that need scanning, renaming and filing. You’ll be surprised at your progress. Or start with the current year and move forward.
Step Three: Keep It Up
Once you have a clear desktop and no orphan documents hanging around, it’s a matter of filing things correctly as they come in. It takes a matter of minutes or so to scan, label and file documents as they come up – don’t wait until “someday when you have time.” Someday is actually not a day of the week, after all.
Always Keep These Originals
Birth and death certificates
Passports and other citizenship documents
Contracts in their original form (even after they are scanned)
But for tax back-up information, personal memorabilia, other piles of reference and archival paperwork (which creates thick paperwork piles by the day), get those documents scanned! Receipts? Manuals? Keep them electronically. With my iX500, it is amazing how fast this process can go, and how clean my paperless desktop looks.