Going paperless—without the stress

5 easy steps to clear the clutter and digitally organize your files

Created date

April 19th, 2018
a hand reaches out from under a pile of paperwork

Dealing with excess paperwork doesn't have to be stressful!

How much paper is in your home that you could digitize or totally do without? It’s probably more than you think. Paper continues to go out of style, as companies and individuals aim to be more considerate of the environment—and save money on things like printing and postage.

Increasingly, consumers like you have the power to curb or stop the flow of unnecessary paper into your home. But what can you do with all the documents you already have? Allow us to blend print with digital as we outline five easy steps to going paperless:

Step 1: Assess your current paper situation

First, corral the crucial legal documents—birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, passports, medical records—and place them safely into a file or box. Then, separate the remaining documents into KEEP and DISCARD piles. Make sure to responsibly recycle or shred anything you’re discarding.

When you have a manageable KEEP pile of paperwork, identify what’s personal (i.e., letters, art projects, magazines) versus what’s business (i.e., tax returns, bank statements, receipts).

Step 2: Set goals

For the personal items, get creative. Decide how you want to store these memories: slideshows, digital albums, searchable databases. There will certainly be special items you don’t want to dispose of after digitizing, but most can be safely preserved in detail and helpfully categorized on your computer.

The business pile might not be as much fun to organize, but it’s essential to going paperless. Your goal here should be to set up a functional digital system of your records that’s easy to navigate. Regardless of how you choose to arrange your documents during this step, the most important thing is that your system makes sense to you and whoever else needs to find documents once they’re digitized.

Step 3: Get the gadgets

If you love gadgets and devices, you can find plenty to make your new paperless life as efficient as you want. But the two that experts recommend are a scanner and an external hard drive.

Depending on the size and scope of your archiving project, you’ll want to select a scanner for portability, speed, and functionality. Maybe you want a small, wireless machine with basic capabilities or something larger that can quickly scan two-sided sheets. Regardless, you’ll be scanning a lot, so make sure you choose one that fits your preferences.

The external hard drive will be backing up all of the previously paper-based data you’ll store on your computer, so you want to be sure it’s reliable, fast, and compatible with your computer as well as that it has enough storage space—anywhere from 250 megabytes (MB) to multiple terabytes (TB).

Step 4: Scan and save

This is by far the most time-consuming step in your paperless process. Before you begin scanning, decide whether you want to keep a filing system on your computer’s hard drive or on a cloud-based system that you can access from anywhere, like Dropbox, Evernote, or Google Drive. Once you’ve chosen your preferred location, create empty folders that match how you’ve already organized your physical documents.

Now for the fun part! Give yourself plenty of time to accomplish the scanning portion of this project. You can even create a schedule to stay organized and manage your own expectations. Make sure to accurately name your scanned files with the most pertinent information like dates or companies and save them to the proper folder so you, your spouse, or anyone else who will have access to your digital library can easily search and find what they’re looking for.

Step 5: Reap the benefits

Stand back and admire that gleaming, clutter-free desk! Enjoy those empty filing cabinets! Not only do you have a more organized space, but you’re helping the environment and you’ve made a great decision for your health. Studies have shown that people with neat, clean homes tend to be healthier, experience less stress, and sleep better.

Remember, this process is more than simply decluttering, scanning, saving, and recycling documents. Keep it up by committing to changes in your daily life, like choosing paperless billing, asking for receipts to be emailed rather than printed, downloading digital boarding passes before your flight, and using the calendar and list-managing apps on your phone.