Going paperless at home is a journey. It is not something that’s going to happen overnight, especially if you currently have a lot of paper in your home. But, if you’re like me, and you’re tired of the endless amounts of bulging manila file folders, then read on as I walk you through seven steps on how to go from paper piles to digital files.
1. Process all current papers.
This is a critical step in going paperless. Sort ALL of your current papers by category: bank statements, home reference, medical, insurance, investments. Once you have all of your categories in piles, go through each paper and decide if you’re going to: toss, shred, or scan. You can toss anything that doesn’t have sensitive information on it, like your social security number or bank account numbers. You should shred documents that contain sensitive information (if you don’t own a shredder, put all papers in a bankers box and take to your local office supply store for shredding). The documents you are going to scan will be handled after all other papers are processed, as these will be the part of your new digital filing system.
2. Decide on your file categories.
At this point, you should just have piles of the papers you’re going to keep. Look at each pile, and write down what the category is for that pile. For example, tax archives, investment statements, medical bills, warranties. If there are other categories not represented by your piles, write that category down on your list.
Take this opportunity to decide if you really need to keep these papers. For a long time, I held on to papers out of fear. Fear that I would need to reference it, and I wouldn’t have it. It is rare that I ever have to refer to a document. Plus, if I REALLY need a document, I can usually find it online – at my bank, with my insurance company, or on the internet (in the case of product manuals). The only document I have referred to a handful of times is my daughter’s daycare packet; I needed to confirm payment amounts, policies and procedures, and pickup times. It has been useful having this at my fingertips. BUT, if I had tossed it, the document is also available on her daycare’s website. Problem solved!
3. Choose a platform for your digital filing system.
I recommend choosing a cloud-based platform. There are a variety of options out there: Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, OneDrive, Carbonite. I use Google Drive, because I prefer the Android operating system. If you prefer Apple, then iCloud Drive is their cloud. If you use Microsoft (read: Outlook, formerly Hotmail), then OneDrive will work just as well. Most clouds will provide a certain amount of free storage, with the option to pay for more. Consider the operating system you’re comfortable with, and see if their corresponding cloud makes sense for you.
4. Set up your digital folders.
Now that you’ve chosen a cloud to host your digital files, take the list of categories you made, and start creating digital folders for each category. Here’s an example of how you can set the folders up:
Medical > Susan’s Medical Info > Year
Taxes > 2020 > Donations
You can be as general or specific as you want. The goal is to find something that will work for you and your family.
5. Scan & name your papers.
If you don’t already have a scanner, now is the time to invest in one! Having a scanner is an integral part of going digital. If you have very little existing paper and don’t want to buy a scanner, you can download an app that converts jpegs to PDFs. You just snap a photo of the document you want to “scan”, name it using your naming convention, and into the cloud it goes! Using an app sounds reasonable for one-page documents, but if you have multiple pages that you want to scan, a scanner might make more sense. (Some apps to check out: Evernote Scannable, Dropbox Business, Genius Scan Plus).
Once your items are scanned, drop them into the folders you already created and use a consistent naming convention.
“Year-Month-Day Vendor Description Family Member”
“2019-08-21 Mount Sinai Hospital Bloodwork John Smith”
It makes it easier to find something when you’re looking through a lot of files. It also helps you find the document easily by searching for keywords in the cloud search bar.
6. Stop the paper.
Once you have your new digital system, it’s important to plug the paper dam. What do I mean by this? You can do two things to stop paper from infiltrating your home:
1) Visit optoutprescreen.com to opt out of mailed credit card and insurance offers. You can opt out for 5 years, or permanently.
2) Change your bills from snail mail to e-delivery. Some companies even offer incentives to go paperless (reduced bill, gift card, etc.) It cuts down drastically on mail received, and eliminates the need to scan/file papers.
If you’d like, you can download and save a digital file of your bill to your new cloud system, but only if you think that is necessary. I, personally, just let the vendor house my documents on their websites, or download once per year as a backup.
7. Maintain the system.
As paper comes into your house, decide if it’s worth keeping. If you want to have a digital copy, snap a picture with your app, or run it through your scanner. Then, name the file using your naming convention, and upload to your cloud. Finally, shred or toss that piece of paper and take a deep, satisfied breath, knowing your new digital system is keeping your home free of paper clutter!
And there you have it! Seven simple steps to help you go paperless at home.