Going Paperless at Home
No one will ever accuse me of being a neat freak, but I have found a certain harmony in eliminating unnecessary clutter from my life. Paper used to be one of the biggest sources of clutter in my home thanks to our daily dose of junk mail, the usual bills, and receipts from various purchases. We had a drawer full of unopened product manuals saved just in case of I'm not sure what.
I saved all those papers as a reference point for past purchases or just in case of an IRS audit.
I've eliminated all the extraneous paper from my house, made it infinitely more useful if I ever happen to need it, and you can do the same thing. My house is far less cluttered with papers and I know where to find the information if I ever need it in the future. Going paperless at home is easier than you think.
Why Should You Go Paperless?
All your papers become searchable. Going paperless isn't about simply loading all the paper in your house into the recycle bin and calling it a day. By making an electronic copy of everything, you still have the information if you need it, with the added advantage of being able to search the files easily.
All your papers become secure. By scanning your papers into an encrypted, password protected application, your paper files are more secure than when you stored them in a file cabinet.
All your papers are fireproof. One disadvantage of paper is that it can be easily destroyed. By making an electronic copy of your paper files and information, you can create backups and always have access to anything you need, even if disaster strikes.
All your papers waste less space. Paper uses large quantities of space. The more paper you have the more space you consume. By going paperless, you recover the wasted space, leaving you more room in your home and a less cluttered home.
How to Go Paperless
Going paperless is actually a fairly simple process, particularly if you're willing to automate the paper-to-digital conversion process. Even though it's simple, I failed the first couple of times I tried, because I didn't have a system that was convenient. That changed when I adopted Evernote as my storage solution for all my scanned documents.
Evernote is a free application that acts as a digital repository for virtually anything you can think of. You can store text notes, photos, files, project planning data, and copies of websites. I primarily use it in my quest to be paperless. While Evernote is free, I opted for the premium version which automatically converts scanned documents to text searchable files using optical character recognition (OCR).
The other tool in my process of going paperless is a Fujitsu Scansnap scanner. Any scanner will work for scanning paper files, but I really like the Scansnap because it can be configured to automatically store scanned documents in my Evernote account. The video below shows how to automate scanning paper files with a Scansnap and Evernote.
Your Paperless Strategy
Once you have your free Evernote account setup and have connected your scanner to your computer, it's time to get started scanning. If you have lots of papers, don't try to scan everything all at once.
As I mentioned, I tried (and failed) to start going paperless several times. Evernote is what finally got me on the right track, but my strategy was what sealed the deal.
Gather all the papers you want to scan into a single location. For me, this was a big pile at first. I had years of papers laying around the house. I stacked them all into a couple of cardboard boxes and set aside some time each week to scan them.
Schedule time for scanning. If you want to eliminate your pile of paper, you need to schedule time in your week to make that pile smaller. I generally do this in between other projects or while watching television, because scanning requires minimal attention. The key thing is to make sure you do it so that you can gradually eliminate the pile. If you have kids old enough to feed pages into the scanner, this is a great project to have them help with.
Convert paper statements to electronic statements. Most credit card companies, utilities, insurance providers, and banks allow you to receive electronic statements. This is an obvious way to go paperless, but you may want to take the additional step I do. I set aside time once a month to sign in to each of my accounts, download a PDF version of my statements, and store them in Evernote. I do this because having everything in one place makes it easier to find information when I need it. Some services only keep the last 18 months of statements, so this is also a way to keep records for a longer period of time.
Schedule time to scan new papers once a week. Even if you haven't scanned in your paper backlog, make a habit of scanning new paper each week. This is an important part of going paperless because it gets you in the habit of eliminating paper before it has time to pile up.
The final component of going paperless is getting rid of all the physical copies of things you scanned. I pile the scanned papers into a separate box labelled "items to shred". Evernote makes redundant copies of the electronic version of your scanned documents, so you don't need to worry about losing them.
I recommend shredding the paper copies to avoid having personal information end up in the trash. A crosscut shredder is the ideal solution because it cuts the papers into small pieces that would be hard to put together again. Most of the shredding in my house is done by my son, because he thinks it's fun.