One of my projects over the summer was to go paperless. Some people view the paperless revolution as a fad, but I saw it as an opportunity to change my life. Generally, I’ve been good about getting rid of unnecessary paper. Going paperless, however, not only allows me to nearly get rid of paper entirely, it also allows me to back-up important documents without worrying about losing the original paper copy. Getting rid of paper sure feels good. I can even get rid of the filing cabinet I’ve been forced to lug around with me as I’ve moved over the last few years.
Here’s how I did it.
1. I sorted through my paper documents and identified the documents that were worthy of converting to electronic form. These documents include things like tax returns and supporting documents, current contracts (e.g., insurance policies, leases, gym membership, etc.), personal notes, car maintenance records, medical records, manuals, to name a few. I set these documents aside for scanning. I shredded everything else.
2. Over a period of a few weeks, I scanned the paper documents into searchable PDFs. I used the copiers at my office because they can handle a large volume of documents very quickly. I tried to go to the office on weekends when few people were there so I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way.
- I typically scanned similar documents (e.g., double-sided tax documents from 2005) in a single batch. I used Adobe Acrobat Pro to separate a large PDF document into different files. I could also combine documents in a single file. For example, it makes sense to keep all supporting documents for a particular tax return in a single file.
3. I created a Box.net account to store my electronic documents on the cloud. The main reason I chose Box is because they offered 50 GB free as part of a promotion. Box, like many of its competitors, allows users to sync documents on their computers. My personal documents are synced on two machines to provide redundancy.
- I’m somewhat cautious about storing documents in the cloud, so I keep particularly sensitive documents in a TrueCrypt container that is also stored in the cloud. This provides me with the security I want with the convenience of cloud storage.
4. Along with scanned documents, I also copied all of my electronic documents to the cloud. Now I have one place where I keep all of my important documents.
5. To avoid format obsolescence, I made sure to convert my electronic documents to searchable PDF. I used Adobe Acrobat Pro to batch convert all of my electronic documents to PDF. This saves a lot of time, although I had to manually check to make sure spreadsheets were converted properly.
- I have files going back to the early 1990s, which meant many of the files were in obsolete formats. I wanted to avoid this issue going forward. I downloaded the software that allowed me to view the documents in the obsolete formats, then printed them to PDF.
6. I made sure all of my financial accounts were set to paperless. There’s nothing I hate more than getting a 50 page prospectus in the mail then promptly throwing it in the recycle bin. I now save important statements to the cloud (within the encrypted container). Generally, I only save statements that reflect my assets, in case I need to make use of FDIC or SPIC guarantees in the future.
7. I also made sure all of my photos were uploaded to the cloud. I had to scan prints as well as consolidate photos from various places like my camera, smartphone, etc.
8. I made sure I was on the do-not-mail list to minimize junk mail. This was not enough to get rid of pesky credit card offers. I called every credit card company that sent me offers and told them not to send me any more.
9. For mail that we do get, I immediately sort it into shred or scan piles. Every week I bring a bag of mail to be shredded into the office and I put the contents into a secure shred bin. (We have a shredder, but it’s a lot easier having our documents shredded at work.)
10. We pay everything electronically. For example, most of our bills are automatically paid using a credit card. Our credit card bills are automatically paid out of our bank account. We use PayPal to pay people whenever we owe someone money. We also encourage others to send us money via PayPal when they owe us money. It’s free as long it is a personal payment. This way we don’t have to waste money on stamps and envelopes, or even worse, having to go to the bank to get cash.
11. We only keep receipts until they post to our credit card account (or longer if we anticipate the need to return something).
Now we have a very streamlined and efficient system for organizing our documents. The house is a lot cleaner and everything is accessible in a few clicks. We have multiple layers of redundancy to protect our documents.
Check back for Part 2 of this series!