How to Go Paperless

By Beth Zeigler, Houzz

After reading the comments from prior weeks' articles on home organizing, it sounds like a lot of folks are interested in living the paperless lifestyle. But as you can probably guess, no matter how much you want paper out of your life, receipts, bills and business cards will still make their way into your home. So it's crucial to deal with them by creating effective but simple systems for easy access later.

This means:
• Establishing an active filing zone
• Deciding how you'll digitize your paper
• Making sure you back everything up

You'll also want a plan for properly disposing of paperwork that now exists in the digital world.

desk
Jeri Koegel Photography, original photo on Houzz

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Corralling

It would be great if I had the discipline to scan paperwork as it comes in, but I don't. I also don't have time to open the scanner up and digitally file things away one by one. So I've created a place for "active files" to corral my paperwork before the lot gets scanned and digitally filed.

And while you might be organized to a T (and thus inclined to skip this step), I think it's important for one reason: Taking a moment for your active filing will help clue you in as to what needs to be scanned and what can be recycled, avoiding the habit of trying to scan every document that comes in.

For instance, after a week or two, I know I'm not going to return my Banana Republic shirt, and I can now recycle the receipt. Or maybe I've decided that I don't really need the pamphlet to my latest organizing conference. You get the picture.

home office
CWB Architects, original photo on Houzz

What to Include in Active Filing

It can be as simple as having a "To Scan" file folder that you process once a week to twice a month. I'll usually process this file folder when I actually have time to scan the items inside. Anything deemed irrelevant or no longer needed gets recycled or shredded. The rest gets scanned.

Other files you might create: "To Do," "Pending," and any project-related papers that need a spot to land.

I tend to think vertical when looking for a spot to store my active files, and use hanging wall pockets. You can use the interior of a cabinet door or the nook of a wall.

home office
Mark Newman Design, original photo on Houzz

Scanning

Flatbed scanners: You probably already own a flatbed scanner at home; mine came as an all-in-one with my printer a few years back. And while these scanners work just fine for digitizing active papers on a weekly basis, you'll probably die of boredom if you tried scanning your backlog of paperwork with these dinosaurs.

Sheet-fed scanners: If you're serious about going paperless and have tons of photos, business cards and paper that need digital archiving, you are going to want a heavy-duty scanner. Usually compact in size, most take 25 to 50 pages at once. Here are my top faves.
• Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners. I own the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M. It's a scanning beast and also can capture double-sided paper. These scanners also use technology called OCR, which allows you to search handwritten or typed documents once they are scanned.
• NeatReceipts makes scanners compatible for PC and Mac users, with a portable or desktop version available.

If you're saying, "Bah, humbug" to scanning, you can always send your paperwork off to be scanned. I have clients who love 1DollarScan and Shoeboxed. The investment is less than buying a scanner but could add up over time. It all depends on the situation. Will the paper get scanned only if you pay someone else to do it? Answer this question before spending the big bucks on a new scanner.

home office
CONTENT Architecture, original photo on Houzz

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Backing Up

If you don't trust your backup system, you're bound to keep the paper copy as a reinforcement, which negates the purpose of scanning everything in the first place.
• Mac machines now have a program called Time Machine that will automatically back up your data to an external hard drive.
• If you are using only an external hard drive to back up, you might think about having a backup external hard drive stored away from your computer. I would suggest a safe or something similar. If something bad happens to your computer, it could also happen to your external hard drive, so it's best to have a backup of your backup.
• I strongly suggest also backing your data up to the cloud. Not only will your data be safe if something happens to your computer, but you can access your documents from anywhere.
• My personal favorite cloud applications are DropBox, Evernote and iCloud — all free.

home office
Isolina Mallon Interiors, original photo on Houzz

Shredding

Disposing of your sensitive documents is key to finishing up the paperless process. If you don't want to invest in a shredder (or refuse to find a spot to hide this eyesore) there are plenty of shredding resources out there.
• Most office supply stores offer shredding services for around 75 cents per pound. With most file boxes weighing 5 to 15 pounds. when filled with paper, it's not a bad idea to have someone do it for you.
• Most big cities host shredding events where you can bring around five boxes of paper to be destroyed. Do some research and see what you can find.
• The Automobile Club of Southern California typically offers one or two free shredding events per year.

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