If you’ve been reading the blog lately, you’ve hopefully picked up some tips and new habits that will help you get greater control over your paper. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a little bit about one of the best eliminators of paper clutter: Digitization. For the foreseeable future, there will be a place for paper in our lives, and there are some things you simply MUST keep a hard copy of. But much of the paper we accumulate doesn’t need to stick around. Still afraid to let go? Ok, then, make it digital.
There are three primary ways to make paper into digital files.
Switching to Electronic Billing & Statements with
Your institutions REALLY want you to do this – it saves them a bunch of money, and lightens your mailbox quite a bit. But some of us still need that arrival of the paper, remind us to deal with it. This could help: Consider having your statements emailed to you, and then use your email program to filter them straight into a bill-paying folder. Depending on what program you use, that folder will be bold, or have an unread number or some indicator that there is something there to deal with. With them all in one folder, it’s like your paper inbox full of bills. You can always save those bills and statements on your computer if you feel you need your own copies.
Scanning Documents Yourself
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of scanning. Technology has moved us past the days of only one page on the glass scanning. If you are ready to commit to scanning, I recommend you invest in a robust multi-page scanner like the Fujitsu Scan Snap. It can feed & scan up to 50 pages in one go, and scans BOTH sides of the page in color. The included software then allows you to save the item directly to a folder on your computer or directly to variety of applications - even straight to email. I love it this device, but it is not cheap, about $400. If that’s too rich for your blood, you can still use a much more affordable multi-function printer that also scans through its sheet feeder.
This may seem like a poor way to save documents. But it’s can be pretty useful for pages here and there, especially with some extra tools. There are apps that will take photographs and save them as pdfs. As long as you save them outside of your photo albums, they are as useful and available as any other documents.
Ok, so where to put all these digital files? You already know how to organize files on your computer. But if you aren’t already, I highly recommend you use one or more cloud services to also store your files. Not only is it safe from flood, burglary, fire, and computer crash, files in the cloud are accessible from all your devices and any other computer you may want to use. Dropbox, iCloud, & Google Drive are the biggies. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and various price points. I actually use all three for one thing or another. My favorite is Google Drive for its simple functionality, easy ways to share files and how it syncs with my other Google tools including Gmail. You’ll have to do some research to see what works for you. Google and Dropbox offer access to files offline too – which feels like any folder on your computer.
But Anne, you say, what happens if (when?) my computer dies and I lose everything? What about hackers? What about my privacy? I say – what happens if your house gets broken into or burns down? All of these risks are real, and we each have to decide how much risk we can handle. It’s not the same for everyone. For me, going digital with items gives me peace of mind that when my computer dies, or my phone gets dragged under a go-kart (which actually happened to me!), my files are still right where I left them. It also means less paper clutter in my house saving things for “just in case”. Look at each service, read how they handle security and privacy, and decide based on facts, not fear.
A side note – if you aren’t using a cloud backup service for your photos, you are really asking for heartbreak. Use Apple iCloud, or Google Photos, or Dropbox or any method that works for you – turn off geo-location settings if you are nervous about privacy. But these services are excellent for protecting those precious memories in more than one location. (After the go-kart incident, the only thing I’d lost was pictures I’d taken on the zipline an hour before we went on the go-karts!)