The only way to manage and organize paper clutter is to get rid of it. It’s not to buy more storage or filing boxes. Here’s how I have reduced the paper clutter in our home and digitized 90% of the paper that comes into our home.
How to Declutter, Organize, and Digitize Paper Clutter
First things first. Before you can develop a system to maintain all of that paper coming into your home, you need to tackle the paper that is already there.
So, grab a giant basket (or two, or three…) and gather up all of that paper. Look on your kitchen counters, what’s piling up on your dining table, in your office, etc. Grab it all.
Now, spread out on the floor or at a large table. Maybe put on a movie or some fun music. Pour a glass of wine.
Now, get sorting.
3 Categories of Paper that Come Into Our Home:
- Look at and throw away – junk mail, kids school work. Be ruthless with this. If you won’t NEED it in the next 6 months, throw it away!
- Look at and follow up on – bills, forms to fill out, newsletters to read. Now, I know many people will tell you to handle these things right away. But in the real world of kids and other distractions, I prefer to pile these up and tackle them all at once – pick one evening per week to handle your “TO DO Pile”. But be consistent. Don’t let it pile up.
- Look at and keep – kids artwork, important records (taxes, medical records, etc.)
Since category 1 is going into the trash RIGHT AWAY, we really only need to focus on categories 2 & 3.
Hopefully, if you’ve been ruthless with category 1, your paper volume should be significantly reduced.
Category 2 will look different for everyone. Maybe tackle this category over time – say over 5 evenings. Space it out and break it down into manageable chunks. Don’t let this become overwhelming. The key is to get it down to zero so that you can begin maintenance mode.
Now for the fun part: Category 3 – things to look at and keep.
Yes, you get to keep all of the paper that you want! And it will be organized!
No, you will not be adding any boxes, filing bins, or baskets to your home. You are going to scan all of your paper, back up the scans, and throw away all of that paper.
How to scan, digitize, and archive old paperwork
You do NOT need any fancy equipment or software to make this happen. You just need a scanner and a computer – preferably with cloud storage backup (more on that later).
My paper scanning routine
I keep a basket in my home office labeled “to scan and shred”. When it gets full, it’s time to, well…. you guessed it. It’s time to scan and shred. This is probably every 6-9 months.
I turn on a good movie (can you sense a trend here? I love saving these “mindless” tasks for a Friday night in with a movie!) and I get scanning.
The Scanner that I Use and LOVE
For many years, I just scanned paperwork on my inexpensive HP printer. I recently switched over to this scanner for ease of use and to treat myself a little for being so good about paper clutter. I absolutely LOVE it!
Set up is super easy. Just install the software and scan the test page. Then you’re good to go. The scanner itself is super lightweight and portable. Plus it scans documents lightning fast,
I just scan my documents, and then save them as a PDF to my computer.
How to Digitize and Archive Paperwork
Actually scanning your document into your computer is the easy part. Saving and organizing your documents takes a little bit more though.
I know there are fancy programs that sort everything into folders, with labels an tags, but I personally find that to be cumbersome and unnecessary. Plus – technology and software change so fast. I don’t like the idea of keeping my files stored in a program that could quickly become outdated and obsolete.
Instead, I just stick to regular old folders on my computer.
I have folders for topics that recur on a regular basis – think things that you may want to review all at once – taxes, resumes, etc. But everything else goes in one simple folder titled with the year.
Instead of creating elaborate folders, subfolders, and tags, I instead focus on the title of the document.
Here are a few examples of good document titles:
- 2017 taxes – 2017 federal tax return
- 2015 kindergarten class roster and parent contact list with parent emails and phone numbers
- 2018 business check stubs for checks 1478-1623
- Home Mortgage – Escrow statement from Wells Fargo dated January 12, 2019
Ask yourself this: “If I were to search for this document a year from now, what words might I type into my search bar to do so?”
These are the kinds of words you want in your document title.
How to search through your digital files
Whether you have a Mac of PC, you should be able to do a simple “Ctrl+F” to search through the documents in a specific file.
So, if I’m looking for my 2017 tax filing, I just do a “Ctrl+F” for “taxes” or “2017 tax”. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds to find what I’m looking for.
Back up your scanned paperwork
I cannot emphasize this enough: back up your files!!!
You can do this with an external hard drive, but those can fail or get lost or destroyed.
I prefer the elusive “cloud”. I use Dropbox, and every file on my desktop automatically uploads and backs up to Dropbox. It’s well worth the $100-ish per year for that kind of peace of mind!
Maintaining your organized paper system – Where ALL paper should land when it comes into your house:
Pick ONE spot in your house for paper to land. It may be a tiered tray – remember our categories from before? Have one tray for things “TO DO” and one for things “TO SCAN”.
I personally toss everything into the magazine holder basket that I keep in the kitchen. Since this is where I unpack the kids school backpacks, it makes the most sense to keep it there.
Plus, I like that it’s portable, so I can take 15 minutes at the dining table or on the couch and take care of bills, permission slips, reading, etc.
Anything deemed “Look at and Scan” gets tossed in the “to scan” basket in my office.
What paper to keep:
Now, we aren’t a 100% paperless household. Here is what we do keep:
- Important documents – think birth certificates, etc.
- One small file of paperwork, photos, keepsakes from each year of school
- Home Management Binder
- My paper planner – I know myself. I am a paper and pencil person when it comes to managing my calendar. I do, however use my phone for keeping track of to-do lists and reminders.
- School directories, sports schedules, etc. that I keep on the “command center” wall of our dining room. I think it’s really important for your kids to have access to this stuff (not just in your calendar) so that they can take some responsibility for their schedule, too.