While a paperless home is a challenging goal, a less-paper home can be accomplished by a series of paper-purging steps, followed by creating a few new habits.
Reducing Paper has many benefits:
- By keeping the right papers, and not all papers, it will be easier to find the papers that are truly important
- You'll be motivated to keep and file if you have a coherent strategy
- Less valuable space in your home/office is taken up by wasteful paper
- Possibility of Identity-theft may be reduced (if you employ some security on scanned files)
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Step 1: Get and Read a Document Retention Guide
There are lots of sources of document retention.
A good documentation retention strategy will address the appropriate periods to keep tax records, personal health records, medical records, employment records, insurance records, pay stubs, warranty documents, home repair documents, bank statements, bills, credit card statements, and mortgage statements.
Search for document retention
I used this document retention document, but they vary and it would be a good idea to read a few and consider your personal situation. They are good guides.
As you get rid of paper, find a realistic balance between your desire to keep the item and thinking "what's the worst thing that could happen I never could lay my hands on this paper again?" You'll be surprised how much you can discard.
Step 2: Bring Your Paper Together & Make a First Pass Junk Removal
You paper may be spread all over your house. The first step in organization is to bring it together, and start to bring like materials together. The vertical plastic magazine cases are useful here, but you'll need to keep it visible (not in a file cabinet) for serious junk removal.
This would be a good time to make a first pass through the paper and remove anything that has no personally identifiable information and is clearly junk - marketing material, brochures, etc. This material does not need to be shredded and can simply be recycled.
Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself while looking at the probably considerable pile already in the recycling.
Step 3: Acquire a Good Quality Shredder and Start Your Second Pass
Now you need to go through your paper again, this time creating a pile that takes into consideration the document retention guidelines.
This time the discard pile contains sensitive information. If the pile is less than two to four banker boxes, you can power through this with a good quality shredder. If it's more, then you should learn about options to do entire box shreds with a local reputable service, which run about $20-$25 a box, or it may be by the pound.
This isn't the time to get a 'toy' shredder. Do some research and read a review and plan to spend at least $90-$200 and get one that won't give up on you just as you hit your stride. Buy some shredder oil at the same time.
Here's a good list of items
Shred the discard pile either by doing it yourself or bringing it to the shredding company.
Phew! You've just gotten rid of another large batch of paper!
Step 4: Scan the Remaining Documents, Create a Backup Policy, Destroy As Appropriate
Now you're left with the set of papers that you want to retain, and are faced with a choice. You can scan in none, some or all, and then destroy the scanned papers.
With each paper you need to make a judgment as to whether the original is important. This is a personal decision that may have legal ramifications. You might want to keep a scan of six month old utility bill, but the hard-copy offers no value. On the other hand a mortgage document may well be one where the original is important to keep.
For bills, consider whether the electronic copy is accessible to you online via the vendor. Most utility bills and bank statements are available. It is prudent to download copies of these electronically if you are going to destroy the original and feel the need to lay hands on them quickly as many companies do have access to online records for limited times - perhaps a year or two. ". Since it's tedious to download these statements, do them a year at a time (in batches) and mark your calendar for the next time to download. Over time these companies are keeping more and more online so the need for you to save a copy will likely reduce over time.
If you've decided to scan them yourself, you'll likely want an Automatic Document Feed, dual sided scanner. Life is too short for manual scanning.
The scansnap series is small and robust.
Decide which of the documents you want to scan, and make your way through them. Note that Scansnap doesn't automatically solve your indexing and searching issues, that's an instructable for another day... (I'll update this one to a link to that process when I write that!)
Once scanned, you can optionally shred/destroy the documents if you're sure the original has no inherent value.
It is critical to arrange a periodic backup of these scanned documents and keep it in a safe place such as Amazon Web Services Glacier! The best is off-site on a secure (encrypted) media.
Final stretch! While the reduction may not be as dramatic as the previous two steps, you are nearing the minimal amount of paper that your household can have!
Step 5: Admire Your Reduced Paper Collection, and Start With Good Habits Going Forward
Getting rid of the paper is only part of the solution. The remaining step is to have good paper handling habits going forward. The books on this list are a good start.
In summary, you want to make things easy to file, and perhaps a bit more effort to recover. That's a smarter strategy then making it too hard to decide where to file something - then deferring it!
A good inbox strategy is having three paper trays marked "incoming", "action file" and "to file" . Anything you haven't looked at goes in "incoming", then you periodically take the wad of files from incoming (destroying anything not important) and putting the result into either "to file" or "action". Periodically act on the 'action file' by paying these bills, etc. Periodically file the items in "to file". The idea is to break up the paperwork frenzy in a smaller set of easy tasks you'll actually do.
Note that old adage "only handle a paper once" is no longer the conventional wisdom from organization experts.
Good luck, you don't need to do everything to get the benefit!
I've collected a lot of other tips at www.creatrope.com