How to Achieve the Paperless Office

How to Achieve the Paperless Office

With the help of our new Epson WF3640 I’ve managed to tackle our filing bins and transform our office into a paperless office, save our federal documents and IDs. Interested in taking the paperless plunge? Read on to learn more about my process and how the endeavor went.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re curious about magically turning your office into a paperless space. Whatever your reasons, the wish to go paperless is a commendable one. However, various media outlets in various corners of the internet make the prospect of a paperless space seem intangible.

I’ve come across a few such articles myself, but dared to dream! Now, I’m happily living that dream. Keeping up with our paperwork is easy and takes very little time. How did I do it?

Step 1: Invest in a Small Office All-in-One

The Epson WF3640 is the All-in-One we picked up for $129 USD (the week after we bought it the price dropped to $119 USD, and we did get the $10 USD refund). I cannot recommend this unit enough, guys. It has saved me so much time by offering dual-sided scanning and printing.

If you go with another model, just be sure to look for something that allows fed two-sided scanning/copying. The Epson model we purchased allows me to scan up to 30 two-sided pages at a time. This means I can scan manuals, or contracts, in under five minutes with the touch of a button.

Step 2: Go Through Your Existing Files

Chances are a lot of the things you’ve got in filing now don’t actually need to be kept. Weed out the things that you don’t need to keep filed and place them in a pile for disposal.

We were keeping paid utility statements, paid credit statements that were digital, old car insurance contracts, paid medical billing statements from years ago…and a lot of this stuff didn’t need to be in our home. Keep what you need to keep, and discard the rest. A great resource for Americans is the IRS site. For another American resource, USA.gov has similar information.

After completing this step, you’ll have a much smaller pile of files that actually do need to be scanned and kept.

Step 3: Create a Storage System on Your Computer

Regardless of what kind of computer you’re using, you’ll need to create a filing system for all your documents. This is totally customizable and dependent on what you’re needs are.

In my computer, in my “Documents” folder, I’ve decided to treat my records as if they were in a filing cabinet. I created the following folders:

  • Addresses
  • Craigslist
  • Credit Cards
  • Ebay
  • Etsy
  • Finance
  • Government
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Insurance
  • Leo
  • Loans
  • Menus
  • NautilusMODE
  • Recipes
  • Taxes
  • Travel
  • Utilities
  • Vehicle
  • Wedding
  • Work
  • Writing

Again, the folders you will need is solely dependent on the sorts of documents you have and how you’d like to organize them. The easiest way to sort this out is to look at your filing cabinet. How were the documents sorted before? Use this method if you’re at a loss.

Step 4: Create a Naming Convention You Understand and Is Easy to Use

This part can trip some people up, but it doesn’t have to be that confusing. Trevor tried to get all in my business about this step, but the important thing is that I have a method that makes sense to me. Here is an example:

I’m scanning a copy of our passports, one for me and one for T. I have what the document is, who it belongs to and the issue year:

PASSPORT_ALLYSON_2009
PASSPORT_TREVOR_2015

Next, I’ve scanned taxes from before we were married, and during. Here’s what that would look like:

TAXES_ALLYSON_2011
TAXES_TREVOR_2011
TAXES_JOINT_2012

Make sense? PC Magazine has a great article that goes more in-depth about how to create a naming convention that will work for you.

Step 5: Scan Away

I chose to scan all my documents to PDFs instead of JPEGs. I did, however, scan photographs as JPEGs. This is a business standard, to scan documents as PDFs, and it allows you to edit the PDF (with the right software), or send your document out (the IRS accepts PDFs during personal audits).

I blocked off three evenings to scan all our documents. Yes, it did take that much time. There are still documents that need scanned at my Mom’s place, but I’ll get to that at a later time.

Go slow, make sure there are no errors and that the entire document is scanned. This is what makes the initial scanning process so time consuming. Once you’re sure you’ve scanned the entirety of the document, discard it.

Step 6: Discard the Scanned Documents

Regardless of whether or not the document you’ve scanned contains personal information, be sure to discard of it securely. I tend to lump everything together and assume it’s all got personal information, somewhere on the document. Shredding your stuff is a great way to securely eliminate the waste.

Sometimes banks offer “shredding days” where you can take in your documents and they’ll shred them for you. Do not use this method unless you can watch them shred your documents! You cannot trust your documents will be shredded immediately after you drop them off, and must assume someone will go through them if left. I know it seems I’m a little paranoid, but you can never be too careful with your personal information!

Of course, you can pick up your own document shredder. We picked up a shredder from Amazon.com in 2014. It was my favorite purchase of last year. I shredded through boxes and boxes of old documents, really cutting down on the amount of paperwork we had. This year, I’ve used it to finish the job.

Alternatively, you can burn your documents. If you don’t live in an area that allows barrel burning, you can always use your fireplace. Just be safe guys, and use common sense when burning all that paper.

Step 7: Store Your Remaining Documents

After completing all the other tasks, I was left with a few documents. Depending on your life circumstances, you may have more than me–you may have less. Here are the documents I’ve got left:

  • Car purchase documents
  • Birth Certificates
  • Social Security Cards
  • Active Child Abuse Clearances
  • Leo’s Rabies Certificate and Tag
  • Passports
  • 2014 Tax Documents
  • Recent Housing Community Notifications (we’re renters, yey!)
  • College Diplomas

All these documents would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace. In order to keep them secure, Trevor picked up a safe at Walmart. The safe we have is a Sentry, which is fire/water/theft safe. This just means the safe is bulky and heavy. Again, you don’t need the exact safe. We do recommend getting a safe that is fire AND water safe; when the fire gets put out with tons of water, you’re docs will still be safe.

Step 8: Maintain the Glory

This is the easiest part!

Go through your mail daily, at least weekly. I sort my mail into three piles: to-do, trash and shred.

  • To-Do: forms, cards, letters, bills. You know the drill. These are things that need attention and/or have a due date.
  • Trash: Envelopes that DO NOT have my address on them (that do not have my full name on them), booklets that do not have any sort of personal/financial information on them
  • Shred: booklets from our insurance companies, envelopes that have our names/address printed on them, anything that has financial/personal information on it.

From there, handle the piles. I toss the trash immediately, then shred the things that need shredded. I leave the things that are to-do together until they are finished. Then I scan them, if needed, and ALWAYS shred them.

Note: I shred anything we get that might have identifying information of a family member as well. If they send a letter and sign their full name I scan the document, then shred it for their protection as well.

I know this all seems daunting, but it is completely possible! Stay strong. With the right tools you’ll tame your paper piles, for now and the future.

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