When we begin our paper organizing journey, we aren’t big fans to tossing things. Instead, everyone seems more interested in sorting and saving. There isn’t anything wrong with that until the sorting and saving becomes a bit overwhelming to maintain. Eventually the folders outgrow the cabinets, and piles of papers waiting to be filed cover countertops.
The piles create this annoying buzzing sound in our heads. We know the piles of inaction are staring us in the face, taking up precious active space we desperately need, but we’re paralyzed.
It’s okay if you aren’t ready to pitch those old things. It’s okay. But, they can’t stay here. They’re taking up valuable space. We’ve got to put them elsewhere. Somewhere that takes up little to no space at all.
Now before you freak out, let’s go over a few things.
Be Brave. You are totally capable of tackling this stuff because you’re bigger, stronger, and faster than any paper pile. You’re the guaranteed winner in this fight. So take heart! It’s just paper.
Make Decisions on the Old Stuff. Starting with the old is typically easier, and starting easy is the best way to maintain motivation. Walk past those piles that need to be filed and go straight for the system you originally put in place. Get rid of all the stuff you know you won’t ever need to access again. Keep the stuff that you will need to access in an unfortunate event (i.e., the trade confirmations from that one stock company that later has a class-action lawsuit for overcharging you, insurance policies, warranties), stuff that is difficult to duplicate (i.e., marriage license, passport), or the stuff that you just WANT to be able to reference should the mood strike (i.e., the first investment you ever had, but has since been rolled over into something else).
Create Folders. Using your old system as a guide, you can create a virtual filing cabinet with the same folder and subfolder names. Yes, you could wait until AFTER you finish processing all the NEW papers to do this, but I find that starting small and attaining small wins is what keeps our clients motivated.)
Decide on a Naming Convention. Once you start scanning, you’ll realize that you won’t be able to “see” your documents the same way you always have. Instead of being able to just glance at a date of a statement on the top right, you’ll have to actually open a file. So save yourself some time, and use a filing naming system to help you know what exactly is each file. I like to use dates for statements, so that I can sort them quickly: 2018.05.31 Statement, or if I’m doing a batch scan of all my old statements then I record the range most recent to oldest: 2018.05.31 to 2013.06.30 Statements.
Review the Contents. Go through the old filing cabinet folder by folder. Do you need to keep all these things? They’re SO old….you don’t even live at that address any more…and that investment was rolled over to another investment at least 4 years ago. (If you aren’t sure what’s safe to pitch, check out our Document Retention Guidelines.) If you need help processing your papers, join us for a Sunday Basket workshop! We can help you distinguish between active and archival papers, as well as make decisions on what to keep and where to keep it!
Start Scanning. Invest in a scanner that is going to help you knock this job out as painlessly and quickly as possible. Your bravery will be tested. Paper organizing isn’t for the faint at heart, so make sure you’ve got the right tool on hand to help you in the fight. Try to scan an entire folder before you head to a coffee break. Remember, we’ve got to keep inching toward achievement. If you want to make it SUPER easy on yourself, get a scanner that can do the following:
- Auto Feed
- Prompts You To Choose Storage Location/File Name
- Doesn’t Make You Restart if There’s a Paper Jam
- Allows You to Scan to ANY Device (because sometimes you don’t need those documents on your hard drive --- sometimes they can go directly into Evernote or an email)
- Scans BOTH Sides at the Same Time
- Creates Searchable PDF’s
- Scans in Color (so you can use it for photos too)
- Scans Multiple Sizes of Documents Within Each Stack
- Is Easy to Operate
If you don’t have one like that, do yourself a huge favor and buy the Fijitsu Scansnap. I’ve got the ix500 and it’s a workhorse with a relatively small footprint. I can easily take it into a client’s home, or keep it on the corner of my desk. My favorite part is the speed. This bad boy does 50 pages front and back in just two minutes. I’m also a fan of the fact that when I scan in all my tax documentation, I don’t have to sort my documents by size. It can scan business cards, receipts, manuals, and standard sheets of paper all in one go. The Scan Snap also resizes my PDFs to the exact size of the scanned document, so there’s no weird white space.
Shred or Burn. As you finish scanning the documents, take one final look. If these documents are truly archival (not actionable and not something you would need the original of), then go ahead and put them in the shred or burn pile. I’m not a fan of buying shredders because non-commercial ones don’t work well for large amounts of shredding. You’re better off just taking your large piles of papers to a document destruction facility (i.e., Staples and most UPS stores can shred) and paying about $1/pound of paper. For reference, a banker’s box holds about 25 pounds of paper. If you’ve got a fire pit, you can also just burn the old documents you no longer need. This is the cheapest way to dispose. I would not recommend throwing your documents in the trash. You can, but I wouldn’t.
Process the NEW Piles. Now that you’ve victoriously conquered all those old papers, you’ve got your filing cabinet back! It’s ready for the new stuff. But, as you may have discovered while processing your OLD files, you won’t want to keep nearly as much as you did five years ago when you first set up the system. Use the tricks you’ve learned going through your OLD to help you go through the NEW. Keep only what you NEED/WANT to keep. Don’t keep things out of some random tinge of guilt. If you know you won’t look at a year’s worth of utility bills, then don’t keep them. However, if you will actually look at them, keep them, and take heart that you’ll eventually scan them so that half inch of filing cabinet space they take up won’t last forever.
Scan Some More. You may find as you sort your NEW that you don’t even want to let it live in the cabinet. That’s great! Go ahead and scan it into the same folders/subfolders you did with your old.
Maintain the System. Whether you’ve decided to go fully paperless, or just partially paperless (scanning only the really old stuff), remember that a system only works if you continue to maintain it. You’ll need to schedule quarterly dates with yourself to file or scan the papers. You’ll need to schedule times when you dispose of the rubbish. You’ll need to schedule annual checkups to make sure the system isn’t getting too full or confusing.
You can do this! I know you can! We’d love to partner with you as you begin your paperless process. Follow us on Facebook to ask questions or contact us to help you one-on-one.