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Raise your hand if you have a box, filing cabinet, or shelves piled up with paperwork that feels too important to throw away…but isn’t really important enough for you to ever need.
Now, if you don’t have your hand even semi raised right now you’re either an extreme minimalist or under 18 – because the fact is, adulthood seems to come with a trunk-load of documents following you around and cluttering up your home.
Even now, after following the steps below and going paperless, I still have paperwork I can’t get rid of. With that said, my paper pile is minuscule compared to what it was before I realised I could go paperless with the large majority of my documents.
This guide lists five super simple, but extremely helpful, steps to going paperless and safely uploading your important documents online for easy access and minimal clutter.
From physical clutter to digital clutter
The one problem with going paperless is that you run the risk of just moving your clutter from your physical environment to your digital life.
With so many hours spent online, either on our laptops or on our phones these days, having a cluttered digital environment can easily lead to less productivity, increased stress and anxiety, and difficulty staying organised.
That’s why I created the Digital Declutter eBook – a free guide to systematically decluttering and cleaning up your digital life, from social media to emails and everything in between.
Anyone in pursuit of a more simple, minimal lifestyle can greatly benefit from relieving the burden of cluttered paperwork.
So whether you’re looking for a way to run your business location independently, or just want to get a whole lot more minimal with the way you organise your life, this article is for you.
I’m going to take you through the complete steps we took when going paperless earlier this year.
Step One: Get everything out in the open
If you’re anything like I was, you could have paperwork dating back years, and it’s everywhere. I had draws, files, folders, notepads and more just cluttered with paperwork that had zero use.
I always felt guilty just throwing letters in the bin, was never sure what to do with sensitive documents (show me a millennial who owns a shredder!), and had the ‘I might need it someday’ complex… so everything stayed. Just in case.
The problem is, when you let paperwork pile up, you’ll never need it. Chaos soon takes over, and you’ve just got a cluttered pile of rubbish.
The first thing you need to do when going paperless is gather up all the old paperwork in your house. Stack it in a pile, make yourself a cup of tea, or two, and settle in. This process might take some time (but trust me, it’s worth it!).
Step Two: Start Sorting
So you’ve gathered up all your paperwork. Now, you need to decide what you need to keep (and make digital), and what can be shredded and recycled.
Lifehacker has a pretty good article on the paperwork you should keep, and these items include:
- Birth certificates
- ID (passport, driver’s license, social security numbers)
- Academic diplomas
- Pension/Retirement Fund Documents
- Licenses (drivers, marriage, divorce)
- Insurance policies
- Mortgage deeds
- Tax information (Tax ID numbers)
As an example, I kept hold of my degree certificate (obviously), student loan confirmations with ID numbers, tax ID, my driver’s license, travel insurance confirmation, bank account details and some other important documents.
Things you can throw:
Old bills and paychecks, update letters, newsletters, old bank statements (unless any are under dispute), outdated employment contracts etc. Basically, anything you don’t need and won’t need in the future.
However, do not just throw all that paperwork in the bin!
Step 3: Recycle and Shred
One of the top rules for successful decluttering: get rid of your ‘throw’ pile as soon as possible. Don’t just leave it for another day, because I guarantee that day won’t come for a long time.
Once you’ve sorted your paperwork into ‘keep’ and ‘throw’, get a shredder for your throw paperwork. There are companies who actually have shredders for hire for your personal documents if you don’t want to invest in one yourself.
Just be sure to shred any paperwork with any sensitive information including names and addresses, your phone number, identification numbers or bank account information. Trust me, a small shredder is a very worthwhile investment in your life!
Once you’ve got a great big pile of shredded paper, do the environment a favour and recycle it.
Step 4: Going Digital
Alright, now we’re talking!
You should be left with your important documents that you need to keep hold off. To take these digital, I use Evernote.
Evernote is a great tool for saving web pages, clipping information and storing it all in handy folders for each topic. I use it a lot when researching for an article topic.
However, Evernote is also perfect for uploading and storing your documents digitally. The app has a fantastic feature called Scannable where your camera will scan your documents rather than taking a picture of them.
This results in a professional, high-quality pdf scan of all your documents, saved to your account online.
To make things even easier, I then sorted my uploaded documents into folders for instant access.
Folders I used include:
- Identification (passport and driver’s license scans)
- Tax Information (tax ID number)
- Insurance (travel insurance policy)
- Bank (bank account details such as customer ID number)
- Education (my degree diploma, academic awards etc)
Take a look at your paperwork and decide which folders will help you get organised, then sort your paperwork accordingly.
If you haven’t used Evernote before, I strongly recommend you sign up, and use it to take all your documents paperless.
This is especially perfect when you’re travelling, and don’t want to be weighed down by mountains of paperwork!
Read Next: How To Be More Minimalist
Step 5: What now?
So, at this point you should have radically reduced the amount of paperwork in your house.
Of course, those documents you uploaded to Evernote are important, and in most cases you can’t (or won’t want to) just throw them out. I recommend a file folder, or cabinet if you have a lot of important documents left, and stowing them neatly away. Going paperless completely is hard – but a small folder is a huge improvement.
If you’re travelling long-term, leave the documents in a folder with your parents or a trusted friend for safekeeping.
When you get more bills, letters or documents, look over them carefully. Think – do I really need a paper copy of this?
If not, either shred and recycle it, or upload the letter to your Evernote account and then shred it. For a lot of things, you don’t actually need a paper copy because all the information is stored online anyway.
If you keep this habit up, you’ll find yourself doing a lot less work and with a far more organised method of storing your paperwork.
Don’t forget to get your free copy of the Digital Declutter guide!
In it, I take you through the steps needed to clear the clutter in your:
- Documents, Downloads and Pictures
- Social Media
- And More!