How I went paperless, and then went back to paper again
07 Apr 2016
How I went paperless, and then went back to paper again.
A few years ago I invested in a NEAT scanner with the goal of creating a completely paperless office. Being a professional organizer in Boston, I am pretty good a purging, but still managed to have two file drawers full of papers that I needed (or wanted) to keep. I had my office assistant help me and over the several months (mind you, this was done when there was time, around everything else), we scanned and scanned and scanned some more.
I reduced my paper load to ½ of a small file box which contains tax returns and legal documents where I need to keep the originals.
The process over, I breathed a sigh of relief. Never really giving much consideration to all the time (and expense, having someone else help me) that went into it.
Then, something unexpected happened. The papers kept coming! The project was not over. More and more papers flowed in and scanning was required on a regular basis. My office assistant left to care for her children, and with my work load, I never did get around to scanning any more paper, so it piled up again.
So, I decided to ship it off to NEAT to have them scan it for me. I organized the papers into folders and sent them off. Then I forgot about them for a long time….
Recently, I got a bill from NEAT for my cloud subscription, which is where all of the scanned papers are stored. I had a free subscription to start with and looking at this bill, I decided this was something I didn’t want to pay for anymore. It’s one of those things; you pay and pay forever, and for what? A place to store your papers online? I can do that on my computer for free. So, I decided to download my files from the NEAT cloud. What I didn’t realize is that you can’t do a bulk download; you have to open each file and save it and name it. I have hundreds of files on there! Furthermore, despite my neatly organizing my papers into labeled folders before I sent them to be scanned, they dumped them into my cloud page in no particular order. This means I have to go through each one and identify what it is and what category I need to save it as. I have been doing this for hours and days now….
SO NOT WORTH IT!
So, I decided not to go paperless anymore. Well, not exactly. What I’ve decided is to not to waste time scanning everything anymore. I am still relatively paperless. I recycle or shred most papers that come in. I also l opt to receive all of my bank and credit card statements online and I save those to my computer. I choose an emailed receipt whenever I can. But, I am not going to waste my life away scanning in papers that I probably will never need again.
This also does not mean I am going to throw everything away. Of course, I need to keep receipts and other documents and statements for tax purposes. But, I am going to keep it simple from now on. I have a drawer in my desk where all the papers go that I think I need to keep. At the end of the year I sort through them and take out all of the papers I need for taxes, etc. and put them in a simple plastic shoe bin (seen here). No, they are not organized by category or anything like that. Because, what I’ve come to realize, is that if I ever need those papers again, I can easily organize them at that point.
This may seem incredibly anti-organized to you. So, hear me out. I do keep track of all my expenses in QuickBooks, download my statements each month (save them to my computer) and reconcile everything. My credit card and bank statements and important files are organized on my computer and easy to retrieve. When I do my taxes, the only papers I really need are the ones that are sent to me at the end of the year (1099s and such). So, these other papers (mostly receipts) are really only there in case the IRS comes knocking. Sure, I could be missing a receipt or two, but spending hours organizing them won’t bring that receipt back. If (and I hope not) I am ever audited, it won’t take me any more time to get my ducks in a row then than it will now. And I may never need to do it at all. So, why waste the time if I don’t have to?
I invite you to join me in my “not-so-organized” method of paper organizing and take back your life! Here’s what you need: a small/medium plastic bin for each year (the IRS can go back up to 7 years), a drawer or bin to put your current receipts and papers until tax time comes along. That’s it! Now, go enjoy that latte, or book, or nap. You’re done!
Sarah Buckwalter is a Certified Professional Organizer® with over 16 years of experience running an award-winning organizing business, Organizing Boston. Nationally recognized as an organizing industry expert, Sarah shares her expertise through teaching, speaking and on television. She has appeared several times on the hit series, “Hoarding: Buried Alive” on TLC. Sarah also teaches people how to get organized through her online programs at Organizing U.com.