Paperless Office 1-2-3!

As part of’s Ultimate Clutter Cleanout, writer Kevin Purdy has shared a terrific article: Top 10 Ways to Declutter Your Digital Life, 2010 edition. This article is like catnip to a a digital de-clutter wannabe such as myself. I love all of the great ideas on how to deal with and decrease digital clutter. Actually, the whole series has enough useful information to keep me going for the foreseeable future.

The item on this list that I already use on a daily basis is Dropbox. It is a free (up to 2 GB) cloud back-up system or, as lifehacker puts it, “that hard drive in the sky.” I use it to store my important files and photographs. It’s super easy to use. After installing the program, I put a Dropbox folder on my desktop. Then, any time I want to save a file, I save it into a folder in my Dropbox.

But here’s the kicker: I try to have as few folders as possible in Dropbox. And the folder I use the most is called “Reference.”

The Reference folder is the key to my paperless office system. Basically, the Reference folder contains 26 folders, each with a single letter of the alphabet. Within each lettered folder, I store things just as I would in a physical file cabinet. For example, ‘R’ contains sub-folders labeled “receipts,” “recipes,” “restaurants,” and “resume.”

When I’ve scanned or written a document, I just save it to the proper folder, and voilá, instant organization!

I am happy to give credit for this genius paperless filing system to Arjun Muralidharan, who wrote a guest post about it at Productivity 501. You can read more about his system here.

Dropbox works seamlessly with my password manager, 1Password. This means, for example, that I can log onto a site on my laptop computer, and 1Password and Dropbox with immediately sync with my desk computer, making it simple to sign into that site from home without needing to remember my log-in information.

Scan Snap ScannerThe final component of my paperless office is a snappy little scanner named, aptly enough, the ScanSnap S1500M. I have had other scanners and I can easily say this is the quickest, most efficient scanner I have ever used. I can add a stack of papers, and it rapidly scans both sides, and then asks in which folders I want to store the files. It’s very user-friendly and intuitive.

Of course, it is environmentally sound and security-savvy to shred and recycle the documents after they’ve been scanned. I recommend using a cross-shredder to thoroughly chop up the paper so that it is adequately shredded. We’ve been using this one for several years and have been quite pleased with it.

So, there you have it, the one-two-three of a paperless office:

  1. Dropbox for digital storage in the cloud; (and 1a, 1Password for password management);
  2. using a “Reference” folder to organize files; and
  3. a speedy scanner to save articles and receipts (and 3a, a cross-shredder prior to recycling your scanned papers).

Disclaimer: I know that lately I seem to have been talking about a gadgets, and, hey, isn’t this blog about living simply? Yes, indeed it is. But sometimes there are up-front costs associated with a new endeavor, and simplification is no exception. The monetary outlay will more than be made up for in space-saving, paper-decreasing, cost-saving benefits over the long haul.

Your turn: how do you organize your paperless office?

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11 Responses to Paperless Office 1-2-3!

  1. Thank you for the tip about the 21 folders in the cloud. I am going to try that. I was wondering if you have a system for receipts. I like that I have all my receipts (gas, restaurant, whatever) but they do take up space. I have been thinking about scanning them but not sure what is the best way. Also, I printed out my tax return to file away. Maybe next year I will feel confident enough to just know I have a digital copy.

  2. Hi Greg,

    I scan my receipts and then file digitally under R…Receipts….and then the appropriate sub-folder, such as “Appliances” or “Software”, etc.

    Of course, it might make sense for somebody else to file a receipt for an appliance under A…Appliances…Receipts.

    It is totally connected to how an individual's brain works, and there is no one “right” way. The only right way is the one that works for you!

    I can appreciate the comfort of having a hard copy of your tax return. It has been ingrained in us for so long to keep a hard copy of our tax returns for 7 years, or else!!! If you do switch to digital storage, I suggest keeping it in two places: on your hard drive or back-up disk, and in an off-site storage facility (i.e., in the cloud). That will give great peace of mind.

    Thanks for writing 🙂

  3. Excellent post —- thanks for the healpful ideas how to declutter using cutting edge technology. For a measure of safety, I would add to this some form of backup system (or multiple methods) — i.e. storing on external hard drive, cloud, and even storing the most important backups in a safe deposit box.

  4. Hi Merge,

    You are right about the additional measure of safety that a backup system insures. I neglected to mention that I also use Carbonite for online back-up. It is so automatic and seamless that I usually forget it's there 🙂 But it gives me great peace of mind knowing that it is backing up all of my files.

    And yes, a safe deposit box, especially for something like the digital storage of irreplaceable photos, is an excellent idea.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. let's see now, flashback to childhood, the good old evil days when the grownups got rid of papers by BURNING THEM. or, in the case of my Unfortunate Family, HIDE THEM IN THE ATTIC (their version of a hard drive in the sky). i do swear the digital age enables us to defy our genetic coding! love the post and really must establish my place in the “cloud” before more time passes….

  6. Christianna – I have so many receipts each month. It would take a long time to scan them all – maybe I could start with just physical items such as the new appliance and taxable ones. You have got me thinking – thank you.

    Mara – your comment about your parents attic is hilarious.

  7. Mara, thank you for starting my day off with an outburst of laughter! Your description of your parents' version of the hard drive in the sky is priceless 🙂

  8. Greg, I know it can seem daunting to consider going back through old files and scanning past receipts. A look at my own files would show I have much work to do in that department.

    So, instead, starting today and scanning new receipts as they come in may be a much more manageable and realistic approach. And I think your idea of beginning with receipts for physical and taxable items is a good one.

    Good luck!

  9. you are so very welcome! i wish i could be funny all the time–that bit popped into my head because i had just been reading about dealing with aging parents and all the stuff they won't let go of. seriously, though, i need a better method of dealing with the stuff the irs wants us to save. at the moment i have ten identical plastic boxes of all my receipts and statements and records stacked neatly in the basement, the year clearly labeled on each. i think it is my lucky charm to ward off audits and frivolous lawsuits and things breaking down before their guarantees expire. i mean, there's still manuals for things i no longer own down there! what is wrong with this picture???

  10. Thanks for this article. I am working my way through all of this. Love Dropbox. Have recommended it to all my friends.

  11. Hi Deb J,

    Hooray, another Dropbox fan 🙂 I wish you a successful paperless transition. Thanks for stopping by!