Decluttering: Using Evernote to Digitalize All Your Papers

I have to say that Marie Kondo was right - there’s absolutely nothing joyous with papers. None. With the exception of certain papers signifying the end of things (like graduating from school) most of them are for terrible reasons. Bills, advertisements, junk mail and spam - a lot of things that don’t warrant saving (and maybe don’t even warrant being printed in the first place!)

It’s interesting - papers are such an integral part of our lives, yet they themselves as physical objects are rather worthless. They are just characters and symbols printed onto a piece of parchment. And it is those combination of characters and symbols that are important, not the physical paper itself.

With this in mind, it is our mission in life to eliminate as many papers from our possession as possible. With the exception of things like birth certificates and licenses and contracts that we need to hold onto for very important reasons, everything else for the most part can be discarded after having recorded its information.


INTRODUCING EVERNOTE

While a lot of people are a fan of Dropbox, I’m a big fan of Evernote. Not only do they make it easy to scan and upload and organize documents, they also allow you to transform them into text - that you can then search. So if I wanted to look up receipts from Costco, I can just search that - and Evernote will search all scans that have the word Costco on its image.

Fantastic, right?

Now, I’m not being paid by Evernote to say how awesome it is (although I wouldn’t be opposed to that) but having a good digital document organization is key to being able to go virtually paper-free.



PAPERS YOU DON’T NEED TO KEEP

    There are a lot of papers that you don’t need to keep. As you probably know, we get a lot of papers in our daily lives. Receipts when you gas up, receipts when you buy groceries, receipts when you get a coffee at Starbucks, an invoice for your yoga class, an offer to trade-in your car from the dealership, so on and so forth.

    Here’s my rule for papers: if you don’t need it come tax time or need the account information on it, then don’t keep it.

    If you can access the account online, then you’ll be able to access all that information. If you need to return something, the majority of stores will be able to refund it back to your card or look up your receipt.

    The idea is to get rid of as many papers as possible - again, sorting is more important than organizing, because when you get rid of 90% of your papers, it’s far easier to organize the 10% you have left. Otherwise, you’ll never get through it.



ORGANIZING YOUR FOLDERS

Now that you have gotten rid of the majority of your papers, it’s now time to start scanning. Before you start scanning, you’ll want to have folders in Evernote preset so that you have areas to scan into. I’m of the opinion that it’s better to have a good amount of folders to keep things organized, but don’t get too detailed - you’re not going to need to separate out receipts by stores for instance.

Generally speaking, you’re going to want to separate personal from business. Since we run a small business, we have folders setup for invoices, receipts, contracts and tax papers.

For personal papers, we recommend having the following for folders. These will at least help you to keep the majority of papers sorted into distinct categories.


  • Contracts

  • Warranties

  • Taxes

  • Medical

  • Auto

  • Home

  • Children (one folder each)

  • Pets


LET’S START SCANNING

    Evernote is pretty easy to scan into, but there is an accompanying app called Scannable that makes it even easier.

    Scannable has only one function - and that is to scan papers. There’s no other options - it literally is just a screen that searches for papers to scan into Evernote. It even tried to take a scan of our white kitchen sink since it thought it was a piece of paper, because it’s just that much of an overachiever.

    Once you scan your paper, it will show up as a document. Take a look at it - looks great doesn’t it? Yes, Evernote automatically adjusts the contrast to the paper for easy viewing. Sometimes it is even more readable than the original document.

    Scannable will then you give you the option to import it into Evernote, and you can choose the folder that it goes into.


OTHER USES FOR EVERNOTE

    The fun thing is that scanning isn’t just for boring papers either. You can really have fun with scanning items that you want to have easily accessible.

    For instance, I did a lot of work on the genealogy of my family. As opposed to having to go hunt for the binder, I now have it available to me in an Evernote folder that I can access at a moment’s notice.

    I also scanned in any sentimental items that brought me joy or wistfulness - things that I liked remembering, but had no desire to actually keep on hand. Kee-ju for instance is more sentimental than me, and held onto a lot of random letters and cards from his time in college. He opted to scan in all those cards and letters so that he can go back and look at them, but otherwise he got rid of them.

    We also have a file that we use to keep track of our notes for our business. Sometimes we get inspiration during the most random times - driving, getting a cup of coffee, grocery shopping - so this allows us to record those thoughts and then revisit them later on. If it’s a larger note, instead of typing them into the phone I may scribble them down, take a snapshot, and then revisit it later.

    Another use that we’ve found very valuable is scanning in catalogs of items. For instance when we were doing flower farming, we could scan in bulb and seed catalogs. Or, if there were plants that I saw at a nursery that I wanted to plant into our garden, I could snap photos of them and later review them when I’m at home to check their growth habit and hardiness.

    You can also keep a file for inspiration if there is something that you’re working on. When we were looking at getting a new desk, I would upload photos of desks that I liked and was inspired by - in essence using it like a very focused Pinterest board.


GETTING RID OF YOUR PAPERS

    It’s important to discard your papers into two piles - regular and nonsecure. Nonsecure papers are those that have personal information you wouldn’t want someone else to get ahold of - things with account numbers, social security numbers, official documents of any sort.

On the other hand, regular papers are anything without secure information - and these should usually form the bulk of the papers that need to be discarded. As opposed to needing shredding, these can be recycled and discarded normally.

As far as shredding, you can buy a shredder - but be warned, it’s really easy to burn out the motor on them. There’s also the issue that shredders always seem to get paper jams every ten sheets or so, and I feel like I’m always risking losing a fingertip when I get the jam out. There are services that you can use to securely shred your papers for a nominal fee.

One creative solution I have heard regarding nonsecure papers was to compost them. That’s certainly one way to ensure that your information won’t be stolen - it will literally decompose into something unidentifiable. Just make sure that a raccoon or crow doesn’t make off with an important document!


KEEP IN MIND THIS IS A ONE-TIME THING

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by all this scanning and uploading, I have good news for you - you’re only going to be doing this once. Both because you’re going to have a system in place to prevent you from accumulating a lot of papers in the future, and also because you’re going to remember just how exhausting this is and this will motivate you to keep on top of your papers in the future!

Uploading your documents digitally is a constantly on-going process - but not the way that we’re doing it here. You’re not uploading masses and masses of documents (that you hadn’t scanned in before). Rather you’re going to be scanning in a bill here, a receipt there, an invoice there - and it is all very manageable when it is in single papers one at a time.

THE TWO BOX SYSTEM

    We have downsized everything down into two small filing boxes. One box for the current year, and one box for perennial documents that we will need to keep on hand. This allows for us to really keep the amount of paper that comes into our home minimal.

    When papers come into the home, they must fit one of two actions- filing immediately, or being discarded immediately, but those are the only two options. They don’t go into baskets or folders or get paperclipped or tacked to corkboards - they either go in the shredder or they go into one of the two boxes.

    If you find that your papers pile up, you’re going to want to reevaluate those papers. Can you unsubscribe from mailing lists? Can you move to digital receipts? Can you toss out junk mail and nonessential receipts before you even enter your home? A stack of envelopes or papers can be overwhelming - just the thought of going through them can be exhausting - so it’s best to never let it get to that point.


I hope you find this useful for organizing and digitalizing your papers! The biggest thing that I can say is that once you get everything setup and get going with scanning and organizing your documents, it will go very quickly. It only took us a couple of days to get through years worth of papers, and if you have less going on (like not owning a small business) then you may be able to process your papers even more quickly.

Also, we’d love to know how you organize and sort your papers, especially in a digital format! If you have a system that works, we’d love to hear about it.

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