Home Paperless Office

We get way too much mail at home, most of which can be classified as junk.  Most of this paper never makes it past our recycle bin which we have conveniently placed right outside our back door in the garage.  This is the number one tip:  Deal with the mail right away, don’t let it pile up.

The second tip involves opening the mail and organizing it for “filing” as necessary.  This means separating the important information from stock information.  Usually the important information contains personal information like the family name, billing amounts, addresses, etc.

Unimportant paper includes stock, non-identifying information.  For instance, I get Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) reports from the health insurance company that are nine pages long, only two of those pages contain personal information.  The other seven pages get recycled right away.

The next tip involves automating payments whenever possible.  This can be done on a credit card or through automatic debits from your checking account.  Of course, a budget is necessary to account for all these expenses.  Since 2006, I have used a program called Moneydance to organize finances.  If payments are automated and the paper gets turned off, statements never get mailed reducing the paper at home.  I create accounts on all the important websites to download statements that impact our budget.

Now let’s get more sophisticated.  Scanning the important documents into categories will make sure the paper gets converted into electronic files – like an electronic file cabinet. The stars of this show are a computer, scanner, scanning software and paper shredder.  The software I use is called Hamrick’s Vuescan.  After the free trial, I was so impressed that I purchased the Professional version for around $90.  I have used the software for many years (without upgrade fees) and it has yet to disappoint.  One of the great features of VueScan is drivers for older scanners.  Microsoft, over the years, has abandoned support for many scanners leaving it to the manufacturers to create new drivers for the current Windows Operating System.  Since manufacturers want you to buy new scanners, the new drivers are never created leaving old scanners on the junk heap.

For this reason, I picked up a used Fujitsu FI-5120C Color Duplex Scanner for around $115 on eBay.  Vuescan works equally well on flatbed and document feed scanners like Canon and Brother All-in-Ones for scanning music and photographs.  Vuescan is optimized to create highly detailed portable document files (PDFs) from documents scanned.

I use broad directory categories to organize the files and subdirectories to identify businesses and the year the document was sent.  Here are some of my categories: AUTO, CHARITY, CHRISTMAS, CHURCH, CLOTHING, DINING, ENTERTAINMENT, FINANCE, HEALTH, HOME, INSURANCE, RETIREMENT, TAXES, UTILITIES, VACATION and WORK.  Not coincidentally, many of these same categories organize our finances when using Moneydance.  How you organize your files is up to you – the idea is to have a method to find your scanned files if needed.

The naming structure I use when scanning the files always includes the date on the document.  For instance, if I received the mentioned EOB statement with today’s date, the file would be saved in the INSURANCE\HMO\2021 directory and be named EOB032021.

After the paper is scanned, it gets shredded.  If you are old school, this may be the most difficult part for you may find it difficult to leave old paper habits behind.  Trust the process, get rid of the paper and empty the shredder bin when it gets full.

Backing up your scanned files is important. In my previous articles, I mentioned backing up files using good synchronizing software and a backup USB drive.  I use Unison-gtk which is based on command line based rsync.  A Windows port of Unison can be found here.

So that’s it.  With a little hard work and maintenance taming the unending stream of paper coming home is possible.