Go paperless!


This was a project from last year that I embarked on to get rid of all of my paper in an effort to become more of a minimalist, and to be able to pack my entire life into 3 suitcases.

It was ridiculous how many pieces of paper I kept, that I did not need to keep, or could have been electronic documents instead. So I basically scanned every single document (and backed it up 3 times) that did NOT require a physical paper copy.

I ended up with around 10 GB worth of documents scanned in high resolution Adobe PDF format. That is a LOT of freaking documents, considering that each document is around a megabyte or so.

I also put the documents into secure devices (I am partial to Sandisk because of their U3 Launchpad technology) that give a basic password to even access the documents.

Revanche also embarked on what I dubbed the Scan-a-thon as well.

To scan, or not to scan… that is the question

But how does one decide what to scan and what not to scan? Or how do you even get started on something as daunting as this?

I think I had around 60 lbs of paper to scan, and just looking at the amount of work made me whimper.

People suggested hiring someone but personally, I didn’t trust anyone but myself to do it.

To save time you COULD buy a printer that lets you scan multiple pages with just a touch of a button. I am going to talk more about this printer, but I (now) have a HP Premium Fax All-In-One C309A machine.

This printer lets me put in 50 pages in the feeder, and it scans every single page with a touch of the button into 50 separate JPEG files in 11 minutes and 10 seconds.

In comparison, with doing the same 50 papers manually placing each sheet on the scanner for a total of 30-37 minutes which is murderous if you have a lot of papers like I did.

What to scan:

Anything that isn’t official is up for grabs.

I’m talking about bank statements, credit card statements, letters, bills, receipts, insurance paper work and other documents you want a copy of, but not necessarily in paper form.

Anything from work falls under this category as well, except maybe your contracts. I’m talking about pay slips, general notices, pay stubs.. all that junk.

Do not scan the following:

  • Tax statements & Receipts – Not only is it a PITA (Pain in the ass) to do, you need physical copies
  • Any kind of certificate – Birth certificates for example

This is by no means a complete list. But just use common sense and you’ll be fine.

Emotionally detach from your paper

I didn’t go through this, but I hear some people are pretty attached to their documents. I kept the papers around, then after a month, and made sure that I was comfortable getting rid of them.

Clean up the trail

I also ripped them up and shredded them in a cross-cut shredder (the safest way to get rid of paper other than burning or mulching them into pulp).

If you don’t have a cross-cut shredder, here’s a cheap method I employed when mine broke.

  1. Fill the sink up with hot water
  2. Rip up the pieces of paper into small pieces
  3. Let the paper soak into the sink until they are completely saturated
  4. Get your fingers into the mess and start balling up the pieces of paper into thick, pulp papier-mache like balls
  5. Pack together the soaked pieces of paper like you would with a snowball, squeezing out the excess water
  6. Let the now completely soaked, tightly packed balls dry on a rack.

Once they are dry, if anyone tries to peel off a piece of paper, it’s going to be stuck to another one or the ink will smear.. it’s the best method I’ve tried, other than trying to start a fire in a can and burn the papers one by one (not recommended unless you are barbecuing on a wood pit).

Back it up

I cannot stress this enough. (FB Read: Backing up your work).

Back it up once, then twice, and maybe a third time. And test that the documents are really backed up.

No need for a huge 1 terabyte of a hard drive (they don’t come with password protection either), just pick up 2 small USB keys like the Sandisk U3 Cruzer that has a little password protection on it, and store your documents (and only your documents) on there.

You can also keep a copy on a server like Amazon, Mozy, Carbonite or any other other secure storage sites online.

Personally, I am leery of keeping ANY private documents that can be accessed by another party (even a trusted retailer like Amazon), and put on their servers (although encrypted). I know some people have done it and cannot say enough great things about it, but I am a bit of a privacy nerd.

What if someone hacks into the system? That’s been a very real threat, and done many times to big companies in the past to obtain sensitive information.

No thanks.

Create a system to file your documents

With 10 GB of documents, I came up with this filing system that worked for me, but you may want to tweak it for what you actually own.

I kept the folder names simple:

  • Government
  • Banking (Credit card or bank statements)
  • Bills (Utilities)
  • Warranties (I scanned in the receipts and put the date of when it would expire)
  • Education (School stuff)
  • Career (Anything related to my field like reference documents)

And for each document I scanned, I named it properly. Example:

Ontario Driver’s License Issuance sent out on November 27th 2008 became:


A Credit Card statement from Visa sent out for the month of April 2009 became:


I date everything backwards, startin from the year, so that all the years group together (if they have the same beginning name — VS_Statement — for example, and then it groups by month, and then by the date.

The months become alphabetical, but you can switch it something like: 2009-04-18 for April 18th 2009 if you want.

Buy a good scanner

No need to go crazy, but I spent about $100 on a Canon Lide90 scanner (review coming as soon as I get around to it).

It scans photos, documents in black and white and colour, and PDFs them for me (a key feature). Other than that, most of the scanners on the market are pretty decent in this price range.

Look at a minimum of 600 DPI (dots per square inch).

DPI refers to how sharp your document will turn out to be once you scan it, because everything electronic is based on little tiny dots, sort of like the art technique called Pointilism.

Every image and each letter in a word is made up of these tiny little dots per square inch. The more dots per square inch, the sharper the detail will be if you decide to blow it up.

Don’t forget to contact all of your providers

.. and ask for an e-statement so that you don’t have to get pieces of paper any longer.

They’re usually more than happy to do it. Or you can just ask for no statement, just an email to remind you that the statement is ready, and you view it online instead.

That does it for scanning documents, if you are looking to go as paperless as possible.

That does it for me!

Any other tips from those of you who have gone paperless?

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.