You may be asking yourself how a post on going paperless fits on a travel blog. To that I would answer that one of the biggest advantages to going paperless is access to personal and financial documents on any computer or mobile device – anytime, anywhere.
Does this sound like a traveler’s dream come true?
We dipped our toe into the paperless pond a few years ago on our last RTW. It was convenient and great peace of mind having our critical files at our fingertips anywhere we had wifi. We’ve come late to the full-on paperless party, but over the past few weeks we’ve managed to pull it off, and this post provides a few tips for how you can do it too.
Living in a paperless world offers many advantages, and the one you’ll hear most often is helping the environment. I’m as green as the next person, but I suspect that like me, most people are more interested in the personal perks that result from making the change.
Less paper means less clutter, and with less mail to go through you’ll save time.
Redundant backups mean your data is more secure, and digital files mean total portability.
And last but not least, you can get rid of that ugly, boxy file cabinet. Was that a collective Woohoo! I heard from the decorators out there?
It only takes three steps to achieve your own paperless nirvana.
Step 1: Keep Paper Out
This step, which is probably the easiest and has the greatest impact, is to keep paper from coming into your house in the first place. Banks, insurance, utilities, investment and credit card companies have been pleading with you for years to go paperless. Now’s the time to take them up on it. Call or go on every company’s website and instruct them to send all your communications electronically. Sign up for e-Statements, online bill pay, or autopay. And while you’re at it, tell them to take your name off all mailing lists that aren’t required by law. Grit your teeth, be tough, and don’t take no for an answer.
And of course, there’s that pesky junk mail. If you haven’t already, go to one of the opt-out services and remove your name from junk mail lists. There are lots of services out there, but this comprehensive site is a good place to start.
Step 2: Purge The Paper
Going through existing files and purging paper is a bit more labor intensive but equally as effective. If you’re like us this will be a multi-day task, so find a cozy corner where you can make and leave a mess, and get to it. When culling your files you’ll: toss; scan and toss; and scan and keep
- When it comes to the tossing, be brutal. Do you really need a 3 year-old bank statement (which you can probably access online anyway)?
- The scan and toss will take a bit more mental adjustment. Remember those Money Magazine threats about keeping 7 years of tax records? Have you also noticed that when you e-file your taxes the IRS is perfectly happy with an electronic version of your forms? And why exactly are you not comfortable with a PDF?
- And last comes the scan and keep. It’s difficult, and sometimes ill-advised, to go totally paperless. Some of the original paper documents we keep are: birth certificates, original-signed legal documents (wills, etc.), social security cards, property deeds, and car titles. There will also be personal mementos which have an emotional attachment; marriage licenses and diplomas for instance. But just because you have the paper original, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be nice to have a scanned version backed up somewhere in the cloud or on an external hard drive.
Step 3: Make It Work
Your files and other important documents are now officially paperless, but don’t pop the cork on the bubbly just yet. There are a few steps remaining which will ensure that the system is useful and easy to maintain. You need to be able to locate and backup files, as well as deal with incoming paper.
- Create an effective filing system. Books have been written about filing systems, so I don’t have much to add; except to say that whatever system you use, make sure that it’s logical, easy to understand, and works for YOU. If you’re comfortable with your old paper filing system no problem – just adapt it to the digital world with the same folders, labels, and organization.
- Develop a data backup routine. Every how-to computer book ever written talks about “not if you lose data but when you lose data.” So to be safe, develop a routine for backing up your files. It doesn’t matter whether you use the cloud or an external hard drive, or both. The important thing is to back up. We have an external hard disk that makes automatic backups every few hours, and we have a second external hard drive that we back up to every couple of weeks, in addition to selectively uploading to Dropbox. This may sound over-the-top, but after a visit from a sticky-fingered burglar, not only were our computers missing, but our external hard drive was as well. Data gone forever. Never again.
- Deal with incoming paper. As to maintaining the system, we have an inbox where all incoming paper goes, and we scan once a week – or as often as one of us feels motivated.
So that’s how we went paperless. And even though it took a good deal of work, knowing that we have our paper under control is liberating. We’re both big believers in simplicity and minimalism, so we were chuffed when we finished this project, and looking forward to years at the paperless party.
James & Terri
P.S. I deliberately excluded any discussion about the gear needed to go paperless; which type of scanner, do I need a shredder, should I use an external hard drive or the cloud? The answers to these questions will depend on personal preferences, and there’s lots of great advice and recommendations online. And truthfully, in this case, the destination is more important than the journey. But I will say, we already had a flat-bed scanner, but we bought a small wand-scanner just for this project, and it’s the bomb.
P.P.S Alison made an excellent and helpful comment about privacy statements and opting out. Read the details in here comment above. After that, go and check out her excellent blog.