Letting Go of Accumulated Paper Clutter with ScanSnap

Do you have 40 years’ worth of paper in your garage or home office?  Are you ready to let go of it?  Scanning and storing all those pages as computer files and knowing that you can access them at any time, will make it a lot easier for you to do so.  And doing it all in one fell swoop – working several consecutive days rather than, say, one day a week over several weeks – makes it easier for a professional organizer like me to help you accomplish this efficiently and effectively.

A long-time DC area client recently asked me if I’d be willing to travel to LA to work with her 80-year-old mother (we’ll call her Barbara) to help go through decades of accumulated paper.  Barbara was ready to let go of most of it, but needed help in order to face it, both emotionally and physically.  She also wanted to scan as many of the documents as possible that she wanted to keep. 

I jumped at the chance.  Most of my paper organizing jobs take place over many months, and I wanted to see what I could accomplish – and how much of a difference I could make for my client – in just one week.  

I flew out to LA in April and scheduled six hours a day for five days in a row to work with Barbara in her home.  She had 3 file cabinets full of paper, as well as at least a dozen boxes with assorted photos, her mother’s writing, and travel memorabilia.  I was able to get a longtime friend who lives in the LA area to work with me as an assistant, doing the scanning as I helped make decisions with Barbara about what to discard, what to keep, and how to organize it.  

To scan and digitize the documents that she wanted to keep, we used the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500.  This particular model can scan 50 pages in under 2 minutes, and it was an essential tool for the job we were undertaking.  Barbara had just purchased a new PC laptop, so we used Microsoft OneDrive to create an organizational file system for all her newly scanned documents.  That way, she could access the files on her phone, iPad and other devices.  As Barbara and I decided what needed to be scanned, we put the papers in folders with file names (written on sticky notes) on each one, using names that would make sense to her in her new digital filing system.  

In some cases, such as with property deeds, insurance policies, loan payoff statements and other vital documents, we kept the originals of the paper in well-labeled files.  But in most cases, the paper versions were designated either for shredding or for the recycling bin once scanned.

We sorted out all the photos that were mixed in with other papers and put them aside in a separate box to send to ScanCafe.com for digitizing – she had already sent 7,000 pictures and slides to them before I even got there!

By the end of the week, we had completely emptied one four-drawer file cabinet, filled three 50-gallon recycling bins with paper and set aside several boxes for shredding.  We also cleaned and organized her office shelves and desk drawers, found lots of old electronics to be recycled, and created a desktop file box so she could have immediate access to her most urgent action items. 

Most importantly, she learned the process of how to go through her files and make decisions about what to do with the contents, and what criteria to use for scanning, shredding or recycling.  And she felt confident enough to be able to continue going through her travel memorabilia and other personal papers after I had left, with my assistant coming back to do the scanning and digital organizing for her.

Here are my main takeaways from working steadily on one job for a whole week:

  1. You can get a lot more accomplished in five consecutive days than you can from working one day a week for five weeks.  It doesn’t take as long to pick up where you left off when the point where you left off was yesterday rather than a week (or month) ago.

  2. You have an opportunity to see the forest through the trees when you have a full week of time dedicated to one client.  Rather than having the time constraints of a three-hour appointment and only working on what the client feels is the most urgent at the moment, you have the time to look at the big picture and then prioritize accordingly.

  3. You can work far more efficiently with a team member helping you.  In my case, with my assistant doing the scanning, I was free to help the client make the harder decisions about what to keep and scan, what to shred, and how to organize the paper and digital files. 

  4. Using a dedicated document scanner, in my case a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500, helps overcome a huge stumbling block for people like Barbara who fear letting go of sentimental papers (such as her mother’s writing, her own journals, and other personal memorabilia).  It made it much easier for her to let the paper itself go, knowing that it would be scanned, named and organized in a way that she could easily find it.  

The paper clutter around you may be costing you more than you realize in calmness, time, money and productivity.  Are you ready to get it scanned and organized

About the author: Penny Catterall

"When I began Order Your Life in 2009 to help Bethesda-area friends declutter their homes, I never imagined how much my services would diversify and grow. My personal focus is now on small businesses and home offices. What I love to do more than anything else is help people manage their paper, electronic files, and digital life so that they can enjoy the peace that comes with knowing everything is in order."

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