The Paperless Home Office

My brother, Alex, was here in our house the other day and touring the improvements we've recently made (it's about to go on the market, so we've finally cleaned it up). He was looking at my small desk and asked how I managed with so little space.

“Where's your paper, your files and folders? Where are your books?” he asked.

Of course, most of us have reams of paper in our home office spaces. We've got mail, bills, documents from the office, files filled with old bills, instruction manuals for gadgets and appliances, car titles, auto repair records, home maintenance receipts, old tax returns, medical bills in process to insurers, and on and on and on. We've got piles of paper stacked on our desks, piled on our bookshelves, and filed neatly in two drawer file cabinets.

I don't have any of that. It's all gone. I've got a clear desk with a laptop, a scanner (more about that shortly), and a few miscellaneous knickknacks. There's no stapler, no staples, no stapler remover, no paper clips, and not much else.

I'm confident that you've already figured out that my home office is paperless. That scanner (a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500) has done a great job of clearing out all of the paper over the course of a year or two. It's also played a big part in the digitization of every photo I've saved over the past 40 years. My desk is clean and clear.

Where is my stuff?

My personal documents live in the cloud on Evernote. I also have a local copy of everything on Evernote on my computer, and I back that up to an external drive. I'm a huge fan of Evernote, and it's part of my daily work flow. I've scanned all my old tax returns, medical records, bills, correspondence, financial statements, instruction manuals (which are often downloadable), real estate records, auto records, and even papers I saved from college. They're all available instantly on Evernote.

My work-related documents live on NetDocuments along with all the documents from everyone in the firm. We have constant access to that repository, and our clients have access to their documents as well. NetDocuments does a great job of keeping our documents safe and sound as well as available to us.

My photos live on SmugMug. Some were scanned on the ScanSnap. Others were scanned directly from the negatives by ScanCafe. Scanning directly from the negatives (or slides) provides a much higher quality image. SmugMug makes the images available to us on our laptops, TV, etc., and we keep a backup on a portable drive.

Finally, my books were scanned by 1DollarScan. The company charges $1 to scan 100 pages. It's scanned my old yearbooks, some cookbooks, and any other publication that I cared about that wasn't available digitally. The only paper books I've got right now are two advance review copies sent to me by the publishers (who are increasingly making advance copies available for e-readers).

I've asked every one of the vendors I deal with to stop sending me paper copies. I get all of my bank documents, credit card statements, utility bills, medical bills, etc. on the web or via email. Our mailbox rarely has anything other than junk mail in it. Cutting off the paper at the mailbox helps tremendously.

As part of the final phase of our home improvement project, we're leaving this morning for a week in local hotel while some workers refinish our hardwood floors. I'll pick up my laptop as I walk out the door and I'll have all of my files, records, books, photos, and even my old high school yearbooks with me. If I need any records or documentation, I'll have it right at my fingertips, and I won't have to worry about anything getting disturbed at home by the comings and goings of the workers.

Paperless is easy today. It's convenient and it's cheap. If you're still buried in paper, it's time to dig out and move those piles of paper off your desk and out of your house.


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