Ask the Organizer

My friends are beginning to use their scanners to archive their paperwork and photographs.  What are your thoughts on this system?

Mark, Durham, CT

Scanning can be an excellent tool for archiving important paperwork digitally and eliminating old paperwork.  I have observed an increase in peoples’ desire to scan their papers in recent years and find that I am performing this duty for more and more of my clients.  As you point out, scanning can be an excellent tool for managing and sharing old photographs.  It is also great for keeping copies of your day to to day papers in an electronic file cabinet rather than a standard filing system in your home or office.  Setting up such a system can be tedious at first, but once it is in place it is much easier to maintain.

Let’s address the actual scanners first.  If you choose to go paperless in your home or office you are going to want to invest in a good scanner. Traditional All-In-One printer flat-bed scanners are good if you only want to document a couple pages at a time, however, if you you are going to be  inputting a lot of paperwork you will want something with more advanced software and a fast paper feeding system. One of my favorites for the home user is the Fujitsu Scan Snap.  The NeatDesk scanner is also a great tool.  They range from $250-$500 depending on the device, but are worth it if you are converting drawers of files.

As you prepare for your paper scanning project, one of the first tasks you have ahead is to set up your electronic folder system.  I tend to title a folder Virtual File Cabinet.  I then create sub folders that match the hanging file categories in the current file system.  For instance, Banking, Credit Cards, Investments etc.  As you scan the papers in be sure to name them consistently.  For instance:  Community Bank-Statement-September 2010.  By creating consistent titles for each document you will be able to more easily search for items and categorize your documents more efficiently.  The wonderful advantage of filing your papers this way is that you have an instant copy you can print if you need it and you can have your file cabinet in multiple locations.  For instance, you can keep a copy on a laptop you take any where and your main computer in your home.

If you choose to go completely electronic you will want to ensure you have a good back-up system set-up on your computer.  Whether you use a hard drive that you back-up to daily or an online service such as Carbonite that automatically backs-up your computer to a secure site on the web for subscription fee, you should be sure that you have a system properly set up.  There are many local computer consultants who can come to your home and work with you to identify what back-up system will be best for you.

Scanning your photos, while time consuming, can also be a beneficial way to archive, preserve and share your printed photographs.  There are many free programs on the web that you can download to help you organize your digital files.  Two of my favorites are Google’s Picasa or Iphoto  These programs find all of your digital photo files on your computer and provide an easy system for grouping, naming, sharing and buying prints.

If you are interested in learning more about organizing your papers through various systems visit my website and click on “events and classes” for a listing of upcoming paper workshops.  

Kristin Mastromarino is a professional organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing and The Organized Lifestyle retail store in Guilford, CT.  (  You can e-mail her your questions at