Reader Rose submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
Before I ask my question I have to tell you I am seriously not computer savvy. I don’t understand the lingo. My question is: Since technology changes so quickly and your article ["Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter"] was written 5 years ago, would you still recommend the same scanner, software etc. to be able to accomplish my purpose? Is it possible to use the scanner on my All-in-One printer? Does the software allow you to create categories to put the articles in? Please if you have a recommendation for the simplest to use of these items that would be so gratefully appreciated!
You’re asking a number of questions and all of them are fantastic! I’ll address them in my response, but be sure to check out the comments for even more answers from our readers.
Your first question is if I still recommend the same scanner and software for tackling a paper pile (or two or ten). The short answer is yes, I strongly recommend Fujitsu ScanSnaps, their scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) software, and DevonTHINK document organizing software. The long answer to that question is more nuanced.
In the long answer, I’ll tell you that you need to find equipment and software that works best for you. If you already own an all-in-one scanner, you likely have no need to go out and buy a new scanner. However, you may want to acquire software that provides OCR processing if the software with your scanner doesn’t have this capability. Or, if you’re comfortable with storing documents online, I suggest opening an Evernote account. After you scan a document, you can upload your files to Evernote, which can read words found on documents and in images and even some handwriting (and it lets you organize your papers, too, in a way that works best for you). And, if you want a great tutorial about Evernote, check out Brett Kelly’s terrific Evernote Essentials downloadable guide. There are numerous options available to you, not just the ScanSnap-DevonTHINK one I provided in the earlier article.
Since you don’t mention what all-in-one scanner you have, I don’t know if it has document organizing software as part of its package. Most don’t, but some do have these features. You can also just nicely organize the documents on your computer in folders like you do all the other work you save on your computer. I recommend saving all files as PDFs, because if this file type ever goes out of style, you can bet there will be conversion programs that will allow you to turn PDFs into whatever becomes the new standard. To save a file as a PDF, follow the instructions in “Printing to PDF.”
Next, you asked what is the simplest way to turn your physical paper pile into digital files — and the truth of the matter is the easiest way to do it is to have someone else do it for you. Simply do a search online to find local document scanning service providers. I also recommend checking out reviews on Angie’s List to be sure the company you’re going to have scan your papers is reputable and secure. Most companies will shred your documents after they scan them. There will still be some work for you before you hand off your papers and after you receive the digital files, but having someone other than yourself do the scanning is the easiest method. (Sort your papers before you give them to the scanning company so you are only paying for important documents to be scanned and then you’ll have to organize all the digital files once they have been scanned.)
My only additional notes are to be sure to back up all of your scanned documents saved on your computer to an online site like DropBox or the previously mentioned Evernote. The last thing you want to have happen is to lose all of the documents you so diligently digitized when the hard drive on your computer crashes (which it will). And, lastly, if you are doing the scanning yourself, don’t forget to shred all of your paperwork after you digitize it.
Thank you, Rose, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck digitizing your paper collection and kudos to you for taking on this worthwhile task. Since you were able to fill out a contact form on Unclutterer to send me this question, I already know you’re more computer savvy than you give yourself credit for being.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.