In the days of computing why not eliminate almost all of your paper clutter and store it electronically? Setting up an electronic file system (EFS) in order to store paper documents on your computer is very easy to do and requires minimal equipment and software. Because paper can be destroyed via flooding, fires, and other disasters, storing important documents electronically is an excellent way to make sure those documents never get lost. And yes, you can buy a safe to store documents safely but over the years you will accumulate lots of paperwork and a bigger and bigger safe will be required, which can be extremely expensive.
All that you need to get started is a scanner, encryption software, and some type of backup drive. The scanner that I personally use is the Brother MFC-8890DW, which is now replaced by the Brother MFC8910.
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This scanner comes with all of the software required to scan your documents and store them as a PDF, has an automatic feed for scanning multiple pages, can duplex scan, and the scanning tray is big enough to scan legal sized documents. I will not go into any other further details about this particular scanner but the features that I've mentioned are the ones that I personally think will handle pretty much all documents. The one feature I don't use that often is scanning legal sized documents so if cost is an issue you can get a scanner without this feature and still be able to scan most everything. You'll just have to find a way to get your legal sized documents scanned in. However, definitely try to get a scanner that will automatically feed and duplex scan standard 8.5" x 11" paper. This will save you tons of time!
The next important item that you need is encryption software. This is not required but I highly urge you to use encryption since a lot of documents that you will be scanning will include important personal information and if stolen will lead to identify theft. The encryption software that I use is TrueCrypt and is officially unsupported as of now but you can still find copies of the software on the Internet. However, other software is available, such as BitLocker, and works just as well.
The last item that you'll need is another storage device or two where you can keep a back up of your electronic file system.
And/Or you can store your file system online but make sure it is encrypted! Again, this is not required but the idea of this electronic file system is to make sure you will always have your documents even if your computer gets stolen or the hard drive crashes.
Organizing Your File System
In order to keep all of your documents in one place, create a relatively large encrypted folder and name it something such as "Electronic File System". 7.5GB would be plenty of space to
start out with and fits great on a 8GB thumb drive. I have been keeping an electronic file system for over five years and have only used about 1GB. This should give you an idea of how large or small of an encrypted folder you'll need to create.
You can organize your electronic file system any way that would like but the most important part is to make sure you can find your documents when you need. Don't use default names, SCAN123.pdf, or anything that's not descriptive, MyFile1.pdf. I like to use a loose file organization folder scheme where I can easily find all of the files that I need without spending too much time labeling the files or having too many subfolders. I like to have individual folders for the "Year" and subfolders of "Job", "Medical", "Major Purchases", "Car", "House", "Taxes", and "Misc". In the "Medical" folder I will create a subfolder for myself and each family member.
Using Your EFS
After scanning in a document rename the PDF file to something like "April Dentist Bill.pdf" and place it the appropriate folder. In this case, the file would be placed in the medical folder under my name. This is enough information where I can go back and find the document relatively easily without having to search through every single file in the EFS. Make sure to scan in documents as soon as they come in in order to keep up with the paperwork. After scanning in a document, or a series of documents for one day, make sure to backup the EFS immediately. Be sure to keep important documents such as birth certificates, car titles, etc. These should be stored somewhere safe like a safety deposit box or a high security and fire resistant safe. On the other hand, I recommend destroying all other documents in order to avoid paper clutter. These are just recommendations so make sure you don't actually need the paper version before disposal. Another point to keep in mind is that depending upon the backup software that you use, sometimes an encrypted file will be seen as unchanged so you will have to manually copy, or make a script, in order to backup your EFS.
Thanks for your time and I hope this article has been helpful.