Zen and the Art of Scanning
Sit back, relax, and imagine a world without paper clutter. No longer does your office look like it was hit by a mysterious, tiny, indoor tornado. All your important documents and photographs are retrievable with a simple click of a mouse, not strewn about in haphazard piles. You are the mistress of your own domain — oh look, your desk is made out of wood. You know that now because you can see it.
Now open your eyes. Sigh.
Getting to the place of Zen when it comes to your paper piles is tough. Between the incoming mail, the receipts, statements, and more, paper can feel like it’s multiplying while you sleep. Leave it unattended and before you know it, your house is inundated with heaps of clutter and it’s hard to know where to start. Over time, I’ve developed a mild addiction to scanning (who am I kidding, I can anything that isn’t nailed down!), and it’s made a huge impact on my life. Read on, and I’ll share a few of my best tips, including exactly what I scan to be more organized and clutter-free.
Tip #1: It’s all how you look at it.
Paper piles are like snowflakes— no two are the same. The key is to start looking at them through Zen scanning eyes. Wander your home and let your wayward paper clutter speak to you… The photograph someone took of your book club in which you look skinnier than usual… scan… Your fourth grade son’s report card from second grade that for some reason is still tacked to the fridge… scan… The jar of receipts that you empty your wallet into when it stops being able to close all the way… scan, scan, scan… The ticket stub from that concert at the Greek you didn’t really like but made your husband cry like a little girl… See?
Tip #2: You won’t miss it.
Trust me when I say, you won’t miss most of what’s in those paper piles if you have a digital copy. It may feel weird to throw out a kid’s report card or an old photo, but think about it— how are you going to enjoy all this stuff if you can’t find it, or it’s in a box in the garage somewhere. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could dial up that report card or photo on your smartphone whenever you want to take a trip down memory lane? You can do that with a digital copy.
Tip #3: Ready, settings, go
When you’re ready to scan your way to a more organized, digitized life, just feed in the paper a pile at a time, and allow the soft electronical hum of the scanner fill you with a sense of well being. Select a scanner that has the ability to scan at a higher resolution for photos you might want to enlarge one day, and the rest should just look great and legible on a computer screen. And if you have double-sided documents, your scanner should be able to scan both sides at once— less work for you. For documents, creating a .PDF works best and for photos a .JPG is a great standard format.
Tip #4: Make a home for your scans
It’s important to be clear on where all your scans will live when they’re done. Your hard drive is a suitable spot, but your files will only be accessible in one place, and they’re one spilled latte away from being gone forever. An external hard drive is a great solution to provide peace of mind, but I prefer cloud storage solutions like Evernote or Dropbox. A hard-drive, cloud storage combo is ideal for double safety. Now I can access my files from anywhere, on any device, and I know they’re safe.
Now that you’ve got the basics down, here’s a glimpse at some of the many things I scan on a regular basis on my path to Scan-nirvana.
Photographs: Scan old photos or ones that people print for you. Now you can easily sort, tag and share them, upload to social networks and view from anywhere. Much better than putting them into a photo album that only exists in your living room.
Tearsheets: Inspiration is everywhere. And if you’re like me, you find it primarily in pretty magazines. That Dwell from 2003 with the article on composting was interesting, but the rest of the issue? Weighing me down. Scan what you want and send the rest to the recycle bin.
Business cards: In today’s business world it’s all about networking, and good networking can sure yield lots of business cards. Scanning does the trick and makes it easy to find them in a pinch when I do need them. Plus scanning software like CardIris makes easy work of getting those contacts into your address book, and if I know I won’t be calling them frequently, I can just scan and store them for later reference.
Handwritten Notes, Christmas Cards and Letters: These kinds of things can often end up in a box never to been seen again (or worse, in the trash). Now I can scan through notes that people cared enough to write to me anytime and clear the shelf for something else where the box used to be.
Notebooks: I still need them for meetings and I’m always making sketches (of remodel ideas, garden plots, website wireframes, etc.) but keeping them usually means they go into a pile and never are browsed again. I scan the pages with the best ideas and tag them so I can find them later.
Rosters: If the thought of painstakingly entering contact information into your address book seems like a daunting task, try scanning school, sports, and work rosters instead. Think of all the time you can save.
Art and Schoolwork: Let’s face it, this stuff can pile up. And while you may want to hold on to and cherish every phase of Junior’s developmental process, keeping every scrap of construction paper isn’t realistic. Scanning can immortalize your young scholar digitally, while keeping your home free of clutter.
Mementos: Ticket stubs, postcards, vacation mementos, the little things that you just don’t have the heart to trash because they are tied to a memory. Now you can save them without saving them.
Taxes: Everyone loves taxes, so why not make the process even more amazing by scanning your deductible receipts as you get them? That way, when it comes time to pay the piper, you can easily create spreadsheets. Your accountant will thank you — maybe with a note — and you can scan that too.
Home Documents and Inventory: Scanning insurance documents, warranties, appraisals repair history and receipts, as well as keeping digital photo records of the valuables in your home is a great way to keep a record of your belongings in the event of a natural disaster or burglary.
Remember, while the power of scanning can be addicting, sometimes it’s not worth the trouble. Don’t start scanning all your tax receipts and records going back to 1975 — best to put that in storage until they’re no longer needed and then toss ‘em out.
So, you’ve scanned — your mind, soul, and home are clear and peaceful, but your recycle bin is full. Before you toss it all out, it’s a good idea to shred that paper, especially if it contains personal or private information. Shredding scissors or investing in an electric shredder is advisable. Now revel in how clean and uncluttered your environment is, and marvel at how much (paper)weight you’ve lost.
Carley Knobloch (@digitwirl) is a life coach, personal tech expert, web show host, and Chief Twirler at Digitwirl.com.
**Note: ScanSnap scanners are not designed as photo scanners. Fujitsu recommends using a carrier sheet when scanning photos to protect your originals.