Going Paperless
2 min read

How I keep my life free of physical paper

About 5 years ago, I decided to go paperless: removing as much physical paper from my life as possible, favoring digital copies stored in the cloud instead.

The benefits are obvious: easier searching, organization, sharing. Cloud-stored documents are always accessible, cannot be physically physical damaged or lost and are more future proof in general.

Here’s how I do that.

Storing files on Google Drive

  • Clear directory structure in Google Drive to organize files.
  • Paid 200GB storage plan shared among my family members via Google One.
  • Offline backups (on 3 separate external drives) about once a quarter using Google Takeout.

Simple scanning worfklow

  • Scanning of all physical documents using the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i and then immediately shredding it.
  • Custom tool Ralphy to help easily manipulate PDF files and pages: name, tag, merge, delete, rotate.
  • Custom Google Apps Script to auto-move scanned files to the right directory in Google Drive based on the filename.
Ralphy image scanning tool
Enlarge Ralphy image scanning tool

Get rid of paper

  • Cancel reception of any physical documents in favor of digital copies as much as possible
  • Scanning and then shredding incoming paper documents within a few weeks (ideally immediately but that often doesn’t work out, small batches seem to work best)
  • Scanning and shredding pre-existing paperwork. This was probably a few thousand pages in my case, which took me almost 2 years of occasional scanning to fully complete.

Clear strategy for required physical document storage

  • An Expanding Organizer (< 50 pages) with original copies of official documents of the entire family: diplomas, property, passports, etc.
  • Small filing Cabinet to temporarily store documents that require follow-up in a few weeks/months for which a digital copy might not be sufficient, e.g. documents with a wet signatures or important government paperwork. The filing cabinet has folders for each month of the year; documents are filed under the month they were received. After one year maximum (when I reach a month that has paperwork from the previous year in it), I’ll make a permanent decision on what to do with the documents. In 90+% of cases, that means scanning and shredding.
  • Small box of 2-5 pages per year of tax returns (<50 pages total). I could probably get rid of these but haven’t yet.

Comments, questions, feedback? I'm @jorisroovers on twitter.