Organize and Digitize Paper Clutter as a Business Owner

Raise your hand if you have a desk covered in random paper. Or drawers stuffed with paper. Or a purse stuffed with receipts. I know I’m not the only one! I’ve been working on tackling paper clutter for years. It’s a constant battle, but one of those things you just kind of deal with. You shuffle the papers around, maybe file a few, probably lose a bunch. The thing is you don’t want to waste time organizing it because who has time for that? But you’re wasting time constantly shuffling it around and digging through to find that one receipt from last month.

So let’s talk about getting that paper clutter under control because seriously, it’s getting out of hand.

What do you need to keep anyway?

When dealing with clutter or too much of anything I think the first thing you need to decide is what is important. When our mail comes I recycle or toss probably 80% or more of what comes in. The same goes for your business a lot of the time. The only things I really keep are receipts and invoices, documents like seller licenses and tax related paperwork. I’m sure there are a few other things I’m missing, but I don’t generally print or keep much else.

This info graphic over at Apartment Therapy might help you decide what to keep vs get rid of.

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Digitize current paper clutter

The first option and in my opinion the best option is to digitize as much as possible! This means not only scanning and tossing what you can, but also using digital tools to avoid scattered papers in the first place.

My Evernote System

The simplest way I’ve found to save documents and receipts is to upload them directly to Evernote. If you’ve never used Evernote make sure you sign up now (it’s free)! I’ve been using it for years for so many things from saving recipes and drafting blog posts to saving important documents or receipts. You get 10GB of new uploads per month which should be plenty for most people.

How it works

1. Open a new note
2. Click the icon to take a photo
3. Once it’s open it should recognize the paper and square it off. Once it looks right click the button to take the photo.
4. The image will be inserted into your note and you can add a title and any notes needed! Remember: the note is searchable so add any keywords you might search for when looking for that document.

For my resale business receipts I just have a Notebook called “Receipts 2018”. I just have a new receipt in each note. It take like 30 seconds to capture them and then I throw them in a coupon organizer looking file (I’ll talk about physical organization later in this post). I could honestly probably toss them, but I’m not brave enough to do that yet.

This is by far the easiest and cheapest way (ahem, free!) I’ve found to do it. Again you can sign up for Evernote here if you don’t already have it. But if you don’t like that system there are other ways as well.

Some other digital options

  • Tiny Scanner app (for iPhone) + Dropbox. This is how I’ve done much of my scanning and saving and I still use this on occasion like when I have to sign and scan a document to email to someone else. I just scan it with the app on my phone and then upload to Dropbox. I like this method because they’re all just saved on a folder in my computer. You could also just upload to Google Drive or several other storage options.
  • Scanning to your computer. My printer (HP Envy 4520, but I think it’s discontinued. This is the new version of it.) and has a scanner. Just simply scan to your computer and save. If you’re doing something small like receipts you could even put several on the scanner at once to save time. Try grouping them by date!
  • Document scanner. When I was looking for one of these the one I planned on getting was the Brother DS-620. At under $100 it was one of the cheaper options with good reviews. Of course there’s the Neat Receipts scanner which is the first one I heard about years ago. But it’s around $500 and reviews are kind of iffy.

So while I use and recommend the Evernote option because it’s the easiest/fastest and that’s the only way I’ll actually do it regularly, I also really love the Tiny Scanner and Dropbox option. I actually prefer to have them in files on my computer too, but for now Evernote works perfectly fine and I can easily add keywords to search for.

Physical paper organization

I really try to toss as much as I can in the recycling so there is less to organize and manage. But there are just some papers you need to keep and it’s best to keep them organized so that you can actually access them quickly when you need them. I keep my papers in a few places:

Basic filing system

I’m sure you’ve seen this method a hundred times. Simply create a folder for each category you need for your business. I use these colored folders, but there are some nice patterned ones at places like Target. We have a lot of files for our personal use because of bills, etc. but for the business we don’t have as many. But what you might not know are the different ways you can store these files.

  • Filing Cabinets are the standard, but have you noticed that you can buy nice looking filing cabinets that look like regular furniture instead of cold, metal eye sores? I’m thinking of getting this woodgrain looking one or a crisp white one from Ikea for my new office soon.
  • Expanding files are great if you don’t have too much to store. They are usually small and can be tucked away in a drawer.
  • A large sorted organizer is a bigger version of an expanding file if you need more room. I really like this one because it’s different colors which helps me as a visual person.
  • Banker boxes are cheap and hold a ton! You could even grab a new one at the beginning of each year so you already have your files organized by year and don’t have to go through to archive them at the end of the year. (Side note: I actually use these to store some of my eBay inventory too.)
  • Or if you want a nicer version of the banker box you could always use a plastic file box
  • For receipts I have one similar to this that I just throw them in when I get home

Personally I don’t have a ton of papers that need to be filed for my business so an accordion file usually works just fine.

Set routines or habits

The reason my desk gets covered in paper is because I used to lack good habits when it came to taking care of what came in and just left them in piles to take care of later. And later always turned into next week or next month (or next year). Here are some good habits to practice to keep the paper clutter under control.

  • Immediately toss what you don’t need. I have this habit down with our mail. As soon as I grab it I go through it and immediately throw a lot of it in recycling. Do the same for your business! Don’t let it sit on your desk if it’s not important.
  • Take care of any tasks that will take 1 minute or less. When I get home from sourcing for my business I try to immediately scan and file my receipts before I misplace them because they are so tiny.
  • Create “take action” and “to file” folders or paper trays. That way when something hits your desk or you come in with papers you can immediately put them in an organized holding spot that isn’t a pile on your desk. If I have something I need to take care of I put it in the “take action” folder and if I have something to file I put it in the “to file” folder. If you’ve got enough discipline to immediately file you can obviously eliminate that folder. But I prefer to do my filing in batches rather than randomly.
  • Set aside time to deal with papers. I have what I call “Filing and Finances Fridays”. I try to take care of my bookkeeping and my filing every Friday so it doesn’t get too backed up. (Real talk: still working on being consistent with this!)

Now I’m not saying I’m perfect or that I have no paper clutter. You should see my desk! But I’m slowly getting better and I think it’s more about developing good habits and systems over time that you stick to.

Which of these ideas are you planning to implement? Is there anything I missed that you want to share?

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