How I Got Rid Of My File Cabinet

I hate my file cabinet. Some background:

Traditionally, I have used my file cabinet to store tax records, medical records, and household manuals. The problem was it was really hard to keep organized, I could never find what I needed, and when I needed something, I usually was not at my house, so I would have to remember to get it when I got home.

So about a year ago, I set out to find a better way and get rid of my file cabinet. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Buy a really good scanner. One thing I found was that with the rise in popularity of multi-function printers, the quality of scanners has decreased. Multi-function printer/scanners are good for occasional scanning, but not for multiple pages or for multiple paper sizes. If you have a cheap scanner that only scans single pages, getting rid of a file cabinet full of paper documents will be a very daunting task, and you probably won’t finish the task. If you go into your neighborhood office supply store, you cannot find a dedicated scanner, so you will need to order online. Buy one with a good automatic paper feeder. I went with the Epson Perfection V500. It is very reliable, and I have used the automatic feeder to scan 70+ page medical documents in a single scan.
  2. Get over mental hangups about hard copy documents. I have always had an assumption that a hard copy document was more valid than an electronic copy; however, tax advisers informed me that a scanned copy of tax documents are as valid as hard copies, so I could scan 20 years of tax records and shred the hard copies. There are a few types of documents that I still hang on to hard copies, such as birth certificates, car titles, mortgage paperwork, and wills. However, I keep these in my bank safe deposit box, and I also scanned a copy so I can easily get them when I need them.
  3. If the document is available online, don’t scan. This is the solution for appliance and gadget manuals. On just about every manual, there is a code. For example, on my garage door manual, there is a little code “3507635556.” A quick search for “Overhead Door 3507635556 pdf” found the PDF copy of the manual. I was able to find the manuals for all of my household appliances, lawnmower, computers, cars, and bikes. If you don’t see a code on your manual, search for the name and model of the appliance, or go to the manufacturer’s website and you will probably be able to find user manuals in their support section. Then throw away the hard copy manuals.
  4. Get SkyDrive. Storing the electronic files will only solve part of the problem by replacing the hard copies with electronic versions. I also wanted to make these files available to me wherever I need them. SkyDrive helped me do this. I installed the SkyDrive app and store my documents in the SkyDrive folder. The files then synch between all of my computers, creating multiple backup copies, and also making them available from the cloud on any device. You could do this same thing with other cloud solutions such as Google Drive or Dropbox, but for me, Skydrive was the best choice. I was able to get 125 GB of storage for about $55/year, and SkyDrive is available from more of the devices that I use. SkyDrive supports Windows, Mac, Windows Phone, IOS, Android, Xbox. That means that every document I have is available from my Windows Phone, my Nexus 7 tablet, or my wife’s iPhone, and it is very affordable. If I’m on my Lenovo laptop or my Mac Mini, all of my stuff is there.
  5. Organize your electronic file cabinet. When you get rid of your file cabinet, you will still need to organize the files so you can find them. For me, this is much easier with an electronic file cabinet than a physical file cabinet. With a physical file cabinet, you are limited to the number of paper folders that you have, and if you want to change it around, you either need to relabel the paper folders, or go to the office supply store to buy new folders.

For my SkyDrive electronic file cabinet I created subfolders for the main categories: “Taxes”, “Medical Records”, and “Manuals”. Inside the tax folder, I created a subfolder for each year, in which I put the tax records for that year. In the Medical folder, I created subfolders for each person in the family, then inside of each person’s subfolder I made a subfolder for each year in which that person had medical records. Since my wife is a triple transplant recipient, her medical folder is much bigger than the rest of us. In the manuals folder, I just stored the manuals, but I renamed them so that I could easily identify them (rather than the obscure codename).

So now I’ve gone a year without my paper documents, I can say that it was probably one of the best things I did last year.

In May, my wife had to go to the hospital. I had to very quickly give the paramedic a list of her many medications. I just opened SkyDrive on the phone, went to the medical folder, and e-mailed her Stephanie’s medicine list.

Later that month, I brought my kids to see their Mom at the hospital. the hospital guest house requires children have up to date immunization records on file (because many people with compromised immunity stay there). I quickly e-mailed them my daughter’s immunization records from SkyDrive.

Since I’ve had to be away from home much of the year, I’ve had several times when I’ve needed to know something about my household appliances or cars, but not been home to get that information. For example, my refrigerator water filter had long been overdue to be replaced. When I remembered this fact, I was not at home. Since I have my refrigerator manual in SkyDrive, I could open my manual, find my model number, and order the appropriate filter.

I have had to change some of my behaviors. When I receive mail, I open it up. if it is worth saving, I “file” it by scanning a copy into the appropriate folder. Since my scanner is very fast, this is not a hassle. Then I throw it away or shred it.

So now there is no going back. My only problem now is what to actually do with my empty file cabinet. There is nothing in it, but my scanner is sitting on it.

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