Angela Alvig, CPA

Digitize Your Documents

Published June 20215 minute readInsights from Tonja Sahaydak

Digitize Your Documents

Last year, most of us had to transform our homes into a workplace, classroom, daycare, fitness center, retreat, salon and spa, restaurant, bakery, and specialty coffee shop.While normally I love my small home for the low maintenance, I admit bringing all these activities into it caused me to feel a bit out of control, needing to get extra creative to make our limited space work.

One morning, with coffee cup in hand, I walked through our home, doing a space assessment.While we had done well with space saving solutions throughout, I knew there were areas that could be used more effectively.

I decided, in a digital storage world, we did not need the 3-drawer file cabinet sandwiched between our basement fridge and the washer/dryer. Besides, we had always talked about getting a fireproof safe to hold our important original documents. It was time to make a change!

The top drawer of our cabinet was chock full of old computers, phones, and unused tech gear that needed to be recycled. The other drawers were half full of random items that accumulated over time. We did not really need the countless maps, vacuum manuals, and receipts for items we could no longer return taking up valuable space.

After dropping off the unused tech gear at a local recycle store, I set to work on our individual files. I followed general best practices when it came to deciding what to keep physical copies of, store electronically, or shred. All scanned items were stored securely onto a cloud-based storage site. Those digital files were then downloaded to a portable hard drive device, which I store in my new fireproof safe. All saved hard copies were put in the safe.All discarded papers were shredded for security.

Here are the guidelines I followed during this process:

Auto Records: Scan and keep vehicle titles. Scan then shred purchase receipts and maintenance records. Keep records as long as you own the vehicle.

Medical Records: Scan then shred important assessments, diagnoses, and records from surgeries and injuries that may affect future health.

Receipts/Manuals: Scan then shred receipts for sports equipment, house appliances, furniture, tools, and expensive items that may have long-lasting warranties. Scan in any pages that display model numbers and recycle the rest.

Tax Documents: Scan the past 7 years of tax returns. Scan supporting documents of only the last 3 years and keep with the corresponding tax returns.

Estate Planning Documents: Scan and keep original hard copies of your Health Care Directive, Power of Attorney, and Will and Trusts. Shred all previous versions.

Vital Records: Scan and keep all of the following: birth certificates, marriage certificates, social security cards, death certificates, adoption papers, military records, professional licenses, divorce decrees, citizenship documents, and armed forces discharge records.

Home Ownership Documents: Scan and keep property deeds, purchase and sale documents, title insurance policies as well as current and paid-off mortgage documents.

Here are some things I learned in the digitalizing process:

  • Wait to buy a fireproof safe until the size needed is determined.
  • Purchase a scanner that allows you to scan multiple 2-sided sheets at once.
  • Start with smaller files. The momentum from moving through files quickly kept me motivated.
  • Move files to an enjoyable spot to work, keeping it set up as time allows. I put my files into a crate and moved them up to my cozy office rather than working on the cold cement basement floor.
  • Experts say to encrypt your information before storing on the cloud or save to your hard drive on a password-protected computer.
  • Enlist a shredder to help. My teen enjoyed the satisfaction of running piles through the shredder. Before I acquired a home shredder, I filled a box to bring to a local shredding service.
  • Set up a date night to go through the “Special Notes” file. Cards and letters to my husband while we dated were not items that I wanted to throw out just yet, but I didn’t really want to scan them in either. It was fun to look through the contents together, save a couple, and throw out the rest.
  • Be prepared for unexpected emotions. While going through my homeowner paperwork I was surprised to find the Abstract Titles dating all the way back to 1855. As I looked at the names of those that owned the property this house was built on, I couldn’t help but reflect on the memories built over the years for these people and my own family. I hope they were all as good as mine.

Going through the process of condensing our file cabinet into a digital format really helped me feel back in control. I have reclaimed valuable space, stored my vital information in a more secure system, and transformed my way of thinking. If the document is not worth scanning in or storing in the safe, it is not worth keeping!

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