How to store documents?

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Disaster Strikes: How to Store Important Documents

Have you ever spent hours watching new reports of unfolding natural disasters? It’s heartbreaking when you see a family picking through rubble and looking for precious family heirlooms and important personal documents.

Watching weather and fire in action fascinates most viewers. And it’s all surreal when you’re watching from the safety of your own home. Even so, watching live news reports of natural disasters often makes people think about what they would do if disaster came to their area. Would you be ready and could you protect yourself and your home from Mother Nature gone wild?

Are you aware of how to store important documents so that they’re safe in case of a fire, flood, or other natural disasters? Take a few minutes and read our guide about things you can do that will help keep your personal documents safe—before disaster strikes.

Taking Care of Essential Records

When you take a minute and think about all the paper records in your home, you’ll come up with quite a list. Most of us keep a combination of the following personal documents in our homes:

  • Medical records
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Auto insurance
  • Real estate
  • Vehicle registration and titles
  • Recreational vehicle registration and titles
  • Financial records—pay stubs, tax documents, bank statements
  • Legal documents—wills, funeral instructions, powers of attorney
  • Cash—while not used for proof of anything other than that you know how to earn money, cash is paper and it’s a document, right? (We’ll talk about cash briefly in a minute)

Is your head hurting yet? It can feel overwhelming when you think about the vast number of paper documents people need to keep secure and keep intact in case of a disaster. Having a disaster recovery plan in place will lessen the pain. The most secure document storage solution may be your bank.

Take It to the Bank

The movies are full of scenes with people nervously opening a safety deposit box and anticipating the cache of money or family jewels they’ll find. All good suspense stories have at least one safety deposit box scene, don’t they?

Safety deposit boxes are an excellent storage solution for paperwork you would have trouble replacing. Banks charge a relatively affordable rental fee for use of the safety deposit box. In return, you get security and a private storage unit for your personal documents, but there are a few caveats. Don’t place your only copy of your will in the box. Don’t store your living will (also called an advance healthcare directive) in the box. If you die or become seriously ill or incapacitated, the people who need those documents may not get access to them.

Banks are not always protected during natural disasters. Safety deposit boxes aren’t always private. Homeland Security can access them and the IRS can freeze them if they freeze your assets. Remember the cash mentioned earlier? Most safety deposit contracts state that cash isn’t insured, at least not by the F.D.I.C. If you have a large stash of “mattress cash” keep it in a bank account.

Banks are one storage option for your personal documents but they’re not the only option and may not be the best solution for you. Many people prefer keeping documents close to home.

How to Store Important Documents at Home

One of the best ways to store paper documents is at home in a safe or file box. While storing original copies of your vital documents in a bank safety deposit box is fine, storing documents you access often is better done at home. Imagine if you had to visit the bank every time you needed your tax information or one of your insurance policies.

You can buy home safes with varying levels of fireproof, waterproof, and water-resistance technology. Home safes also come in a variety of sizes. Keep portability in mind. Ideally, you want a safe you can access quickly in case of a disaster. Keep photocopies of your driver’s license, birth certificates for all household members, and passports. Having copies of these documents can make replacement easier if you lose the originals. The home safe is where you should also store all insurance policies, real estate documents, including deeds, and all vehicle titles.

Things you shouldn’t store in home safes include financial documents with your private information like bank statements. Also, don’t store large amounts of cash in a home safe. If a thief steals the safe, homeowner’s insurance typically only covers a small amount of cash. One important personal document you should place in your home safe are instructions for your family regarding access to your safety deposit box and contact information for your lawyer.

Another type of document security you should prepare for is storage of your financial records.

Technology and Storing Financial Records

Storing documents like birth certificates and insurance policies in a safe or file at home works well but all of us have documents, which require a higher level of security. Financial documents include bank statements, payroll stubs, and tax records. You don’t want any document that lists your Social Security number or other private identifying information available to identity thieves.

It may seem archaic but people do still use physical filing systems for storing financial records. Filing boxes and metal filing cabinets come to mind. Boxes and cabinets still work but they’re not ideal. What if a burglar steals the box? What if your filing system isn’t fire or waterproof? Instead of an accordion file or metal filing cabinet, consider storing your personal documents on a small external hard drive. Documents take up minimal space meaning you probably won’t need more than 5-10 gigabytes of storage capacity.

An external hard drive offers secure protection because you can set them up so that they’re password protected. This also means your documents aren’t stored directly on your PC or laptop. In the event of a home evacuation, simply take the hard drive with you when you leave. You can access the secured documents from any computer.

Another storage option for sensitive documents is the cloud, which gives access to documents on any network-connected device.

Store It in the Cloud

The cloud. It’s a term that floats around everywhere today. From the office to the classroom, people talk about cloud computing. The cloud isn’t some ethereal hidden storage locker. Cloud storage is a digital storage option many people use today for personal document storage.

The cloud isn’t the best solution for storing documents like birth certificates, Social Security cards, or other documents where the original might be required. For example, if you apply for a mortgage, you’ll need an original of your SSN. But, if eliminating paper clutter is your goal for 2019, the cloud works. Cloud storage also works well as a back-up for those vital records, but it is not a perfect solution.

You have three solid options for storing personal documents but how can you best prepare those documents for storage?

Protection from Fire and Water Damage

No one anticipates a fire or flood damaging their home and personal belongings. Even when you live in a flood zone, a flood isn’t a reality until it happens to you. When disasters happen most people have minutes, sometimes seconds for safe evacuation of their home. You won’t have time for locating, gathering and packing important documents.

If you know you’re in an area prone to floods or heavy rain you can prepare personal documents before the weather destroys them. Store documents in zippered plastic bags. Gallon size bags are great for storing important papers and cash. Storing personal documents in plastic bags may also make it easier when you come back to your home and start cleaning up water damaged areas.

Protecting documents from fire damage is pro-active rather than reactive. If you live in an area prone to wildfires, you may have time for collecting important personal items. If you’re the victim of a house fire, your life is more important than any document.

Are Your Documents Disaster Proof?

Hopefully, we’ve helped you think about how to store important documents. When you have a plan in place and document storage options, like the ones in this article, the likelihood of losing important documents is less than if you have no plan at all.

Whether you need more information about document storage or you need help with the recovery of personal property after a disaster, we’re here for you. Contact us for immediate help with disaster recovery.

Even though it’s the digital age, it’s still hard to escape paperwork, even at home.

And unless you’re organized about that paperwork, you could eventually find yourself drowning underneath it – or at the very least not being able to find documents you need urgently, or forgetting to pay bills.

But all you need to do is get organized. And here’s how…

1. Throw away

Put junk mail, unwanted catalogues, receipts you don’t need to keep etc. in the bin straightaway so they don’t add to your paperwork mountain.

Make sure you only keep documents for the time they’re valid – so if new annual insurance documents arrive, for example, throw away the old ones.

2. Don’t put all your papers in one basket

Buy (or dig out) four baskets for your paperwork, and label them: To Do; To Pay; To File: To Read. If they’re stackable baskets, put To Do on top, followed by To Pay.

3. Make filing a habit

Give yourself a short time every week to file papers in your ‘to be filed’ basket.

If you keep on top of it, it shouldn’t take longer than about 15 minutes a week.

4. Clear and separate

Using one or more filing boxes with coloured card dividers, or a filing cabinet if you have the space, file your paperwork into sections including:

  • Employment: payslips, pension information, contracts and tax returns.
  • Car: MOT, insurance etc.
  • Finance: bank and credit card statements, loan agreements.
  • House: mortgage information, insurance documents, maintenance information etc.
  • Family: subdivide this into a section for each family member and include birth and marriage certificates, wills, passports, health information, school records and reports etc.
  • Instructions: manuals and warranties (make sure they’re for appliances you still own).
  • Bills: you could subdivide these into gas, electricity, council tax etc.
  • Pets: vaccination details, worming and de-fleaing information, etc.

5. Get colourful

Different colour files or labels can make it easier to find different subjects.

6. Fireproof it

If you want to be extra-careful, buy a fireproof box to store irreplaceable documents such as birth and marriage certificates, passports and wills.

7. Be specific

Make your filing system specific and try not to have a ‘Miscellaneous’ file if you can help it, as you risk losing things in there. But at the same time, don’t be too specific and have separate sections for just one piece of paper, or you’ll have unnecessarily bulky (and confusing) files.

8. Separate the sentimental

Don’t let sentimental items get mixed up with important paperwork. Dedicate a file or a box to each of your children, for example, and put old reports, schoolwork, drawings and memories in there.

9. Scan to your computer

If you want to be super-organized, scan important documents to your computer so you’ve got a back-up, and if you’re asked for copies, you can send them online without having to raid your paperwork.

10. Review and refresh

At least twice a year, sort through the documents in your files to see if any can be thrown away. A good time to do this is at the start of the year and at the end of each school year.

How do you organise things in your home? Let us know in the Comments section below.

Losing crucial legal records can be a nightmare – don’t let it happen to you. As we go through life, we accumulate an assortment of valuable documents, legal papers and critical information representing a record of our family and business lives. For many of us, storing this information is a haphazard affair. We might just shove all our important papers in a drawer somewhere, to be forgotten until we need to check old credit card receipts or try to locate tax records from years ago.

Family records can be consumed in a house fire or irretrievably damaged in a flood. They could be stolen during a burglary for the purpose of identity theft.

Family records can be consumed in a house fire or irretrievably damaged in a flood. They could be stolen during a burglary for the purpose of identity theft. You might even accidentally throw them out during a frenzy of spring cleaning. And isn’t it always the way that when you’re looking for a single piece of paper in your home, you find every single document you don’t need except the one you’re after?

Keeping good records isn’t just about being tidy and well organised. Proper storage of key documents makes it easier for you to meet your legal obligations, manage family cash flow and reduce stress at tax time. So what are the most important family documents, and how can you keep them safe?


Your Will is perhaps your most important legal document – if you have one. Research shows that over 45% of Australians don’t have a valid Will.1 Valid’ is the key word here – picking up a DIY Will kit from your local newsagent or Australia Post may seem like a quick and easy solution, but in many cases it can create more problems than it solves.

Research shows that over 45% of Australians don’t have a valid Will.

A Will is a complex document and there are lots of ways to get it wrong. If you draft a DIY Will in your own words (instead of having an expert draft it using correct legal terminology), your wishes may be misinterpreted.

Also, each Australian jurisdiction has its own specific legislation regarding the signing and witnessing of Wills, and it’s not uncommon for people using homemade Wills and Will Kits to get this wrong.

A Will must adhere to strict legal requirements and be worded very precisely in order to be valid. This is not a job for amateurs. Marriage, divorce, children, de facto relationships and many other factors affect how Wills are drawn up, and a public trustee or solicitor knows there can be many intricacies. Always seek professional legal advice.

If you die without a valid Will, a court-appointed administrator pays your taxes and bills from your assets and then distributes what’s left according to a predetermined formula. This scenario can be messy, time-consuming and stressful to your loved ones, and your assets probably won’t be portioned out as you might have liked.

A Will is no good to anyone if it can’t be found. Make sure to store your Will in a safe place. If you use a public trustee or solicitor to organise your Will, they’ll often store the original in a fireproof safe or other secure location and give you a copy for your records. An all-too-common situation is where family members and other beneficiaries know a Will exists, but can’t locate it when the person passes away. Always make someone close to you aware of your Will’s location.1

Insurance policies

Your insurance policies (life, home and contents, car, health, etc.) are important documents that need to be kept in a safe place. In particular, losing track of a life insurance policy can lead to major family headaches. For starters, if you’ve lost the original policy document, you’ll have to fill out a statutory declaration and pay a fee to have the document reissued.

According to ASIC (the Australian Securities and Investments Commission), there’s around $80 million of unclaimed life insurance money in Australia.

What if you die and your life insurance beneficiaries can’t find your policy, don’t know which insurer it was with or aren’t even sure you had a policy in the first place? According to ASIC (the Australian Securities and Investments Commission), there’s around $80 million of unclaimed life insurance money in this country2 – which proves just how hard a life insurance policy can be to track down at times. Houses are sold, mail isn’t forwarded, relationships change, people take out insurance without telling anyone about it, etc.

Life insurance in the form of a Death Benefit and/or Living Benefit (like Trauma or Total and Permanent Disability cover) is a valuable family asset. In terms of potential payouts to your loved ones if something unexpected should happen to you, it can be worth a very substantial sum of money. Store these documents carefully and make sure a trustworthy person knows their location.

Mortgage documents and property bills

Deeds, mortgage papers and other property-related documents tend to be entirely forgotten until you want to sell your house or property. Then there’s a frantic dash through all your papers to find records of everything from termite inspections to mortgage details.

The longer you live in your home, the more property paperwork you accumulate – and all of it matters. Keeping all your property-focused documents together in one safe place is wise.

Passport and travel documents

Identity theft costs the Australian community around 1.5 billion a year, and passports are a popular target for identity thieves. Whether you lose your passport or have it stolen, replacing it is both costly and time-consuming.

You have to go through all the same processes as when you got your original passport (application, interview, etc.), but this time, you’ll pay an additional fee on top of the application fee.

Identity theft costs the Australian community around 1.5 billion a year, and passports are a popular target for identity thieves.

This fee will vary depending on how many passports you’ve lost or had stolen within the previous five years. You’ll also need to fill out Section 10 (relating to loss or theft) of the passport application form3.

Hide your passport well enough to deter a thief, but not so well that you forget where you put it. When travelling, the safest place for your passport is on your person.

A zippered front trouser pocket or hidden around-the-neck pouch are secure options. Don’t cram it into your back pocket where it can be easily ‘lifted’ without your knowledge. Keep your passport in a zip-top plastic bag so it stays dry in humid climates, sweaty pockets and torrential downpours.

Another safe option is to store it in the inside zippered compartment of the daypack you’re wearing. Storing passports, credit cards and cash in a bag that can be stowed in the luggage section of a train or underneath a bus is a common traveller mistake.

This practice is far too trusting and makes it easy for a thief to grab your whole bag at an opportune moment and make a run for it.

Banking information

If someone is able to gain access to your financial details, they can steal your identity, run up massive credit card bills in your name and even clean out your bank accounts. There is an entire criminal industry devoted to the practice of extracting credit card numbers, PINs, card security codes and banking passwords from unsuspecting victims.

Many banks offer a Security Token as a second level of authentication when you log into your online account, so always make use of this option when it’s available.

Many banks offer a Security Token as a second level of authentication when you log into your online account, so always make use of this option when it’s available. In addition, be vigilant about ‘phishing’ scams, in which you might get an email telling you your account will be frozen if you don’t ‘update your details immediately’.

These bogus emails then prompt you to go to another Webpage which looks like an official bank page. But really is a well disguised fake, solely designed to extract your confidential information.

Identity thieves may also remove mail from your mailbox to obtain banking and other personal secrets. Change to a lockable mailbox – it’s a worthy investment in your personal information security.

Tax returns

Whether you’re an employee or running your own business, maintaining correct tax records isn’t just good practice – it’s a legal requirement.

And as anyone who has ever been audited can tell you, having all your paperwork and receipts in order can make all the difference in how stressful (and costly) your ATO audit turns out to be. According to ATO, you must keep your written evidence for five years from the date you lodge your tax return.4


Think of passwords as the ‘front door key’ to your online world. And just as it’s folly to leave your key under the mat, it’s silly to make it easy for others to access your online information by swiping or working out your passwords.

Think of passwords as the ‘front door key’ to your online world. Don’t use the same password for all your accounts – this makes life incredibly easy for a cyber-thief.

Here are some useful tips to keep passwords safe:

• Don’t share your passwords with others.
• Make your password hard to guess: your pet’s name, your birth date or ‘123456’ just don’t cut it. A mishmash of letters, numbers and symbols is best.
• Don’t use the same password for all your accounts – this makes life incredibly easy for a cyber-thief.
• Change your passwords regularly – even several times a year.
• If you’re going to write your passwords down, don’t make the mistake of ‘hiding’ them near your computer. Sure, you’ll be able to access them quickly if they’re taped under your desk, slipped beneath the mouse pad or scribbled in your conveniently placed address book, but everybody else can readily access them too.
• When your online accounts offer a two-step authentication system, use them.

Storing your valuable documents: what are the options?

How you store your valuable documents is a personal choice, and largely depends on the answers to some simple questions:

1. How secure is my home?
2. How secure/well hidden is the place within my home where I’m storing documents?
3. How secure is my at-home (and work) computer? Who has access to it, and how is my password security?
4. Am I comfortable using a cloud server to store my most valuable documents?
4. What about a bank safety deposit box, a private secure storage facility or other off-site location?
5. Should I invest in a home safe, and if so, what kind?

There are numerous apps available that can assist you in keeping track of your essential documents.

Because it’s the 21st century, don’t worry: ‘there’s an app for that’. In fact, there are numerous apps that can assist you in keeping track of your essential documents. Evernote enables you can take photos of your receipts and documents and then download them to your record-keeping system.

Sign-N-Send for Apple devices facilitates the opening, signing, storage and emailing of documents. There’s also Tax Receipt Log, which saves images of receipts to a spreadsheet for easy reference. Many similar record-keeping apps are available.

Cloud-based online storage is a popular option, as it features numerous layers of security keeping your personal information safe. If your important documents are stored ‘in the cloud’, they can really only be lost if the Internet crashes.

It’s a smart idea to make copies of all your vital records and have them stored away from your home. This way major water damage or a house fire doesn’t destroy the only copies.

If instead you’ve got everything stored on a single computer at home, you’re going to lose it all if your hard drive crashes and you’ve failed to make backup files. Cloud storage has the added advantage of allowing you to access your information from virtually anywhere on earth where there is functioning Wi-Fi.

It’s a smart idea to make copies of all your vital records and have them stored away from your home. This way major water damage or a house fire doesn’t destroy the only copies.

If you decide to get a home safe, there are plenty of choices. Most are fire-resistant and some are water resistant. Small, portable safes may not offer the same protection as a heavier safe that’s securely bolted to the floor.

Another decision is where to position your home safe. The master bedroom is often the first place a thief will visit, so another room might be less obvious. A wall safe can be hidden by a picture and a floor safe can be covered by a rug. Even a hollowed out ‘book safe’ is better than leaving your most crucial documents sitting in an unlocked drawer.

This post was brought to you by Budget Direct Life Insurance

ICEbox – In Case of Emergency Document Storage Box

This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. More here: Disclaimer & Privacy Policy

ICEbox sent me their document storage box to review and this thing is really neat. If you’re looking for a personal document organizer, then check this out.

At first glance, this home filing system seems similar to all the other office storage boxes I’ve seen that profess to be great for storing important documents, BUT NOT SO FAST. This file tote box is WAY GROOVIER THAN IT LOOKS. Keep reading for what I liked, my constructive criticisms and how to purchase this product.

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The ICEbox Personal Document Organizer

This is what the product looks like off the shelf. Like I said, it looks like a document storage box that you’ve seen before…but it’s not, keep reading.

It has a really convenient handle, seems to be sturdy and has a little weight to it.

For scale purposes I brought in my assistant, Brisket the Pug. As you can see, the product is smaller than a 15 pound pooch. Good sit!

This is what it looks like without the packaging. It’s got a nice shiny finish, a convenient handle and 2 buckles that secure the top on.

Inside are 4 binders for storing your important documents and a flash drive. Ooh! This is where things start to get interesting and the product stands out. A flash drive is a nice feature that I have not seen included with other document storage products, and it’s not just a plain old flash drive!

It is a 256MB flash drive that comes loaded with PDF templates that can be filled out with your important information. Now you can take your vital data with you on a trip or you can store the flash drive at work or another location to be a redundant back up.

There are 4 plastic binders:

  • banking and investment information
  • important documents
  • insurance and estate papers
  • medical information

These color-coded binders are decked out with features…

Each plastic binder is totally enclosed to keep the contents from falling out as well as dry and dust-free, AND they are also archival safe.

This is what each binder’s latch looks like that keeps it closed and protects all the contents inside.

When opened, inside the binders are 3 rings…and these aren’t ordinary binder rings! They are snap-locking rings that don’t have the problems of the usual metal rings like rusting or getting misaligned. I was really impressed by these!

I put my important documents in the corresponding binders. I usually keep some cash with these papers, so the totally enclosed binders were a real plus for that. Once I put the binders back into the document storage box, I stuck my Emergency Evacuation List in the front.


ICEbox also offers an online document management option called the Online Vault that has unlimited storage. With this upgrade, you could access your information securely and from anywhere in the world.

You can also personalize your ICEbox with your logo, you can order additional flash drives and additional binders.

Overall, I’m really impressed. The ICEbox certainly is a complete system for organizing and storing your important documents.

The ICEbox Document Storage Box Rocks!

Okay, let’s sum up. Here’s what I loved and a few constructive criticisms.

I give the ICEbox two thumbs or paws up! I love that it’s complete, organized and secure (which is true to their tagline). I also love that the binders are very unique, and I’m impressed with their very well thought out features.

I only have 2 constructive criticisms (and one is more of a request):

First, the buckles on the front of the product are not the easiest to open. It involves double thumb action that is kind of awkward, but once I did it a few times I got the hang of it.

Second, and this is more of a personal request, this product is really cool. I would love it even more if the color/design on the outside reflected that. I get that the neutral appearance is good for businesses, but perhaps a bright-colored modern pattern would get the DIY-ers and stay at home moms pumped up about it?

Rock on ICEbox! For more details about the document storage box and to purchase their products, check out their website.

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File Storage Containers

Whether it’s in an office or at home, everyone needs some file storage to stay organized. That often means combating the clutter that builds up on desks and tables and in storage rooms. Establish a filing system to stay on top of all types of paperwork. Staples carries a broad selection of file boxes in different sizes and materials, and many have special features to make carrying and labeling them easier. An organization system can be as simple as a series of plastic in-and-out trays to keep paperwork moving efficiently or multiple large boxes sorted alphabetically in a storage closet. Ensure your company or home’s organization by selecting a product that will meet your needs for both the long and short term.
File Storage at Work
Financial organizations, law practices and accounting firms are used to dealing with a large influx of tax return supplies, paper documents from clients and prospects, and keeping these files organized is key to running a successful business. File boxes are easy to mark for identification and organization, making it convenient to locate files on a particular individual, specific year or large project. Opt for boxes that stack easily if your storage space lacks shelves; consider file storage with labels on two sides so you can find the right box easily in a packed space.
Corrugated cardboard boxes with double-wall or single-wall construction are often durable enough to withstand 450 pounds of stacked weight. These boxes may come folded compactly so you can assemble them as needed, and some offer patented folding systems for extra speed and convenience.
Staples stocks filing containers with easy-grip handholds located on either side of the box for hassle-free transporting. Some plastic boxes have built-in flip-up handles on top of the lid; this type is usually designed for frequent use and is handy when transporting files to clients’ offices and other offsite locations. Some products are designed to neatly hold letter-size documents, while others are meant for legal-size documents or use with hanging folders.
Staying Organized at Home
Staying organized at home is just as important as it is in an office setting. Plastic totes help you keep files and projects organized, secure and manageable. Clear totes allow the user to see what is inside without having to take the box off the shelf. Consider plastic totes in a range of colors to color code your files; for example, you can use green for medical info, red for tax documents and blue for personal finance paperwork.
Plastic totes are a practical choice when you want to store files in a basement or other damp location without fear of damage, and many have handles that double as locks to seal them against moisture. Boxes with built-in wheels allow anyone to move even the heaviest files from room to room. For additional storage in your home office, look for open-top boxes that let you easily put your fingers on the file you want and then put it back when you’re done. Boxes that are collapsible are suitable for temporary and recurring storage needs

How to Choose the Best Records Storage Boxes for Business Records Management

As many businesses know, hard copies of documents like contracts, banking records, receipts, employee forms, taxes or transactions accumulate over time. Although some important documents are often stored in file cabinets or desks, it’s challenging to store a business’ total records in one office location.

In that case, many businesses turn to a records management company for records management services and storage. Whether choosing a company for offsite document storage, or doing it yourself at a rental facility, you must consider the safety and condition of your information at an offsite location. The type of container that your important documents are stored in is essential to their preservation.

Here are a few options to help you determine the best records storage boxes for your business documents.

Corrugated cardboard boxes

These economical storage boxes are light duty and suitable for letter or legal size paper. Corrugated cardboard boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are affordable and recyclable, making them a popular choice among many businesses for storage.

Corrugated boxes usually have one layer of fluting between two liners, which gives them tear-resistant qualities that keep packaging intact and documents safe. Cardboard boxes are exceptional for long-term records storage and archived documents. You must be aware of the environment that cardboard boxes are stored in, and make sure they will not be subject to water damage or fire.

At Gilmore Services, we use the Paige Miracle Box, which offers double walled construction and securely stacks. Watch how simple and sturdy they are to use:

Plastic storage containers

Sturdy plastic containers offer another way to store your documents. For businesses using a self-storage rental facility, plastic containers may be a useful solution as there is typically no ventilation or pest control at self-storage facilities. In this case, plastic containers can help prevent water damage or mold for self-stored documents.

At self-storage facilities, it’s common to stack boxes higher. Because of this, plastic containers can be easily stacked unlike cardboard boxes that can become crushed under extreme pressure.

However, keep in mind that plastic storage containers can be less economical than corrugated storage boxes. Because of this, plastic containers may only be necessary for a portion of a business’s documents.

Looking for more information about your business records management needs? Download our guide on the Real Difference Between DIY and Professional Document Storage – the hidden costs, environmental factors and security measures you must know.

Contact us to find out how Gilmore Services can help you properly and securely store and manage your essential documents.

The Best Way to Store Your Important Financial Documents

With the rise of computer viruses and ransomware, do you have your electronic financial documents secured against the latest cyber security threats?

If you’re unsure, don’t worry. I’ll show you how to store your important financial documents securely.

Documents to Keep Secure

In the article 5 High-Tech Solutions for Your Money Binder, you can find a template to create your own Money Binder. When creating your own binder, it should include important documents such as:

  • Life Insurance documents
  • Wills
  • Trusts
  • Power of Attorney
  • Medical Directives

In addition to those documents, you may also consider securing your social security cards, recent tax returns, and birth certificates. Your original documents should be stored securely in a safe deposit box, locked filing cabinet, or a fireproof/water-resistant home safe. But what do you do if you would like to store a copy electronically?

Risks of Storing your Documents Electronically

It’s simple to scan and store your documents online on the cloud through tools like Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud. You can even do it directly from your smartphone.

Storing documents on the cloud makes it easy to retrieve files from anywhere in the world. But you need to consider the security implications of transferring your scanned documents into an electronic format. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen if this document gets into the wrong hands?”

If you decide to store any of these documents electronically, assess the many threats you may face, such as:

  • Ransomware
  • Theft
  • Viruses
  • Data failure

Ransomware is on the rise with several hospitals becoming infected, prompting the FBI to release this official statement. You may have also heard about Gmail, LastPass, and even the CEO of the identity theft protection agency, LifeLock, being hacked. No company or computer is 100% secure. You can’t control the threats, but you can control how you protect yourself.

Related: Read more about LifeLock

How to Store Your Important Financial Documents Securely

  • Always Think Twice. Consider the possible pros and cons before storing documents with social security or account numbers. Minimize your risk by minimizing the critical information you choose to store online.
  • Password Protection. By password protecting your computer or smartphone, you will create a first line of defense against those who have physical access to your device. Ensure that you have a secure password for your device. You can check how strong your password is on Here’s how to do it on Android and iOS.
  • Be Aware of Temporary Files. Scanning documents will always create a temporary file on your device. That temporary file is usually an image, which is then typically converted into PDF. When you move, upload, or delete the PDF file, the original image may still remain on your device even after removing the image from your recycling bin or trash. To fix this problem, take the following steps:
    • Clear your app cache and data. Here’s how for Android or iOS.
    • Clear your temporary files. Piriform has created a free powerful tool: CCleaner for both Windows and Mac that will clean your computer’s temporary folder. Ensure that “Temporary Files” is selected before you click “Run Cleaner.”
      • Warning: Please un-check all other boxes if you are unsure of their functions. You can find more information on CCleaner here.
    • Clean up third party folders. The software included with your scanner or third party apps on your smartphone may store your temporary files in a different folder. The solutions above may not address these folders. It’s important that you’re aware of how your applications store your scanned files and how to find and delete those temporary files.
  • Securely delete documents. When you delete a document from your recycling bin, it’s not completely deleted. EaseUS Disk Data Recovery is just one of many solutions that can recover files that you thought were permanently deleted. This is important to know if you donate or resell your old devices because your financial information can be easily recovered. If you’re planning to donate or resell an old device, consider these tricks for thoroughly cleaning it:
    • Use a free space wipe. CCleaner also offers a free space wiping function which will let you securely delete any files that were deleted from your recycling bin. Here’s how to use it on Windows and Mac.
    • If you’re donating or selling and old device, the 100% safest way to protect your data is to remove the hard drive storage and to physically destroy it. If that isn’t possible, here’s another way to securely erase those files.
  • Use encryption. Encryption is essentially scrambling your data so that is unrecoverable without a key (i.e. a password, fingerprint, or pattern). There are many encryption solutions to secure your data. Here are two ways to use encryption for storing your important financial documents:
    • Device Encryption: By encrypting an entire device, you protect your data in the event that your device is physically accessed. Here is how to enable encryption on your device.
    • File Encryption: Encrypting individual files allows for the secure transfer of documents on the internet. This is a good practice if you decide to email or store sensitive files on cloud solutions like Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud. Here’s how to encrypt file on Windows using 7-zip. Although the developers of 7-Zip only officially support Windows, you can download an unofficial version for Mac from KekaOSX.
  • Back up your files. A good backup plan may be the only solution to protect yourself from ransomware or hardware failure. The easiest way to back up your financial documents is to use a cloud backup solution. Most solutions will constantly scan the folders you designate to create an up-to-date backup of your files. Financial documents will almost always be small, scanned files and therefore will not require a large amount of space for backup. Because my “Important Financial Documents” folder is less than 200Mb, I used iDrive’s Free 5Gb solution which offers “256-bit AES encryption using a user-defined key that is not stored anywhere on servers.”

    • Test your backup solution. A backup tool is worthless if you cannot recover your data. Once you’ve successfully chosen and set up your backup solution, attempt to recover your data by retrieving your backup on a different device.

Whether you keep your important financial documents in a safe deposit box or encrypted online, there are definitely pros and cons to each. Now that you understand what it takes to securely store your important financial documents electronically, you are better equipped to make informed decisions on your own document storage strategy.

Guide: How To Securely Store And Share Your Information And Documents

What You Need to Know

There are a variety of different ways you can make sure your family has access to your important documents, accounts, and information. Think about which method would be easiest for you to accomplish, or which method would be easiest for your family to access and use.

Without access to your important documents and information, your family will likely have to locate all of this info on their own, which can be complicated and challenging—and even then, they might not find everything.

By organizing your information and sharing it with your family, you can help them more easily apply for and claim benefits, get through the probate process, close bank accounts, pay any final estate or income taxes, avoid unnecessary charges from ongoing subscriptions, and distribute, sell, or donate any personal items that were not included in your Will, among other things.

Secure Online Storage


Everplans helps you create, organize and securely share important legal, financial and health information in one place so that your family and loved ones can access it when it’s needed. The Everplan platform allows users to create and upload documents such as a will, life insurance, health information, online account info, and even personal funeral wishes. All information is encrypted and securely stored in a vault that allows users to control who sees what information and when.

Offline Storage

Many families find it easiest to save printed copies of various documents and information and keep them in a physical folder in a safe place in the house. We recommend keeping everything—including advance directives, wills, financial information/passwords, and funeral/disposition instructions—all together in a single place, like a locked file cabinet. While this method makes it easy for your family to find everything and doesn’t require much tech knowledge, it’s not the most secure way to store your information.

If you are going to store your information and documents online, here are some tips:

• Organize related information and documents into clearly labeled folders, such as “Life Insurance,” “Credit Cards,” “Utilities,” and other categories.
• Be sure to tell a number of people whom you trust where the documents are stored. You could consider telling your spouse, your adult children, or a professional you work with such as your attorney.
• If your documents are stored in a locked location, make sure that the right people know how to access that location, either by having keys or combinations, or knowing where keys or combinations are stored. If your documents are stored in a locked location, the keys or combinations to access those documents should not be stored in the locked location.
• Do not store your documents and information in a safe deposit box. The bank will likely require your family to get a court order to access the box, which could take a long time.

Planning Insights

Where do you store your important papers and documents? Are they easily accessible in case of an emergency? Do your loved ones know how to get to them if something should happen to you? Here are some tips on what documents you should keep (and where).

Electronic Storage (the cloud)

This is the ideal place to keep copies of original documents listed below as well as electronic copies of items for which you no longer need to maintain paper originals. As a Callahan Financial Planning client, you have your own online vault where you can store electronic copies of all your important papers and retrieve them securely. We recommend that you make and store electronic copies of all your important documents. You can easily upload documents via our secure file upload tool.

Recommended items to store electronically

  • Annual tax returns
  • W-2 forms
  • Medical records
  • Education records
  • Pension plan records
  • Retirement plan records
  • Social Security statements
  • Year-end statements for investments
  • Copies of insurance policies

Your Attorney’s Office

Traditionally, the attorney who drafts your Final Will and Testament will provide storage of the original, signed document. This is important because only the original document (not a copy) is required to be filed with the state upon your death.

Recommended items to store at your attorney’s office

  • Original Final Will and Testament(s)

Fireproof safe in your home

A fireproof safe protects your documents in the case of fire, is easily portable in case of an emergency where you need to leave quickly, and provides easy access to items you might need more regularly, as well as copies of original documents stored elsewhere in more secure locations.

Recommended items to store in your fireproof safe

  • Birth certificates
  • Passports
  • Copy of Will and Final Testament and instructions to locate original
  • Copies of other original documents that you keep in a safety deposit box or with your attorney

Safe Deposit Box

A safe deposit box provides secure, off-site storage for important papers and valuables. This is the ideal place to store items to which you don’t need regular off-hours access.

Recommended items to store in your safe deposit box

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Adoption certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Divorce papers
  • Stock certificates
  • Bond certificates
  • Deeds, mortgages, and bills of sale for real estate
  • Home improvement documentation and receipts
  • Receipts for major purchases – for warranty and insurance purposes
  • Automobile titles
  • Current insurance policies
  • Copy of Will and Final Testament and instructions to locate original
  • Healthcare Directive (living will)
  • Power of Attorney over Healthcare
  • Power of Attorney over Financial Matters
  • Revocable Trust Document(s)
  • Medical and burial instructions
  • Beneficiary directives

Having your important documents organized and stored properly will provide you with peace of mind in case of an emergency and make life easier on your loved ones in case something should happen to you.

Author: Rebecca A. Barnes, CFP®, EA

Rebecca is a tax and financial planning practitioner with Callahan Financial Planning Company, serving clients in San Francisco, Mill Valley, and San Rafael, CA, Omaha and Lincoln, NE and Denver, CO.

Folders & Filing

Even in a world where everything is increasingly paperless, sometimes there’s no substitute for physical records. Folders are an essential part of any business’s office supplies list and help prevent clutter from building up on your desk; keeping all of your vital paperwork organized. Tax records, contracts and insurance certificates are easy to access when you file them properly in a filing system, and pocket folders store class materials like syllabi, exam study questions and homework.

Long-Term File Storage

Law firms, accountants and tax preparers need to store thousands of files for clients and regulatory purposes. File storage boxes have removable lids and heavy-duty cardboard construction so you can keep them indefinitely in a storage room or onsite archive. Plastic file totes are waterproof and keep out pests like mites, moths and silverfish so your most important records remain pristine. Plastic crates with wing lids and locking lids prevent mildew and mold from infiltrating paperwork in damp environments.

File Folders for Quick and Easy Access

Keep all of your surfaces tidy and clean by using an organized file system for work and home. Create customized color-coded systems with colored file folders or keep it simple with manila files. Reinforced tabs won’t rip or tear with frequent handling. Packs with assorted tab positions make it easier to locate specific files in a crowded drawer. Card stock is more resilient for long-term durability.

Sort It with Hanging Files

The gliding convenience of hanging files helps you group similar folders together and ultimately protect your paperwork. Place the plastic tab anywhere on the top and sort your records by client names, months, years and details. Coated hangers on the side allow for easy sliding. If you’re eco-conscious, look for folders made with post-consumer recycled paper.

A Presentation to Remember

Pocket folders keep presentation materials together for current and prospective clients. Laser-cut tabs on internal pockets let you include one or two business cards, so contact info is always close at hand. Plastic folders are reusable and sturdy, so they’re ideal for transporting sensitive documents, photographs or schoolwork. Students may opt for clear or colored plastic folders to store and organize assignments term after term, especially if they need to prevent bending and tearing inside of a backpack or locker. Three-hole presentation folders fit into a binder to keep class work and papers organized. Report covers with clear fronts frame eye-catching graphics for an immediate impression.

Accordion Files Keep Everything Handy

When you need to bring files offsite, or you don’t have enough space in a dorm or apartment for a full-size file cabinet, accordion files have expandable compartments to hold tax records, receipts, escrow documents and contracts. Expanding wallets have elastic cords to keep contents secure while you’re traveling from meeting to meeting.

File Sorters

If you’ve got a stack of paperwork you regularly reference for big accounts or ongoing projects, keep those files easily accessible on your desk with a file sorter. Mesh sorters look modern and fashionable in any office or home and have several compartments for folders and paperwork. Step file sorters have an angled rack to make tabs easier to read. Desk trays have discreet compartments for folders, fliers, portfolios and brochures.

New Year’s is behind us and tax season is here. As you gather all the necessary documents for your taxes, why not take the extra steps to get your files organized? Look at it as a late New Year’s resolution!

The task can seem overwhelming at first, but you will feel so much better once it’s done—trust us. The main reason why people don’t have their files organized is because they don’t know what to keep and for how long. After you finish reading, you won’t be able to use that excuse anymore!

First things first: You’re going to need something to store your papers in. We recommend a filing cabinet, but you can also make do with a box. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—just something that will get the job done.

Now, gather all of your documents. Yes, we mean all of them. Put them into one large pile, roll up your sleeves, and get busy! As you work through the papers, create five different categories:

Keep for 1–3 Months

  • Utility bills
  • Sales receipts for minor purchases
  • ATM and bank deposit slips

Keep for 1 Year

  • Checkbook ledgers
  • Paycheck stubs
  • Monthly mortgage statements
  • Expired insurance records

Keep for 7 Years

  • Bank statements
  • W-2 and 1099 forms
  • Receipts for tax purposes
  • Cancelled checks
  • Disability records
  • Unemployment income stubs
  • Medical bills/claims

Keep Indefinitely

  • Annual tax returns
  • Deeds, mortgages and bills of sale
  • Year-end statements for investments
  • Legal documents (birth certificates, marriage license, divorce papers, passports)
  • Home improvement documentation and receipts
  • Receipts for major purchases—for warranty and insurance purposes
  • Wills
  • Living wills
  • Power of attorney designation
  • Medical and burial instructions
  • Beneficiary directions
  • Real estate certificates
  • Automobile titles
  • Current insurance policies
  • Medical records
  • Education records
  • Pension plan records
  • Retirement plan records


  • Paycheck stubs after reconciling with W-2 form
  • Expired warranties
  • Coupons after expiration date

Next, file each category into a filing cabinet drawer or box. Clearly label what each file contains. Shred any papers that you don’t keep. It may take a little while to go through all your documents, but it’s worth it. Imagine how much less stress you’ll experience thanks to your life becoming more organized!

Lead others to financial peace! It’s easier than you think. Learn how.

Learn about the other documents you should keep and organize in your Legacy Drawer.

If you’re like the average person, you probably have several “unofficial” spots for the various files, papers, and documents that make their way into your life.

Your desk is a likely candidate, as is your kitchen table – and, of course, there’s the very bottom of your backpack, where papers go to die and never be recovered.

Well, prepare to kiss your average-ness – and all of the messes in these places – goodbye.

By channeling the combined spiritual energy of Marie Kondo and Leslie Knope, I have created this guide that will show you how to easily organize all of your files, documents, and papers.

We’ll start things off by figuring out which of your files should actually be on paper (rather than on your computer). Then, we’ll talk about how to organize and process those files using the Three-Location System. Finally, we’ll dig into how you can start to digitize your files.

Let’s get started.

Physical vs. Digital: How Should You Store Your Files?

Look, it’s 2019. We’re not writing down our friends’ phone numbers on Rolodexes anymore, and when the phone company leaves a phone book on our doorsteps today, we angrily tweet at them for destroying the environment.

So… should we even be talking about how to organize physical files? Shouldn’t we all be going paperless?

Well, if you’re anything like me, the answer is “mostly yes”.

Whenever I get a piece of paper, my first instinct is to either:

  1. Recycle it (this happens to most of the mail I get)
  2. Digitize it… and then recycle (or shred) it

I don’t like keeping a whole lot of paper in my life. I’d much rather store all my files in the cloud, where they don’t take up space and can be accessed on all of my devices.

However, there are certain things that just need to be kept around in physical form. So, until we all figure out how to upload our consciousnesses into computers and adopt a fully-simulated existence (assuming we’re not already doing that now – cue X-Files music), here are some documents you should make sure you keep on-hand:

Documents You Need to Keep on Paper

Keep all of these documents in your physical file system:

  • ID documents and passports
  • Birth certificate
  • Social security cards
  • Business licenses (if you have a business)
  • Marriage license (if you’re married)
  • Vehicle titles, loan documents, and registration documents
  • House deeds and mortgage documents
  • Wills and living wills

If you’re a student, you may not have many of these kinds of documents right now; however, you’re likely to acquire some of them in the future, and you’ll want a safe place to keep them.

Additionally, you might want to keep around certain sentimental documents – clippings of newspaper articles you were mentioned in or wrote yourself, extra-special birthday cards, crayon drawings from your little brother – that kind of stuff.

Whatever it is, use the following system for organizing and storing it.

The Three-Location System for Organizing Files

When it comes to organizing physical files, I use a simple system that consists of three locations:

  1. Main file box
  2. Inbox
  3. Portable file folder

There are a couple of other optional locations you can add to your system (which I’ll cover later), but these three will cover the vast majority of your needs.

Main File Box

The main file box is the place where the majority of your physical files should eventually end up (if you’re not going to digitize them).

If you have a lot of papers you need to store, you could buy a multi-drawer filing cabinet for this purpose; however, I find that a single file box is more than enough for me.

This file box is built to store hanging folders, each of which gets a label. Most hanging folders come with labels included.

Now, when you’re creating your structure here, it’s a good idea to try to adhere to the “tree” structure you used for your digital files.

Use each hanging folder as a top-level folder. This might be all you need; if you’re like me, you won’t have a ton of physical files and won’t need to go deeper.

If you do need to go deeper, though, you’ve got a few options. The first is to simply put multiple regular folders within your hanging folders.

I actually do have an example for this; my landlord left an entire file box with the house I’m renting because she is supremely organized (honestly, she should be writing this article instead of me).

Each hanging folder is just a letter of the alphabet; in each one is a folder for each piece of the house – the garage door, security system, refrigerator, etc.

Another method is to use pieces of printer paper as dividers, and then to attach sticky flags to the edges of each one in order to create labels that stick up from the rest of your papers.

You could also use thicker construction paper if you wanted these dividers to feel more substantial than your normal papers.

Adding a sticky flag to a piece of paper creates a useful divider for different types of files.

This method isn’t quite as nice as using folders-within-folders, as that method allows you to take out a specific folder when you need to work with it. It is, however, cheaper – and it takes up less space.


Be honest with me here: When you get a piece of mail that needs to go into your file box, how often do you immediately open up that file box and put it in the correct spot?

I’d wager a guess that it’s not 100% of the time, and that your kitchen table if often used as a convenient place to toss things that will get “dealt with later.”

Here’s the thing: This is fine. You probably shouldn’t be opening up your file box and finding the exact folder for each file you get at the exact moment you get it. It’s a lot more efficient to have a specific time blocked out for processing all of your unorganized files, mail, cryptic messages written in cut-out magazine letters and nailed to your door, etc.

However, your kitchen table does not deserve to be a dumping ground for all of these things in the mean time. That is a job for your Inbox.

An inbox is a simple tray (or stack of trays if you want to get fancy) that sits on your desk. Whenever you get something that needs to be processed later, you put it in the inbox. There it will wait for processing.

At least once a week, go through everything in the inbox and decide what needs to be done with each piece – deal with it (if it represents a task, like a water bill), digitize it, recycle it, or put it into your main file system.

Portable File Folder

The final piece of your physical file organization puzzle is the one that travels with you.

When you’re out of the house and away from your file box and inbox, you still need some way to store with any papers you get at work, class, or from that guy outside your local coffee shop holding his “The End is Nigh” sign.

Now, depending on the type of work you do and classes you attend, your portable file folder can function as either a portable inbox (which you clear on a regular basis) or a mini file box that actually holds papers for a significant amount of time.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t have any physical papers that you need to carry with you. You might carry a physical notebook (maybe you’re a bullet journal user) or a novel, but you’re not actually carrying worksheets and other papers.

If that’s the case, then I recommend keeping a single folder in your bag and using it as a portable inbox. This gives you a safe place to temporarily store any papers you get while you’re out and about, and it doesn’t take up much space.

When you get home each day, you can move any papers and end-of-the-world pamphlets you received to your main file box, your inbox, or the recycle bin.

But what if you’re a student who needs to carry around assignments and handouts?

Or what if you’re a high-powered, slick-haired business person who needs to carry around, ya know, business papers?

“You know, uh, my papers, uh, my business papers.” -The Dude

If this is the case, then a single folder probably isn’t going to cut the mustard. (Actually, the edge of a folder is more than capable of cutting mustard – but I digress)

Instead, look at getting a portable accordion folder (I recommend this one from Five Star). These come in tons of different designs, from ones that just have a close-able flap to ones that zip up and have built-in tabs for labels.

All of these have one thing in common: They give you several folders in one slim, compact package, which means they act as a portable file box that you can work out of.

You can easily separate and organize all the different papers for your classes or Very Important Business Deals, and unlike old-school binders with a hard spine, they expand or contract based on how much you’re carrying.

Optional File Locations

The Three-Location System will most likely be all you need for the vast majority of your files, especially if you decide to start digitizing most of them. However, there are a few potential exceptions. Here I’m going to cover a couple that you may want to consider.

Manuals Box

One type of physical “file” that I almost never digitize are product manuals. I have manuals for my lawn mower, digital piano, camera, and various other things I’ve bought. These are often pretty thick, so they’d take up a lot of space in my main file box if I tried to store them there.

That’s why I also have a “manuals box”. In my case, it’s just a cardboard box in my basement where I store the manuals for the things I buy. It’s not very organized. Whenever I buy something and think I should keep the manual, I just toss it in the box.

Of course, you can be organized with your manuals box – in fact, my landlord’s file box is, indeed, a hyper-organized manuals box. When I eventually own my own home, I’ll be building a similarly organized manuals box.

For now, though, the number of manuals I own is small enough that a single box – without folders – works just fine.

Remember, sometimes over-optimizing one tiny part of your life takes so much time that your life in general becomes less optimized.

Safety Deposit Box

For your very sensitive documents, man. Safety deposit boxes can be rented at most banks for a yearly fee, which can vary from bank to bank and location to location.

There are also companies that focus only on safety deposit boxes, and you might find them to be cheaper. One that I found here in Denver rents small boxes for $125 a year.

Personally, I don’t use a safety deposit box. For important documents, I have backup scans. However, I also live in a house where I feel my documents are fairly secure.

At other times during my life, though, I lived in dorm rooms with roommates who would often leave the door unlocked – or wide open. If you’re an a similarly insecure living situation, a safety deposit box might be a wise investment.

How to Go Paperless: Digitize Your Physical Files

To round out this guide, I want to talk about something that’s even better than properly storing and organizing your paper files; namely, digitizing them and then removing the physical versions from your life.

That’s right: It’s time to adopt the (mostly) paperless lifestyle.

Digitization is the process of scanning your physical files and turning them into electronic images or PDFs. From there, you can easily slot them into your beautifully-constructed computer folder system, where they:

  • No longer take up any space in your home or backpack
  • Can be backed up and rendered invulnerable to fires, bullies, or escaped zoo gorillas
  • Are searchable (if you save them as PDFs, or…well, read on.)

Personally, I try to digitize almost every paper I get. Unless I’m dealing with a thick product manual (and can’t find a PDF online to replace it), it takes very little time to digitize a paper.

This is especially true now that almost everyone has an ultra-high-resolution camera built into their phone. In the past, the only easy ways to digitize papers were to either buy a scanner or go down to a Kinko’s or Staples and scan documents there.

Now, you can just use your phone – which means you can digitize handouts, receipts, and other papers wherever you are.

Additionally, if you’re using the right app, you can automatically send your scans into your file system.

Here’s how I digitize my files. First, I’ll note that for the most part I prefer to send all my scans into my Evernote account rather than my actual file system. If you’ve taken my productivity systems course (which is free using that link), you might know that I use Evernote as a second brain.

A scanned document in Evernote. Here, the text is searchable, and the entire document can be tagged and annotated.

All of my article research, book notes, recipes, journal entries, and other ideas go into Evernote. (Note that there are other options – Check out our Top 10 Note-Taking Apps in 2019 list to see the best ones.)

Since Evernote’s UI allows me to see the contents of an individual note right next to all my notes and notebooks (instead of forcing me to open things up in a separate program), I find it to be a much more efficient place to store ideas. That’s why I choose to send scans there as well.

There’s another reason, though – Evernote makes your scans searchable, even if they’re images.

I tend to upload my scans as PDFs, but you can also add pictures into Evernote and its optical character recognition algorithm will allow you to search any text in them (even if it’s handwriting).

The Best Document Scanner App

With all that being said, I actually don’t use Evernote’s built-in scanning tool to digitize the papers that I get.

Instead, I use an app called Scanbot (iOS | Android).

Scanbot does a great job at automatically detecting the edges of most documents.

I’ve found that Scanbot’s ability to quickly detect the edges of a piece of paper (or business card, or receipt, or a Magic: The Gathering card) is much better than Evernote’s, and you’re also able to scan multiple pages at once – when you’re done, the app can stitch them into a single PDF.

These features make scanning much faster, but there’s another reason I like Scanbot so much: The automatic upload feature.

Within the app’s settings, you can choose a destination to which all new scans will be automatically uploaded. Destinations include:

  • Evernote (the one I use)
  • Google Drive
  • Dropbox
  • OneDrive
  • OneNote
  • Lots more, even including FTP and WebDAV

Moreover, you can choose a specific upload folder or notebook for most destinations. In Evernote, I’ve set mine to a notebook called !INBOX, which is also the place where I create most new text notes (I’ve named it with a “!” symbol so it sits at the top of my notebook list).

Scanbot does have one significant drawback: The Pro version has become quite expensive in recent months.

As a result, I’m planning on testing other scanning apps in the near future and updating this guide with a new recommended pick. In the mean time, here are some alternatives that you may want to look into:

  • Adobe Scan – iOS | Android
  • Microsoft Office Lens – iOS | Android – also built into OneNote
  • Evernote Scannable – iOS-only. I used to use this, but got annoyed when it started logging me out every few weeks.
  • CamScanner – iOS | Android
  • Google Drive for Android includes a built-in document scanner. The iOS version doesn’t include this.

Note: If you’re using a document scanner app that sends scans to Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox, or some other cloud-synced app, then your digitized files will be reasonably backed up. However, you should make sure that they are. If your scans only exist on a single computer hard drive, they could be lost in an instant if that hard drive fails.

Create an “Inbox” Folder on Your Computer

I want to make one final note on digitization: If you choose to upload your digitized files to your computer’s native folder system, instead of an app like Evernote, then it might be a good idea for you to create an “Inbox” folder on your computer.

Some people actually use a digital Inbox folder just like a physical inbox, saving all new files to it and then relocating them later on. I don’t do this for a couple of reasons:

  1. Most of my frequently-accessed folders are pinned to my Quick Access sidebar, so opening them doesn’t take much time.
  2. A lot of my work involves video editing, and video projects are full of footage, images, music and other documents. Changing the file locations for those assets can break a project.

However, using an Inbox folder for your automatic scan uploads is a really good idea, because it allows you to scan a document in seconds and move on with your life. You don’t want to be standing around in the grocery store, digging through folders in Google Drive in order to find the right one for that receipt your just scanned.

Instead, sit down once a week and process the inbox folder, just as you would do with a physical inbox. This is exactly what I do with my !INBOX notebook in Evernote as well.

When you work this way, you efficiently batch all your sorting tasks, removing as much friction as possible from the multiple times during the week when you might choose to scan a document.

Shred Sensitive Documents

Now, once you’ve digitized a document, you’re probably going to want to get rid of the paper version. You’ve got several options for doing this:

  • Recycle it – this is the best option for most things.
  • Throw it away – if you want to prove that “End is Nigh” guy right and harm the planet.
  • Burn it – check your local fire laws and current bans, and don’t burn glossy stuff! Here’s a guide if you really want to do this.
  • Eat it – if you’re a goat, you’ve already done this.

However, you should know that certain unsavory characters have been known to dig through trash and recycle bins, looking for paper that contains personal information they can steal. Don’t let your personal information fall into the hands of these unscrupulous opportunists.

Whenever you digitize anything containing account numbers, your social security number, financial data, or other personal information, make like a Ninja Turtle villain and shred it afterwards.

I use a cross-cut shredder, which is more secure than a basic strip-cut shredder since it cuts paper into small pieces instead of long strips that can easily be pasted back together (the American Embassy in Tehran learned this the hard way back in the 1970s and 80s).

It’s not too expensive, and you can keep it in a sort of always-on mode so that it instantly starts shredding when you feed in a piece of paper. And it’s definitely less work than dealing with having your information stolen! Speaking of that, you might want to listen to our podcast episode on digital security practices as well.

Organization is a Long-Term Process

As you’re probably aware, simply setting up a system for organizing your files isn’t enough: you have to actually use it.

Once you’ve finished implementing everything from this guide, make sure you actually take the time to properly organize new documents when you get them. Put them in your inbox or portable file system right away, then process them on a regular basis.

Additionally, it can be helpful to have a schedule task – once every 3-4 months, say – to go through your file system and make sure it’s working order. If anything is out of place, put it back in its place.

This process will help keep “entropy” (or chaos) from creeping into your file system – ensuring that you always know where everything is.

If you want to get even more organized, check out these articles:

  • How to Create a Great Study Space (With Examples)
  • How to Take Better Notes: The 6 Best Note-Taking Systems
  • How to Easily Stay Organized and Productive in College
  • How the Bullet Journal Can Make You a More Productive Student
  • Want to Be More Organized? Do These 9 Things