Sort and scan all your documents before moving to India

2 Annas was legal tender in Bihar, 1945 PHOTO: Inherited document from 1945 in unknown language

You think you have too many files? Don’t challenge me – I have documents from the early 1900s. My father got it from his mother and I got it from him. And that’s just my fathers side. My mother has evolved a philosophy about this – you don’t know when you’ll need it again so best to save it. Yes, my family has been at this for generations. I had to put an end to it – my imaginary children could not inherit a mountain of paperwork from another century.

You will need

Your pile of documents, computer, document scanner, shredding bins at work, Jack Daniels, ice, patience

Step 1 – Privacy

Separate the paperwork that has confidential or personal information (the PRIVATE pile) from all the others (the GENERAL pile). This could include social security numbers, bank account information, skinny dipping pictures, etc.

You will need about 3-5 glasses of JD to do this over a weekend. The buzz will make you stuff most things in the ‘General’ pile keeping the ‘Private’ pile to a minimum. This is a good thing unless…

Step 2 – order a document scanner on amazon

For all the paperwork in the PRIVATE pile, you will need a document scanner at home. I tried 2 of them:

1. Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300  – You can put a stack of 5 – 10 sheets and it will scan the whole thing at once. Additionally, it can scan both sides of each sheet, straighten pages, remove blank ones, and save as PDF. Pretty damn good and reduces overall work significantly. I loved it expect for the price.

2. Pentax/Brother DSMobile Scanner – This one is slim and meant for travel. It scans only 1 side of 1 page at a time although you can combine many pages into a single PDF. It’s a lot more work than the Fujitsu but its $150 cheaper and significantly smaller.

Step 3 – Scan the general pile

You should never use office equipment for personal work. Except this once. The fancy big ass printer/scanner/rocket that you have in the corner is going to be faster and easier to use than anything you will purchase for your private pile.

Ask your company’s network geek to show you how to scan documents on it. Scan a work related document to see how it works. As soon as he/she turns his/her back, bring out your GENERAL pile of paperwork and get to work. Your printer/scanner should allow you to scan large stacks at once saving you a whole lot of time and JDs. If you have the option of using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology when you scan, use it.

Folder structure and file names

You will need to come up with a folder structure to keep your files. This will probably be the same for your PRIVATE and GENERAL pile. An example:

My documents/Money
My documents/Money/Taxes
My documents/Legal/Wills

You will also need a file naming convention to follow so that you can easily find it using Windows Search later. An example:

2010 Mark Smith – Federal Tax Return 1040A
1923 Mary Smith – Last will and healthcare proxy


Do not drink JDs while doing this. If your boss comes to collect his print outs, it’ll be hard to explain that the letter from your first girlfriend is work related if you are drunk.

Step 4 – Scan the private pile

You should have received the scanner in the mail by now. And you have a folder structure and file naming convention going. Do the same that you did at work, except with the PRIVATE pile and using your scanner. You should NEVER use the office scanner for these documents because their hard drives save everything that is scanned. A bored network administrator can easily find all of your documents even if you ‘delete’ it from the printer’s web console.

Drink as many JDs as you can here. You are almost done and the JDs will help comfort the frustration of doing such tedious work.

Step 5 – Test

Scanning the documents has the obvious benefit of less weight. The bigger benefit is that you can easily find your documents now. Try using the Windows Search tool to find your documents. If you have used Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, windows should even look for words within the contents of the files.

If you found the files using search

Congratulations, you now have all of your paperwork in electronic format

If you did not find your files using search

You’ve just wasted several days of your life. Drink up and turn on the TV.

Step 6 – Discard documents

Most offices have shredder bins. Its easiest to drop off all documents that need to be discarded in these bins. All the paper shredders that I bought from Staples heat up and are quite useless.

Step 7 – Save some originals

Some documents will need to be saved in their original form even after scanning – birth certificate, passport, marriage certificate, etc. I recommend buying a fireproof box when you get to India and storing the small pile in it.

Congratulations – you’ve just lost _______________ pounds of stuff!

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