How to Use a Scanner to Get Organized

Digitizing paper documents can be a huge help

Person using a flatbed scanner

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Digitizing paper documents can be a huge help when it comes to organizing your home office (or your home). Digital files, even PDFs, can be converted into searchable files with the use of optical character recognition (OCR) software that typically comes with your printer. That means not only is your information not taking up any room, it's also much easier to find. And you can save your digital files however you like—on CD or DVD, on a flash drive, in an online storage facility, or all of the above. We show you how to do it below.

How to Use a Scanner to Get Organized

Here are some steps you can take to organize your business or home using a scanner. Of course, you need at least a document scanner if you're going to make this work. It needn't be expensive or fancy. If you don't have one, now's a good time to look for one; start with these reviews of photo scanners and document scanners for some best buys.

If you don't want a separate scanner, an inexpensive all-in-one printer will do the job perfectly well.

  1. Go through all of your paperwork and decide what you're going to digitize and what you can safely toss.

    This will likely take some time, so be patient. Work in small increments if needed.

  2. Before you begin digitizing your files, create folders and subfolders to store them in. Think about the categories you need, and set up a folder for each. Put credit card receipts in one folder, car insurance paperwork in another. Phone bills, grocery receipts, home repair bills, and so on can all be given separate folders. And within each folder, create subfolders for each year (or month). It's a lot easier to start off with an organized system and add new paperwork to the right file than it is to keep trying to rearrange the system each time a new receipt gets scanned.

    To create a new folder in Windows, just right-click on the desktop and choose New > Folder. Repeat the step while inside the new folder to create a subfolder.

    To create a new folder in Mac, select File > New Folder, or press Shift-Command-N.

  3. Make sure your scanner or printer came with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. This lets you scan documents into PDF format and edit them. There's a good chance you already have some decent OCR software already installed on your computer, as long as you're using Windows. If you don't have it installed, ABBYY FineReader and Adobe Acrobat Pro DC are popular choices.

  4. It's time to scan your documents. Exactly how you do this depends on the type of scanner and software you're using.

    Lifewire has guides for scanning documents on Windows and Mac.

  5. Once you're done digitizing your documents, keep on top of the physical paperwork. Getting the system set up is time-consuming but it's not too tricky. What's hard is making sure you automatically do it each time you get new receipts or paperwork. Otherwise, the papers will start to pile up again, and you'll feel as though you've been wasting your time. So stick with it!