09/18/2012 02:35 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2012

Going Paperless: The Best Technology For De-Cluttering And Organizing


Everyone has a clear picture of what they aspire to have in life -- summer in the Seychelles, the corner office, a closet full of Choos. Me? I dream of long stretches of clutter-free countertops, with no sign of the paper piles that used to inhabit them.

Given all the bills, statements, manuals, letters, to-dos, shopping lists and junk mail that cover nearly every surface in our homes, it can feel like the most unattainable task. After all, throwing it all in a filing cabinet creates more problems than it solves, and throwing it all out (though it would be quite satisfying) will just cause problems down the road.

Instead, we can utilize our everyday gadgets and adopt some clever yet simple apps, tools and habits to move toward going paperless. In the hands of those that are paperless-ambitious, personal computers, scanners and smartphones become powerful tools for storing and retrieving information that typically lives on paper, or in your (sometimes forgetful) brain.

And now, thanks to the cloud, space is no longer a concern, so you can store everything without worrying about running out of room. It's the largest filing cabinet imaginable -- and accessible from any device, so no need to worry about leaving behind that grocery list, accidentally erasing the mechanic's number or losing those living room measurements ever again.

First, you'll need a scanner to turn your piles into digital files.

You might have one of those printers that's also a scanner and a fax machine, which works well for this task.

Also consider a personal scanner like the ones from Doxie and ScanSnap. They're easy to keep at arm's reach on your desk or even to pack for a business trip and come with great software that will deliver your digital files to different destinations like your contact manager, an email, a spreadsheet, your cloud storage or photo management software.

Next, select your filing cabinet, the home for all your paper-turned-digital.

I use Evernote to store everything -- its clever system of notes and notebooks makes it easy to save, organize and retrieve PDFs, photos, notes, to-do lists and even voice notes and web clippings. The text-recognition feature makes all your data easily "searchable," so you can recall the most detailed information with just one clue.

Also, Dropbox works really well for documents, and acts like a cloud-version of your hard drive -- you can store up to 2 GB for free, and a paid version offers even more space.

Now, go to town.

Okay, now that you've got the scanner and the storage system set up, nothing is safe: Class rosters, invitations, recipes, receipts, photos, statements, instruction manuals... when in doubt, scan. Remember, it takes up very little space, so no need to be stingy.

We've only just begun to tackle the paper piles, and this stuff doesn't get done in a day. But if you keep at it, you'll make a dent and start to see some countertop space before you know it. Just think -- now that you don't have to comb through piles to find information, you might free up enough time to take a trip -- Seychelles, anyone?