How to Digitize Your Way to a Decluttered Home and Mind

cluttered desk - digitize your way to an uncluttered home and mind

Everyone has their reasons for going paperless: do a favor for the environment, declutter the home, clear the mind… but what’s perhaps most compelling is the freedom that can be gained by releasing ourselves from the bondage of our belongings.

By scanning all our paper and digitizing all our CD and DVD collections we cut a good chunk of crap out of our lives, leaving us with the necessary stuff like last Halloween’s banana costume or that trophy collection growing cobwebs in a dark corner of the closet…

OK, first things first… tackling the easy things to get rid of. Easy because we’re not technically getting rid of anything, just transforming it into a digital copy. A copy that doesn’t take up any physical space, stays neatly organized, can’t get lost and doesn’t collect dust!

Going paperless

Sort through all your paper items (or non-paper items that have a horizontal surface)—documents, receipts, notes, photos, letters, books, magazines, film—and decide which you want to keep a digital record of and which you don’t. Bear in mind that some items (books and magazines) will take a long time to individually scan unless you want to cut the binding and feed them through an auto-scanner.

Scan all the items that you want to keep. If you don’t have one, borrow a friend’s scanner that does two-sided scanning and has an auto document feeder so you can just drop the pages in, hit a button and walk away. The HP Scanjet 5590 is one such model and also happens to be a flatbed, which will come in handy when scanning oddly shaped items.

Save all your digital copies into easily accessible files. You could save your photos chronologically into a single PDF photo album using Adobe Acrobat or choose to save the files individually, but group them into folders based on date or theme.

Backup all your files. This point can’t be stressed enough. If your home was on fire the first thing you’d likely want to save are your photos since memories can’t be reproduced (unless you have all bad memories, in which case let them burn). Now that you’re tossing out all your old physical memories in exchange for digital, keep at least two backups of them all. Backup one set to an external hard drive or USB drive and another to the cloud. Services like Google Drive or Amazon S3 are easy to use and offer free storage. If you have sensitive documents (or racy photos!) keep those back from the cloud as some of those services (notably Dropbox for one) have been known to expose users’ passwords or otherwise leak information from the cloud.

Reuse whatever you can. You can cut up old magazines to make interesting artwork (or ransom notes!) or you can use photographs (and even film) to make photo collages. Some people collect old magazines so if they’re worth anything you could try selling them on eBay, otherwise you can just give them away.

Recycle the rest. Bear in mind that most paper is OK, but photographic film generally is not OK to recycle.


Rip your CDs and DVDs to your hard drive using a program like Nero.

Save all your files (and don’t just name them file1, file2…) then organize them logically so you can easily find them.

Keep a log of your collection by either typing them out into a document or if you’re naming your files and folders correctly you could just do a screenshot of your directory structure using a program like Evernote or Windows’ built-in Snipping tool.

Back them all up as previously mentioned. Note that these files will be a lot larger than the paper documents so you might not want to upload them to the cloud unless you’re prepared to drop some cash on storage. Storage plans are rather cheap, but with the size of CDs and DVDs that space gets expensive fast.

Sell your collection. Aside from your photos, this may be the hardest thing to part with. But just as with your photo albums, think about how often you use each and every one of your discs. They’re just taking up extra space and besides someone else can benefit from them, meaning you can actually make something from selling them. Try selling them through a service like eBay or craigslist. And once you’ve sold them you won’t have a physical collection you’ll feel compelled to add to, which means less consumption, less waste, less clutter and less spending.

by Kiva Bottero

Image credit: Daria Obymaha

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