I've lived in 4 countries, studied in 3 universities, had around 5-6 jobs, got multiple visas and had a naturalization application. Needless to say I had to deal with tons of paperwork, and keep it all organized. Apartment and work contracts, bank statements, applications, you name it. In the beginning I used to keep all my paperwork in folders, and I had a good organization system. I could find any document I needed very quickly among my folders. But over the years I accumulated a lot of paperwork, and it looked ridiculous on my shelf. It was also the time when Dropbox and Google Drive were gaining popularity, and I realized I had to take advantage of that.

The key is to realize that most of the documents you have don't need to be in paper form, they're perfectly fine being digital. Especially if a document isn't signed, the paper form has no value - old contracts, bank statements, etc. A lot of places nowadays also accept digital copies of contracts, and you can even sign contracts digitally, so your paper footprint should be even less. So now by default if I receive a document or a letter, I scan it, store it in my Google Drive, and throw it away. But there are things you shouldn't throw away:

  • Important documents, such as birth certificate, passports, etc. No way I'm throwing away my naturalization certificate!
  • Signed documents. However, in my experience most old contracts are usually safe to scan and throw away.
  • Diplomas and certificates. You'll be unlikely required to show originals, but they be hard to restore if lost. One could also argue for their sentimental values.

However, if you're not throwing away a document, it doesn't mean you shouldn't scan and store it. It's always a good idea to have a digital backup of a document for safety. It also comes in handy when you quickly need to send a copy somewhere, whether digital or print.

When I was sorting out my paper pile, I noticed that a big source of paper is new bank, credit card, and insurance contracts: you're loaded with information brochures, prinouts of terms and conditions, etc. Those can safely be scaned and thrown away - they're usually printouts from some files available on internet. But be sure to keep the signed papers, such as account opening agreements.

In my next post I'll talk about what folder structure I have to organize my documents on Google Drive.

Here's the document pile I scanned and threw away after a bit more than half a year in Switzeland, it's quite a lot!

Swiss documents pile

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