Going Paperless - 3. The Old Stuff

So, having stopped creating new paper, and finding the right tools to get a paperless office in order, it's time to look at those filing cabinets.

This is difficult to admit, but I'm not the most emotionally intelligent person in the world. I've had to learn late in my adulthood to identify and understand my emotions - and frankly, I am often surprised by what might be somewhat rudimentary for others.

A prime example was my unexplained attachment to about 12 linear feet of paper-files. My graduate school experience was mostly comprised of hanging out in the basements of libraries, my cargo-pants loaded with rolls of nickels. I'd collect bound journals, and start copying. On one occasion, I asked the librarian to refill the paper TWICE in one day. I then found some labels for my dot-matrix printer, and created labels for each article.

I've shlepped that corpus of files all over the country. Every time I've moved, including to and from Hawai'i, I've boxed those files up, found new file cabinets, and carefully put them back in order. I'm sad to say that I really only went back to them on VERY rare occasions - but I took them with me wherever I went.

When I decided to go paperless, I found it very difficult to part with these files. As I tried to understand why I couldn't let them go, I realized that I had invested a great deal of time (and nickels) into gathering them - and while I knew that I could find all of them (and more) online, I discovered that I had an emotional attachment to those files.

I got over it - they've all been recycled - but I discovered that we tend to keep stuff for more reasons than "I might need it one day." Like Costanza's overfilled wallet of receipts, we tend to think of "stuff" as "friends."

So in looking at the old stuff in the file cabinet, it's likely important to confess the emotional attachment to the stuff inside - it makes letting it all go a little easier if one can account for the feelings that are associated with our old friends.

Parsing Files

Not everything gets scanned - some of it can be recycled. Here's how I classified the stuff in my filing cabinets so that I could save time and digital space in scanning my old files...

Vitals (Scan and Keep) - The following are scanned into Evernote, but also kept in paper-form

  1. Government issued documents - I scanned birth certificates, marriage licenses, passports, titles, deeds, and state-issued licenses.
  2. Gradebooks - Most institutions require that gradebooks are kept forever. Nowadays, my gradebooks are all digital - but I decided to scan my old paper ones and keep the books in my files as well.
  3. Vital Records - Wills, living wills, divorce decrees, and powers of attorney
  4. Recent Versions Of - Insurance policies, retirement statements, social security statements. Keep only the most recent versions of these, and destroy the older versions.

Necessaries (Scan and Recycle) - The following are scanned into Evernote, and then the paper is shredded and/or recycled

  1. Records - You should have a records policy, especially if you operate any external grants. For example, on the external grants I am responsible for, things must be kept for three years after a grant cycle is complete. 2 CFR Part 200.335 allows for any federal grant to keep digital records "whenever practicable" so long as there are "reasonable safeguards" against alteration.
  2. Personnel Records - Frankly, some institutions prefer that these be housed ONLY in Human Resources. But if you are likely to keep records, they can all be digitized and shredded.
  3. Student Product - I've always kept specific artifacts from students in each class (a final exam, the final paper, etc.) to have some record for program evaluation. Once these are scanned, it makes a lot of sense to shred and recycle them.
  4. Institutional Receipts - Check with your financial office. Mine requires that I be able to produce a receipt from the previous fiscal year if requested - anything before that can be destroyed without scanning. Original receipts are not required if one can produce an electronic version
  5. Personal Receipts - Ask your tax-man what he wants you to be able to produce. Original receipts are not required if one can produce an electronic version.
  6. Unpublished Personal Work - I've kept some of my papers from graduate school and seminary in digital form, and discarded the paper. Who knows, my grandchildren may one day want to know my thoughts on the trade-incentives for Iceland's conversion to Christianity.
  7. Attaboys - I've some cards that I received from students, colleagues, or family that I kinda wanted to keep. I scanned them, and then discarded the originals.

Non-Essentials (Recycle Only) - The following do not get scanned, the paper is shredded and recycled

  1. Old Institutional Records - If your institution or department's records policy states that records can be destroyed, they should be destroyed. I learned the hard way that keeping old records that are older than the records policy presents some liability in an A-133 audit - if you have it, they can test it. It's also a good idea to expunge electronic records according to your institution's records policy as well.
  2. The 12 Linear Feet - Oh, this was hard - but I said goodbye to my good friends. I threw out anything that was published (academic or otherwise). So far, I've not been sorry yet.
  3. Unnecessary Student Artifacts - Quizzes, Midterm exams, minor papers, and homework assignments went to the shredder without the warm glow of the scanner.
  4. Manuals - I found a manual for my old IBM 8088 computer. Maybe I should have checked whether that was collectible before I chucked it. Hmmmm.
  5. Old Contact Information - Let's face it, a phone number on a yellowed piece of paper from 20 years ago may no longer be useful. Plus, you can likely ask the person for updated contact info on Facebook. You say they're NOT on Facebook? They don't want to talk to you anyways, then.

Full Disclosure

When I was in seminary, I took notes for 8 hours a day for three years (summer included). The result is a series of about 16 2-inch binders with all of my notes in them. I'm not going to scan them, and I am not going to throw them away. I decided that I am quite comfortable with a little nostalgia. Also, I'm no Philistine.

Discarding Old Files

When throwing out old files, whether they were scanned or not, it's a really good idea to shred them before recycling them. I initially started shredding stuff myself - but that took a lot of time, and it was really messy. I finally decided to pay to have my old stuff shredded and recycled - it was a great decision. Not only was it easier, but I also learned that the service I used CROSS-shreds, which means that they turn your paper into little quarter-inch squares. It's super secure. I still have a shredder that I use for small jobs - but if you've boxes of stuff that need to be shredded and recycled, consider paying someone else to do it.

Scanning Services

I didn't try having my stuff scanned by professionals - and I'm not sure I would have in retrospect. One of my colleagues, however, used a service that collected his boxes of files, scanned them, stored the files on a cloud so that he could get them, and then shredded and recycled the paper. It was a little expensive, but he believes this was the best way to go. Once I pared down the vitals and necessaries, I discovered that I had a lot less to scan than I thought I would. 

Image Credit: http://bit.ly/1H0ahof

Posted on June 18, 2015 and filed under General, Evernote.