Paper hasn’t always been around. In fact, the wood-based pulp used ubiquitously today only came into production during the 19th century. Every year since then, tons (literally) of paper is created, consumed, recycled, wasted, or used to scribble passing thoughts without…well, a passing thought. In some doctor offices, physical records are still a way of life. To others, paper is an epidemic rearing its ugly head in the form of valpak or Red Plum circulars. (Those packets of coupons drive me nuts!) Some think eBooks are ruining paper’s true purpose–literary art, while others opt into credit card e-statements with zeal. It’s clear that paper has become an easy way to document and transmit endless amounts of information. In becoming more intentional with all my possessions, I realized I had a pulp problem of my own.
There’s no doubt we all have pertinent documents and information which must be maintained. For example, I keep a hard copy of my birth certificate, passport, social security card, and insurance cards. The physical document holds credibility in which an electronic copy does not. But in my quest to go paperless, I realized that wasn’t always the case. In fact, a large majority of the information I maintained was difficult to share, existed as a single copy, hard to transmit safely, and lacking organization. Whats more, the majority of information could be thinned out and recycled with little repercussion. In that moment, I launched a paper-eliminating campaign!
If I asked you how you maintain important documents, what would you say? A few months ago, I would’ve admitted to disarray. The best way to describe my information storage would’ve been “geographic diversification”. Which is really just another way of saying my important papers were everywhere. I had some transcripts in a drawer, another folder for my school work, bills laying around that I needed to pay, and a smattering of resumes and cover letters decorated my laptop background. Don’t even get me started with my computer files. What the hell was in My Documents anyway? I began looking for a solution to this clutter.
Enter Google Drive
Launched in 2012, Google Drive is a cloud-based file storage and synchronization service available to anyone with a Google account. I was first introduced to Drive while at university as many group projects often required a one-stop shop for files and online co-working. Before Drive, I worked on Dropbox–a current competitor along with Microsoft’s OneDrive, but neither of these struck me as useful or as friendly as the Google alternative.
If you’re not familiar, Google Drive very similar to File Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac), but with many more advantages. It allows users to upload folders, images, and a variety of file types in a format they’re used to seeing. Google Drive made it easy for me to paperless. I was able to organize files, upload scans of important documents, view it across devices, share with others, and sleep easily knowing my information is backed-up. Below are some of the many features and advantages of using Google Drive in your own paper elimination campaign.
Interface | Using Drive is seamless; transitioning from File Explorer or Finder should be intuitive. One great advantage is color coding folders for quick and easy recognition. Also, you can view folders and files in both a grid and detail format much like your hard drive storage. Lastly, I really enjoy the right-click menu which actually provides workable options within the browser.
Accessibility | Moving away from paper is one step in this process, but don’t simply save files to your laptop computer and call it done.. Being a cloud-based service, Drive is able to integrate with a variety of devices and provide very comprehensive accessibility no matter where you go. With Drive, I can access my files from the web, my desktop computer (via File Explorer or Finder), my mobile device, or any internet connection at my local library. This is a major advantage over simply digitizing your paper documents and letting them sit on a home computer.
Applications | In addition to being a file repository, Google has developed applications which generate common document types within Drive. They offer Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. These applications offer similar functionality as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, respectively. They have also integrated Google Forms and Google Maps. The former allows me to develop surveys and questionnaires while I use the latter for trip planning. In doing so, I’ve eliminated my need to pay for a Microsoft Office subscription all together. For the majority of folks, these free tools work just fine!
Collaboration | The cloud gives way to another remarkable benefit. Much like my group projects in college, having a single-source for all data is critical when working together. Displaying real-time file updates, people can collaborate on documents from all corners of the globe. Both folders and individual files can be shared internally through Drive or via a URL to the world. This makes it easy to send your information to who you want, when you want.
Redundancy | No one enjoys losing their data. As a photographer, I’ve long been concerned with external hard drives, cloud storage, and redundancy. We all hold different memories near, and hope they are around until we decide otherwise. Unfortunately, we all know accidents happen. And fires happen too. Equally as painful, I know plenty of folks who had their laptops stolen at home or on the road. With could-based storage, you provide your data in exchange for a multi-server, geographically-distributed back-up service courtesy of Google.
Offline Functionality | An extension of access and redundancy, Drive’s offline capabilities have served me well over the past few years. After downloading and installing the Drive desktop application, I am able to view my files in File Explorer in addition to online or on my phone. In other words, I’m seeing Drive in a format I’m already accustomed (see below).
When I make changes to my Drive files through my PC, the files will be updated during my next WiFi connection. For example, I never have internet access while flying or taking most transit. While en route, I’ll often write in Notepad, save them to Drive, and have it sync across the cloud next time I connect. Using this desktop application means all files are stored locally on my laptop–so if Google did experience a catastrophic meltdown, my data is protected.
In addition to the desktop application, Drive’s mobile app provides excellent offline capabilities as well. Within the phone application, you can navigate to specific files–say a copy of your passport–and toggle it for offline access. I often do this for travel documents, flight itineraries, or any piece of information I desire access to regardless of phone data coverage.
Performance | Maintaining a paper copy is archaic. Adopting this methodology will usher in a huge performance increase–both in your devices and your sanity. From a technology standpoint, decreasing storage on a laptop or phone will markedly improve processing times. Since converting to Drive, I’ve been able to free up a large amount of space on my laptop. Gone are the days of keeping stacks of paper under my bed or in a drawer. I never waste time sifting through documents or worried about losing anything.
Security | The documents we hold onto are by definition important to us, and therefore carry a sense of attachment. To simply part with them and release it to the electronic universe may seem unsettling. Depending on how personal the data is, I may agree with you. Without going too far down the Big Brother rabbit hole, the information you share with the world is up to you; anything beyond internal thoughts are public. The vast majority of information I upload to Drive is simply for my reference and personal interest. It carries virtually no personal data. Simply placing a copy of your 2011 tax returns under your mattress does not make it “safe”. The term safety is relative and should be thought of as more of a spectrum than anything.
Get Out of Park–Put It in Drive!
By now, I hope I’ve made a great case for Google Drive, or at the very least inspired you to build upon your favorite cloud-based storage method. As you continue in your minimalism journey, you’ll notice that many of these principles build on themselves–the snowball effect, if you will. Once you digitize much of your paper problem, you’ll be far less hesitant in accepting physical documents altogether. As you digitize your papers, be mindful of what is worth saving, and what isn’t. This is an opportunity to be selective.
Personally, I began by uploading my laptop files to Drive. This involved me reorganizing old school files, letters I’ve written, headshots, resumes, etc. This may be as simple as a copy + paste, but I highly recommend you start from scratch. Downsize your information first, then develop a Drive filing structure that makes sense moving forward. Throwing everything in a folder titled “2016” may not yield the best results. This step is easy since all files already exist in a digital format. All you have to do is hit “Upload”.
From there, I moved onto that bottomless “shoebox”–the place where I kept most important papers. Your “shoebox” may be a drawer, folder, mattress, fire box, or moving box (still?! moving boxes?!). Regardless, these places contain important documents, receipts, manuals, reports, or addresses in which you’ve been saving for years. Even if you never get around to referencing them, you’ll happily tow these papers around as you cruise through life. But wouldn’t it suck to lost all that info? Wouldn’t it be nice to access some of that data from anywhere in the world? This is a golden opportunity to stop the clutter and take back your space.
Dealing with the “shoebox” is more labor intensive than simply hitting “Upload”. Here, we need to first digitize documents, and then upload accordingly. What you want to do now is generate scans of your documents with a smart phone or tablet. The photo above shows a snapshot of the Drive mobile app after indicating your desire to add a new document. The “Scan” functionality made adding documents simple and efficient. Over the past 5 years, mainstream camera phone resolution has increased drastically. With bright, clear lighting, you are able to “scan”, aka photograph, documents with excellent clarity and reproduction value. This function helped me digitize stacks of paperwork in no time.
I won’t allude to all the documents I scanned, however, below are some information you may want to consider:
- Address book
- Manuals, instructions, and warranties
- Blog logos, design concepts
- Language notes
- A net worth tracking spreadsheet and other budgeting data
- Personal headshots for online profiles
- Resumes, cover letters
- Sentimental items, photographs
- Travel itineraries, packing lists (weekend, camping, international)
- passports, IDs, health insurance information
One of the greatest advances of the digital age is the ability to store information on a server in Singapore and access it from my living room–or anywhere in the world. If you already have a Google account (through Gmail for example), you’re only a few clicks away from accessing these benefits.
Once you set yourself up with a Drive account, you’ll be given 15GB of free storage across Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos. After condensing all of my paperwork, documents, and pertinent information, I totaled a little more than 1.5GB–barely 10% of the allotted amount. For most people, their word documents, text files, PDFs, and the like will have no issues with the free storage cap. Photos tend to be larger files and will make this trickier. If you do require more storage, there are additional options for a small monthly fee.
Paper is simply one means to store our data, and as mentioned, I still keep hard copies of select documents. That being said, I have found immense value in digitizing, storing, and accessing my information easily. I no longer have all these papers lounging around my apartment, fearfully waiting for the next great fire to convert them into smoldering embers. In only a few hours I converted a hodgepodge of information into a synced, accessible, one-stop shop. Google Drive is an incredibly simple solution to going paperless in the information age. I encourage you to explore its many benefits as you attempt to minimize clutter and solve your own pulp problem.