Didn’t scholars predict that we’d be a paperless society by now? I read that in a magazine article once, but don’t ask me to find it… it’s probably under the mound of bills, school papers, receipts and magazines that used to be my dining room table.

The paper clutter in my house has been a constant source of angst. Popular productivity books taught me how to “process” piles until they were no more. File away the things you need, toss the rest—that’s what they said.

What I’ve found, however, is that it’s not the filing that’s the challenge, it’s the retrieval.

• Where’s that receipt file for our accountant?
• Where did we file those pictures from our honeymoon?
• Why can’t I find the %!*#$ file with the Kindergarten class roster in it?!

I yearned for a way not just to clear my counters, but to instantly find any important document or precious memory without upturning my entire house.

Then I started scanning the paper around my house. Now, important docs rarely go missing, and if they do, I type in a few keywords to find them.

I can dial up any document from any computer, smartphone or tablet. Everything is safe and secure. And the mound of paper that once consumed my dining room has become cross-cut shreds that line the cage of my daughter’s class guinea pig cage.

The results in my life from something as basic as scanning papers have been dramatic. I feel so much more together and I waste so much less time.

Here’s a few tips to get you started.

Select a scanner that works in your budget.

There’s a scanner at every price point, from the JotNot app for the iPhone, the CamScanner for Android (free), to the super-slim portable scanners like Doxie and NeatReceipts, to the deluxe Fujitsu ScanSnap.

As you go up in price, you get a faster scanner and the ability to scan piles of paper without having to feed them in one at a time, which can be agonizingly slow.

Many of the options above come bundled with OCR (optical character recognition) software, which turns your document into editable, searchable text. If your scanner doesn’t, you can upload files to PDF OCR, a free online app that will convert files for you.

Storage and Backup

It’s a bit of a leap to toss your paper and trust the digital realm to keep things safe, so it’s good practice (and will help you sleep better) to backup your files in at least two places. I backup important files to an external hard drive should my computer suddenly fall ill, but hard drive sometimes make it difficult to access files.

Cloud storage keeps files safe and easily accessible from anywhere; you can access them on any smartphone or tablet, which is like carrying a gargantuan filing cabinet with you everywhere. I use Evernote, where I can organize my scans into notebooks, kind of like I would in real life. Dropbox is also an excellent cloud storage system.

Okay, those are the basics. Now, what to scan?

How about every piece of paper that isn’t easily dubbed “trash,” yet isn’t so important that it needs to be tacked to your refrigerator door? To start, here’s some ideas:

• School/Sport/Work Rosters

I used to slave away entering everyone’s address into my address book each September. Now I just scan the roster and in seconds the information is accessible whenever I need to call it up. Huge time-saver.

• Tear Sheets

I used to keep tons of home design magazines with dog-eared pages—inspiration for a future remodel or landscaping job. Now, I tear out the pages that I want to remember, and store each scan so I can access them in the future. (It’s also a good idea to first check if the article is also online, then pin it to Pinterest or bookmark it elsewhere.)

• Art and Schoolwork

Some special pieces of your kid’s artwork is best appreciated in its original form. For the rest of the heap, there’s scanning. Scanning liberates me from having to decide what to keep and what to toss, and the house is free from being overtaken by construction paper art. Now I save everything, including report cards, written assignments and certificates.

• Tax Preparation

Our one file for tax receipts was always a bulging mess when it came time to itemizing. Now we scan them in a bit at a time, and when tax time rolls around, everything is digitized and easily exported to a spreadsheet for our accountant.

• Home Documents and Inventory

Scanning insurance documents, warranties, appraisals repair history and receipts, as well as keeping digital photo records of the valuables in your home, is a great way to keep a record of your belongings in the event of a natural disaster or burglary.

• Business Cards

When the gentleman who cleaned my gutters (Thank you, Mr. Munoz!) leaves me his business card, who knows where it will have disappeared to in a year when I need to call him again. If I scan it, I can search “gutter” and find it, even if I forget his name.

• Photos

Digital photos are easier than ever to store and share online. But what about old photographs? You know, the ones printed on paper? Scanning old photos means I can pull them up and enjoy them anytime which, last time I checked, was the whole point of taking photos.

Once you’re done scanning, it’s great to shred all that paper before you recycle it to keep your privacy intact when you toss it all. Simple shredding scissors are an inexpensive option, but I use a cross-cut shredder, which makes the perfect cushy bedding for Blackie, the class pet.

p.s. Here’s another alternative for dealing with paper.