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Organize your life in bits and bytes: Go digital!

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From blogs to books to professional organizers, there’s no shortage of resources and ideas about how to organize your home, and change your life in the process. Yet, with this abundance of information you may be wondering where to begin.

To start taking control of your clutter, try looking at your home through a digital lens. Tapping a wide range of digital tools, you can move paper, photos and media from desk drawers and bookshelves to your smartphone and laptop. This can free up valuable space in your home and make it easier to find what you need. Looking for a place to start? Here are five easy ways to go digital.

1) End the paper trail

Top productivity apps — and they’re free!

  • Any.do – List-making and task management app great for jotting down tasks and goals.
  • EasilyDo – Productivity app that helps you take care of a variety of tasks quickly and effectively.
  • Evernote – Straightforward note-making app with effortless organization.

Source: PCmag.com, “100 Best iPhone Apps of 2016,” April 2016.

File drawers are often jam-packed, holding everything from tax returns to old receipts. To convert paper documents to online files, start by purchasing a handheld scanner like Doxie or a phone-powered app such as Tiny Scanner. If you have school-age children, check with their school to see if they’d consider a service like Peach Jar to curtail the endless stream of flyers that often come home in backpacks.

Smartphone apps like Wunderlist are great for grocery and to-do lists, while the Cozi family calendar can help you create and link complex family schedules and eliminate wall calendars. You can even store business cards, coupons, and event tickets using Google Goggles and Passbook.

Finally, don’t forget your phone’s camera — your personal digital organization superhero. It makes it easy to snap and submit school sign-up sheets, save recipes, and clip your favorite articles.

2) e-Manage your money

Using today’s secure banking and billing sites, like BankofAmerica.com, you can cut down on paper statements and bills (not to mention stamps) by going digital.

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  • For recurring expenses like your mortgage and utilities, consider opting for electronic bills.
  • More and more banks, including Bank of America, offer a mobile banking app that allows you to deposit a check using the camera on your smartphone or tablet.
  • When you buy something online, request an e-receipt or simply save the confirmation screen as a PDF.
  • Eliminate any paper receipts you receive by using the handheld receipt scanner NeatReceipts or a smartphone-powered app like JotNot.

3) Put photos in their place

Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but they also fill up countless boxes and bins. Worse yet, photos of your beloved grandma can fade over time — or even get lost.

To take your physical photos digital, you can outsource the project to a service like ScanCafe or DIY-it with a photo or flatbed scanner. And once your images are online, you can use a program like Google Photos (formerly Picasa) to create intuitive subfolders that organize them by event — so you can dig up that perfect vacation or holiday memory anytime. Even your phone photos can become lasting memories with Project Life and Framebridge, which transform your photo library into scrapbooks, albums and framed works of art.

Back up early… and often

Backing up your system can seem like yet another task on your virtual to-do list, but it can help you avoid a heartbreaking loss of data once you go digital. Based on the amount of memory you need, you can copy your data to an external hard drive or portable storage device, or subscribe to a cloud-based service like Carbonite. Set a bi-monthly reminder on your online calendar to back up, and take comfort in knowing that if your system fails, your digital life will go on.

4) Modernize your media

There are many ways to rein in the volume of books and other media that collect dust and fill your shelves. Streaming movie services like Netflix, music players like Spotify, and e-books via Amazon Kindle can connect you with new shows, artists, and authors — allowing you to expand your cultural horizons without expanding your inventory of “stuff.” They’re also budget-friendly, with monthly subscription fees that are often lower than what you’d pay for an individual movie, CD or book. And don’t forget your local library, which can be a free e-media source.

What about all of the movies and music taking up space in your home? RipIt, Handbrake and Express Rip make it easy to convert DVDs and CDs. That ancient mix tape or VHS copy of “The Breakfast Club” may be more of a challenge to convert, but still doable with a cassette converter or special-use RCA/S-Video cables that connect to your PC.

5) Create virtual order

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Once your life is online, avoid cyber clutter by making sure your digital information is organized and easily searchable. Try creating file organization categories based on content — not dates or confusing file names. File tags with searchable keywords can also help you keep close tabs on important documents and images. To manage your inbox and social media outlets, set a regular time (monthly or even weekly) to clean out and prioritize information you receive. Services like Unroll.Me will help you unsubscribe from one-too-many store offers and newsletters, while content managers Feedly and Pocket will help you get a handle on the subscriptions you’re sticking with.

Finally, be sure to give some TLC to the geniuses behind your new digital life: your computer and smartphone. Follow the directions on those pesky software upgrade reminders, use CCleaner to eliminate temp files, and try OneTab to help you organize your browser tabs and save memory.

By replacing clutter with digital tools and keeping your system performing at its best, you’ll make more room for what matters most — both online and throughout your home.

Learn more and take action

  • If your 401(k) plan is with Merrill Lynch, log on to Benefits OnLine to choose online delivery of your Plan documents. Just click on Manage Online Delivery under Useful Links (bottom left) and follow the prompts.
 
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